Spiegel: noch nie hat man wissend beschrieben,
was ihr in euerem Wesen seid.
Ihr, wie mit lauter Löchern von Sieben
erfüllten Zwischenräumen der Zeit.
Mirrors: never yet has anyone described in knowing ways
what you are substantially like.
You, as if filled with nothing but sieve holes
Interstices of time.
RAINER MARIA RILKE1
Confessional writing is a turning to oneself, a turning to one's own past, an autobiographical compulsion to face oneself, a face-to-face encounter with one's life as if it were a mirror. Mirrors, material or metaphoric, may be the beginning of a search for oneself, an incentive for putting on paper what otherwise might remain hidden to oneself. Confessional narratives, in turn, can serve as mirrors for others to see themselves reflected in them. Mirrors and confessions are related to each other, but their relationship is apprehensive, if not antithetical.
In Rilke's poetic imagination the mirror itself, the inanimate object, is described as possessing an enigmatic essence. The mirror's mystery is independent of the person who engages in the act of seeing, in the act of becoming a witness to oneself. For Augustine, on the other hand, it is man who is a mystery to himself. “Without question, we see now through a mirror in an enigma, not yet face to face” (10.5.7). It is man who tries to see himself face-to-face yet deceives himself so easily in front of a mirror's sieve holes. Mirrors without divine depth present an image of man caught in pretense and vainglory. If Rilke's modern ontologizing lyrics inspire our fight into poetic disembodiedness, Augustine's Confessions of late antiquity testify to the torments of an embodied self.