About Face, So it Goes These Days

Last week I started to recognize that my sick-body was returning. To be honest, it makes me worried when I cough so hard that I fear I might vomit, and what comes up is mucus that’s been accumulating for who-knows-how-long. If I wanted to be poetic right now, the metaphor would be one of an emotional purging. But this stuff is what I do my research on–the way that our bodies take on certain states and feelings, how social realities become biological, physiological, and not just psychological, qualities of one’s being. For now, I’ll continue by keeping Nietzsche in mind. The idea that “what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” is a good one. It makes you feel like the struggle, the sickness, are worth it. But I also know that for Nietzsche the highest hope is to become a convalescent. Health and life are key. Maybe you do have to be sick, at some point, to embody these things. Maybe it’s the case even to be a great philosopher. I hope that I am stronger when I get through this sickness. Metaphors abound on this one, too. And I have always said that my ideal relationships would be Nietzschean ones.

But in the vein of weakness, the past week has been trying for other reasons. I found myself feeling vulnerable to the judgments and criticisms of others. Part of it comes from putting oneself out there, to be seen, heard, and in turn, evaluated. I now know it is true that the internet’s capacity to foster anonymity does not help matters. People feel like they can say anything. Etiquette, care, respect–those go out the window. The same goes for anonymous student evaluations, apparently. I got one in a stack of others that may seem flattering to some people. But to me, it was just inappropriate, and wholly dismissive of what I care so deeply about, namely, creating a place for learning and growth. Maybe Levinas was onto something about the face and ethics. When people don’t need to say it, or do it, to your face, they feel no need to be responsible to the other. Responding to the other is displaced by an opportunity to be one’s own closed self-referent.

And finally, there are those who have judged me out of their own presumptions about me. The strange thing about prejudices is that their effect of removing the personhood, the particularity, and the uniqueness of someone by making them an image, a simple, flat creation, is only fully appreciated when it is experienced. You have to feel this to understand the kind of effect that hits you in your chest. And one feels helpless to say, “No wait. That’s not me. See me!”

I’ve also been forced to realize that when my own acts, my own ideas, and my own effort (again, mostly via the internet and admittedly about things that I desire credit for) go unrecognized or are misidentified as belonging to others, I struggle to know how to handle these situations with grace. The theme for the week has been one of truly coming face to face with my own need for recognition. Not just praise. Not just credit. But the kind of acknowledgment and respect that comes from a true understanding. (And, ironically, though not surprisingly, I have been teaching my students in Asian Philosophies about Confucius’ notion of the junzi, the exemplary person. Some of their characteristics are to be humble and modest yet do great things. And part of that is remaining dignified and humble when your good skills and acts go unacknowledged or are underappreciated. I am working on it.)

To be seen. To be understood. These have been timeless hopes for me and those which frequently present the greatest degrees of unlikeliness.

And, I hope that whoever found my notebook last week gets all of this. They (perhaps “they” are actually a trash can by now) remain the faceless, anonymous reader of my most recent deep, personal, and philifesophical writings. I wish even harder that I would be able to get that back.

But that, too, is rather unlikely.

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