Whiskerature

This is about the contrast of the smooth with the heavily concealed chin.

IPH 2007-04-25

Karl Marx

I find that the term I have used here as the title is neither lexicalized nor even occurring in a web search, so I hereby coin it, meaning the ensemble of one’s beard, one’s moustache, and indeed the total configuration and aspect of the facial adornment; for that totality is more, I feel, than merely “whiskers”.

Some friends — almost exclusively the ladies — apparently find it incomprehensible that I should set out deliberately to look old. Others like the look; one Malaysian lady of my acquaintance (the proprietor & matron of a home in Bognor, who had care of my late mother 2004..2006) always told me she liked the “Maharishi” or “guru” look. My mother generally thought she hated the bearded look but that had been her view since I was 20, when I really looked no older with it than without, simply less conventional. In later years I think she decided that I looked more “distinguished” with it. But then, in those days, I used to keep it trimmed even when it turned “salt and pepper”, and then out-and-out white.

The aim is not to resemble anyone closely but to approximate a style after the fashion of the Victorian era thinkers such as Marx, Darwin, and the great, yet until the 2000s badly neglected, tower of scholarship who was Sir James A. H. Murray, lexicographer and editor of the OED.


Charles Darwin

I originally began this paragraph with “The trouble with growing a long beard is ...” but I quickly realized that there are several snags to report. You see, you can't keep a short haircut with a long beard without looking chin-heavy — a quick look at Darwin and Murray, with their out-and-out-bald pates, will I think confirm this — so I tend to allow the hair to grow too. I think it is probably true that long hair down the neck when one is bald on top looks rather ghastly in a way that long hair beginning on a still-well-covered dome looks fine and much more the whole picture. Charlton Heston as Moses, Niall MacGinnis or indeed Laurence Olivier as Zeus in a movie with Ray Harryhausen special effects, they had a full had of hair and a beard. When I played Jupiter (November 1984) the full silver beard was important but so was the full head of silver hair. Nowadays I wouldn't have to colour it silver as I did then but I don’t do acting any more (it is too much bother learning the lines).

Of course, cost is a factor to remember. Keeping the hair cut short costs more than keeping the beard trimmed. That is, after all, the expensive part of keeping the head generally trimmed, with a smooth chin to match: the ten pounds or more charged by a men’s hardresser for a haircut. One hesitates to use the old word barber because that means one who shaves gentlemen, or trims their beards for them; and when I have one, I will certainly not pay anyone to cut my beard, for it is on the front, and I can do it perfectly well with scissors myself, while looking in a mirror.


Sir James A. H. Murray

The result of growing (or allowing to grow, since it takes no act save of omission) the hair long is that one ends up adopting gestures one sees girls and women using all the time, to hitch the ever lengthening strands near the face so that they don't get in the eyes. One starts to think of conditioners and so on so that it doesn't look like rat’s tails a day after it has been shampooed. Yet ordinary people nowadays tend to suspect one is a down-and-out, the assumption being that long hair and a beard indicate the unkempt, not often washed, and so forth. If one washes the hair every day (not really necessary) they will think this still, so though one has to pay attention to it one can't expect the stereotype to be avoided.

ANother problem is that one tends to stroke the chin when thinking; and with a long enough beard one tends to play with the tufts: as girls play with tips of hair locks near the ears, so a man with a long enough beard twists it round the fingers when deep in thought and the result is that the next time one comes to comb it out, the comb cannot pass and one feels the whole might be pulled out at the roots, though it isn’t; just a few strands come away. Still, the ownership of a longish beard — of an abundant whiskerature — is a serious undertaking if one is to remain well groomed. Thus in order to avoid looking unkempt — in which word the root is that of “comb”, of course — a fair amount of care is needed; and this not only takes time: and demands regular, rather repetitive attention which (if one is not careful) is also boring. No wonder “absent-minded professors” are reputed to neglect such things.

Most winters for many years, I have grown a beard; and most summers I have removed it and had a fairly short hair-cut which has lasted months. In 2006 when I began growing the beard again I thought I would try to resist the tendency to give up and remove it again around June in 2007 as usual. As I write in the second half of May 2007 I am wondering whether I shall stay with it or not this year. Do I look a mess? I don't know. Shall I keep it up? We shall see.