Very early this morning, at 8am due to the semi-emergency nature of my dental problem (I am sure very few people choose 8am for appointment if they could choose), I went to my dentist’s office to replace an old gold crown which harbored some decay underneath. As soon as I sat on the dental patient’s chair I felt myself becoming a little tense. When the dentist shifted the chair I was sitting on into the reclining position, inadvertently I recollected the absurd vision of Steve Martin singing “I am a de-n-tist,” from the 1986 comic musical horror film Little Shop of Horrors. Since such a vision was not really conducive to invoking the near absolute trust in the dentist that is required of a dental patient during a dental surgery, I tried to brush off the image. But, instead, what came to my mind’s theater was Laurence Olivier saying “Is it safe?” from the 1976 thriller Marathon Man. I struggled to manufacture other happy thoughts for a while, but finally – after about 5 minutes – I managed to expunge the counter-productive images of dentist by the time the dentist started removing the old gold crown from my lower tooth.
This experience made me wonder why I remembered those slightly funny but frightening images of dentists. I don’t think my dentist resembles Steve Martin or Laurence Olivier that much. Did I recollect those images because dentists were rarely presented, unlike other doctors, as gentle and heroic figures in popular media? If so, I was committing the sin of stereotyping when I thought of the absurd images of Steve Martin, et al. Or, did those images popped up in my mind because dental works does occasionally cause actual pain and suffering in the patients? If this is the case, the ridiculous images may have popped up as antidotes to actual pain. Or, were these annoying associations generated in my subjective mind solely because my mind was “impure” as Kierkegaard says?
“When one person sees one thing and another sees something else in the same thing, then the one discovers what the other conceals. Insofar as the object viewed belongs to the external world, then how the observer is constituted is probably less important, or, more correctly then what is necessary for the observation is something irrelevant to his deeper nature. But the more the object of observation belongs to the world of the spirit, the more important is the way he himself is constituted in his innermost nature, because everything spiritual is appropriated only in freedom; but what is appropriated in freedom is also brought forth. The difference, then, is not the external but the internal, and everything that makes a person impure and his observation impure comes from within.” — Søren Kierkegaard, Three Upbuilding Discourses