The Woodrow Wilson Center Press
The Toothpaste of Immortality: Self-Construction in the Consumer Age
Elemér Hankiss shows how human beings act simultaneously in two plays. On the "trivial" surface of their everyday lives they work, make money, raise children, build houses, and do a lot of other things. At the same time, they also act in the "existential" drama of their lives—even if they are not aware of doing so. They construct and reconstruct their selves each day by striving for authenticity, the intense experience of being, dignity, meaning, and the hope of immortality.
Hankiss explores this interaction between the trivial and existential, in the process unfolding its context in "consumer civilization." This concept is brilliantly illustrated in a section entitled "the toothpaste of immortality":
"If we watch enough commercials, we believe that this or that special brand of toothpaste preserves our teeth, and— per metonymiam —ourselves, young and beautiful indefinitely. And then, for a fleeting moment, there, in our bathrooms, we experience the sweet and melancholy illusion that we may stay young and beautiful forever; that we may defeat mortality; we may defeat decay and death."
First published to great success in Hungarian, this entertaining and compelling book reveals surprising insights into the challenges and possibilities of self-fulfillment.
What People are Saying
"The magic of Hankiss's exposition is found in his capacity to elevate the small things into their larger, sometimes cosmic symbolic meanings. His style is that of a virtuoso, often playful, almost always insightful and convincing. He is a shrewd observer and interpreter of life."—Neil Smelser, University of California, Berkeley
Introduction: Trivialities Are Not Trivial
The trivial and the existential • A trivial (and existential)example • The duality of the self in philosophy • The duality of the self in psychology • The method • The self in everyday life • The self in the consumer age • What is missing
THE SELF IN EVERYDAY LIFE
1. The Morning Reconstruction of the Self
The jungle of the night • Kings, zebras, humans • Prayer • The first cigarette • The first cup of coffee • The mirror • The magic shower • The toothpaste of immortality • Exercise • The coiffure • Makeup • Perfumes • The fashion show • Stripes • Jewels • Knickknacks • Shoes •Hands • Women's handbags • Goals and life goals
2. The Reconstruction of the World
The family • The papers • The weather • The mirror, once more
3. The Self in the Public Space
Which world? • A framework • The private and the public self • The presentation of self • The elevator speech • "Preedy" • Models • Norms of conduct • Etiquette • The art of lying • Masquerades • Sunglasses • Cars and bicycles • Personal music players and cell phones • Networks
4. The Limits and Freedom of Self-Construction
The social construction of the self • The self as a trap • Self-construction and freedom • The self as a narrative
5. The Self at Work
The workplace • Keep smiling • My desk
6. The Self and the Articulation of Time
In the street • The shopping center • Travel • The pub • Sports • Gossip.
7. The Self at Home
The home and its objects • The home and its people • Self and love • Children • Television • Books • My wife's bookshelves • Switching off
THE SELF IN THE CONSUMER AGE
8. The Self in a Changing World 145
Possible and impossible futures • The self in various worlds
9. "Proletarian Renaissance"
An apology • The concept of crisis • "Crises" • Answers • The modern—postmodern dilemma • A questionable parallel • The Renaissance • Renaissance and Reformation • Other comparisons • Proletarian Renaissance • The Great Transformation • Harmony and disharmony • Stoicism, Epicureanism, and Neo-Platonism • Visions of the world
10. The Self in a Syncretic Age
The first paradox • The emergence and disappearance of the self • Concepts and strategies • A multiple self? • The second paradox
11. The Self and the Intensity of Life
The loss of transcendence • The cult of the moment • The cult of intensity • The sources of intensity
12. The Self in Boundary Situations
Fear and civilization • Death in the consumer civilization • The beauty and the death • The martyrdom of the monster with a golden heart • The wheel of fortune • The fall of princes • The scandal
13. The Myth of the Self
The cult of the human personality • "Who are you?" Celebrities • The gaze • Gods and goddesses • Mythology in the superlative • The glory and the fall of gods • The "legends" of golf • Imitatio Dei • All or nothing
14. The Self in a Reenchanted World 265
Two worlds • The loss of meaning • New myths • The reenchantment of the world • Proletarian Renaissance: Crisis? Transition? Revival?
Care for the self • Care for the self: past and present • "Highbrow" and "lowbrow" selves • Risks • Assets •
Why all this zeal? • Questions