New Criticals

There is something in eye contact that, however briefly, however unverifiably, satisfies the desire to share-in experience. I look into your eyes, and I believe that we have made eye contact. In fact, because there is so little I can verify about the experience, believing that we have made eye contact and making eye contact are one and the same. And you must believe it too — it must be a shared experience of belief to be happening at all. I certainly can’t make eye contact by myself. It’s complicated, then: To believe that we have made eye contact requires me to believe that you believe that we have made eye contact; which in turn requires you to believe that I believe that we have made eye contact. Mutual faith in eye contact, then, is the condition of eye contact.

Without this faith, what is the difference between making eye contact and looking at someone’s eyes, disinterestedly considering her pupils? If there is a difference, it lies in this shared belief. In this way, our belief in our eye contact precedes the physical experience of eye contact –­­ if you can call the experience physical. It is an experience made true by the belief that our belief is shared. It is phenomenon and phenomenology, all at once.

The stakes are high: If my belief – our belief – is somehow true – which I feel it to be, even though I cannot verify it (and I believe you feel the same way) – then we together have received some special knowledge: That contained within our mutual gaze – within our belief of this shared secret –­­ is the very possibility of “mutuality” itself, of what Paul Ricoeur would call intersubjective experience. That despite your otherness, your alien-ness, we can share something. That the void can be bridged. That we can overlap. That it is possible that I am not alone. As Melville wrote, the opening of this possibility is “better than to gaze upon God.”