I don't know if anything I have written below holds any importance to anyone that will read it, it is simply a thought-process I have had, thinking about people here, people at home, history, and how it all ties together. It's a bit abstract and perhaps impossible to follow, but maybe it will make people think. Maybe, lol. :)
So Wednesday we went to the Louvre to take a look at David's self-portrait. A small, easily over-looked painting in a grand room of paintings tens of times its size, it may be the painting that has made me think the most, and more in depth, about things that I have learned here, both in classes and otherwise. Although the other paintings are often works of politics, especially David's works as they are meant to speak to the public of a certain time about a certain political condition, David's self-portrait may be considered just as political of a work. Okay, this sounds extremely academic and rather boring as an observation thus far, but what I am getting at is the idea of "self" that David's self-portrait examples. During the time of the French Revolution, citizens had an idea of the "self"--who they were, what they stood for, and what they deserved by way of political leadership. For example, when the Declaration of the Rights of Man was written, it represented (although not addressing women or slavery) the equality that should be given to each citizen as an individual, undefined by social class and no longer divided by issues of wealth. Instead man had the possibility of cultivating their own abilities and seeing a greater self-worth in what they did possess rather than in what they did not possess in comparison to the nobility. People of the French Revolution were coming to a "self realization." It brought to ligth the fact that in fact they deserved to have a say in how their lives were run--give us a constitution. The poor were no longer "the poor" but they became "The Third Estate," an entity that held more power over the fate of France than they could have ever imagined prior to the beginning of Revolutionary ideas, beginning with Enlightenment thought, and the belief that equality should be not just an imagined ideal, but a reality for the citizens. The revolutionary uprisings and the Declaration of the Rights of Man set the example for the uprisings in Sainte Dominigue (Haitian Revolution) which in fact was the first successful slave-uprising in history. It started making me think about the idea of "identity" and of "self." Being in a foreign country I have begun to realize all the things about my self that I identify with home, or with being "American" The people of France at the Time of the Revolution had certain concepts of the "self," of who and what they were and what they represented. Today I think that people of France have a very strong concept of national identity, and I suppose I never really thought about my "self view" until coming to Paris where, suddenly, I was faced with a culture and people that seemed to contrast who I am. It is not that I am "contradictory" to Parisians, but rather that I, in fact, have an identity that is made up in-part by things that are inherently American, or at least that come from home, my friends and family and other things that I identify with. The previous statement sort of makes it sound as if I would identify with all Americans before I would identify with someone from France, which is certainly not true. I am simply saying that I have realized things about myself and actually thought about them since coming here. I never really thought about the "self" as something exactly definable--which perhaps it isn't really, however I do think that one can have a "concept" of the self. And it in fact does partly have to do with the environment where I have lived most of my life, part of this is certainly the political environment. The people of the French Revolution knew that they were entitled to greater rights, because of the political condition of the time citizens were faced with the question of "self"--who are you? what do you stand for? But I have never been faced with those questions, I have never had to stand up for something that I believe I represent or I believe that I am part in a situation where peoples lives are being taking because of who they are and what they believe. I don't know if any of the above makes much sense, but it is sort of a stream of thought I am having. I wonder if now, in times of more-or-less political peace in France and on American soil, people have less of a "self-concept." David's picture simply made me think. How do people identify themselves? What do they think when they look in the mirror-or rather, what do they think other people see when looking at them. They are cliche questions that have all been asked before, but my curiosity is based on why someone chooses to define themselves the way they do. For example, if I asked a random person on the street, "Who are you?" or in my French class for example, if everyone was asked to describe themselves in one page, what would they write? Most everyone in my class has a different background, comes from a different country, and are, bottom-line, very different people. So what do they think are self-defining elements? And if everyone has such a different self-definition how is it that we identity with other people? Somehow, despite all of the "differences" we have all ended up in the same country, in the same classroom, and we develop understandings of and relationships with one another there. Maybe it is an overarching acceptance that all people are equal, that the "Declaration of Rights" has in fact finally been accepted and is acted out everyday, and people choose to find similarities in others rather than differences now. Or is that really true? How different am I from the woman playing her instrument in the metro station? Or how different are the kids on their way home from private school from those who beg with their mother in the street? Would a conversation between the two bring up more similarities than you would ever see from simply looking? Maybe someone you find to be very different from yourself would paint a self-portrait alarmingly similar to your own.