The expression on her face precedes her face. That’s one way to put it. You can tell these expressions, these looks that are so characteristic of her face, come from inside, or from elsewhere, and flood the oval teacup of her face; are planted there, or have been planted there and suddenly overflow. They have a source that is from before her physical face, with all its features that have been formed as if to convey these looks, these expressions which are so specific, and so suggestive. Though they are not always in the moment, but flash in sideways as if landing from another realm. I am saying that the expression causes the face. That it is not the combinational result of the possibilities of what a face can say, but the ineffable look is the jewel, and the physical face is only the tissue it is wrapped in. Apparently the tissue can wrinkle and age, but the look remains; people are recalled even by the look in their eyes, even without the color of their eyes–just the everlasting look. That is what precedes everything, in the order of creation.
Consider how little any of us needs to recognize someone that we know. From the side of her head, by the tip of her ear, I can tell it is her. It is not so much to marvel at the scantness of the perception needed to identify someone, as to see the implication: that this person is through and through identifiable by any single, tiny aspect of her. It is her immemorial person showing through. It is not that the tip of her ear, or the flush on her cheek, is one of her unique features, but that she is expressed most blatantly, somehow, at this moment when you see that aspect. That, and a thousand other small manifestations, are what you end up loving. In an early novel I indulged in a description that a cynical magazine editor branded as a prime example of “overwriting”; he thought it was laughable when I wrote, trying the get the point of view of a seducer (who is ridiculous): “her not uncovetable elbow.” He wrote, in a stern note: “Someone should tell this young author to listen to what he is saying.” But he missed the point of view, the context, the one who was looking. It was too expressive for him.
With me, it is always the exaggeration, the ineffable, the exploration of the obscure. I see that some people are radiating with a near hundred percent luminosity of their inner self, but some have been hemmed in, blocked, made awkward, very little of them is leaking through, or only a flash of their inner self appears. But to know someone is to see what is unforgettable about them. So it is equally a way of looking that each of us learns . . .
Consider the tiniest recognisable traits of those you know. The expression on her face that is only her face; maybe others don’t even see it. When people live together and don’t have any of these bonds of recognition, they will eventually tire of each other and go looking for someone . . . else! Someone who strikes them as one they have known a long time, forever. (That’s what they always say!) A person will not become more familiar just because they are always around, but actually less familiar; because all your assumptions about them will one by one be proven ill-suited to them. Eventually you will scream, “I don’t even know you!” On the other hand, people who know each can live together and not even look at each other; they recognize each other from the merest scrap of evidence; from their voice, their shadow, in every inflection. Ah yes, these are novelist’s details, but the novelist is usually missing the big picture; what is significant is not how lovingly small the detail, but how it indicates it is part of a total set, which all contain that essence. For there is one person behind each of us. This is like the poetic equivalent of DNA. It is the true interior uniqueness of a person which has summoned and co-created their faces. But which, you want to know!, is the true literal being of the person? The DNA, or the “look.” I’d go with the literal poetic. Something is using the physical form to make it’s intention manifest. There is a mystery becoming meaningful . . . that is the sequence in life.
If it seems that this all figurative, and the DNA science is the reality–switch that around, it is the science which is the result and the cold-blooded neutral (impersonal) expression, shielding each of us from the blinding possibility of total presence. It can only give you the poorest of facts.
Now you have found a new way to look at people. Watch for the utterly expressive, and lend to it absolute motive and power. You are absent mindedly staring at a two chattering girls, when one of them just breaks into a big smile, right as she is talking. But this smile is shocking, embarrassing, the smile of a little girl. You might say, she used her whole face. And it didn’t have directly to do with what she was saying to the other girl. You can see that. It is extra, but it is totally her. It swept over her whole face. And, I repeat, not even expressly for the girl she was talking to, but like for some other audiences, like in response to some memories. It wasn’t even to put an emphasis on what she was saying, but it was in response to her own thoughts, while talking. Like she remembered something sidewise, and unconsciously lit up. So the other girl could have said, “what was that!” But these girls are just that age, they are always bubbling up with girlish thoughts! It was beautiful, and incidental, and she went right on, as it just vanished, this look.
I say this is one of those expressions that precedes the face it appears on. Is this too fine a difference? No, it is a crucial one. You can watch a teller of a story go through looks meant to help convey the story, and then, unaware of herself, registering her own reactions and her own anticipations, to the very thing she is telling. She is sort of doubly alive. It is complicated enough, for one to want to love her . . . This the heart of her deep self, it is the look that someone falls in love with. Some guy is sitting there and falling in love with her for the random looks. Those that are precisely this indirect relationship with what she is saying. And he would put those jewels in a box . . .
And also–I am sure of it–this is the look her children will inherit. Is that going too far? I don’t think so. This is the eternal beauty of the person and, as I keep saying, it precedes the physical person and it is what the physical is all about.