I’ve shaved off my beard. Again. I try to grow a beard at least a couple of times a year, each time believing that this time will be the time that I keep it, this will be the time when I will become a bearded man. But I always give up and shave it off at around four weeks. Sometimes it’s because it feels uncomfortable, more recently because I think it makes me look old, but mostly I do it because it somehow feels like it’s not me. But how can it not be me, if my beard is literally a part of me?
Do I not recognize myself when I see myself with a beard? Perhaps it’s because the beard is outwards-directed, forcing me to try to see myself through the eyes of others. According to pop-Existentialist Gary Cox, “For Sartre, the moustache becomes the emblem of unthinking men with no inner life. A man can not see his own moustache, at least to the extent that others see it, so a moustache exists primarily for others and a man with a moustache is a man who has undertaken to exist for others rather than for himself.” Makes sense, facial hair as bad faith.
But I doubt this is the case for me. My wife, for example, has never been enthusiastic about my beard, so it’s not for her approval that I do this. And it’s not her disapproval that compels me to shave it off, either, as I started growing and shaving off my beard years before I met her. Maybe the question really should be what drives me to attempt a beard, knowing that in the end I will give up again?
Camus offers an answer. As he writes in The Myth of Sisyphus, “One always finds one’s burden again. […] The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.” Mine is Sisyphus’s beard. Imagine me happy.
And thus, months from now, I will again begin the process. As that fetishist of failure Samuel Beckett put it, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”