Reflecting on Reflection: Me, Myself, and I

You know what’s weird?

I will never see my own face.

Sure, I see my face every day, looking in the mirror. But seeing my own face always requires mediation, through a mirror or camera. When I was in college, a philosophy professor teaching phenomenology–the careful description of experience– asked our class, “Right now, how do you know you have a head?” Through inference only. I cannot see my own head. I might be able to touch my head and feel that it is a round shape at the top of my body, but I would never know what it looked like if I never saw it in a mirror. Right now, I can see the edges of my glasses around my face, and feel the tip of my ponytail grazing my back: those are my only indications that I have a head. I can alter my field of vision by looking to the left or to the right, up or down, but I can never look directly at my own head doing this looking. 

And my head is not the only place on my body that I can never see (even on the surface of my body!). What about my back? What about my neck? They simply do not exist in my field of immediate vision.

A mirror is needed to reveal these things to me. I think this is a metaphor for reflection in general, for our relation to ourselves not only for perception of our bodies but also when it comes to knowledge of our thoughts, feelings, and the like. When I reflect on my thoughts and feelings, what is being reflected? What is doing the reflecting? There is never an unmediated relation to myself. Nietzsche speaks of the person as being made up of a “multiplicity of souls.” Aren’t we all such a multiplicity? And don’t I need to objectify one “part” of myself in order to be able to “see,” let alone, “work on,” another part of myself? In relating to oneself, there is always mediation that occurs: I am not an individual in the sense of being indivisible. And reflection on any dimension of my life, including on my life as such, always requires this doubling of self: the one looking at the face in the mirror, and the face being looked at.


A mirror selfie seemed the appropriate visual accompaniment.

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