A couple months ago, I went through the process of applying for a teaching position with the Japanese government. The first stages of the application were straightforward and left me more or less in control of the impact of my application; I picked each and every word of my cover letter and employed careful phrasing, indentation, and even font choice on my résumé, carefully crafting an image of responsibility, creativity, and experience; my references were briefed with specific talking points distinct to each of them which, when read in the context of the others' letters, would create a balanced, enticing image. The application was genuinely a multimedia work of art, conceived with of coherent artistic agenda and executed with, I believe, considerable skill.
I lost control with the next stage: submit two passport-sized photos (2 x 2 inches). Left ear must be showing. Applicant should be photographed wearing business attire. Detach reply form from this letter at dotted line. Affix here using glue. Do not smile.
I'm still not entirely sure why that demanding little letter, with its series of staccato strictures, was so jarring, but I think Woolf may be on to something at the end of the Between the Acts, when the players turn the mirrors on the audience, to much consternation:
The hands of the clock had stopped at the present moment. It was now. Ourselves.
So that was her little game! To show us up, as we are, here and how. All shifted, preened, minced; hands were raised, legs shifted.
The audience is “laughed at by looking glasses” amid grumblings that the gaze of the mirrors is “distorting and upsetting and unfair”. The distortion is of their self-images, and the unfairness results when they are stripped of these images. The audience and I shared a similar dismay at having all of our calculated facades, the little projections and mythologies we exhibit, shorn away in the face of the determined Gaze.
You cannot argue with a mirror any more than you can with a camera.
Woolf's audience had only to see themselves, but my ill-shaven, sleep deprived, unkempt mug traced a circuitous route from the phototech at CVS's discerning gaze to the halls of the various ministries of the Japanese government, at one of which it remains today, enshrined in a manilla folder with the comments of some bored civil servant scrawled around it. There, prodded at, judged, evaluated, analyzed, and, ultimately, rejected, this utterly truthful, horrifying image, complemented by a series of little black squiggles, arranged in an oval shape and called my fingerprints, was left to plead my case.
In that moment, I became a member of that audience, offended and dejected that the story should end with nothing but the truth about myself.