Edited By Flocel Sabaté
Outer Appearance and the Construction of Identities
Central European University
The vagrant student John Butzbach from Miltenberg in Germany left home in 1488, went to Bohemia, and came home again after only six years. No one recognized him any longer; people reacted uncertainly. He had adopted many strange customs which one finds in his description as elements of partly well-known images and stereotypes:1 “I came home – no longer a German, as I had left, but as a Bohemian, a barbarian, quasi a pagan, from my way of dressing, my customs, with long, blond hair which I had started to grow there, going down over shoulders and back unto the belt. Nobody knew me any longer… [they] shied away from all my changes.” The new image and recognizably changed identity clearly worked intensely and influenced the perceptions of the repatriate.
The problems of one’s own appearance versus that of the other and change from the well-known to the unacquainted lie in the tensions between a familiar personal, social or cultural identity and something from outside its boundaries – the unfamiliar, not normal, not accepted, etc. This may touch very different aspects: native vs. foreign, old vs. new or young, clean vs. dirty, good vs. bad, Christian vs. heathen, civilized vs. barbarian, friendly vs. threatening, and so on – to name only some possibilities of the multifold system of relations and contrasts. The signs which visualize, demonstrate or define such identifications, relations, and contrasts are regularly those in the context of the...
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