The selfie-conscious: ‘Mirror Mirror’ queries our eternal preoccupation with our ‘selves’

Blackburn jacketFor those among us active on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instragram or Twitter, it is hard to miss the viral trend that has succeeded ‘Movember’ and the ‘NekNomination’; the ‘#NoMakeupSelfie’. Created to raise awareness and encourage donations to breast cancer research, the craze invites girls and women to take a ‘selfie’ (Oxford English Dictionary: ‘a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website’) wearing no make-up, and then to nominate friends to do the same. The internet and media have exploded with responses that both condemn and condone the purportedly philanthropic trend, with Yomi Adegoke of The Independent describing it as ‘narcissism masked as charity’. But now that the phenomenon of the ‘selfie’ has been teamed up with charitable giving – generally deemed to be ‘self-less’ – this craze has now entered into the debate surrounding ‘selfie-mania’ and ‘self-love’ that Simon Blackburn explores in Mirror Mirror: The Uses and Abuses of Self-Love.

Blackburn examines this modern phenomenon in conjunction with the classical origins of a consideration of the self, such as ‘Know thy self’, a trope that was advocated by Apollo’s oracle at Delphi. However, ‘Mirror Mirror’ reminds us that Narcissus was warned against this advice by what Blackburn describes as ‘the highly reliable’, ‘blind seer Tiresius’, and he goes on to explore this contradiction and the subsequent dispute between ignorance and knowledge of the self. Blackburn underpins these modern and classical references with a discussion of philosophy, psychology, and morality, reflected in his chapter titles: ‘Temptation’, ‘Hubris’, and ‘Respect’. Mirror Mirror skilfully moves through a multi-faceted examination of what it means to be and to document our ‘selves’, and why we have been, and continue to be, so obsessed with them.

By Hannah Lucas, Princeton University Press Europe intern, March 2014

 

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