The Bearded Ones: Dwelling in a History of Radicalism, Authenticity, and Neoliberalism

Russell Cobb


Beards are a sort of dwelling. Much like Heidegger's linguistic play with related etymologies of building and dwelling, beards are in a constant state of becoming, forever changing length, shape, and color. To the person—usually, but not always, a man—who grows a beard, the end product is always projected out into the future, like Heidegger’s concept of being. The beard is trimmed and groomed constantly; it is cultivated in a way that feels authentic to its wearer. But the same ontological problems that Heidegger applies to dwelling in a home also apply to beards. Long facial hair symbolizes wisdom in many cultures, but anyone who has grown a beard can attest to the existential dilemma of long facial hair. I didn’t recognize you with the beard, someone will say. Beards can serve as symbols of erudition, yes, but they are also masks for our social selves. The beard is, after all, is a curious appendage, as it is an extension of the self, but not the self per se. Herman Melville called beards “suburbs of the chin.” If, like Heidegger, we are to see being as not a fixed entity divorced from other beings, but a being-in-the-world, a set of relations among other beings, then beards are not simply static accessories or styles, but an example of the slippery nature of being itself.

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