Unmasking the Person

Chad Engelland
2010 International Philosophical Quarterly  
The truths of metaphysics are the truths of masks." -OSCAR WILDE 1 In the movie Ocean's Twelve (2004) Julia Roberts plays two roles. Her principal role as Tess is to play an unknown woman who happens to look like the celebrity Julia Roberts. In the film Tess even presents herself on one occasion as the real-world actress Julia Roberts in order to gain the privileges of celebrity. In the same film Julia Roberts also plays the real Julia Roberts, whose presence undermines the credibility of the
more » ... redibility of the impersonator. In one and the same film, then, Julia Roberts plays herself and someone playing herself. She is both masked and unmasked. Such a juxtaposition, like a Shakespearean play-within-a-play, calls attention to the difference between an actor and a character and to the context in which such a difference can occur. When we think about such things, the very nature of the person as the agent and as the dative of such contexts rises to the fore. This need not be surprising, for it was the difference in context afforded by the theater that first enabled human beings to come to terms with the person. Attention to the role of context, especially in art, will allow us to re-animate the classical understanding of the human being as a person, a wearer of masks, bearing a face, who navigates contexts to act and speak truthfully, duplicitously, or simply playfully. Our goal is to turn the person inside out: to avoid the perils of Cartesian and Lockean introspection by showing how the person is on display in an encounter. To
doi:10.5840/ipq201050432 fatcat:l654ls3u3jcq3j5ymraeqzjpki