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Sunday, 29 April 2012

Palindrome or Left of Centre?

I am a palindrome. Or rather, I have a palindromic name. A palindrome is a word or phrase that can be read backwards as well as forwards. I have always been very proud that Hannah is one of these magic words. Palindromes work because they are symmetrical. When you reach the mid-point of the word, it becomes a perfect reflection of itself. Symmetry is immensely satisfying. Think of the beauty of rainbows, butterflies, snowflakes, the human eye.

We usually expect the human face to be symmetrical too. The nose represents the mid point or the mirror line and symmetry dictates that the right and left sides of the face should be perfect reflections of each other. Traditional notions of beauty seem to prize symmetry extremely highly. And I once heard Robert Winston explaining that humans are most attracted by pleasingly balanced countenances: this is why the most popular children at school tend to be those with the most symmetrical faces.

But where does that leave those of us who do not have a reassuringly symmetrical appearance? My right and left eyes do not look or behave the same as each other. I know that this can look odd and make people I am meeting for the first time feel uncomfortable. I blame the frequently perfect symmetry of the natural world for this reaction.

But my asymmetry is not limited to my appearance. I have almost no sight in my right eye and do almost all of my looking out of my left. As a consequence, I do not see my nose as the centre of my face, but its edge. Indeed, I have never seen the right-hand side of my nose. My left-of-centre approach to life is emphasised by my left-handedness. My palindromic name sits uneasily with my bodily asymmetry. And I think this tension is an interesting reminder than symmetry is not always a good thing. Like the narrator of Suzanne Vega's 'Left of Centre', I relish my own marginality:

When they ask me
"What are you looking at?"
I always answer "Nothing much" (not much)
I think they know that
I'm looking at them
I think they think I must be out of touch.

1 comment:

  1. I'm a palindrome fanatic, and always liked the names Hannah and Anna for this reason. I love the way you go from palindromes to symmetry, facial symmetry, and tension between your name and your experience of vision