Thursday, July 26, 2007



Giacomo Leopardi, Pensieri (1845), XCIX (tr. W.S. Di Piero):
People are ridiculous only when they try to seem or to be that which they are not. The poor, the ignorant, the rustic, the sick, and the old are never ridiculous so long as they are content to appear such and to stay within the limits imposed by these conditions; it is absurd, however, when the old wish to seem young, the sick healthy, the poor rich, or when an ignorant man tries to appear educated, or the rustic cosmopolitan. Even physical deformities, no matter how serious, draw nothing more than momentary laughter so long as one does not try to hide them; that is, so long as he does not try to pretend he does not have them, which is like saying that he's different than he really is. Any keen observer can see that it's not our disadvantages or shortcomings that are ridiculous, but rather the studious way we try to hide them and our desire to act as if they did not exist.

Those who try to seem more likable by affecting a moral nature not their own are making a terrible mistake. The incredible effort required to sustain this illusion is bound to become obvious, the contradiction between the true and the false more transparent, and as a result one becomes more unlikable and unpleasant than if he were to act honestly and consistently like himself. Everyone, even the most unfortunate, possesses a few pleasant natural traits; when displayed at the right time, these are surely more attractive, because more true, than any finer false quality.
Arthur Schopenhauer, Parerga and Paralipomena (1851), Counsels and Maxims, chap. 3 (Our Relations to Others), § 30 (tr. T. Bailey Saunders):
And in this connection let me utter a word of protest against any and every form of affectation. It always arouses contempt; in the first place, because it argues deception, and the deception is cowardly, for it is based on fear; and, secondly, it argues self-condemnation, because it means that a man is trying to appear what he is not, and therefore something which he thinks better than he actually is.

To affect a quality, and to plume yourself upon it, is just to confess that you have not got it. Whether it is courage, or learning, or intellect, or wit, or success with women, or riches, or social position, or whatever else it may be that a man boasts of, you may conclude by his boasting about it that that is precisely the direction in which he is rather weak; for if a man really possesses any faculty to the full, it will not occur to him to make a great show of affecting it; he is quite content to know that he has it. That is the application of the Spanish proverb: herradura que chacolotea clavo le falta—a clattering hoof means a nail gone.

To be sure, as I said at first, no man ought to let the reins go quite loose, and show himself just as he is; for there are many evil and bestial sides to our nature which require to be hidden away out of sight; and this justifies the negative attitude of dissimulation, but it does not justify a positive feigning of qualities which are not there.

It should also be remembered that affectation is recognized at once, even before it is clear what it is that is being affected. And, finally, affectation cannot last very long, and one day the mask will fall off. Nemo potest personam diu ferre fictam, says Seneca; ficta cito in naturam suam recidunt—no one can persevere long in a fictitious character; for nature will soon reassert itself.
A common form that affectation takes in our day is the inflated job résumé. One apparently serious web site gives advice on how to fake your college education, how to lie at the interview and get away with it, etc.

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