Countenance and Character – Autobiography as Self-Marking and Self-Making; or, Self-Defacement

The individual exists in himself and for himself. He is for himself, or is a free activity; he is, however, also in himself, or has himself an original determinate being of his owna character which is in principle the same as what psychology sought to find outside him. Opposition thus breaks out in his own self; it has this twofold nature, it is a process or movement of consciousness, and it is the fixed being of a reality with a phenomenal character, a reality which in it is directly its own. This being, the “body” of the determinate individuality, is its original source, that in the making of which it has had nothing to do. But since the individual at the same time merely is what he has done, his body is also an “expression” of himself which he has brought about; a sign and indication as well, which has not remained a bare immediate fact, but through which the individual only makes known what is actually implied by his setting his original nature to work.

If we consider the moments we have here in relation to the view previously indicated, we find a general human shape and form, or at least the general character of a climate, of a portion of the world, of a people, just as formerly we found in the same way general customs and culture. In addition the particular circumstances and situation are within the universal reality; here this particular reality is a particular formation of the shape of the individual. On the other side, whereas formerly we were dealing with the free activity of the individual, and reality in the sense of his own reality was put in contrast and opposition to reality as given, here the shape assumed by the individual stands as an expression of his own actualization established by the individual himself, it bears the ‘lineaments’ and forms of his spontaneously active being. But the reality, both universal as well as particular, which observation formerly found outside the individual, is here the actual reality of the individual, his connate body; and within this very body the expression due to his own action appears. From the psychological point of view objective reality in and for itself and determinate individuality had to be brought into relation to one another; here, however, it is the whole determinate individuality that is the object for observation, and each aspect of the opposition it entails is itself this whole. Thus, to the outer whole belongs not merely the original primordial being, the connate body, but the formation of the body as well, which is due to activity from the inner side; the body is a unity of unformed and formed existence, and is the reality of the individual permeated by his reference to self. This whole embraces the definite parts fixed originally and from the first, and also the lineaments which arise only as the result of action; this whole so formed is, and this being is an expression of what is inner, of the individual constituted as a consciousness and as a process.

Language and labour are outer expressions in which the individual no longer retains possession of himself per se, but lets the inner get right outside him, and surrenders it to something else. For that reason we might just as truly say that these outer expressions express the inner too much as that they do so too little: too much — because the inner itself breaks out in them, and there remains no opposition between them and it; they not merely give an expression of the inner, they give the inner itself directly and immediately: too little — because in speech and action the inner turns itself into something else, into an other, and thereby puts itself at the mercy of the element of change, which transforms the spoken word and the accomplished act, and makes something else out of them than they are in and for themselves as actions of a particular determinate individual. . . . This inner is, too, no longer formal, spontaneous activity without any content or determinateness of its own, an activity with its content and specific nature, as in the former case, lying in external circumstances; it is an original inherently determinate Character, whose form alone is the activity. What, then, we have to consider here is the relation subsisting between the two sides; the point to observe is how this relation is determined, and what is to be understood by the inner finding expression in the outer.

Lichtenberg, therefore, is right in saying: “Suppose the physiognomist ever did have a man in his grasp, it would merely require a courageous resolution on the man’s part to make himself again incomprehensible for centuries.”

–G.W.F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, Physiognomy and Phrenology (1807)

All my life I have seen narrow-shouldered man, without exception, perform innumerable stupid actions, brutalize his fellows and poison minds by every conceivable means. The motivation of such behavior he calls, ‘Glory.’ Seeing these things I have desired to laugh with the others, but this strange imitation was impossible for me. I have taken a pocket-knife and severed the flesh at the spot where the lips come together. For a moment I thought I had accomplished my end. I looked into a mirror and inspected the mouth I had deliberately butchered. It was a mistake!

–Comte de Lautreamont, Les Chants de Maldoror (1868)

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