Philosophy Essay, Research Paper
The authentic self consists of internal forces, dynamic and spiritual, and will above all, which courses through men, nature, and objects.
This claim is made by Burton F. Porter on Rainer Maria Rilke s The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge on page 11 of Porter s Philosophy: A Literary and Conceptual Approach. I am in agreement with this claim that Porter makes on Rilke s Notebooks. As Porter puts it, Rilke refuses to identify persons by their body and appearance, distinguishing clothing, faces, hands, in particular, as extraneous to self they do not function as reflections of our nature, but are roles imposed upon us by society that we might be unable to stop playing when we try to be ourselves. I believe this quote sums up what Rilke s claim is about. Rilke makes his point by use of reason and common sense, and I plan to use both those methods, as well as empirical data to support Rilke.
There are quantities of human beings, but there are many more faces, for each person has several. The previous quote could be interpreted several ways. One could look at that sentence and understand the word face to be a physical thing made of skin that humans have on the front of their heads. If you chose to define face that way, then Rilke would be saying that no matter what expression a person has on his face; happy, sad, nervous, serious, etc, they are still the same person, meaning that one s face is not a part of his self . This point is especially true when you think about the different interpretations one could make from the look on a person s face. I could think that I am displaying a look of disgust, but someone looking on at me could assume that I am stupid because of the way that I am looking. Regardless of which it is, nothing is being understood about me by the look on my face, and without a face I would still be the exact same person. A boy of age 11 with firm skin and a lot of hair on his head is still the same person or self as he is at age 91, sure he may have a few wrinkles in his face, and no hair on his head but his appearance tells you nothing about who he is, what he has experienced, or what he was at age11.
The word face could also mean something other than the physical thing, something a person is able to change in different situations and environments, perhaps he could be using it in place of the word personality. A personality is definitely not a part of one s self, because people have the ability to change personalities like they can change clothes. A fourth grade teacher would not display the same personality in front of his students as he would at home with his wife or out with his buddies, it would not be appropriate. But, he is still the exact same person, regardless of which personality is in use at that time. The teacher in the example is capable of changing his physical appearance as well as the personality that he chooses to display at that time, but his self remains constant, and I think this is what Rilke conveys in The Notebooks.
The clothing that one wears is also mistakenly used to categorize people. One person can seem intelligent and goal oriented and yet that same person can also appear to be lazy and unorganized just with the placement of a couple of strands of hair, or the tucking in of a shirt. In the section titled Costumes, Rilke gives an example of a child playing dress up and the different people he imagines himself to be with the different costumes and masks he wears. The example about the game of dress-up is a strong point that can be easily misunderstood. One could understand that to mean that as long as you are dressed for success then you are successful, but this point is all but true because a person could be dressed like a hobo on the street and still be successful and that is what Rilke is saying when he says, clothing is extraneous to self.
Society places too much emphasis on appearance and how a person looks when these things tell you nothing about a person and who that person is. If I were to try and describe my mother to you, the first thing I would say is, She is tall, fair skinned, African American, has curly hair I just used 4 different adjectives and yet I have told you nothing about who she is. Would you be able to pick her out of a crowd? Possibly, but would you know who she really was? The answer is no, because the words I chose to describe her are nothing but ways that society has developed to distinguish one person from another, by putting people into categories and making them seem or appear like someone else, when they are really themselves and nothing more or less. This is what Rilke means when he says, roles imposed upon us by society that we might be unable to stop playing when we try to be ourselves. We are who and what we are, and not what someone else sees us as or classifies us as.
In conclusion everyone looks different and dresses differently, but regardless of how they look or what they are wearing no conclusions or inferences can be made about who that person is. One s self is internal and nothing worn on the outside, such as face and clothing can be used to tell you who that person is or what they are about. The self is internal but society tends to label and categorize people on their appearance and their external features and characteristics and Rilke is saying that to do so is wrong.