Insincerity: A New Vice


Gullibus.—A new vice! Could you be the protagonist, Satiricus, of a new vice I wonder what it would be like.

Satiricus.—It would be the realization of a very old and a very beautiful vice, but I should wish to apply it generally, to every form of life. Heretofore, it has been in the keeping of a few artistic minds; but I should like to reorganize it and make of it a religion, a philosophy or an educational system. I speak, Gullibus, of the vice of the Artificial, the Insincere. Profundity and sincerity have no roots except in sham and logic. I have noticed that the stupid are always sincere. They are both virtues, are seriousness and sincerity; Christian virtues, bourgeois virtues, the very marrow of moral systems, English ethical codes and New England poetry. If you wish proof in philosophy that seriousness, profundity, ugliness and stupidity are interchangeable terms read the “Origin of Species,” Herbert Spencer’s “Psychology,” the “Phenomenology” of Hegel, the “Creative Evolution of Bergson, and Karl Marx. Place alongside of them the dazzling artificiality and laughing insincerity of Heine, Renan, Oscar Wilde, Bernard Shaw, Anatole France, Remy de Gourmont. The first build universes of lead, the second carve universes out of the air and blow them away with the nonchalance of God.

Go to the Greeks, who were the supreme adepts of artificiality and insincerity. The “Dialogues” of Plato are the contortions of a Harlequin. Aristotle said, “The universe has no insides; it is all outside, and here it is in my books.” The Greeks invented all the sublime lies that we have stolen. Their fables, their allegories, their tragedies and comedies, their painting, their sculpture, their architecture were artificial, transitory, things lightly seen and lightly recorded by the light of a campfire, during a battle, in a bath, during a love-siesta.

The “profound wisdom of the Greeks” is as purely an invention of the elephantine European imagination as are the miracles of Christ. The very cosmology left to us by Hesiod is a fanciful tour de force. They have left us no book that contains a “divine revelation.” They were in love with things as they are, the divine artificiality of this day and this night, the ironic insincerity of events. What was not registered on their senses did not exist, and a dead man was simply a corpse—no more.

If no one took anyone else seriously it would be a delicious world. Man has one supreme gift that has not been given to any other form of life in the universe—the ability to pose. In the evolution of the human imagination the summit is reached in the poseur. But he must be born to the purple; he cannot put it on like a sweater. When we look back at the Greeks we see that all they did was a pose. They seem to have decreed their own birth and [16] evolved a civilization for the purpose of attitudinizing before the Kodak of Posterity. They knew the secret of reincarnation here on earth in this present life. In a single glance they divined the law of life, that it was all a question of postures and masks, and they adapted themselves to that law. They are the only people of whom we have any knowledge who had a right to the earth. The Jews may have been heaven-born, and the Mohammedans may have sprung from Allah, and the Romans may have come from Mars, and the Christians may have been born of Adam, but the Greeks were planet-born.  They were out of the bowels of Pan. They posed even in Death.

To live is to lie. To act is to pose. Sincerity, strictly speaking, cannot exist. To-day we have not the sincere and religious insincerity of the Greeks, but we have the religious and insincere sincerity of Christianity and Judaism, which latter attitude makes for tragedy as the former made for comedy. It is the difference between irony and hypocrisy, the difference between the Artificial and the Insincere as escapes into the heavens of light and air and liberty and the Mysterious and the Serious worn as disguises by beings who are ashamed to live according to the rules of the Immanent Lie. But some day, Gullibus, I shall write a ponderous book called “The Metaphysics of the Artificial and the Curse of Insincerity.” It will be profound, wordy, and no doubt will become a classic in my own lifetime.

It is the pose, Gullibus, that makes our lives romantic and supportable. On arising each morning, we, all of us, prepare our pose for the day. In the freshness of the morning each being conceives an artificial and impossible vision of himself or herself—no different from the egocentric visions induced in the brain by opium or alcohol. The day dies and the dream—the pose—dies with it. It is like the “morning after” of a debauch. This is the eternal comedy of the daily tragedy—trying to make ourselves and others believe that we are other than we are. Hypocrisy generates the beautiful in character. The pose is the Lie Beautiful and gives reality to our ideals and ennobles our weaknesses and imperfections by straining them to the breaking point. Bottoms all, we conceive ourselves to be Prosperos and Don Juans. Tartuffes, we pose as Jobs and supermen of varying degrees. If you have not your pose you are as uninteresting as a cow. It is your artificial self that I fall in love with.

Woman is divine and seductive because she is the liar, the hypocrite, the artificial being par excellence. Her life is a pose and an artifice from the cradle to the grave. She will never be understood not because she is profound but because she is so shallow and vapory that we cannot grasp her least thought, her least feeling, her least action. She confounds us by her multiple poses, her thousand acts, her subtle surface-play. Divine woman! She never means what she says, “practices what she preaches” or “lives up to her convictions” or “sticks to her principles.” She knows that is the jargon of bores.

[17] The sane and simple are a menace to the race, a kill-joy at the orgy of existence. Sanity and simplicity are the prime curses of civilization. They are the masks of blackguards and saviours. To be in earnest, Gullibus, is really a defect of the understanding; it is a kind of lunacy wherein a fixed idea blankets the brain and smooths the admirable incoherence of life to a smug symmetry and proportion. The “sublime sincerity” of Prometheus himself looks ridiculous in the vision of the Aristophanic eye.

No, Gullibus, there is no form sincerity that in the last analysis is not interchangeable with stupidity. Life is sublime—if it is sublime—because of its perpetual failure to realize itself. It is inherently vicious, inherently artificial, eternally worth while. Were I God—and I may be some day, who knows?—I would create each being in the likeness of Malvolio, Tartarin or Don Quixote. My new vice is merely to teach each one to appear other than he is, to make a religion of the artificial, the insincere, the pose. We should mock existence at each moment, mock ourselves, mock others, mock everything by the perpetual creation of fantastic and grotesque attitudes, gestures and attributes. I call it a vice because I merely desire to use the jargon of current ethical schools. Secretly, Gullibus, I lead a respectable life, and I desire to break none of the verbal conventions.

Besides, Gullibus, my doctrine of the eternal pose has a metaphysical and egotistic basis. The pose is a promise of immortality. We end by becoming the being we mimic. Death may cut me off here, but my poses, if there is passion behind them, will be continued elsewhere. I desire to prolong my fictitious selves into the Infinite. I am always at a rehearsal. But there! I am growing serious and I’ll soon be as stupid as a President or a college professor.

Benjamin De Casseres.


Source: Camera Work, April-July 1913, No. XLII-XLIII, pp. 15 – 17