Right here throughout the orbit of Manhattan, masks aren’t merely tolerated; they’re embraced. Obedience to Covidian biopolitics elevated masking to a sacramental act. It has develop into the secular analogy to sprinkling holy water or making the signal of the cross.
Advantage accrues to a brand new ritual observance that effaces particular person identification and desensitizes us to the complicated position of faces in private communication. This compulsive masking sharpens my reminiscence of phrases which have stayed with me since girlhood: “By the point you might be 40, you might be liable for your personal face.”
That stern warning got here from a lady geared up to supply it. Mary Jane Robertshaw, O.S.U., was the vigorous minded director of the artwork division at a Catholic ladies’s faculty from 1957 to 1997. A gifted weaver, sculptor, ceramicist, and scholar, Mom Mary Jane, as college students referred to as her, delighted in telling appearance-conscious undergraduates that the making of 1’s face was not in our personal arms as if it have been clay on a potter’s wheel.
As a substitute, the tenor of our faces—their expressive tonality—is shaped and glued within the furnace of dwelling. The lived life is a kiln that consumes facile concepts about the right way to create, or preserve, mortal magnificence. Solely ethical creativeness resists the previous pagan cult of the physique with its fixation on well being and materials magnificence.
At a sure age, mom insisted, each face is stamped—who is aware of how?—with the character of our decisions, of what now we have discovered worthy of reward or blame. It’s inflected by these issues we pity and people we censure or resent. Within the eyes of this Ursuline nun, a face is the work of our minds. Incised on it’s the texture and attain of our hearts. Name it soulcraft.
“So, women, bear in mind what you’ve learn: ‘God’s higher magnificence, grace.’”
By quoting Gerard Manley Hopkins, mom gave voice to a non secular intuition that sees faces via an enchanted lens, one which gathers and disperses gentle otherwise than a digicam lens. Its means are suggestive, too oblique to maintain diktats that desensitize us to particular person identification.
However as that intuition declines, desensitization advances. Faces coated, we develop into strangers to one another.
Like corrosive salts seeping via a fresco, one thing caustic has begun working its manner via social life. Faces and our responses to them have taken on an urgency beforehand unfelt. How one can start making sense of what the human face arouses in our lives, our language, our artwork, and—more and more—our collective situation? The place to discover a standpoint in a cat’s cradle of crisscrossing threads?
A method into the maze is Cicero’s acquainted bon mot: “The face is an image of the thoughts with the eyes as its interpreter.” Directing us otherwise is St. Basil’s dictum that “phrases are really the picture of the soul.”
Mom Mary Jane sided with Cicero. Any visible artist would. Literary arts reside and die by the phrase. Not the plastic arts, definitely not portraiture. Whereas physique language whispers to all of us, we instinctively acquire what issues most from faces.
Keep a second with Otto Dix’s 1926 portrait of journalist Sylvia von Harden. “I have to paint you!” he exclaimed when he stopped her on a road. “You might be consultant of a whole epoch!” There is no such thing as a mistaking his distaste for the rising cultural kind she embodied— Weimar’s smoking, ingesting, masculinized “neue Frau.” Dix’s composition is about with props (e.g., the ugly stocking roll, no marriage ceremony band, nook desk for one) that sign his perspective. Nonetheless, full judgment on the psychological mood for which the determine serves proxy resides within the hauteur of that bemonocled face.
We will select our phrases; we can not select our faces. The soul, voiceless, does that for us. And it speaks otherwise. Cicero used the phrase thoughts, however added: “A person’s thoughts doesn’t differ in shade from his soul.” St. Jerome, a detailed reader of Cicero, rephrased it this fashion: “The face is the mirror of the thoughts, and the eyes with out talking confess the secrets and techniques of the guts.”
Each males believed that one thing of the soul our bodies forth within the face. That ineffable one thing addresses itself on to the attention, an organ of the mind that has its personal manner of realizing.
We verify that actuality by phrasing settlement with others when it comes to “seeing eye to eye” with them. Language itself testifies to the emotive affect of a bodily presence. Our vocabulary is wealthy with idioms that seize upon the face because the symbolic sum of our being and our main instrument of expression.
English is a cornucopia of phrases constructed on the phrase face. Issues stare us within the face. Withstand them. We take issues at face worth. We set our face towards enemies who would wipe us off the face of the earth. He has egg on his face. Face the music. Lose face. Save face. Make a face. On the face of it. The listing is lengthy. Even clocks have a face.
But, like Nathanael Hawthorne’s Reverend Hooper strolling village streets behind a black veil, we rush to hide our personal. The fecundity of our language mocks us for it.
There’s extra to our compliance with masking than concern for illness prevention. Proof for the efficacy of masks is way from conclusive. This, although, shouldn’t be the place to argue the proof. What issues here’s a widening instinct that one thing further—deeper—is afoot.
Has that sense of being a person come to weigh too closely on us? With the exit of Christianity from the general public sq., confidence is waning within the sine qua non of Western civilization: insistence on the primacy of the person. Because the claims of the collective enhance, group identification strikes private identification to the margins of social concern.
May the true factor hidden behind our masks be exhaustion with a quintessential precept of Western civilization?
Source: The Federalist