Greek, meaning eye. Often used in combination with prefixes to describe various conditions of sight/sightlessness.
Internet, meaning gaze: “The ambiguous intensity of looking someone in the eye, which can feel simultaneously invasive and vulnerable.”
Among the thousands of posts and reposts, articles and blogs circulating the internet, there has been a fascination with various lists of new or obscure words that are coming into the English language. Words like Petrichor or Backpfeifengesicht, Wanderlust or Tranquilo wander their way onto our feeds, giving structure to previously vague things. What is it that claws at our chests, that so badly needs to voice what is happening inside? It is as if, when right words are found, our souls will be set free.
Opia. Kidnapped from its etymology. Given a new place, a new purpose.
It was necessary, really. We need a word for it. We need a word for that frightening feeling that comes to us all. There is something unmistakably powerful about looking someone in the eye, and being looked at in return. There is something terrifying about that power.
But why? Why is it so hard to look, to see and be seen?
Sartre called it the “gaze,” naming it the movement of objectifying. I think he would tell us that we hate it because through this eye contact we are made the objects of another’s world. Other people are hell, afterall. They take away our freedom when they look at us.
Fascinating thoughts as they are, I’m not sure that’s the only power at play. It’s more than just subjects and objects. There’s actually something with identity involved.
Last night, I got mad. I felt hurt, I was sad. So, I retreated. I went within, began to withdraw. There were two other people present, and I didn’t want them to see what was really going on. I didn’t want them to see me getting upset over something petty, something I should be able to shake off but couldn’t. That would be too much, too vulnerable.
Eye contact was the first to go. Words followed soon after, until I plunged into full-blown withdraw. I wished not to be seen for what I really was. I wished not to be exposed to another soul.
That’s where Sartre got it wrong. There’s a terrible mutuality in eye contact, for both lookers are both seeing and seen.
It’s intense. It’s invasive. It’s vulnerable. But there’s nothing our lonely soul needs more.
Look up, friends.