The Portrayal of Shame in Lucy Grealy’s “Mirrorings”
Jean Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness discusses the phenomenological experience of being the object of another subject’s ‘look’. ‘Look’ here refers to the process of “being-seen-by another” (Sartre 257). According to Sartre, this process is the first experience which enables an individual to be conscious of being an object. He states, “If someone looks at me, I am conscious of being an object. But this consciousness can be produced only in and through the existence of the Other” (271).
The Other, in this sense, enables an individual’s recognition of his existence since the Other enables the individual to see himself not only as pure consciousness but also as an embodied consciousness. The shift from pure consciousness to embodied consciousness is enabled by the Other since it is only through the ‘look’ of the Other that one’s being [one’s existence] is validated. Existence however is not merely dependent upon the Other. In Sartre’s discussion of the existence of others, he states that existence is also dependent upon how an individual perceives himself. He states,
Human reality is-for-itself…(however) we can encounter modes of consciousness which seem, even while themselves remaining strictly in for-itself, to point to a radically different type of ontological structure. This ontological structure is mine; it is in relation to myself as subject that I am concerned about myself, and yet this concern reveals to me a being which is my being without being-for-me. (Sartre 221) For Sartre, existence is also dependent upon how an individual perceives himself since it is the individual’s perception of himself which enables him to attain freedom from the Other.
The attainment of this freedom however is also dependent upon the Other. Sartre states, “these two structures are inseparable…I need the Other in order to realize fully all the structures of my being. The For-itself refers to the For-others” (222). The dependence of the being for-itself and being for-others is explained by Sartre in his discussion of shame. According to Sartre, “Shame (is) an intimate relation of myself to myself… (It) is by nature recognition… (Since) shame is shame of oneself before the Other” (221-222). He states that shame is only possible through the individual’s recognition of how the Other perceives him.
It is an intimate relation since in the act of being ashamed of one’s self; the individual is also objectifying himself. It is a result of this objectification of one’s self that the being revealed to the individual is a being which is not for-itself. In other words, it is not a conception of one’s self which allows freedom for the individual since it entails the individual’s objectification of himself as a result of his recognition of the other’s objectification of him. The manner in which shame leads to the individual’s inability to attain freedom for himself is evident in Lucy Grealy’s “Mirrorings”.
“Mirrorings” recounts Grealy’s formation of her ‘self’ [her identity] during the period of the reconstruction of her face. She begins her essay by stating how mirrors affect one’s image of one’s self. She states, “I never suspected how omnipresent are our own images” (Grealy 209). It is important to note that initially Grealy is referring to the image of the individual as it is reflected in the mirror. The omnipresence of an individual’s mirror image is a result of its ability to present a concrete manifestation of an individual as that individual appears to others in the world.
Since her physical appearance did not coincide with her conception of her ‘self’, Grealy chose to stop looking in the mirror for one year during the later part of the period of her facial reconstruction. She states, “My own image was the image of a stranger, and rather than try to understand this, I simply stopped looking in the mirror” (Grealy 218). One might infer from Grealy’s description of her experiences that the main reason for her decision to stop looking in the mirror was her feelings of shame towards her ‘self’.
In line with Sartre’s conception of shame, her feelings of shame were the result of her objectification of her ‘self’ as a result of other people’s objectification of her. In a sense one might state that the shame she experienced towards her appearance was the result of her mirroring other people’s shame towards her appearance. The ‘self’, in this sense, may be seen as initially affected by the Other’s perception of the ‘self’. Initially, during the creation of one’s identity, one uses the Other’s conception of one’s ‘self’ in order to define one’s ‘self’.
In line with Grealy’s experience, it is only when one recognizes the dependence of the ‘self’ upon one’s ‘self’ as well as upon the Other that one recognizes the possibility of creating a conception of one’s ‘self’ that is independent and hence free of the Other’s. This realization was achieved by Grealy as she states, “My liberation came as a result of shedding something, of shedding my image” (219). In Grealy’s case, she was only able to achieve being-for-herself when she choose to discard the images that she derived from other people’s perception of her.
In line with Sartre’s phenomenology, Grealy was only able to achieve freedom when she realized that although her identity is partly affected by the Other, it is ultimately the individual himself who decides the identity that he will ascribe to himself. Works Cited Grealy, Lucy. “Mirrorings. ” Touchstone Anthology of Contemporary Creative Nonfiction: Work from 1970 to the Present. Eds. Lex Williford and Michael Martone. Michigan: U of Michigan P. , 2007. Sartre, Jean Paul. Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology. Trans. Hazel Barnes. London: Routledge, 1969.Sample Essay of PapersOwl.com