“What’s appropriation art? It’s when you steal but make a point of stealing, because by changing the context you change the connotation.”
Most of us value the opinion of our friends more than the opinion of some stranger off the street. This is true especially when it’s a question of who we think can offer the best account of our character. Unlike strangers or occasional acquaintances, we know our friends and they know us. Indeed, friends tend to know each other better than anyone else. It is my contention that friends know each other better because of the sort of relationship they have. Our friends know us so well not only because we disclose our identities more fully to them, but also because our identities are more closely linked to our friends. Though we have usually developed a sense of self by the time we enter into most of our friendships, once they are entered into these friendships—and typically alter—that understanding.
Like other close relationships, friendship is a relation that exerts a special influence on the self. This relation’s unique capacity to affect personal identity results from the level of intimacy it encourages and the security that it offers the individuals involved. Though the effects of friendship on personal identity may not be as dramatic as the effects of the relations that individuals have with their parents or care-givers during their formative years, the friendships that individuals have in childhood and over the course of their lives do serve to shape their selves. As relational theories like Sartre’s explain, a sense of self not only emerges within a social framework, it is something that is affected continually by social relations. Though our sense of self tends to achieve an increasing degree of stability as we move toward adulthood, our selves are never fixed. Rather, our selves are always evolving. As we grow and change through the course of our lives, so too does our conception of self. Our selves change subtly but constantly in response to our relations to others and the information these relations provide.
Friendships are especially influential when it comes to the self because we let ourselves go with our friends. Unlike in other situations in which individuals may feel that they need to be on guard or otherwise forthcoming with respect to personal information, individuals tend to tell and show all to their friends. Individuals are less reserved in their speech and behavior with friends than they are with others generally. Individuals tend to be more open with their friends because they feel safe with them. The open and honest communications that friendships encourage are important to the formation of self because selves are formed relationally. As Sartre argues, a self is an idea that an individual forms reflexively in response to the information she derives from her social relations. Our relations with others allow us to see ourselves. In order to show us ourselves, others need information. Without ample and accurate information, others cannot do that effectively. Without a reasonable degree of openness, the understanding of self that an individual can derive from her relationships is at best a superficial one.
Real friendships however are not superficial. We trust our friends and tend to be open and honest with them. We are able derive a dependable sense of ourselves from our friendships because we share ourselves more fully with our friends and because we trust the information they offer. Our friendships contribute to the shaping of our selves because of the unique closeness and camaraderie that they promote. Unlike with other individuals, we share our deepest thoughts and dreams with our friends. The trust and closeness implicit in the relation makes it possible for us to tell our friends our most embarrassing secrets. Often without knowing what will result from the activity, we spill our hearts out to our friends. Often to our surprise, the relations we have with our friends make us to realize things we never knew about ourselves. The conversations we have with our friends commonly compel individual insight. The unexpected arguments we engage in often expose deeply held personal principles. The experiences we share disclose to us interests and dispositions that were hitherto unknown. Ultimately, giving ourselves over to friendship gives us a fuller sense of ourselves. Friendships inform our sense of self because the journey to self is one of mutual discovery. Selves are forged through our associations with others. The structures of our selves are affected by each successive relation. Friendships influence the shaping of self more than other sorts of relations because we are so deeply invested in them.
The “real self”, that is, a coherent, unified subject underneath the show, is a fiction. There is nothing but the show itself.
Man is nothing in himself. Without the narratives, the clothing and the “things that make life the way we wish it were,” there is no one. That’s why we need to buy a life story. The nothingness is all the more apparent if we consider the impossibility of our autobiography. An autobiography is the history of one’s life written by oneself. The “I” is experienced by us as emptiness and as desire. In other words, as dissatisfaction. It is this constant dissatisfaction that creates what Marx identifies as “the proliferation of needs.” Rather than recognizing that we lack, we constantly strive to “make our lives as we wish they were.” The clothes in this case really do make the man. The narratives give us the sense of being the main character in a story far more interesting than the one we live. Now all I need to do to be that character is to buy the costume. I recognize the absurdity of it, but, ironically, I am still committed to the fiction. In fact, recognizing the absurdity only makes me more comfortable buying, as I at one and the same time recognize and refuse to recognize that there is nothing to me but the narratives. Kierkegaard, taking up a dictum attributed to the early Church Father Tertullian, said “I believe because it is absurd.” Now we buy because it is absurd, but we have to if we are to maintain that fiction that gives us coherence, and we have to believe that it is absurd to avoid recognizing the lack of coherence, to avoid recognizing what reality shows us: that there is no unified subject beneath the appearance, that beneath the appearance there is no one at all.
The ironist recognizes this, but, necessarily, lives in the fiction. The ironist is in a much better position, however, than the cynic. Cynicism leaves one in an endless loop wondering why everyone doesn’t understand the contradictions he sees. The ironist does understand this and also understands her own commitment to the fiction. The cynic is frustrated that it doesn’t make sense that we participate in the fiction. The ironist simply smiles at it. She doesn’t experience the lack of a coherent self and consistent world. If she did, she would be psychotic. Nonetheless, the ironist recognizes the necessity of the fiction and appreciates the absurdity.
Let me start with a fundamental observation: most people don’t know what they want unless they see it in context. We don’t know what kind of racing bike we want—until we see a champ in the Tour de France ratcheting the gears on a particular model. We don’t know what kind of speaker system we like—until we hear a set of speakers that sounds better than the previous one. We don’t even know what we want to do with our lives we find a relative or a friend who is doing just what we think we should be doing. Everything is relative, and that’s the point. Like an airplane pilot landing in the dark, we want runway lights on either side of us, guiding us to the place where we can touch down our wheels.
Can we do anything about this issue of relativity? The good news is that we can often control the “circles” around us; moving toward smaller circles that boost our relative happiness. If we are at our class reunion, and there’s a “big circle” in the middle of the room with a drink in his hand, boasting of his big salary, we can consciously take several steps away and talk with someone else. If we are thinking of buying a new house, we can be selective about the open houses we go to, skipping the houses that are above our means. If we are thinking about buying a new car, we can focus on the models that we can afford, and so on.
The point is that we don’t really understand the role expectations play in the way we experience and evaluate art, literature, drama, architecture, food, wine—anything really. The packaging, the social environment, the narrative surrounding the product matter a lot.
“What if we did the opposite experiment?” I asked. “What if we put a mediocre player in Carnegie Hall with the Berlin Philharmonic? The expectations would be very high but the quality would not. Would people discern the difference would their pleasure be quashed?”
Across many domains of life, expectations play a huge role in the way we end up experiencing things. Think about the Mona Lisa. Why is this portrait so beautiful, and why is the woman’s smile mysterious? Can you discern the technique and talent it took for Leonardo da Vinci to create it? For most of us the painting is beautiful, and the smile mysterious, because we are told it is so. In the absence of expertise or perfect information, we look for social cues to help us figure out how much we are, or should be, impressed, and our expectations take care of the rest.
Alexander Pope once wrote: “Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.” To me, it seems that Pope’s advice is the best way to live an objective life. Clearly, it is also very helpful in eliminating the effects of negative expectations. But what about positive expectations? If I listen to Joshua Bell with no expectations, the experience is not going to be nearly as satisfying or pleasurable as if I listen to him and say to myself, “My god, how lucky I am to he listening to Joshua Bell play live in front of
The most expensive sex is free sex.
By “performative ideology” Zizek means a form of ideological consciousness in which we know that we are dealing with a fiction, but in which the fiction nonetheless regulates our actual real behavior. Although we know that we are dealing with a fiction, we regulate reality as though the fiction were real. Ironically, in doing this we make the fiction real. Money is one example. When people use it, they know that there is nothing magical about it. It is a simply a means of exchange that gives the one who has it the right to certain things. The problem is that people act as if money in itself is wealth.