Thursday, July 16, 2009

Masks and Mind

It has been said that we all wear masks, and Kant in his philosophy reduced the essential person to a generic sense of consciousness that mediated between will, cognition, judgment, and action. It could be true that we're all generic manifestations of what one may generally call spirit with different masks on, interacting with one another. But if this is the case then the masks we have have a transcendental meaning. Personality and persona in and of itself becomes something not established from the generic ego self consciousness and at the same time not established by the world out there beyond the mind, but almost belonging to a third world.

Where does personality come from? I didn't establish how I wanted my personality to be. I'm perfectly aware of how I think, and I can look at myself while I'm thinking, figuring out what I'm doing at this moment or that moment, but none it is my personality. The world outside me has surely influenced how I am and what exactly my personality is, but it didn't determine it. I can go through things that happened in my life, examine them, and still be left with something out there that is beyond all of it. I can try to influence my personality too, and have tried quite a bit, but I can only do so much before I run into a wall that I can't get beyond. So where does it come from?

We can look at all of this through a lens that reduces it down to animal behavior, pack behavior, evolutionary advantages, or even to hormones, but at the root of it I think that people feel their personality, who in a sense they are, at such a root level that it means much more to them than any of these tools for understanding it could capture.

The stock characters of types of theater like the Commedia dell'Arte come from stock understandings of particular types of people who recur over and over again. When a person acts in something like that, they literally put on a mask and give will and life to a type who appears in society. Maybe the mask and the acts and foibles associated with the personality attached to that mask are more important than the individual actors themselves. But who generates the set of masks that are worn by people?

"The play's the thing." and "All life's a stage and we are only actors", in the immortal words of the bard, but who establishes the play and the characters who play on it? Where does it all come from?

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