Topical Guide 427
Personality Traits, Distinctive
Self-Presentation (or Presentation of the Self)
Reservations Recommended, Chapter 1
A WEEK AFTER Liz left, Matthew decided that he might as well go out and try his luck at finding solace between the legs of other women; at once the question arose, at first only hypothetically, whether he ought to use condoms. He was, at that time, afraid of getting herpes, but it seemed awfully timid to be afraid of herpes, and he didn’t want to admit to the fear. Then along came AIDS, and in a way AIDS has really been a godsend to Matthew. Now that so many people are afraid of death by sex, he can use a condom without feeling like a coward, and he can avoid herpes. He has never brought this matter up with Belinda. The first time they made love, he didn’t use a condom. He had a lot on his mind, and he tried to concentrate exclusively on the pleasure of the moment, but he couldn’t help himself — he worried a bit; even his sexual fantasies include periods of concern about disease. For her part, Belinda had a fleeting fear of pregnancy, but they were both so surprised and happy to find themselves making love to each other that they didn’t want to spoil it. The second time, Matthew used a condom. He didn’t say anything about it; he just put it on. He’s sure they both feel much more secure this way, and he suspects — in his case he’s certain — that there’s an element of excitement introduced by the condom, because it implies that Belinda isn’t Matthew’s only lover, thereby making him seem a little more interesting, a man who has sexual adventures. It makes him feel virile, too, since he might, of course, be using the condom to protect Belinda from an unwanted pregnancy, though he suspects, and has some reason to believe, that there’s little danger of that. He also supposes that the condom is an emblem of his affection for Belinda, his concern for her well-being, since her assumption must be, if she has inferred properly from the implication in his wearing the thing, that it is she who must be protected from the possible consequences of his adventures. He also feels that if Liz should come back, if she could be persuaded to come back, he could offer these condoms as evidence of his essential loyalty, a distance that he kept between himself and Belinda. All these thoughts and feelings reside in a condom, so many ideas in such a small thing.
Self-presentation is distinguished from self-display by the active and conscious choice of the image shown; self-display has no choice but to show whatever properties a living being possesses. Self-presentation would not be possible without a degree of self-awareness—a capability inherent in the reflexive character of mental activities and clearly transcending mere consciousness, which we probably share with the higher animals. Only self-presentation is open to hypocrisy and pretense, properly speaking, and the only way to tell pretense and make-believe from reality and truth is the former's failure to endure and remain consistent. It has been said that hypocrisy is the compliment vice pays to virtue, but this is not quite true. All virtue begins with a compliment paid to it, by which I express my being pleased with it. The compliment implies a promise to the world, to those to whom I appear, to act in accordance with my pleasure, and it is the breaking of the implied promise that characterizes the hypocrite. In other words, the hypocrite is not a villain who is pleased with vice and hides his pleasure from his surroundings. The test applying to the hypocrite is indeed the old Socratic “Be as you wish to appear,” which means appear always as you wish to appear to others even if it happens that you are alone and appear to no one but yourself. When I make such a decision, I am not merely reacting to whatever qualities may be given me; I am making an act of deliberate choice among the various potentialities of conduct with which the world has presented me. Out of such acts arises finally what we call character or personality, the conglomeration of a number of identifiable qualities gathered together into a comprehensible and reliably identifiable whole, and imprinted, as it were, on an unchangeable substratum of gifts and defects peculiar to our soul and body structure. Because of the undeniable relevance of these self-chosen properties to our appearance and role in the world, modern philosophy, starting with Hegel, has succumbed to the strange illusion that man, in distinction from other things, has created himself.
Have you missed an episode or two or several?
You can listen to “My Mother Takes a Tumble” complete and uninterrupted as an audiobook through YouTube.
You can ensure that you never miss a future issue by getting a free subscription. (You can help support the work by choosing a paid subscription instead.)
You’ll find overviews of the entire work in An Introduction to The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy (a pdf document) and at Encyclopedia.com.