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  > > Editor's Notes

  > > Letters
  > > From the President

Becoming who we are

My friend is a beautiful woman. Simply sitting across the table from her, male and female friends agree, adds pleasure to a meal. She is also in her late 40s and confesses that recently, when stopped at traffic lights, she finds herself taking a quick look in the rear-view mirror, smoothing out her laugh lines with her index finger, and wondering about getting a face-lift. Her friends understand the cultural imperative that prompts her musings. Still, we're glad that she's resisting the impulse: the lines are a part of her, indistinguishable from her beauty.

I thought of my friend when I read an article by Wendy Doniger, the Mircea Eliade professor in the history of religions at the Divinity School. "The Mythology of the Face-Lift" appeared in the Spring 2000 issue of Social Research, and in it Doniger takes the long view of what most of us regard as a contemporary phenomenon. According to Doniger, both ancient and modern myths proclaim the folly of wishing for a new face. In these myths, the owner of the new face is quickly betrayed by the discrepancy between the magically acquired visage and what lives below the surface. Once that discrepancy is revealed, the lover who has been taken in by the new look flees in horror.

This is the result even when, as is often the case, the face-lift myths "express the desire to have not just any face but one's own face as it once was in the past-to masquerade as one's younger self, as it were," Doniger writes. Regaining the façade of one's younger self, however, changes a person into someone else, "different from who you really are now: a person with a soul and a face that are formed and scarred by experience."

The laugh lines or "scars" removed by a face-lift, writes Doniger, "are the body's memory, in a form visible to others, of what the mind may have forgotten. Our scars may be the strongest signs of who we really are: perhaps, at the final reckoning, the whole body will disappear, and only our scar tissue will be there to testify for us."

If this is bad news for people who wish to escape their past, it is good news for people-and institutions-who worry that their past will somehow escape them.

PHOTO:  Bartlett goes from gymnasium to dining hall
Bartlett goes from gymnasium
to dining hall.

Walking around the quads this summer and fall, it has been impossible to avoid the sights and sounds-and the energy-of construction. Some of the work will, as the architects like to say, leave new footprints, permanently altering the campus landscape. Other projects will return things to the way they used to be-the flagstone path beneath Cobb Gate, for example, is no longer pockmarked by decades of weather and traffic, and the arch's support stones are once again on firm ground.

As Doniger points out, however, you can't change your essence by changing your façade. In the end, the University's new buildings and fresh plans are manifestations of an enthusiasm that echoes, and is informed by, the first, larger-than-life and construction-dusted days of William Rainey Harper himself.

Associate editor's note: Joining us on the masthead and on the staff this issue is associate editor Christopher R. Smith. A May graduate of Columbia University, where he majored in narrative anthropology and minored in writing, Chris was editor-in-chief of Inside New York, an annual guide to New York City produced by Columbia students. Chris has written for numerous publications, including Billboard, Rolling Stone, and Performing Songwriter. A songwriter and performer in the Arlo Guthrie mode, he's also a graduate student at the University, enrolled in the master of arts in the social sciences program.--M.R.Y.

  OCTOBER 2000

  > > Volume 93, Number 1

  > >
Déjà views
  > >
Women in white
  > >
Gay studies at Chicago
  > >
Reclamation project

  > > Class News

  > > Books
  > > Deaths

  > > Chicago Journal

  > > College Report

  > > Investigations



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