Self and other
'I forgot myself at the Ice Carnival the other night. I was so absorbed in looking at it that I forgot what time it was and who and where I was. When I suddenly realized I hadn't been thinking about myself I was frightened to death. The unreality feeling came. I must never forget myself for a single minute. I watch the clock and keep busy, or else I won't know who I am.'
James told of how, when walking on a summer evening in the park alone, watching couples make love, he suddenly began to feel a tremendous oneness with the whole world, with the sky and trees and flowers and grass - with the lovers too. He ran home in a panic and immersed himself in his books. He told himself he had no right to this experience, but more than that he was terrified at the threatened loss of identity in this merging and fusion of his self with the whole world.
I peered into the mirror. A man I did not know looked coolly back at me. Indeed not the slightest detail would make one think that it is me. The colour, the lustre, the feeling were all successful - a perfect disguise. Yet, what in heaven's name was this emptiness? Perhaps it was the fault of the mirror - the lighting seemed somewhat unnatural - at once I opened the shutters and let in the daylight.
Kobo Abe, The Face of Another
Make a mask larger than your face.
Polish the mask every day.
In the morning, wash the mask instead of your face.
When somebody wants to kiss you, let the person kiss the mask instead.
Yoko Ono, Mask Piece I (1961)
During the luckless 1980 season, season-ticket-holding fans of the New Orleans Saints football team began to appear at the stadium wearing paper bags to conceal their faces. As their team suffered loss after loss, more and more fans donned the bags until TV cameras were regularly able to record the extraordinary image of gathered masses of people shrouded in brown paper with nothing to identify them but the tips of their noses.
Seeing and being seen...
“In seeing there is love, in being seen there is abhorrence. One grins, trying to bear the pain of being seen. But not just anyone can be someone who only looks. If the one who is looked at looks back, then the person who was looking becomes the one who is looked at.”
Kobo Abe, The Box Man
In consequence, she tried looking at herself in the mirror but never managed to convince herself that she was somebody. She never got over being frightened if there was no one there.
“It seems that I was always destined to be deeply concerned with vultures, for I recall as one of my earliest memories, that while I was in my cradle, a vulture came down to me, opened my mouth with his tail and struck me many times with it's tail against my lips.” [link]