AlanThomson61AlanThomson11AlanThomson41© Alan Thomson, all photographs from the series Bus Portraits

[…] How was a man different from an individual? A person born before a certain date, a man – had he not eyes? had he not hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? If you pricked him, he bled and if you tickled him, he laughed. But certain things he did not have or do until he became an individual. He did not have an awareness of what one historian, Georges Gusdorf, calls internal space. He did not, as Delany puts it, imagine himself in more than one role, standing outside or above his own personality; he did not suppose that he ,might be an object of interest to his fellow man not for the reason that he had achieved something notable or been witness to great events but simply because as an individual he was of consequence. It is when he becomes an individual that a man lives more and more in private rooms; whether the privacy makes the individuality or the individuality requires the privacy the historians do not say. The individual looks into mirrors, larger and much brighter than those that were formerly held up to magistrates. The French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan believes that the development of the ‘Je’ was advanced by the manufacture of mirrors: again it cannot be decided whether man’s belief that he is a ‘Je’ is the result of the Venetian craftsmen’s having learned how to make plate-glass or whether the demand for looking-glasses stimulated this technological success. If he is an artist the individual is likely to paint selfportraits; if he is Rembrandt, he paints some threescore of them. And he begins to use the word ‘self’ not as a mere reflexive or intensive, but as an autonomous noun referring […] to ‘that … in a person [which] is really and intrinsically he (in contra-distinction to what is adventitious)’, as that which he must cherish for its own sake and show to the world for the sake of good faith. The subject of an autobiography is just such a self, bent on revealing himself in all his truth, bent, that is to say, on demonstrating his sincerity. His conception of his private and uniquely interesting individuality, together with his impulse to reveal his self, to demonstrate that in it which is to be admired and trusted, are, we may believe, his response to the newly available sense of an audience, of that public which society created.

excerpt from Sincerity and Authenticity, by Lionel Trilling, Harvard University Press, 1972.

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