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Archive for May, 2019

I, Eye, Aye

The gaze between persons is powerful.  I have watched it work as human individuals process the possibilities of relating.  Because my mother taught me well how to read her eyes and face, I am adept at reading others’ faces.  I look at you and see you looking at me.  There is a lock.  I read your feelings, as I feel my feelings, now the products of our interactive gaze.  You read my feelings.  I read you, reading me, reading you, reading me—all the way to infinity.  There is bottomless depth in a gaze, like two mirrors reflecting between each other in endless images.  I am changed by what I see in your eyes.  I see that you perceive me to be an interesting, perhaps even capable, person.  I am inspired to become an even more interesting and more capable person.  You read my feelings of happiness and interest and appreciation and decide to like me.  I see that you read me, and I feel even happier.  You see my happiness and I see yours.  We are pregnant with each other’s happiness.  There is mutuality.  That’s how strangers become friends.

Beyond acknowledgement of gaze is its analysis.  Gaze is a combination of eyes plus surround.  A bare eye is only a stare.  Humans are revolted by stare.  They feel assaulted—visually raped.  A stare is looking without any softening hint of expression.  Nothing is as repulsive as an eyeball extracted from its socket and positioned on a neutral surface poised to watch—watch you.  It is a metaphor of perfect irony.  It sees nothing; in seeing nothing it sees everything. Contemplation of a naked eyeball makes it easy to understand how it’s the surround that defines nuance.  The soft texture of the face is a subtle canvas that offers as much to human intellect as does the rainbow of smell to the articulate nose of a dog.

What can be read in a face is mostly about soft tissue, which explains why humans are so repulsed by the less-than-loving gaze of an insect.  The Praying Mantis is a favorite due to its fortuitous posture, not its soulful expression.  The common housefly, so universally hated, carries a cap of many eyes that see in all directions, wary of incipient swatters and wanting only to evade the precipitous denouement of the squash.  There is no facial nuance to accompany its approach to survival.  It’s all live; let-live is immaterial.

Bare skin is best constituted to convey expression.  Soft thin tissue that surrounds the eye most closely is associated with the gentle tension of “concern.”  It is there, waiting to be accessed by observing eyes—eyes that “want to know.”  The eyelids are less subtle but equally articulate.  They tighten with suspicion and report wariness.  While a dog, with its whole body covering of hair is more circumspect about tissue tension projecting concern, the movement of human eyelids is near central for all to see and interpret.  Brows, whether bare or hirsute, contribute much to expression.  It’s easy to read “suspicion” in canine brow elevation.  It might even be underscored by a not-so-friendly growl.  Elevating both brows evinces surprise, while one brow lifted suggests a question is brewing at the center of things.  Our hoity-toity word “supercilious,” i.e. above the hair, speaks to a single brow raised in suggested irony.

Moving outward from the windows of the soul, nose sniffs ambient air and offers backup to lid and brow statements.  An odd odor twitches the nose while a cheek might lift to suggest something is perhaps amiss.  Even the chin gives a little jump to underscore the supposition.  If an odor is approachable but still ill-defined, the nares will expand; an indication that what is smelled is not wonderful but is not totally repulsive.  A deeper inhalation might resolve the thing entire.  All this activity is there to interpret for watchers who have eyes to see.

Mouth is second only to eyes as great communicator.  Not only does it conjure endless auditory signals but modifies its very shape to indicate whatever feeling accompanies what is being said.  So much is it utilized that its physical shape is literally formed by a lifetime of function.  Drawing lips back baring teeth advertises aggression as readily as it expresses sheer happiness.  No wonder mammals are confused in their communication.  Lips that self-posture in a petulant purse are seldom asked to express generosity of feeling.  Odd labial arrangements, such as the confusion of the Trump mouth, forever memorialized on Saturday Night Live, are excellent examples of this description.  The mouth is being used to advertise openness, while its corners are drawn up, completely at cross-purposes to what is portrayed, while the jaw, usually relaxed as an indicator of open honesty, in the Trump jaw is firmly clenched.  Who could believe any word that escapes from such a mouth?  This is surely the face of a liar!

Even beyond the head, the entire body acts as a surround for the eyes, as meaning is conveyed—eloquently in some cases—not so much in others.  A speaker juggling the need to move on and dodge annoying questions, often conveys more than intended as hands paint an irrefutable picture of ”just wanting to move on—for God’s sake—why are you bothering me?”  Hands can say even as much as eyes and mouth.  They are supremely articulate, especially when the presenter is intelligent, sensitive, and insightful.  That makes a spectacular triumvirate of expression. 

Otherwise brilliant politicians sometimes suffer when their great policy ideas are derailed by wacky arm and hand gesticulations, waved amid calls for voter support not likely to be achieved.  Eyes that don’t give in to even an occasional blink are suspected of being just a bit too crazed to lead men.  Listeners who overdo eye-contact to the extent that the orator is put off by their gaze do a disservice to the orator.  Speakers do best heard by quiet balanced audiences who evidence interest in the subject but exhibit no involvement in the presenter as individual.  But politics is crazy; that’s a given.  I adore Elizabeth Warren as a policy wonk but fear giving her my vote.  Nowhere is reading of eyes and faces as important as in electoral politics.  How else are we to decide whom to elect?

Mankind has always feared the evil eye, inspiring cultish need to fight its power, never to express fervor of devotion.  There is no religion boasting of devotees dedicated to the eye’s worship and adoration, yet there is no protective fetish more ubiquitous than the one that promises to ward off its evil.  Traveling throughout Turkey, I saw everywhere items for sale warranted to protect the owner from its gaze.  A favorite fabric pattern displays a field of endless eyes—a universe of seeing.  These items are so well-accepted that they are an intrinsic part of the culture, bought and sold as near-currency.

Reading people’s eyes and faces can be discomfiting to subjects of such scrutiny.  Assuming we know what another is feeling is the ultimate arrogance.  Others pass through their days expecting to be fairly circumspect behind natural defenses.  Maybe blind would be better.  I am juggling several nasty ophthalmological diagnoses.  Maybe one of them could make me into a nicer person.  Who knows?

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