The Millions

Mirror, Mirror: On the Nature of Literature

Because of the mirror I cannot touch the me-inside-the mirror
Because of the mirror I get to meet the me-inside-the mirror
     —Yisang, “Mirror,” translated from Korean by Jack Jung

God has created nighttime, which he arms
With dreams, and mirrors, to make clear
To man he is a reflection and a mere
Vanity. Therefore these alarms.
     —Jorge Luis Borges, “Mirrors,” translated from Portuguese by Mildred Boyer and Harold Morland

Sometimes it takes a probe
and a camera’s eye to show you 

what you’re looking for.
       —Maureen Doallas, “How Argument Go.”

1.

Many people, especially during their teenage years, spend a lot of time gazing at themselves in the mirror. One of my dorm-mates in high school was a pretty dancer. One day she started to get up an hour earlier every morning—the reason, she said, was to study. She did get up early, but she spent that extra hour looking in the mirror and combing her hair. Boys do similar things, too. Walking to the cafeteria during high school, I occasionally passed by a boy: Feet glued to the hallway, he held a stainless-steel spoon and kept glancing at the reflection of his face.

I never took a fancy to mirrors. They bear ill omens in childhood stories. Narcissus, in Greek mythology, grows infatuated with his reflection in the water and eventually dies of unrequited love. The magic mirror in stirs up the queen’s jealousy and causes a series of misfortunes to befall the innocent princess. My fear of mirrors developed when I turned 14. Two weeks after a friend broke her mirror at lunch break, she was diagnosed with leukemia. That night I did some googling and found that breaking a mirror was considered bad luck in many cultures. I knew I was being superstitious, but immediately checked all three mirrors my mother kept at home to make sure

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