Mirror, mirror: Adam Thirlwell on KIM KARDASHIAN’s book of selfies

For a long time I had been wondering how it might be possible to write about charisma. Andy Warhol called it “aura” and in The Philosophy of Andy Warhol he comes up with aphorisms on this evanescent subject: “I think ‘aura’ is something that only somebody else can see, and they only see as much of it as they want to. It’s all in the other person’s eyes. You can only see an aura on people you don’t know very well or don’t know at all.” And also: “When you just see somebody on the street, they can really have an aura. But then when they open their mouth, there goes the aura. ‘Aura’ must be until you open your mouth.” It depends on a look, this thing called aura or charisma, even if exactly the way a look works is basically indescribable. But perhaps therefore I’m now wondering if the only book that can describe charisma is a book that is basically pictures, and therefore an example of charisma itself: Kim Kardashian’s book of selfies, Selfish. It has been published by Rizzoli in a way that I think is intended to give it the canonisation of being art, but it is really much stranger and much more moving. For isn’t that the secret of KK’s uniqueness, this ability she has to be pure image, a façade of make-up, and yet still exude a warmth? This book should be just some kind of memento mori, as you watch the way her face becomes tight and hard, until every pose she makes is photogenic, and the way those around her drop away, until it is basically just KK and a mirror. But instead it has a surprising and genuine intimacy. It is both absolutely professional, and absolutely sincere, simultaneously – a strangeness summed up in the book’s captions, which might be in KK’s handwriting or might be in a digital font, or maybe both from once; and also in one particular caption accompanying a reflection of KK’s naked bottom in a bathroom, with a rumpled towel behind her: “Mirrored selfie I took to send to my man for a little inspiration.” And yet here it is, this private image, visible for everyone.

Yes, Selfish is very sad and very touching, and also frightening in the absoluteness of its artifice. It has to be described with that kind of contradictory sentence – which I guess is just another way of saying it is the most modern book I know. §

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