Then face to face

Degas, The Dancing Class
Kirchner, Woman at the Mirror

Top: Edgar Degas, The Dancing Class (ca. 1870). Left: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Woman at the Mirror (1912). Right: Pablo Picasso, Girl Before a Mirror (1932).

Cross-posted at MoneyLaw.

Picasso, Girl Before a Mirror

I have just returned from a weekend in Washington and Baltimore, where I took part in University of Louisville alumni events in connection with a shootout for the Big East men's basketball regular season title and in the University of Maryland's Constitutional Law Schmooze. I've lost count of the number of alumni, University of Louisville partisans, constitutional law scholars, and political scientists with whom I connected.

In alumni relations and university development as in academic networking, there is no substitute for the face-to-face meeting. I explained as much some months ago in Anyone. Anywhere. Anytime. This past weekend's trip emphatically drove the point home. If you really want to connect, you need to do it face to face.

In the absence of face-to-face contact, we fall quite naturally into a pattern of ascribing our own wishes, fears, predilections, and ambitions onto others. In personal as in academic matters, the hardest thing to do is to imagine that someone else, for perfectly legitimate and perhaps even compelling reasons, sees the world and the good that is in it in ways that you do not.

Consider 1 Corinthians 13:12, best known in English through the King James Bible: "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." In the original Greek, the first part of this verse reads: "βλεπομεν γαρ αρτι δι εσοπτρου εν αινιγματι." The crucial word in this sequence, ἔσοπτρον (esoptron), speaks not of windows, but of mirrors. And the mirrors of the ancients were made not of glass, but of metal.

The rendering of this verse in the Revised Standard Version makes the connection unequivocally: "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood." See generally Samuel E. Bassett, 1 Cor. 13:12, βλεπομεν γαρ αρτι δι εσοπτρου εν αινιγματι (blepomen gar arti di esoptron en ainigmati), 47 J. Biblical Lit. 232-36 (1928) (click here for the first page). Whether it takes Saint Paul, or a modernist trio as exalted as Degas, Kirchner, and Picasso to do the trick, I'll do my best to remember the value of face-to-face contact vis-à-vis :-) the pitfalls of mirror-gazing.