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No Longer Human
I have seen three pictures of the man. The first, a childhood photograph you might call it, shows him about the age of ten, a small boy surrounded by a great many women (his sisters and cousins, no doubt).
He stands in brightly checked trousers by the edge of a garden pond. His head is tilted at an angle of thirty degrees to the left, and his teeth are bared in an ugly smirk. Ugly?
You may well question the word, for insensitive people (that is to say, those indifferent to matters of beauty and ugliness) would mechanically comment with a bland, vacuous expression, “What an adorable little hoy!”
It is quite true that what commonly passes for “adorable” is sufficiently present in this child’s face to give a modicum of meaning to the compliment.
But I think that anyone who had ever been subjected to the least exposure to what makes for beauty would most likely toss the photograph to one side with the gesture employed in brushing away a caterpillar, and mutter in profound revulsion, “What a dreadful child!”
Indeed, the more carefully you examine the child’s smiling face the more you feel an indescribable, unspeakable horror creeping over you. You see that it is actually not a smiling face at all.
The boy has not a suggestion of a smile. Look at his tightly clenched fists if you want proof. No human being can emile with his fists doubled like that.
It is a monkey. A grinning monkey-face. The smile is nothing more than a puckering of ugly wrinkles.
The photograph reproduces an expression so freakish, and at the same time so unclean and even nauseating, that your impulse is to say, “What a wizened, hideous little boy!” I have never seen a child with such an unaccountable expression.
The face in the second snapshot is startlingly unlike the first. He is a student in this picture, although it is not clear whether it dates from high school or college days.
At any rate, he is now extraordinarily handsome.
But here again, the face fails inexplicably to give the impression of belonging to a living human being.
He wears a student’s uniform and a white handkerchief peeps from his breast pocket. He sits in a wicker chair with his legs crossed.
Again he is smiling, this time, not the wizened monkey’s grin but a rather adroit little smile.
And yet somehow it is not the smile of a human being: it utterly lacks substance, all of what we might call the “heaviness of blood” or perhaps the “solidity of human life”—it has not even a bird’s weight.
It is merely a blank sheet of paper, light as a feather, and it is smiling. The picture produces, in short, a sensation of complete artificiality.
Pretense, insincerity, fatuousness—none of these words quite covers it. And of course, you couldn’t dismiss it simply as dandyism.
In fact, if you look carefully you will begin to feel that there is something strangely unpleasant about this handsome young man. I have never seen a young man whose good looks were so baffling.
The remaining photograph is the most monstrous of all. It is quite impossible in this one even to guess the age, though the hair seems to be streaked somewhat with grey.
It was taken in a corner of an extraordinarily dirty room (you can plainly see in the picture how the wall is crumbling in three places).
His small 16 hands are held in front of him. This time he is not smiling. There is no expression whatsoever.
The picture has a genuinely chilling, foreboding quality as if it caught him in the act of dying as he sat before the camera, his hands held over a heater.
That is not the only shocking thing about it. The head is shown quite large, and you can examine the features in detail: the forehead is average, the wrinkles on the forehead average, the eyebrows also average, the eyes, the nose, the mouth, the chin . . . the face is not merely devoid of expression, it fails even to leave a memory.
It has no individuality. I have only to shut my eyes after looking at it to forget the face.
I can remember the wall of the room and the little heater, but all impression of the face of the principal figure in the room is blotted out; I am unable to recall a single thing about it.
This face could never be made the subject of a painting, not even of a cartoon. I open my eyes.
There is not even the pleasure of recollecting: of course, that’s the kind of face it was! To state the matter in the most extreme terms: when I open my eyes and look at the photograph a second time I still cannot remember it.
Besides, it rubs against me the wrong way and makes me feel so uncomfortable that in the end, I want to avert my eyes.
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