Thursday, May 23, 2019

The Selfie and History

Self-portrait of Rembrandt (1660)
The notion of a self, which could be rendered on the wall of a cave, was a watershed in the development of human consciousness. When you think about it a lot of mental gymnastics must have gone into this momentous stage of human evolution in which a hunter- gatherer connected with the Narcissus-like reflection he faced in the local pond. With no previous frame of reference it had to take some degree of imaginative capability to make the leap and realize  that the image was that of the viewer and not someone else.The great portrait painters of the Renaissance, Rembrandt, Franz Hals and Holbein the Younger would be right around the corner in developing the six degrees of separation that exist between a rendering and the real thing. The broader concept of mimesis in which lived reality could be duplicated, stored, catalogued and saved was a further extension of the self-reflexive awareness which is probably the greatest achievement of the approximately 5000 years of recorded human history. Parenthetically, doesn’t this amount of time seem small and even trite when we look at the eras that comprise the advent of life? Humans are really the new kid on the block and not a very old one at that, when one considers that Australopithecus afarensis, one of the earliest ancestors of man lived approximated 2.9 to 3.9 million years ago. What's so significant however about reproduction and mimesis is that the thrill of it has not vanished. Instagram, one of the most profitable subsidiaries of Facebook, is predicated on the same visual show and tell that cave men delighted in and initiated.

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