MEDITATION ON MASKS #2 OF 3

002-71 -- Rubicon River in Winter

002-71 — Rubicon River in Winter

© Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved
This is part two of three
from an extract from a manuscript I used
in a class on spirituality and photography
at the Pacific School of Religion,
and the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA

Psychologist Erich Neumann explains the development of the persona as a development away from the natural and individual tendencies of the unconscious mind. Repression is the unconscious process of the mind to forget painful or embarrassing occurrences. Developmentally, it is beneficial that the mind’s reflexive fight or flight tendency be operative, but the urge to kill or do violence, is best repressed. Yet repression of one problem will many times allow for aberrant behavior, and a completely different problem. Repression of the urge to kill might cause a general sense of guilt that has no apparent cause. Neumann says that we adapt to the culture around us and our minds, when functioning healthily, adapt to fit in with other humans. Our minds are such, Neumann suggests, that the fully whole person is all ego, the persona is an interface, a superego, a conscience, that interacts between other egos in the world and the inner self of an individual. It is clear why psychology chose the Latin word persona to describe this process. Yet, while it is a healthy function of the mind to interface between the ego and the world, if the ego is completely submerged behind the persona, the persona becomes a mask and that is not healthy.
Mary Wolf-Salin explains that the failure to be one’s real self does not ocur because of a failure, or misuse, of the persona. Jung intended the persona to be understood as a part of the real self. Wolf-Salin suggests we simply cannot act the same way all of the time. Wolf-Salin suggests that the healthy person is one who finds a balance between the demands of the outer world of the person to conform to its expectations, and the demands of the inner person to be fully self. We need the persona much as we need the cloths we wear. We need to protect our bodies from danger, and we need to protect our inner selves as well.
Choosing to drive a car, which is dangerous and can kill us, is analogous to the operation of the persona. We take some precautions in driving a car by using seatbelts and following the traffic laws and speed limits. In this way we hope we can depend on enjoying a relatively safe journey. Similarly, we choose how much of our real self to allow to show through our persona. If we are really mad at someone we love and respect, we may not want them to know we feel like chopping off their toes—that is the raw us. We want them to know they offended us, and we will tell them that, but we know the other is not acceptable in a conscious society. People get into trouble when they act out their raw ego-urges, and do not conform to the expectations of society. I may feel like punching a rude person in the nose, but I just go home and whine to Cherie about it. My whiner persona.
The personas of Hilary Marckx, are variously: a photographer, musician, father, pastor, grandfather, theologian, husband. I am no one of these only, and I only use them to relate better to other humans. If I become any one of them—a photographer, a father, a theologian, a husband–as a means to distance myself from others, then they are no longer personas but masks.
A person is infinitely much more that any one or even a combination of personas. By confining ourselves to only one possibility, we shrink our worlds, and the world of others. By saying that I am a photographer and leaving it at that, I disclose something about myself, and add a limited amount of information concerning myself to those around me. If I say that I am a photographer of some renown, and use that as a grasp for power—many people are impressed that I have been in an exhibition or two and have had work in magazines—and to place myself over others, then the persona has become a mask and I have lessened myself. I have kept others out of the fullness of myself, and in a real way I have kept myself out as well. If I can only use my gifts to lessen others, I am made smaller as well.
An example of this happened for me some twenty-five years ago. I was looked up to and respected in my community of photographers. I was still trying to impress those around me, and I was working so hard at it that I had not noticed that a shift had occurred—younger photographers were now trying to impress me. I misunderstood this as competition. I still had the immature gun-fighter mentality. I still needed to kill my competition. I was in a position, that as I now look back, I can see as one where I could have been a mentor to several younger photographers. If I had done so I could have been even bigger than I dreamed, but I was not developed enough at the time to help. The incident I am thinking of happened at an opening a promising young photographer held. I and others were invited to celebrate with him his business expansion and the progress of his dream.
Well, I felt that his dream was cutting into my territory and I felt I needed I had to assert myself for great photographer I was. I waited my time for the right opportunity. It presented itself. He was showing off his prints to a group of photographers. The poor unsuspecting soul asked me, me, what I thought of a particular print. I said that the composition looked just fine, but the print itself appeared to be a little soft. Now, there are not many things more devastating to a photographer than to realize that what they think is a sharp, crystal-clear image is not quite up to professional standards. He was trying for affirmation, and I, hiding behind the mask of “The Great Photographer,” made sure he knew his position.
Cut to the quick, he stammered, became embarrassed, and floundered. What was to be his great moment was stolen from him. Masks do not let us see the thieves who hid behind them. With magnanimity I let him off by stating that the problem of sharpness might be in the processing, and we discussed the pros and cons of color printers to the chagrin of his color processor who was present, but even in this supposed gift of returning some part of his self respect, there was the tacit acknowledgment that it was only by way of a superior professional he could be affirmed. I had been similarly brutalized by one of my betters, and now I passed my own woundedness on to him. A killer hiding behind a mask is a danger to killer, killee, and witnesses.

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