The concept of self-fashioning deals with the way in which artists as public figures create a ‘public identity’, which is often opposed to an alleged ‘personal identity’. This course departs from the idea that they are not free to choose any public identity whatsoever. Instead, in the course of cultural history there seem to have been several more or less pre-described ‘roles’ available for them to choose. Is it indeed possible to bring back the variety of types of self-fashioning to a restricted number of fundamental forms, such as the dandy, the bohemian or the nerd? The objective is to come to an understanding of how public identities are formed from the middle of the 19th century till the present day. What were the determining factors and procedures of the forming of the various (but not infinite) types of self-fashioning? We question the role visual artists and literary writers have played in the development of this variety of roles, masks and forms and the way they have dealt with the circumstances of their time (new historicism).
This MA course will start with a theoretical elaboration on the way literary writers and visual artists deal with the tension between private and public. To what extent do they deliberately make a construction of their own identity as an artist and as a person (in the cultural field as well as in the public media)? In what way can concepts such as self-presentation (Goffman), self-fashioning (Greenblatt) and posture (Meizoz) be helpful in understanding the public performances of writers and artists? How is the specific notion of public identity linked to the development of modernity in cultural history (Sennett, Calinescu)? How is it possible that the cultural tradition of self-presentation culminated in a form of self-effacement in the late 1960’s (Roland Barthes’ Death of the Author), only to coincide much later with the paradigmatic turn towards life-writing genres and the present-day cult of celebrity?
In the second part we will dive into various public roles, the development of which we will trace from the origins until the present. How can we describe and classify these roles? Which conventions ensure the creation of these roles? We will deal with a number of case studies in order to gain a clear insight into the presentation (performance) in public space and the different narratives that guide this performance . One can think of essays, novels, poems, autobiographies and biographies that help to narrate the life of the individual under scrutiny. With that we enter the realm of ‘life-writing’. What happens when writers and artists use their own lives as the subject-matter of their work? Which genres do they choose to practice? Which artistic and ethical debates do they arouse? How does the public deal with the way fiction and reality are interwoven. And how does the use of life writing influence the public authority of writers and artists?
A provisional list of public roles of self-presentation:
The dandy (snob)
The (eternal) bachelor
The grande bourgeois
The homo ludens (man the player)
The intellectual / The nerd / the engineer
The man in the crowd
In the third part of the course, we will challenge the students to write a paper in which they construct a new role that exists or has existed. Can we broaden the scope of our theory? Which case studies are available?
To be announced
In 2019-2020 the TiLT Writer-in-residence Lab will be a crucial part of this course.