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Dorian’s ‘look’: Jean-Paul Sartre and the divided celebrity

Morrison, J. (2014) Dorian’s ‘look’: Jean-Paul Sartre and the divided celebrity. Celebrity Studies, 5 (1-2). pp. 45-58.

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In his exploration of ‘the phenomenon of the look’ in Being and Nothingness (Sartre 1969, p. 268), Jean-Paul Sartre suggests that the self is split into two by the look of the other, such that ‘my being-as-object or being-for-others is profoundly different from my being-for-myself’ (1969, p. 273). In this article, I suggest that Sartre’s ‘duality’ of the looked-upon self is relevant to celebrity studies discourse which holds that the celebrity is divided into a core self and a public persona (Morin 1961, Braudy 1986, Dyer and McDonald 1998, Marshall 1998, Rojek 2001). The unease Sartre describes as part of his philosophy of ontological duality sheds light on the psychology of celebrity duality, which Leo Braudy describes as a ‘constant tension’ for those subjected to ‘the incessant spotlight’ of fame (Braudy 1986, p. 592). Sartre’s argument that the self is an unstable entity (Sartre 1969, p. 74) complicates the idea of celebrity duality, such that the relationship between celebrity self and persona is arguably more complex than a straightforward binary. Nonetheless, his ontology offers a philosophical explanation for how duality and the gaze relate to what David Giles calls the ‘existential anguish’ or burden of celebrities (Giles 2000, p. 90). A Sartrean reading of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, with reference to Ovid’s myth of Narcissus and Echo, examines representations of troubling dualities within the texts, illustrating the potential of Sartre’s ontology to inform the psychology of celebrity duality. This contribution is not intended to be a critique of contemporary readings of celebrity culture, but rather to propose a theoretical shift towards an existentialist approach to theorising the psychology of celebrity duality.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Arts
Publisher: Routledge as part of the Taylor and Francis Group
Copyright: 2014 Taylor & Francis
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