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Inspired by a remark made by Julia Roberts, this little piece is meant to be an amusing (but still important to consider) reflection on what it may mean to really see ourselves as we really are.

Julia Roberts As She Sees Herself?


Steven C. Scheer

The Evansville Courier & Press, the daily I read every morning, has an article in the July 19, 2001 edition called "'America's Sweethearts' stars talk of 'unholy alliance,'" by Douglas J. Rowe, an AP entertainment writer. The "unholy alliance" in the title refers to the relationship between reporters and the actors or actresses they interview as part of a given studio's publicity campaign. Such a publicity campaign is apparently an expensive proposition. It can consume a budget nearly half of the cost of a given film.

I read this article with some interest. What made me sit up and take notice is the complaint about how writers approach interviews with preconceived notions which then remain unchanged no matter what the person being interviewed is like. John Cusack, one of the four involved in this particular junket about a movie about a junket (the others are Catherine Zeta-Jones, Julia Roberts, and Billy Crystal), uses the metaphor of an "angle." He says that interviewers (writers) typically approach him with an "angle" and then they merely "fish for things" to support it.

Julia Roberts chimes in with the word "thesis." We are told how she once let a writer come and interview her in her New York apartment. It so happens that she had an abbreviated quotation on her mantelpiece, which she abridged simply to make it fit the area she had at her disposal for its display. The writer promised her not to describe her house, but he ended up looking up the quotation and, when he saw that the passage was "edited," decided to do a "full-scale Freudian interpretation of what" of Julia Roberts on the basis of what she took out. She repeats the complaint made by John Cusack by saying that the writer "walked in with a thesis, and nothing I did was going to detour him from said thesis."

In other words, writers see what they wish to see rather than what they actually could see. Or, better, they don't see what's in front of their eyes, they only see what they have already seen prior to even looking. Words to that effect. And I sympathize with these complaints. I am a promoter of good reading, and I define it as reading the other, not as merely a re-reading our own selves, as it were. And the same applies to listening. Good listening must really hear the other. When we read texts or people we owe it to all concerned, including ourselves, not to let preconceived notions get in the way. It's not easy to see what is really there. We bring a whole lot to our seeing that may well interfere with what we think we see as opposed to what we could really see if we would just really look. Out-of-control egos can really mess things up.

At the same time it occurred to me that there is more to this question than meets the eye. Is Julia Roberts (and I don't mean to pick on her, I am merely talking of her since it was her remarks that have got my writerly juices going here in the first place) - so, is Julia Roberts really entitled to the full-scale belief that she is what she thinks she is? That her view of herself - as she sees herself - corresponds to the real Julia Roberts, and that the way others see her, provided that there is a discrepancy between what she sees and what others see, is always - without exception - a distortion of what Julia Roberts really is?

Let's take the example of the quotation in question (and I wish the article gave it to us; it would help to know what it was, and just what it was that Julia Roberts had taken out of it due to lack of space). The journalist who went to interview her compared the original with Julia's edited version and made much of the differences between the original and the edited version. Now Julia claims that she merely left things out of the quotation because she couldn't fit it into the area at her disposal for its display. Yes, I am sure. But what she left out, however unmotivated her excisions might have seemed to her, may still have said something about her, about what she thought was most important in the quote, thus throwing some subtle light on the kind of person she really is.

I am sure that I would not go so far as to indulge myself in a "full-scale Freudian interpretation" of Julia Roberts on this basis alone (or, indeed, on any other basis), but I am willing to concede that not one of us is identical to our sense of ourselves, that how we see ourselves is not necessarily the whole story, that how others see us may contain fragments of the ultimate (and always incompletely formulated) truth about ourselves. This doesn't mean that no one can ever misunderstand or misrepresent us. I am sure that that happens a lot. What I mean, though, is that others may see aspects of us that we may not be aware of or that we may be in denial about for one reason or another.

"Know thyself," a saying going back to ancient Greece, is an acknowledgement of the fact that knowing ourselves is not an easy enterprise. So what's my final point? That we can read or misread ourselves as well as others. We should always try to do our best to really listen and to really hear. But we should also accept the fact that we don't necessarily really listen and really hear our own selves either. Some of us may be the victims of unwitting illusions. Some of us may even delude ourselves. Some of us may see others more clearly than we see ourselves. Or not. As the case may be. "Things seen are things as seen," says Wallace Stevens in his Adagia. He also says that "authors are actors, books are theaters." And there is the rub. We always assume that our own point of view is the correct point of you. Which it may well be, but the trick is to be able to see when this is not the case (for that, too, could be the case every once in a while). And this is not easy, though it is still possible. Otherwise we may never be able to change our minds about anything. Then where would we be?

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