Extraordinary, Critical Seeings

There are many different ways of seeing and how others see us, as Lou Hsienhua puts it, impacts the way we deal with the world as we try hard to make sure there is no distorted image about us drawn by others. When coming to the problem of self-imagining, the way we see ourselves, Hsienhua thinks, should never be dictated by anyone else but us. Resistant youths nowadays who try to claim their independence may declare that they are not what you see, meaning what you see about them is inaccurate, distorted, and, most importantly, subjective. Seeing, overall, is a complicated matter.

By Tome Loulin 娄林桦(笔名), also known as Hsienhua Lou, he lives in Hubei’s Qianjiang city and is currently a graduate student of translation studies.

There are many different ways of seeing, all of which picture us as something other than ourselves. Seeing, as the saying goes, is believing, perhaps, because the power it has on our belief system seems too powerful to resist. And the cognitive authority of seeing that makes people believe whatever comes around them is prone to abuse. For seeing as a way of interpretation, there are ordinary seeings, biased, partial, undesired seeings, free and imaginative seeings, critical or uncritical seeings. Here, the exact types of seeing I wish to discuss are critical and imaginative seeings from which our self image comes to shape.

What follows are some points of view on the very happenings around certain places whereto I have for years stayed close at this critical era whose characteristics, it’s occurred to me, are a fluid and puzzling mixture of radical thinkings. These thoughts whose spreading around world has, at least partially, helped accelerate an ongoing process of social degeneration, can be seen in some ways as a salient form of resistance under pressure from the irresistible force of time to a haunted experience of cultural invisibility, misrepresentation, and ignorance. What was left untouched in this complete washing of our dreams along the bank of meaninglessness may be our already dimmed hope about a spiritual and personal betterment. I see, through the reflections of myself, strangers, concretes, and other things tedious, dull, beautiful, noticeable or ignorable on the dark grey window glasses I passed by in the streets of Wuhan and other cities in Hubei. It is our senses that, you may agree, shaped our very idea of what it is like for a person to be alive in this world and of what this world should look like physically. This should-look-ness provides us with the constant fresh flow of critical idealization of our spirituality and takes our imagination home.

What we see or don’t may, it appears, set the boundary of our artistic imagination. Here we are, seeing ourselves in glasses, mirrors, other people’s eyes, and any other reflective surfaces. These ways of seeing generate images that are said to be reflective of our characters, appearances, preferences whose core representations we, in the seeable and sensible world, try hard not to be distorted by the means of external seeings, perhaps, out of the fear that every image of us generated by other ways of seeing may critically threaten the survival of our very ability of seeing ourselves in a more sublime light ever imaginable in our otherworldly-defined spiritual sensation.

Seeing, it occurs to me, is essential to our ability to interpret who we are and defines the boundary between self and other. But what matters regarding different way of seeing, you may agree, is that the power to believe what we see is so strong that false impressions or stereotyped images we have formed about others or others have about us may threaten the freedom of our self-imagination. To be seen by others as something other than what one thinks oneself of is the reason why knowing oneself is a lifelong task. If we let other person’s imagination about ourselves dictate, we will lose the way. The purpose of this learning-driven kind of seeing is, perhaps, to make sure that what we see stays true to our beliefs that we are, overall, special for it is our own self who can see the potential and possibility of a self-transcendence that could hardly be seen by others. And it is we ourselves who have the ability to cast inside of us a new light whose uniqueness may determine the way of our becoming. In different cultural systems that shape how in-groupers see themselves collectively, seldom will there be no sayings emphasizing how important it is to realize the fleetingness of the images or the impressions we formed inside about certain things. Things whose change, for instance, may appear so transformational that if we don’t pay attention, we may lose our ways. Resisting it may risk us to see others in distorted lens, creating inaccurate stereotypes about things and people we thought we know.

Interpersonal seeings, which in many ways inter-influence people’s attitude towards others, are usually critical, unloving, unflattering in many different social settings. The most pronounced feature of this over-industrialized era may be that the treatment certain people could get in certain societies may be decided by their social occupations, origin of birth, age, or, in some cases, physical appearances. There are upward seeings, and downward ones. What your image looks like in others’ eyes has been, you may agree, determined by how well you fulfill the idealized or normalized standards widely accepted by a society such as the prestigious-ness of the university one graduates, the number of houses or cars one owns. Those sleeping outdoors, homeless, low-wage earners obtain only a friction of this society’s critical attention perhaps, out of the reason that if we see to much, there will only be more unbearable scenes to be discovered. It’s, you may think, endless.

What happens when I told someone who asks where my home is that I don’t know where to specify. Oh, you must feel many places home, the questioner may think. But the truth is otherwise. For many people, there may be little or no difficulties to answer questions about where we come from or where we feel home if the places one feels close to or home happens to be Beijing, New York, London, Shanghai, Quito, Rome or anywhere else whose cultural and imaginative significance created and shaped by various popular artist, authors, photographers, film directors, and journalists appears to be a spontaneous immediacy. But mine is somewhere that rarely have some people heard even in my own country, let alone in others. Geographical locations are destinies. I come from small places whose overlooked-ness also reflects a partial seeing that has been favored by our culture that uncritically instills a belief that in today’s world, the point of seeing is to make a point. A point of seeing is not a judgement, or is it?

The fact that seeing can provide us pleasures if we focus on certain things we deemed to be worth seeing indicates that our self-image, overall, is the product of our own idealization of how should we be seen; the point is how should ourselves be seen by ourselves. Am I good at this or that, or have I been fashionable or cool, people may wonder if they wish to appear more like their imagined selves. But there are certain occasions one could not even afford to take proper care of how other people will see them.

It was a breezily hot summer evening and I was sitting inside of a Starbucks in Hankou of Wuhan this year, not ordering anything but waiting a friend of mine to finish his shopping at a Sam’s Club nearby. Because this friend’s home is in the outskirts of Wuhan where getting anything after the nearest convenient store closed at nine pm appeared impossible and he had to buy groceries and ready-to-cook food almost in bulk, the time spent on waiting for him to finish the shopping was going to be long. Directionless, I was, as always, immersed in my own imaginative way of seeing the world by looking outside of the window at whatever would appear before it. A bit confused, an old man perhaps in his sixties in a white T-shirt well wore came into the cafe, looking aimless and trying to appear fine as he went across the tables to sit down on a sofa.When he sat down his gaze looked determined, contemplative, but also sentimental. Nobody, including a little boy who asked me what I was seeing outside, apparently out of his wonder that I seemed attracted by something else that he didn’t see. I wasn’t, actually, seeing anything that boy might have missed but the old man sitting silent and looking saddened by things I might not know and he might find hard to disclose to others. The man looked so sad that his eyes were, like, tearful. When he left the cafe, nobody seemed to notice. Why didn’t he, I wondered, stay inside longer for the outside was so hot and full of indifferent gazes. But what a difference could it make to stay a bit longer inside as the old man seemed to have seen enough of what he couldn’t bear to behold. Perhaps, the temperature inside of the cafe, I thought, was too cold to stay.

Seeing, I think, is not an illusive re-imagination of what we have seen, or is it?