Perhaps we should remember a different time. A time when the world was young. Was the world ever young, when we were young in the world. Were we ever young. We had not yet acquired the force of habit, the force of life was the force of growth. There was still a freshness in entities, in the foliage, in the drenched light of morning, in creatures that stretch their limbs, things bore their name in wonder. We knew beauty. What was beauty then, a beauty free of the burden of a childhood that was growing ever distant and fading, free of the vestiges of the past with its roots in a shrouded dawn. No history, no context, no accumulated experience. We were not raised on it, it just suddenly emerged, simple, unexplained beauty, the beauty of teeming potential, of a bit of driftwood floating alone on the torrents of the times, the beauty of getting acquainted. Even the most troubling beauty, the gleam of a human face, the asset of beauty in its relationship to the human, in the human struggle to detect the mists of reflection in every hazy fissure.
We were innocent. We opened our eyes to hovering blotches, reading into them our needs, our longing, the innermost desires that sprang up unannounced. It all went into the blotches, those that were vaguely like faces. Our very thinking was wired to detect thousands of faces in them as a means of survival, of seeking approval, of self-defense. These were the mirrors we held up. They had a syntax, a grammar that we deduced from the movements of our muscles, from the expanding web of nerves beneath our skin. From the unfettered economy of a flourishing consciousness, from an emotional jumble, rose the arrangements of facial features, countenances, and expressions, abstract at first, a semblance of who we might have been were it not for this thing, or that. Then the faces became tangible. With the deepening acquaintance and sobering awareness, a discrete being was formed, a personal identity, detached from us. Gradually it coalesced, became a sign, a demand. Its pain was not ours, its joy not drawn from us.
This is how we perceived, vaguely, that we had grown up. Furtively, without the oppressive rules of reason, we entered time. The signs were in the faces that surrounded us, in the glory of the faces. We ourselves became a face. We took fright, tried to go back, couldn’t help but try. If there had been wheels, we would have tried to turn them back. If there had been electrical arcs, we would have conspired to reverse the polarity. We wanted to, before the world closed in on us, before it turned to sorrow. We wondered what our face is like. We suspected that we had shed something. We entreated with life, beseeched death, asked what we were facing.
Everything is distilled in the human face, we thought, the query, the solution. We were struck by its compelling, strong, hyper-real beauty that slips from our grasp. We sought to find the genesis hidden in the profile. These eyes, we wondered, what do they resemble, and where was the image of this face borrowed from. We gazed at the bird taking flight, at the beast in the field, at the veins of foliage, the billowing of a mushroom in the thick darkness, the pattern of a microbe. How were they rendered possible, how did they blossom. We contemplated, there were conditions, there were circumstances, they ruled our reason, we were subordinate to them. We drew diagrams, analyzed the arrangements of features, noted symmetries and asymmetries, rules and interplays. We sank our teeth into factors, motivations. We finely ground our sensitivity to beauty, the history of our being in its thrall. Cultural trends, we said, spectacular models of the evolution of the snout in mammals, social conditionings that culminated in the curling of the lips. We turned the face into a language, sliced and diced into points and relationships. And none of it helped.
No matter how much we learned about the history of beauty, how much we dared to explain and explore, its foreign element never went away. The primordial blotches still hovered before us, an evocative cornucopia of forms. We stood, open-mouthed in wonder, when something alien appeared, at the insistence of beauty to be beautiful, even when it broke all conventions. We returned, without going back. We understood that the metaphysics, with all its cunning, falters in the wake of experience. We must not let it conceal itself as a web of causes, of premises. We allowed it to follow us, if it so wished. We wondered where we were going, but did not seek definitive answers. We peered inside in a bid to glean evidence, to gather testimonies of meaninglessness, the flickering of the form, the glowing of the face, the secret of its equivalents, a butterfly, a heart, limbs, their burning, their blindness, the halo of the hibiscus, the sepal of all the flower’s petals.
Possibility was more thrilling than fact. Possibility was a way of exploring the yearning for certainty. In beauty, we aspired to a place and time that have no reason, yet are already gripped in the vice of language. We were innocent. We set traps for anyone whose love we yearned for, a pea under the mattress, a hair across the doorframe, the snippet of a fateful sentence. If it is peeled off, we said, if someone might dare to look it in the eye, the chasm of our being might be revealed beneath it.