The Varieties of an Earnest Face

The dangers of a guised earnestness as emulated by Kafka’s “Confidence Trickster” aside, an earnest face is perhaps one of the most pleasurable things I know of in my dealings with strangers. An earnest-vulnerable face to be more specific.

Note to self: I worry that I take such pleasure in the earnest-vulnerable face because I seek power over it. I think, however, that the value I place on the earnest-vulnerable face is really just that I know what I’m dealing with–no tricks, no guises, no hidden weapons.

Vulnerability, however, is but one of many facets of the wide-open visage that one can delight in viewing. Some other things I like to see or find fascinating in an earnest face:

Revulsion: This one will be very well demonstrated when you get into a disfiguring accident one day–you’ll know it’s true revulsion when the pupils dilate and the jaw hangs agape in dumbfounded silence. (See Palahniuk’s Invisible Monsters to get the inside scoop on the first-hand sensation of disfigurement.)

Amnesty/Clemency/Absolution: The serene look on someone’s face when they are granting you clemency for something done wrong (intentional or no) is also a marvel. (See Hugo’s Les Miserables’ climactic engagement between Valjean and Javert for the granted absolution I speak of. Hugo himself also made note of the mark of eternal & infinite virtue envisaged, terming it “venerable radiance” as follows: “The honest, pitiless joy [in the face] of a fanatic in the full flood of his atrocity preserves a certain lugubriously venerable radiance… Nothing could be so poignant and so terrible as this face…”).

Trepidation: A face truly full of fear is probably likenable unto seeing an oasis halfway through a 1,000-mile desert for a serial killer. The vulnerability factor comes into play again here, but the fear is what sets it apart. This is power-play at its best. (See James Taggart’s face when he realizes what it means that he’s ready to throw the switch on Galt in Atlas Shrugged.)

Delighted Surprise: And finally, a face full of fun, or “eyes like bouquets”, as I once described a young Michael Meola. You can actually see this quite often if you have good friends, but one can never see enough of happy faces, can one?

So, seeing how in all other instances aside from the last that one doesn’t often get the opportunity to see those aspects played out on faces of those we encounter, it’s always a gratifying moment to bear witness to those rare emotional states as they pass over the patinas we are all wont to expose to the world.


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