The Lost Book of Seneca: On Shaving
Man needs an end, for nature is a clumsy mushroom, a storm of passion and old leaves and pooh, leading nowhere. Seeing that he will not find clarity in the fog of natural order, the noble soul cuts away the muddle, excess and confusion to create his own goal, according to his values.
Look at the fools, from the dirty plebeians of the marketplace up to the clerks and administrators of the Emperor. Do not be as leaves, blustering hither and thither never to alight. Do not, like them, be lost in a whirlwind of pain and confusion, relieving your misery in pleasures such as cigarillos, wenches and strong mustard. Otherwise you will be bound to the earth like babes to the teat of suffering, or like an ear of corn only to be hacked down. But what is on the other side, you ask? I tell thee, there is order, beauty, discipline. Even within your ordinary day, there are small triumphs, silent victories, of which shaving is perhaps the sweetest
Shaving drives the unenlightened man to despair. The endless repetition of pedestrian actions enslave him to an imperfect, insatiable world and bind him to Nature; a struggle to survive for no purpose, a yearning without end. Yet the wise man (like me for instance), takes a quite different perspective. To shave is to step away from the maelstrom, to have a moment of composure, of undistracted focus. It offers a space of control.
Shaving is a response to a need, but a symbol of resistance. Each time a man shaves he punctuates the triumphant fact that he has made it and is shaving again, each shave a jewel in the necklace of his endurance. Whatever has happened, much of it no doubt brutish, a man’s inner most essence is an enclosed space, and shaving leads a man’s mind back to that part of his own being, that sanctuary that has persisted and endured. It is a man’s inviolable autonomy; an assertion, by him, that he is still, despite the odds, present.
Shaving is also beautiful because, unlike life, it is not ambivalent. To assess whether the task is complete, one needs ask oneself only this: are there tufts?
Verily, study the bald Estonian eagle as he charts his steady course, his wings cutting squarely the air. He knows where he is going. I say again, for those hard of hearing or who have just arrived, the meaning of life is found in small but assured of victories.
Whilst being a reminder of his own powers, shaving is at the same time a sign of respect to the world, for whilst underlining his own resilience he also underlines the importance of being neat and prepared. He has seen life, a fearsome spectacle so often hell-bent on his demise, as worth being smart for. Shaving is a gesture of respect, a bow to the world that, in all its imperfection and smallness of triumph, is a worthy adversary.
Shaving is a contract that man makes with the world. By embracing the hopeless repetition of shaving, man voluntarily defers to the rhythm of life, and just as the monk feels the weight of consciousness unravel as his knees press the floor. The noble man hands his troubles over when he shaves.
That being said, a man should not shave every day, lest he become vain. What ought to be performed out of respect becomes an end in itself and man might see himself as more beautiful than the battle. If he can find time to shave every day, then surely the battle is not so perilous? And if a man makes himself too groomed, he is not expecting to be wounded.
No. Allow some fuzz. This will be a sign that you are diligent in your struggles whilst embracing your limitations. A second benefit of shaving every five days or so is that the sensation of being shaven will not become commonplace. Each time you will welcome the clarity and bid adieu to muddle. As you rinse the knife and wipe the cheek, you will turn from your chamber, ready.