Big 5 and being high in the trait of Openness

Lately, I stumbled upon an interesting conversation between the author Robert Greene and the psychologist Jordan Peterson. In summary, they were talking about how everyone has a shadow persona in the Jungian sense, how it is impossible to get rid of it and how people should instead attempt to channel this aspect of their personality into productive pursuits, such as in the creation of artistic works.

They also discussed the taxonomy of the Big 5 personality traits. Initially developed by Ernest Tupes and Raymond Christal in 1961, the theory behind it reached popularity in the 1980s and onwards. Compared to systems like MBTI, the Big 5 personality model has been proven to be a relatively reliable predictor of someone’s personality in the psychological literature.

The five factors identified by this theory are referred to as:

Openness to experience

Conscientiousness

Extraversion

Agreeableness

Neuroticism

The combination of being introverted and high in openness was mentioned. I’ve always scored exceptionally high for the trait of Openness, while also being more of an introvert.

Openness is normally distributed in the population. I usually score in the 99th percentile for it. People who score high in this trait described are often described as intellectually curious and interested in ideas.

It’s more than that, though. Openness includes six different facets: active imagination (fantasy), aesthetic sensitivity, attentiveness to inner feelings, preference for variety (adventurousness), intellectual curiosity, and challenging authority (psychological liberalism). I would say it’s a trait that unites the axis of being simultaneously creative and analytical. The archetype of the artistic intellectual, or the intellectual artist.

Openness to Experience describes a dimension of cognitive style that distinguishes imaginative, creative people from down-to-earth, conventional people. Open people are intellectually curious, appreciative of art, and sensitive to beauty. They tend to be, compared to closed people, more aware of their feelings. They tend to think and act in individualistic and nonconforming ways.

ScienceDirect

I tend to score high on all of these dimensions, but especially in aesthetic/artistic sensitivity and intellectual curiosity. This has not surprised me – I have always been artistically inclined and interested in painting, poetry and literature, alongside philosophy and ideas in general.

Sometimes, I wonder if people can be too high on openness. I believe this trait is what makes me imaginative, someone who is easily engrossed in many ideas, fields and artistic genres. I have a lot of passions and I’m intensively moved by art and other creative endeavours. According to others, I’m adventurous and unconventional.

But my mind is also often “in the clouds”, I’m sometimes not sure which of my interests I should focus on, and details can feel excruciatingly boring when I’m fixated on the larger concepts behind them.

Perhaps this is a rather trivial conclusion, but I suppose scoring particularly extreme on such a trait, which is generally regarded as beneficial, is just a double-edged sword. I try to navigate my life in a way that makes the advantages of such a high score outweigh the corresponding disadvantages.

From a short trip to Lviv in November 2015

Lviv Theatre of Opera and Ballet, November 2015

Recent events have made me reminisce about this trip and all the interesting people I‘ve met there.

These are strange times. My facebook feed is filled with posts of friends who have either fled Ukraine, or who are still living there, providing live updates on all the terrible things happening in their country due to Russia’s invasion.

Hence, all of this has had quite a personal impact on me. It‘s not just a far-away news story about the largest military conflict in Europe since World War II, but something more tangible and relatable in my reality.

Слава Україні.

German society is odd, and I‘ve always felt more… American?

I‘ve spent so much time in the US that it feels more of a home to me than Germany ever has, very similar to how this article‘s author (linked below) describes it.
There are so many common attitudes in German society that I just cannot identify with. I believe it boils down to a comical and exaggerated understanding of Kantian morality in Germany, which is equated with the very concept of morality as such. This leads to all sorts of bizarre attitudes when it comes to foreign policy, or the vehement opposition against nuclear energy despite its obvious benefits and proven safety levels, for example.
I could write a long blog article about this. Perhaps another time.

In any case, I found this quite entertaining and worthwhile to read.

https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2022/02/19/german-pop-culture-nazis-american-asylum-00010239?fbclid

Current read.


I’ll never stop loving philosophy.

The concept of the Sublime has always managed to captivate my attention. I think it‘s because, to me, there is something fascinating and unusual about the notion of secular transcendence, which is an important component of the Sublime.
Usually, we tend to think of transcendence as something religious, spiritual, metaphysical – something that breaks and shatters the boundaries of the mundane, material world. And while there certainly is the Religious Sublime, the Sublime found in nature and the arts defies this concept.
Ostensibly, this category of the Sublime is solidly rooted in the physical realm, often without signifying any spiritual connotations. And yet, it awakens the same kind of quasi-spiritual, transcendental sentiments in us that are usually linked to religious experiences.

Given all of this, are acid trips Sublime experiences of this secular kind, according to Kant? Something in-between nature and man-made art? Perhaps this is something too bizarre to ponder upon.

Sometimes, before bed, I tend to experience streaks of idiosyncratic philosophical thoughts. Which is what is probably happening right now.

On the overly-revered system of Staatsexamen

The semester has started, so I’ve been busier these last few weeks. Law school schedules vary depending on someone’s university here in Germany, but at mine, there just seem to be too many lectures in every semester, ridiculously so. I am definitely not lazy, but ramming together various legal fields that require much more careful and time-consuming study is not… very effective. It would be equally ridiculous to force everyone to study even longer, of course. A sensible solution would be to stop requiring students to know absolutely everything within a format where this is only attainable on a superficial level, and instead, allow for more specializations. Pragmatically allowing us to cut at least some parts out of the schedule would help. The grand finale of the Staatsexamen, which is basically the only thing that matters in the end, forces us to know everything, though. So this would have to be changed as well.

I’ve mentioned the word “pragmatic”, and that is linked to the precise problem that prevents any such changes: People in the field of legal education at universities are anything but pragmatic. Any form of specialization would tarnish their revered system of Staatsexamen, which they want to keep perpetually unchanged from how it functioned in 19th century Prussia.

Despite this criticism, I chose this field deliberately and I’m still glad about it. I have just always been inherently skeptical towards archaically preordained systems.

Tomorrow’s my birthday and I wish The Secret History became a movie.

Wouldn’t that be one of the most magnificent birthday gifts? Donna Tartt’s The Secret History is a literary gem, a genuine Modern Classic. It is one of the most aesthetically pleasing books I have ever read, not only because of its countless references to the philosophical concept of the Sublime and the beauty that can be found in terror, but also because it affected me more than almost any other book I have read. Tartt is incredible, a literary genius if ever there was one.

Alas, The Secret History never became a movie for various rather complicated reasons. And perhaps also because the story has such clear links to Tartt’s own life at Bennington College.

As a movie or TV show, The Secret History might have looked like this short video I recently found. It’s a fan-made compilation of short clips from other movies and TV shows like Indignation, Kill Your Darlings, and From Dusk Till Dawn. I think it’s beautiful and well-made.

“Why does that obstinate little voice in our heads torment us so?” he said, looking round the table. “Could it be because it reminds us that we are alive, of our mortality, of our individual souls- which, after all, we are too afraid to surrender but yet make us feel more miserable than any other thing? But isn’t it also pain that often makes us most aware of self? It is a terrible thing to learn as a child that one is a being separate from the world, that no one and no thing hurts along with one’s burned tongues and skinned knees, that one’s aches and pains are all one’s own. Even more terrible, as we grow old, to learn that no person, no matter how beloved, can ever truly understand us. Our own selves make us most unhappy, and that’s why we’re so anxious to lose them, don’t you think?”

Donna Tartt, The Secret History, p.35

The Queen’s Gambit is an ode to unconventionality, ambition, and passion.

This is a rather short post. Originally, I wanted to write something about Talleyrand and this very interesting book about his life, but I’m in a different mood right now.

Just recently, I was thinking about The Queen’s Gambit, which everyone around me seemed to rave about. It’s a Netflix original miniseries based on Walter Tevis’s 1983 novel that came out in October of last year. So I caved and watched it a few months ago. The series follows the life of Beth Harmon, an orphan who eventually transforms into a competitive young woman fueled by the ambition of becoming the world’s greatest chess player. Watching it, I noticed that I could oddly relate to the protagonist.

I tend to be very choosy when it comes to TV shows. They are always a time-consuming commitment, so watching something mediocre seems like a waste of time to me. I’d rather just read engrossing works of literature, biographies and books about classical antiquity.

Queen’s Gambit, however, was definitely an immersive and highly enjoyable TV series. Its pacing is slow enough to force you to pay a modicum of attention if you want to understand the protagonist’s relationships with other characters alongside the storyline. The show also offers and intricate and authentic depiction of 1960s aesthetics in all sorts of objects, buildings and clothes, without delving too much into the stereotypical.

It’s portrayal of the Soviet Union is also surprisingly neutral. Or to be more precise, I found that the show’s focus was on the non-political aspects of culture and everyday life in the Sovet Union, somewhat disentangled from overly intrusive ideological depictions. The manner in which chess is depicted (something that everyone plays in all sorts of places, the very young and the very old) is one such example. I found this rather interesting and peculiar, as Western TV shows generally depict life in Eastern Bloc countries more antagonistically.

For the sake of historical accuracy, it’s not entirely non-political, of course. As I’ve found out, Gary Kasparov was one of the show’s advisers. Apparently, he recommended that Viktor Borgov should be seen with KGB agents anytime he was abroad and outside the Eastern Bloc, as this is what would have happen to prevent defections.

The interesting story and its depictions make it worthwhile to watch the series, but it also had a greater emotional impact on me than I expected. 

In some odd and intangible way, I found that I could relate to Beth Harmon. Perhaps it’s because she is always that one girl amidst a sea of nerdy guys, in an environment where it’s rare to see any woman at all. That was clearly the case for chess in the 1960s (and still today), and this is an environment I’m very familiar during university and until today, to varying degrees: my interest in (classical liberal) political philosophy led me to join student organizations and travel around the world to organize academic conferences, seminars, and similar events. For various reasons, it’s still quite rare to be a woman with such… rather nich-y and academic interests, I suppose, so I was invariably one of the few women surrounded by a sea of overly intellectual nerdy men, just like Beth Harmon was. In a way, Harmon’s chess circle, which became her social circle, looked like my political/philosophical circle, which also became my social circle. And more so, Beth Harmon never felt uncomfortable because of her gender in these social settings and friendship constellations, and neither do I. There’s something about her being so profoundly blasé when it comes to social voncentions, paired with her relentless intellectual ambition that seemed to have sparked a feeling of familiarity. Coming back to this post’s title, Harmon conveyed this combination of unconventionality, ambition, and passion that almost always inspires sympathetic appreciation within me.

How Downton Abbey’s fashion evolved in the 20th century

Downton Abbey is probably my favourite TV series, of all time. I enjoy rewatching certain scenes of the series occasionally, especially those of season 2.

It’s a slow-paced historical drama television series that depicts the life of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants throughout the early 20th century. The series manages to depict how societal attitudes towards class and hierarchy change between the years of 1912 and 1926, inevitably spurred by events like WWI, the Spanish influenza epidemic and the Irish War of Independence.

Season 2 begins right after the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, and viewers see intricately how the Crawley family’s manor house transforms into a war-time convalescent home for soldiers to house the recovering wounded.

I could write so much more about this series and how Julien Fellowes manages to create a compelling storyline with characters displaying enormous psychological depth, making it oddly easy to relate to them, whether they are aristocrats or servants.

Since the original trailer for the first season does not quite capture the essence of the TV show, this short clip might suffice. It’s my favourite scene of the series I believe, and well, Mary Crawley has always been my favourite character. Some people don’t like her because she isn’t the most agreeable person on earth, but I believe she’s mainly just misunderstood.

What I’ve always loved about this series, besides its story, is the manner in which fashion was incorporated, representing the political and societal changes of the early 20th century. Period dramas naturally feature clothes that resemble their respective era’s fashion, but Downton Abbey has put a very special emphasis on this aspect. There are meticulous depictions of how certain dresses, jewelry and hair styles are worn – often relying on elaborate techniques deployed by the servants, especially when it comes to fitting dresses and styling hair.

These depictions change over time, alongside the popular fashion of the time. Starting with the Edwardian era, the dresses worn by the Crawley sisters during the first season are probably the most authentic depiction of late Edwardian fashion that I’ve seen on TV. Around 1912, silhouettes became flatter and much less “S-curved” than just a few years earlier. These were the last year of the corsets for women.

Clothes would be changed several times during the day. There were morning, afternoon and evening dresses, with the latter being the most elaborate ones.

By comparison, clothes in season 2 were far simpler, with looser cuts. World War I was going on, so there was just not much time for fussiness.

More and more, viewers can see how major societal changes are reflected in popular fashion styles of the early 1920s in season 3: Following the war, the women’s suffrage movement becomes more influential, women are joining the workforce in more significant positions. Alongside this, their clothes are now simpler, looser and more comfortable.

We are slowly transitioned into modernity, or to be more precise – our currently known, latest concept of modernity through the angle of fashion. The 1920s continue in seasons 4, 5 and 6, in the vein of typical flapper-fashion: Shorter skirts, flat busts and more skin.

Mary Crawley decides to get a bob cut typical for this era as well. Just a few years earlier, it would have been shocking for a woman to have such short hair. (sidenote for those who are interested: Even though my hair is long right now, I used to have such a haircut a few years ago!)

So, what is the point of this blog post? I suppose I found it fascinating how clothes represent an important element to depict attitudes on (the transformation of) class, etiquette and customs in the series. Overall and in far more nuances than I’ve managed to depict here, we see how the history of the early 20th century and the concept of modernity unfolds by looking at the clothes of Downton Abbey.