We often think of the “selfie” (the practice of taking self-portraits and posting them to the Internet on social media like Facebook and Instagram) as a sort of postmodern phenomenon for teenagers. But over at the Paris Review blog, Tara Isabella Burton suggests that the origins of the selfie can be traced to nineteenth-century dandyism — and that there’s always been spiritual consequences:
Here, the dandyist obsession with the freedom to fashion one’s own identity is taken to the extreme. Every element of Deshoulières’s identity is constructed for maximum effect. He is less a human being than an artistic rendering of one: a selfie in three dimensions.
Such existence comes at a spiritual cost. Deshoulières can commit to no meaningful course of action, because to be committed is to be predictable, and hence no longer free. He is incapable of love, or of any real emotion. In this, he echoes d’Aurevilly, who included love in his list of things his ideal dandy should avoid: “For to love, even in the least lofty acceptation of the word—to desire—is always to depend, to be slave of one’s desire. The arms that clasp you the most tenderly are still a chain.”