P E N S É E S
The mask serves different purposes for different people: Some use it to hide or protect themselves, others put it on to make something visible which they consider essential. Therefore, the mask – in this case, the visible mask you put on – can either conceal or illustrate one’s ‘true’ identity. From one moment to the next, it lets people slip into a role which allows them to be different and to take liberties they normally repress – because they want to be good persons. But it is not always about being good or bad – the reason for wearing a mask can also be the wish to be someone else for a change.
A mask attracts all the attention when it is worn by one single person, but it disappears in the crowd when everyone is wearing it.
‘Someone who loves anonymity has many things to hide,’ publicist Franz Schmidberger said. Think of the masquerade ball in Arthur Schnitzler’s Dream Story, where protagonist Fridolin casts off his social self along with all his shame as soon as he puts on the mask and lets his desires guide him. But masks are also worn by people who want to distract from themselves or remain anonymous in order to put the focus on something else, such as the art they create – think of metal band Slipknot or Marilyn Manson.
A mask attracts all the attention when it is worn by one single person, but it disappears in the crowd when everyone is wearing it, such as the followers of the Occupy Wall Street movement, or people celebrating Mardi Gras. Maybe that is why the invisible masks are invisible?
The invisible masks we wear, be it consciously or unconsciously. The roles we assume in life, or of which we believe that we have to assume them, and of whose mask-like character we are frequently not even aware. ‘A person who does not know that he is wearing a mask is wearing it most perfectly,’ German novelist and poet Theodor Fontane said.
Clothes are another type of disguise, located somewhere between visibility and invisibility. They are a mask for the body which says: I want to be perceived one way or another. You show yourself the way you want to be seen, and ideally what you wear corresponds to aspects of your inner self that are turned inside out. ‘Every morning when you wake up you put on a new disguise,’ Gil Scott-Heron sings in ‘When You Are Who You Are’.
No one can long hide behind a mask; the pretense soon lapses into the true character.SENECA
So the mask at a masquerade ball is a visible mask worn over the invisible one – a double disguise, in a way. ‘After the carnival, we are forced to wear masks again,’ said German philosopher Manfred Hinrich, as if it was impossible to not wear a mask. But is it? Is it possible to be completely and utterly authentic? Was Roman philosopher Seneca right when he said, ‘No one can long hide behind a mask; the pretense soon lapses into the true character’?
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