Mirror Mirror (2015). Text, published in E.R.O.S. Journal, Issue 6
Plato: He does not realise that he is seeing himself in the lover as in a mirror.
For several hours now, I have been looking at the mirror in my bathroom. It is Venetian style, with scrolled corners and slight imperfections across its tain. I call them imperfections, yet to me they are vital to its character: without them it would be the sterile, flat mirrors of public lavatories. These nicks and spots in its reflectivity are what give the mirror its charm, make it whole object rather than simply surface. But its charm lies not only in these smudges: in fact, I cannot precisely identify the root of its charm, what keeps me in this room today and indeed for the last three days before. A relentless desire to be with the mirror at any cost. I must accept it. I have fallen in love with my bathroom mirror.
You will of course accuse me of being some poor imitation of Narcissus, but you are wrong. Indeed, I hardly look at my own face any more. Instead I try to look past this and into its volume. The mirror is coy, of course, and conceals its own appearance beneath a camouflage of reflection. Sometimes I try to trick it: I look away, then turn back, quickly–so quickly it could not possibly anticipate my movements. And yet it manages to second guess me every time, and I am left facing my own face again.
You might also accuse me of superficiality, to experience such overwhelming scopic desire; to fall in love with appearance. Of all senses, sight is certainly deemed the most sterile, and that I should gain genuine pleasure from looking at the mirror might be called into question.
Lucretius: a sort of outer skin perpetually peeled off the surface of objects […] objects emit particles that strike upon the eyes and provoke sight.
And yet Lucretius would tell me that my visual pleasure would be assonant with haptic. In line with the other atomists of the time, he put forward a theory of Intromission to explain the phenomenon of seeing. Here, sight is as tactile as touch: not the result of immaterial light waves hitting the eye, but instead due to particulate matter being absorbed by the pupil. For all objects and bodies project films or simulacra, just as the slippery snake sloughs off on thorns the garment we often see fluttering on a briar. These simulacra penetrate the eye, allowing them to be seen. So when I see the mirror, it is entering my orifices, reaching out to touch me, matter touching matter, membrane against membrane.
Given that our relations have already been so intimate, when I reach out to touch it I anticipate a pillowy warmth. The feeling of soft down shifting to coarser hair, the slight bump of a mole, the firmness of nipple, a shiver of pleasure. Yet my hand is always and repeatedly disappointed, for is cold, flat and impassive. My fingertips dip and depress, but the mirror remains unchanged. Skin butting against plane, sometimes softly, building up to a rapacious fury that is never sated. I leave a sheen of sweat across its surface, but it beads and evaporates rather than sinking in. And then I look at my hand, hoping for a similar residue to be left from it, but the mirror has not reciprocated. An overwhelming sense of rejection, the mirror refusing my touch. And then too I realise its reflectivity to be itself a form of rejection.
Lucretius: But when it is confronted by something both polished and close-grained, in particular a mirror, then neither of these things happens. The films cannot penetrate, as they do through glass; nor are they diffracted, because the smoothness ensures their preservation. That is why such surfaces reflect images that are visible to us.
By rebounding the corpuscular simulacrum I have produced, the mirror is refusing my bodily effusions. It penetrates me whilst refusing to be penetrated itself. But its hostility increases my fervour, this need to get beneath its surface. It is under my skin now: even when I am not in front of it, I think about those smooth edges, the bevelled border, that slight warp line that runs vertically down its centre that lends it such a gorgeous liquidity.
I fantasise about the moment in Orphée when the protagonist passes into the underworld, as this perfect moment of merging with the mirror. He moves forward slowly, hesitantly, hand outstretched, walking toward the mirror. As he reaches out, his reflection reaches back, an illusion of hands grasping towards each other. The laws of physics dictate that the hand should hit a cold plane of glass, an abrupt wall that prevents him moving further: yet this does not happen. For as Orphée’s fingers touch the surface of the mirror, solid object becomes liquid membrane, a yielding skin that gives way to touch.
I have been trying to find a similar orifice in my own mirror, running my hand along its face, yet it is completely flat, no indentations or creases or feeling of thinner skin. There is a dark mark around 1cm in diameter in its upper right corner: dark grey, it is the one area that is not reflective, does not rebound my image. While there is no visible depression, I pray that its darkness represents a void, a hole in the surface. If this be the case, I reason that here I might breach its glassy plane with a simulacrum or, even better, a fingertip, if I should stroke and tease its edge until it gently dilates and allows entry. I try this for three hours, pressing my full body against the mirror as I stroke this tiny mark. I whisper sweet nothings to this stain, tell it of its beauty and seductiveness. I press my tongue against its rim. Still it refuses my advances. All of my attempts at seduction have been rebutted: it has deeply affected me whilst remaining unchanged itself. I think the mirror must be very cruel.
A part of me wonders why looking is not enough. If I truly loved the mirror then perhaps being in its presence should suffice, but I need to consummate our relations. But to what purpose is this consummation?
Aristophanes: each of us has been cut in half, and so we are human tallies, constantly searching for our counterparts.
A myth of soulmates–as described by Aristophanes in Plato’s Symposium–suggested that humans were originally eight-limbed creatures, with two sets of genitals, either both male, both female or male and female. When humans became too powerful and threatened the power of the Gods, Zeus split each person in half, and so the pairs wandered the earth in despair, searching desparately for their soulmate, longing to find their other half. If they should be so lucky, they would embrace and be so desparate to unite permanently, to fuse together and be repaired, that they would starve and die. So Zeus changed the orientation of their genitals, allowing humans to unite temporarily and relieve the pressure of desire to be together. A temporary fix for a permanent desire.
I too must find some way to fuse with the mirror, be it temporarily or permanently. When King Mausolus of Caro died, his wife Artemiesia II had his ashes added to her daily drink for two years afterwards. Digestion seems a very beautiful model of unification. Cells and then molecules broken down and absorbed, reconstituted and rebuilt as part of you. Somewhere between beginning and end, during the digestive process itself, it might become impossible to say what is ingested and what is ingesting. I would like the mirror and myself to reach a similar state. Right now we exist in a binary. Perhaps I could grind the mirror to a powder and drink it. But no: then again perhaps not. For to do so would require the destruction of the mirror in its completeness, and its form is so perfect, provides such stimulation for my eyes, that I could not deprive myself of this pleasure.
In fact I find being apart from it to be difficult. I have not been able to leave the bathroom, so trying is the thought of being in a place where I cannot see it. As such, I thought I might take a photograph and keep it close to me in order to always carry its image with me. Yet here I encounter problems. The light smattering of dots across its surface seem to disappear, the smudge of which I am so enamoured becomes tiny, irrelevant. And what seems to dominate instead is a photograph of myself taking a photograph. I wish it would stop hiding for just one moment that I might see its true face.
And yet. That night I take a shower. Perhaps a part of me is trying to illicit arousal through casual exposure: I do not draw the shower curtain but instead allow it to watch. I am languid in the ritual, I clean myself slowly, generously, running my hands along my body in a soapy lather, enjoying the slipperiness of wet skin on skin. As the steam builds up in the room, condensation accrues across its face. It looks like sweat, as though it is beginning to desire me: as though through this desire it is beginning to overheat. I know this is not true. In fact, the very fact of condensation gathering on its surface is the result of its coldness: hot, gaseous beads of water hitting cold plane of glass. It is, quite simply, a demonstration of its frosty hauteur.
As I look at it though, a drop begins to form around the smudge: pools and falls down the mirror’s face in a rivulet. First one, then another, then another, all from the same point in its uppermost corner. Its smoky, clouded face is streaked with lines. I think it is crying, crying that we cannot be together, crying that we exist in different worlds, crying that–like the soulmates in Aristophanes’ myth, furiously hugging each other and hoping they might unite–we cannot be fused together and be one.
Lucretius is telling me that the mirror cannot be penetrated: that its very reflectiveness is the result its tight-walled hostility. If we are soulmates, then we are stuck as two separate parts, two halves of a whole that must be repaired, that cannot even find the temporary relief of sex. There is a line between us, a binary formed of surface and skin, a sharp line that must be crossed in order that we might be together.
Indeed, I am beginning to think that a penetrative erotic encounter would be insufficient. Volume probing into volume, when what I love is its surface. I wish to find a means of pleasure that allows for an encounter between two surfaces, the mirror’s and mine, and in this encounter glass and skin melt into each other and are fused for eternity. Our pleasure would last in perpetuity, and would be truly shared. The word share, whose etymology is found in the old English scearu: a division or part, suggests that pleasure must first be split and then parcelled out separately. To be able to escape the confines of myself would be lovely: to dissolve into the mirror not just once but forever, without drama and singularity and the climax that must inevitably be followed by decline.
So there must be a means to breach this membrane not through probing but instead through fusion.
Lucretius: And the body seeks the cause of the mind’s wounding by love
If we are soulmates, then we have been cleaved in two, injured, and the wound has healed over. I must open my skin, become injured again, that the sharp line between us becomes a hazy smudge. A smudge that is porous and allows for infinite interdiffusion. The mirror continuously permeates my eye with its simulacrum, I can permeate the mirror with my blood. We will bleed into each other, and start to become the same substance. I do not see this as mutual infection so much as mutual absorption.
I think I could place it on the floor and lie on it, and wait. Eventually, after some weeks, a supperating sore would develop on a pressure point. As it healed, its surface would fuse into mine, and we would fully be united. But I am restless and impatient, and do not wish to wait for the sore to develop of its own accord.
The springy barrier of skin must be punctured sooner. I need to find a way to expose the flesh, to peel back the skin in order that the mirror will reciprocate. In order for the skin to knit over the wound, it must have a surface to bind to and this surface shall be its face: I will graft myself onto it. Straight cuts would just create lines, mere cracks that might threaten to heal across themselves. I need to open myself with something more blunt, to create a flat plane of wound. As I run the nutmeg grater along my abdomen, a part of me enjoys the sharp sting; watching the flesh pill and slough off in gummy lumps. I press my bleeding stomach against the mirror, pushing my interior onto it, and I wait.
Aristophanes: It was their very essence that had been split in two, so each half missed its other half and tried to be with it; they threw their arms around each other and longed to be grafted together.
How deep is your love
It has to be baby plum
Food is a convenient metaphor for existence
Cheese of the soul
Hands and desire
Archive visit to Bath Fashion Museum