The Paris Review

Objects of Despair: Mirrors

 Inspired by Roland Barthes, Meghan O’Gieblyn’s monthly column, Objects of Despair, examines contemporary artifacts and the mythologies we have built around them.

Rolf Armstrong

“I was the guy who, with a viral Tumblr called Selfies at Funerals, made ‘funeral selfie’ one of the most noxious phrases of 2013.”

Jason Feifer, The Guardian

No common object has inspired as much dread, confusion, and morbid anxiety as the mirror. Superstitions exist in practically every culture: sickroom mirrors are covered in many countries, lest they lure the soul from the ailing body, and are cloaked after a death in others to prevent the spirit from lingering. A Chinese myth once held that images in the mirror were actually demonic beings who were pretending to be our reflections, while silently plotting our deaths. When I was a child, the popular folklore held that if you stood before a darkened mirror and chanted “Bloody Mary” three times, it would conjure a witch who would, if you failed to pass her tests, murder you. I never took the dare, but the story spooked me enough that I spent years avoiding my image in darkened mirrors, afraid that merely thinking the incantation could invoke her. Narcissus was the first to die from looking at his reflection—though the gnostics perfected the myth by reattributing it to Adam, who lost his divine, the Hebrew word for vanity preferred by Solomon, can also be translated as “mere breath,” only underscores the morbid undertones.)

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