Scenes of shame, social roles, and the play with masks

Continental Philosophy Review, Springer Nature, ISSN 1387-2842

Volume 47, 1, 2014

DOI:10.1007/s11007-014-9286-0, Dimensions: pub.1008350651,


* Corresponding author



  1. (1) University of Copenhagen, grid.5254.6, KU






This article explores various scenes of shame, raising the questions of what shame discloses about the self and how this self-disclosure takes place. Thereby, the common idea that shame discloses the self’s debasement will be challenged. The dramatic dialectics of showing and hiding display a much more ambiguous, dynamic self-image as result of an interactive evaluation of oneself by oneself and others. Seeing oneself seen contributes to the sense of who one becomes. From being absorbed in what one does, one might suddenly become self-aware, shift viewpoints and feel pressed to put on masks. In putting on a mask, one relates to oneself in distancing oneself from oneself. In being at once a moral agent and a performing actor with an audience and norms in mind, one embodies and transcends the social roles one takes. In addition to the feeling of shame, in which the self finds itself passively reflected, the self’s active reflections on its shame are to be taken into account. As examples from Milan Kundera, Shakespeare’s King Lear, a line from Kingsley Amis, a speech by Vaclav Havel and Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments indicate, self-(re)presentation in the public and the private sphere is a complex hermeneutical process with surprising twists.

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