Friday, November 17, 2017

Is Your Self-Invention a Success?

"Man Ray in Paris" (photograph: Carl Van Vechten)
You are constantly hearing that he or she is self-invented. But is it necessarily a good thing? A self-invented person is ostensibly someone who's not made in a mold. You have pound cakes that are baked in a rectangular pan and coffee cakes which rise in those round gismos with the hole in the center. Similarly when a son or daughter follows in their parents’ footsteps, they're not self-invented. Man Ray, the surrealist photographer and artist, who lived in France, but was born in Philadelphia as Emmanuel Radnitzsky, the oldest child of a family of Jewish immigrants and ended up in Paris by way of Brooklyn, is one of the greatest examples of self-invention. And then there were T.S. Eliot, an American born poet who attended Harvard, but adopted a personality that was tantamount to that of a landed English aristocrat, minus the titles, land and money and Mary Astor, the only child of a pair of Quincy, Illinois school teachers who scandalized Hollywood with all her affairs. Of course there are bad examples of self-invention. Did you ever know kids who went off to France for their junior year and returned behaving more French than the French? It wasn’t only the Gauloises and the air of impudence, it was the fact that they talked in broken English and no longer seemed to know what you were talking about. And what about all the people who make a little money and develop airs, as if they were born with a chrysalis of royalty despite their humble origins? You know the type who was born on the wrong side of the tracks, but speaks the Queen’s English and insists on correcting you when you say “him and me.” Yes there are some really cool self-invented people, whose personalities are artworks, but in general most people who escape their roots, in order to become somebody, turn out to be colossal jerks.

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