I recently posted a random quote by Salvador Dali, now I like Dali, his paintings in particular are some of the most striking images created by anyone, but his statements in print are extraordinary, mostly for the apparent egotism, some of which I find irritate me. Part of the problem though is that Dali appears to have regarded his public persona as just as much a work of art as anything else he produced.
This reminded me of something I once heard or read an author saying, about ego and writing. I can’t for the life of me remember who, though it might have been Isaac Asimov. Basically it was something along the lines of, writing is an egotistical activity, not just the act of putting words on paper, or these days a computer screen, but actually expecting anyone to a) read it and b) enjoy reading it. I don’t know if it was when I came across this idea or later, but somewhere along the line I made the connection with other artistic pursuits.
Music, both Composing and Performing, Dance, Choreography and Performance, Painting, Sculpture, Stand Up Comedy, Acting, Directing, almost any artistic activity I can imagine needs a sense that what is being done is either worth someone’s attention or, should be worth someone’s attention. There are of course artists of all kinds wracked with self doubt, and uncertainty, but still somehow generate enough sense of self to produce something and present it to others as something to be appreciated. Tony Hancock leaps to mind as a comedian who fit’s the ‘tortured genius’ image, as would Jim Morrison of the Doors, or Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
I think I would extend this further, all human beings are to some extent searching for a way to feel significant, to leave a mark on the world.
Now the word ‘ego’ is indelibly linked to the work of Sigmund Freud, who; if I am honest; I have a healthy scepticism about, not least because he produced something known as ‘the abuse hypothesis’ which argued that mental illness was strongly related to experience of abuse in childhood, this was very poorly received at the time and he withdrew it in the face of the criticism, when I think he should have stuck to his guns. If he had done, it might well have saved quite a lot of time, and a lot of suffering for a lot of people, since most modern evidence suggests that, there is a very strong correlation between abuse, trauma and psychological distress.
But I digress, Freud’s idea of the Ego, Super-ego and Id are actually quite useful, but poorly understood. The Id is concerned with drives, and whatever Freud said, I would argue that these are represented by things that feel like a need: food, water, air, excretion, sleep, play, relaxation, social interaction, close personal relationships, and various others, which produce a surprisingly long list. The Superego is usually seen as ‘criticising’ the id, however I think it is more straightforward to think of the Superego as a emotional-psychological representation of the needs of other peoples Id‘s, particularly where these are in conflict with the needs of our own id’s. The Ego is much more straightforward, since it’s really the bit of the mind which negotiates between the Id and the Superego. Or put another way: the negotiator who tries to get the Id what it needs without getting into too much conflict with other peoples needs.
In this sense when someone describes someone as egotistical what they really mean is that they are trying to get their needs met at the expense of other people, so perhaps the word should be ‘id-itistcal’. Now I am under no illusions that I am going to change the way the English Language is used, but I wanted to highlight this, so I can be clear about what I mean.
Now as a blogger of all of about three weeks standing, (Just a baby I know) I am sufficiently id-itistical (I’ll revert to common usage and use egotistical next time) to want other people to read my blog. Really and truly if I was not, what would be the point? So having set up my blog and written what I thought might be enough posts to begin with I went finding out how to get people to read it. Linking to search engines, and posting links elsewhere in relevant places were the first two main things I found out, and how to do them. One particular piece of advice was make sure that the forum-group or whatever was relevant to the linked post.
So as someone who posts to usenet groups, I thought to myself that I would find relevant groups and post a short comment and a link to things I had written. As some of the things I had written I thought were funny, I thought I would post to a group on humour. Thinking to myself that this would be a fairly safe bet, I mean humour, how much could I upset people who nominally would be interested in something funny.
Oh boy, was I wrong. Demands to stop ‘spamming’ the group, criticism of me for thinking Ken Dodd was funny, and the accusation of egotism, because I might want people to visit my site. Perhaps it was something to do with Usenet groups, and I should have expected that I suppose, since I have had various arguments concerned with ‘usenet newsreaders vs. google groups’, so I already knew that there is a clique element associated with Usenet. Not that I am looking for any sympathy from anyone for my treatment by this group, it is not particularly important to me, it just made me wonder about how people generally think about creative activity and the ego.
However I concluded that the issue was actually more subtle than this, it seems to me that often people run a double standard, if someone is extremely ’egotistical’ we accept it happily, such as Beethoven was for example, (Granted he backed it up with his compositions, but he was also one of the worlds best self promoters), a more modern example is Lady Gaga, who I am surprised does not walk round wearing a hat with a 9 foot long neon arrow pointing down at her with an attached sign saying ‘LOOK AT ME‘, in giant red letters, with the same words blaring out from a 100Watt amp.
Yet if someone ‘ordinary’ says something reasonably modestly, along the lines of, read this I think it’s ok, we are prone to challenge them for acting in a self serving way. I suspect this is because the hugely famous we think are ‘out of our league’ but ordinary people might just be competition in our own little backwater. Prehaps it is just part of the ‘actor-observer’ effect, I.e. I do things because of the situation I am in but you do things because of who you are.
I don’t think I am going to come to a resolution here, but I do wonder if people were a little more tolerant of each others needs, or even wants and not see them as threatening their own, then if nothing else we might find ourselves being entertained by ‘ordinary’ things and not so hypnotised by things which we are told are ‘extraordinary’ but which are not so different from the things our neighbours do.
So in the end this piece really is about my ego, the bit of my mind trying to negotiate between the needs of my blogging Id, to have my posts read by others, and the needs of other peoples posting id’s, not to have too much competition.
Oh and as a footnote, after a little experiment I found that I was getting about 30 hit’s a day by posting a link to that particular group, so I think there might have been a silent majority which were at least interested in what I was offering.