Saturday, March 08, 2008

Then face to face

Degas, The Dancing Class
Kirchner, Woman at the MirrorPicasso, Girl Before a Mirror
Top: Edgar Degas (French, 1834–1917), The Dancing Class (ca. 1870). Bottom left: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner(German, 1880-1938), Woman at the Mirror (1912). Bottom right: Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1882-1973), Girl Before a Mirror (1932).

I am fresh off 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.

Here's the MoneyLaw connection, one that has the incidental benefit (at least to me) of combining a little modern art with some biblical exegesis: In alumni relations and university development as in academic networking, there is no substitute for the face-to-face meeting. I explained as much, albeit in more Louisville-specific terms, in a Cardinal Lawyer post last fall: Anyone. Anywhere. Anytime.

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:

εσοπτρου
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.

Editor's note: Cross-posted at The Cardinal Lawyer.

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