Ética. Sartre vs The Selfie: An Existentialist Critique of Selfie- Taking

Selfie-sticks are notoriously ubiquitous in modern society, and the art of ‘selfie-taking’ may well be something that future analysts identify as being one of the defining sociological trends of this period of history. In this post, I will discuss some passages from Sartre that help to explain my feeling of unease at this rampant ‘selfie-ism’. Straight away, let me make it clear that I am not targeting all forms of photography, or for that matter all forms of ‘selfie-taking’. Taking photos of yourself at important events (or places) can provide a record that the subject will come to cherish; they may even provide others who were unable to join you at the event (or place) with some insight into your experience. I have no truck with wedding photos. Furthermore, there are some wrongs that selfie-taking can involve which are not covered by the criticism I shall discuss below. Last week, two members of the police force resigned following an investigation into allegations that they had taken selfies in the immediate aftermath of the Shoreham air crash. This behaviour displayed a stunning lack of compassion for the victims of the crash, and bespoke a degree of self-centredness that is not befitting of a member of civilized society, let alone someone who holds a position of respect in that society, such as a police officer. Clearly though, not all selfie-taking involves such moral wrongs. The criticism of selfie-taking that I have in mind is not that the activity causes harm to others. Rather, I think the problem with selfies is that they often prevent the subject’s immersion into a valuable experience; selfie-takers are often so pre-occupied with taking pictures of themselves at concerts, foreign markets, and restaurants that they are no longer immersed in the experience of the thing that they think it sufficiently important to document with a selfie. I think that this rather general thought finds echoes in Sartre’s philosophy. Sartre’s seminal philosophical novel Nausea describes the struggle that the protagonist Antoine Roquentin experiences upon coming to realize that he is an entirely free agent, who is responsible for his choices, and for creating his own meaning and purpose. However, one of my personal favourite passages in the novel deals with a somewhat tangential, albeit broadly related matter. In the passage I have in mind, Roquentin laments the fact that he has not had any ‘adventures’. He notes that adventures are signified by their having ‘real beginnings’, that is, events that clearly signal to the subject that ‘something is happening’. In turn, these beginnings, and the adventures to which they lead, only achieve their real significance by their ending. Roquentin writes hypothetically of the experience of such adventures: I study each second, I try to suck it dry; nothing passes which I do not cease . . . and yet the minute goes by and I do not hold it back, I am glad to see it pass. Roquentin craves the sort of immersion in existence that he recounts in this passage, and laments the fact that he has not experienced this in the way that others have. However, on the following page, Roquentin re-evaluates these claims; he realises that the events that are the’ beginnings’ that signify the start of an adventure only become so by simply being recounted as part of a narrative. He writes: Man is always a teller of tales, he lives surrounded by his stories and the stories of others, he sees everything that happens to him through them; and he tries to live his life as if he were recounting it. But you have to choose: to live or to recount. What Sartre seems to be suggesting here is that our desire to have adventures, to be seen as someone who is living an interesting life that others should emulate, can actually prevent our becoming immersed in the actual experience of existing. This observation seems highly relevant to the phenomenon of selfie-taking, and the prevalence of social media. More than ever, we are now surrounded by the (highly stylised) stories of others, and it is easy to be sucked into the trap of wanting to continually create narratives for ourselves, to be seen as having ‘adventures’. Yet, this can prevent us becoming immersed in the experience of our existence. For a tangible example of this, consider selfies taken at events where the enjoyment of the event requires the immersion of the subject in the experience of it. Consider for example the act of selfie-taking at music concerts or in front of famous paintings at art galleries. In their desperation to recount, the selfie-taker robs themselves of the experience of the event, and its real significance. Of course, it might be claimed that nothing about taking a selfie precludes immersion in the event following the taking of the photograph. As such, it might be argued that Roquentin provides us with a false dichotomy in claiming that we must choose between living and recounting. This might be true; however, it seems that for many the recoun

Fonte: Sartre vs The Selfie: An Existentialist Critique of Selfie- Taking


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