Velasquez and the postmodern circle of mirrors

Journal of Consciousness Studies 15 (9):35-39 (2008)
I agree with Uzi Awret that Diego Velasquez's seminal painting, Las Meninas, is an expression of self-consciousness in many different ways. But my first response was to the feeling tone Velasquez evokes in his work, which felt dark and rather grim to me. I think this painting may be a meditation on the mortification of the flesh, a theme that was surely familiar to Velasquez. It is a contemplation of human vanity. Self-consciousness is not just a cognitive act. The so-called 'self conscious emotions' include pride, vanity, shame and guilt; their cognitive components are self-aggrandizement, perfectionism, and self- criticism. The self-consciousness emotions are enormously powerful motivators in life. Pride and self-celebration can be seen in three-year olds. Starting in middle childhood, children can feel so intensely embarrassed at times that they want to sink into the ground. Mutual ridicule emerges in social play, a game of shaming others and avoiding self-shame. In adults, severe mental disorders like paranoia and depression are thought to be evoked by intense feelings of shame and constant self-criticism. Self-consciousness is a great force in human lives.
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