About Face

About Face

Emma Noelle

Emma Noelle

“Analyst: You are taking me for someone else, I’m not the person you think.

Analysand: But the other in the originary relation was, precisely, not the person I thought. So I’m perfectly right to take you for someone else.”

 Jean LaplancheEssays on Otherness



I.        The Concept of Faciality

Here, I consider Peter Sloterdijk’s theorizing of faciality as presented in his essay “Between Faces: On the Appearance of the Interfacial Sphere” (from his book Bubbles, the first part of his Spheres trilogy). Faciality is what makes a face a face, rather than simply a part of a head. There are plenty of beings that have heads, but are not typically seen as having faces. Faces, Sloterdijk argues, are for subjects. This is not to say that humans have always had faces in the same way that we have them today—Sloterdijk points out that Stone Age drawings do not depict human faces, “as if, for early humans, not only their own faces were invisible, but also those of their fellow men and women.” Sloterdijk traces out a history of faciality, part of which consists of historical speculation about how sexual selection literally shaped the front of human heads into faces:

In this case, Darwin’s theorem must be modified into a law of the survival of the more attractive. Increasing the attractiveness of humans for humans, however, is the opposite of environmental adaptation in the sense of improving fitness: it shows the early tendency of evolution toward free flower formation in the erotic-aesthetic hothouse of humanization.

The human relation to faces is born, according to Sloterdijk, during the early experience of postnatal, face-to-face bonding between the mother and child. While the evolutionary process of facial-sculpting enabled by the postnatal facial relation produces and selects for particular facial features, the postnatal facial relation does not involve attention to particular facial features. Rather, this postnatal relation revolves more generally around communication of nearness and joy in the face-to-face encounter of mother and child. Sloterdijk describes these facial phenomena as non-representational. The face is neither screen nor substrate for joy and nearness—it is already in itself near and joyous (Sloterdijk tends to emphasize the transmission of joy, or “facial brightening” more than nearness, which presumably enables presentation of joy).

Sloterdijk contrasts faces that express joy with faces that express meaning. The joy-face is a face that is non-representational, since it already presents on the face itself all that there is to grasp. The meaning-face is something that represents a “beyond” for which the face is merely a screen. The non-representational, “intimate joy sharing” of the first notion of the face does not refer to a beyond that requires grasping. To further explain this difference, consider the difference that Sloterdijk posits between the face of Jesus Christ and the face of Buddha:

Unlike the face of Christ, which aims either for final suffering or the representation of transcendence, Buddha’s face shows the pure potential of an absolutely immanent touchability by whatever comes before it.

Like the postnatal faces, Buddha’s face, for Sloterdijk, does not go beyond itself in sharing joy. Nor are particular features especially important, since a face is simply a face. The historical absence of particular features of faces in Stone Age art, then, reflects the primacy of the face in an individual’s developmental history as a simple surface for intimate relations with others. An infant is not yet in the business of recognizing and differentiating others based on their particular facial features—it is for this reason that Sloterdijk ties the historical advent of concern with facial particulars to the emergence of populations large enough to require frequent differentiation among individuals.

There is much to question here. Why do faces become the sites of intimate interaction? It cannot be because of the metaphorical qualities of the face, whereby eyes remind us of visual experience, ears of hearing, mouth of taste, etc.—these metaphors would make the face representational. Why, then, do faces matter more than feet, arms, chests, etc.? These questions suggest an ambiguity in Sloterdijk’s text about what exactly representation is. We know that it is excluded from facial relations—but what does this mean? Furthermore, Sloterdijk thinks that an initially non-representational facial relationship is what somehow clears the way for faciality to become representational, something that has meaning, but how does this work? Sloterdijk later claims that transference is involved somehow. For the sake of brevity, transference in Sloterdijk’s text is used similarly to but in a much looser sense than the traditional psychoanalytic usage, given by Laplanche and Pontalis in The Language of Psychoanalysis as the phenomenon whereby “infantile prototypes reemerge and are experienced with a strong sense of immediacy.” But how is the prototype established in the first place according to Sloterdijk? And why isn’t representation possible without a primary prototype of non-representational faciality?

Most of these questions seem to be dead ends for Sloterdijk. However, Sloterdijk’s gripes with what he scornfully calls “the dominant real fiction” of modern faciality shed some light on what he thinks is at work in postnatal faciality. In short, Sloterdijk argues that modern faciality substitutes a mirror image for the “real other.” He writes:

The separate actors in the individualistic regime become isolated subjects under the dominion of the mirror, that is to say of the reflecting, self-completing function. They increasingly organize their lives under the appearance that they could now play both parts in the game of the bipolar relationship sphere alone, without a real other; this appearance becomes stronger throughout the European history of media and mentalities, culminating at the point where the individuals decide once and for all that they themselves are the substantial first part, and their relationships with others the accidental second part.

Sloterdijk here mourns the loss of the real other and my relationship to it. What is this relationship like?

In the initial bipolar interfacial game, the gazes are distributed among partners in such a way that each, for the time being, learns enough about himself by looking into the face of the other who is looking at him.

Contrast this authentic faciality with “nascent individualism,” in which “the individuals, as living observers—as inner witnesses of their own lives, one could say—adopt the perspective of an outside view on themselves,” thereby “enter[ing] into a pseudo-interfacial relation to another that is not an other.”

Understanding what Sloterdijk means by “mirror” is crucial to understanding the above differences in types of faciality. His rebuke of “Lacan’s tragically presumptuous theorem” is based on an understanding of mirrors as literal, reflective surfaces that have only become common household objects in the last two-hundred years—Narcissus was, on Sloterdijk’s reading, not enamored with his own image so much as what he took (owing to a lack of acquaintance with his image) to be the face of another. Sloterdijk’s critique of mirrors, then, is not a general critique of mirroring. Rather, it is a critique of how mirror technology has whisked away the real other, who in fact does teach us about ourselves in a mirror-like but fundamentally more real fashion. And, in keeping with earlier remarks, this is somehow supposed to be non-representational, presumably because the face of the other is the origin of my notion of my own face. It is not the case that I understand the face of the other through understanding its relationship to my face—I get my sense of my face, and, more generally, my notion of myself as an individual, from the direct presentation of the (not yet other?) face.

Modern faciality would, in Sloterdijk’s view, “lose its attraction” were it not serving the end of “the sublime fiction of independence.” The loss of the real other, the declaration of others as secondary and myself as “the substantial first part”—all these distinctly modern sins against the interfacial microsphere are motivated by an individualism that Sloterdijk traces from the ancient philosophical imperative to “know thyself,” to what “Hegel triumphantly called impenetrability,” to psychoanalytic theories of narcissism, to the contemporary variants of individualism. Notably, Lacan, one of Sloterdijk’s main targets, is not so easily lumped into the triumphant individualist camp. Indeed, Sloterdijk berates “psychoanalysis à la parisienne” for abandoning “its attention to mental suffering and the need for help” and Lacan specifically for supporting the idea that “we are all mother-amputees,” hardly a cry of individualistic empowerment.

If we were concerned with Bubbles as a whole text, we would have to wonder especially about why Sloterdijk pays attention strictly to the visual aspect of the face. Not only does Sloterdijk’s restricted focus on the visual fail to explain current changes in technological thinking of the face, it also clashes with the six other “microspheres” posited by Sloterdijk as the ground for all subsequent intimacy. Sloterdijk, in his characteristically hyperbolic polemic against what he takes to be psychoanalysis, argues that pre-visual prenatal experience is “clearly predominant” in early experience of the other, and that visual evidence is “a secondary augmentation” when it comes to self-sensation. How does the secondary and apparently insignificant role of the visual square with primacy of the facial microsphere? Experiencing the face is a visual phenomenon in Sloterdijk’s analysis—even the “touchability” of the face of Buddha is merely seen. As anyone who has ever shared a kiss, scratched a face, been slapped, etc. could attest, seeing does not exhaust the sensory modalities of facial experience. Sloterdijk excels more as an eclecticism-for-eclecticism’s-sake philosopher-poet rather than a systematic or scientific theorist (despite his scientific speculations). Because I lack the space to tackle the labyrinthine text that is Bubbles, I will focus predominantly on the essay on faciality contained within it. But it is worthwhile to note that Sloterdijk’s struggle—with all its Oedipal and “hysteric” overtones—to preempt psychoanalysis’ traditional postnatal focus by getting into the truth of womb-experience (and striking down Lacan along the way) leads him to take some ambivalent positions.



II.       The Other Face

In this section, I’ll provide a counter-interpretation of the face. Observation of new technological modes of faciality will help us uncover an aspect of faciality left unnoticed by Sloterdijk. This is the face’s quality of always being possibly no more than just a surface, devoid of its usual subjective significance. If the site of Sloterdijk’s authentic faciality is where the harmonious mother-infant dyad sets the course for all later faciality, the site of the face as a cold, unyielding surface is where such cozy familiarity breaks down, pointing the way to a rethinking of the face that renews our appreciation of its ineluctable mystique.

One of the more interesting parts of Sloterdijk’s genealogical account of faciality is his argument that faces were not used to identify individuals until people started living in large groups. Today’s shifting sense of faciality is similarly tied to changing systems of social relations, specifically those involving online social media. There are many somewhat superficial examples of faces and technology intertwining that leap out here: Facebook, FaceTime, and the myriad other platforms whose distinguishing features tend to involve new ways of presenting the face (within a different shape; next to/superimposed over biographic information; set to timers so that one can have occasion-specific temporary pictures; modified by filters, whose novelty diminishes as we grow accustomed to seeing them used for traditional identifying purposes, e.g. missing posters; etc.). Do these media platforms reflect the inherently complicated dynamics of any faciality, or are they symptoms of our narcissistic fall from facial grace? They make the urgency of thinking about faciality clear, but because they are intertwined with a number of other forms of self-presentation (e.g. textual), I’ll instead consider something more restricted to the face: facial recognition technology.

Facial recognition technology has a number of different uses, ranging from national security, to personal security, to “lighter” uses like the recently popular Google Arts and Culture App, which matches the user’s face to similar faces shown in famous paintings. One could say much about the particular uses of facial recognition and how interesting it is that most people probably do not know when their faces are being recognized (owing to its predominant use for national security, especially in China).

Relevant to our current philosophical and non-technical interest is the mode of representation of the face in facial recognition, or, better put, the apparent absence of such representation. Facebook, FaceTime, Snapchat, etc. exercise due diligence in their representation of the face, putting it in a little box somewhere (e.g. on your profile, in a corner, by a chat log) that you can look at if you wish. But facial recognition does not return to the face its image. It reads the face, turns it into information, and then that information is used to do something that does not involve showing you your face: a door opens, your phone is unlocked, an algorithm fails to identify you as a known threat, etc.

As this process hints, recognition is here seemingly removed from both an intersubjective and a narcissistic context, since the recognition is not done by a human, whether the intimate other or myself. And yet humans continue to understand the part of them that is involved in these contexts as being a face. How are we to understand the presentation of the face if there is no human to see it? I show my face to the machine to get into a building—I know it is my face I put forward, but I understand my face as something to be read in a certain way. What is this way? Sloterdijk’s thesis about the primacy of microspheres would suggest that we transfer onto machines our experiences of other beings, i.e. we still call it facial recognition despite the lack of a human subject because we transfer a human sense onto the machine. The use of “recognition,” with all its anthropomorphic connotations, to describe the data analysis carried out by facial-recognition technology seems to bolster this case. Or perhaps our frequent interactions with humans condition us to always refer to it as a face, on the understanding that what I am showing, this part of my head, could later be presented to a human.

Facial recognition presents another startling possibility that, when illuminated, casts doubt upon the basis for these interpretations. We have stumbled upon the task of characterizing the kind of reading of the face involved in facial recognition. Humans are adept face readers, capable of effortlessly responding to the slightest of facial movements and often concerned with trying to interpret in more thought-out ways the “signs” on the face. But when humans are no longer involved, what does it mean to read the face?

If the risk is remaining all too human in our description of the non-human form of reading, then it might be a good time to consider the other common meaning of face: the face as a mere surface. The face of the building, the face of the cube, the face of the playing card—these faces are rather simple objects for interpretation. In ways human faces do not, they show themselves in their entirety. The face of a human face, on the other hand, might well be misleading, as when a smile masks indifference. Mistakes highlight the way that the reading of human faces is always at risk of going wrong, of drawing mistaken conclusions about the person we understand to be more than just a face. The meaning of faces that are just their surface, however, begins and ends with the face. No withdrawn “beyond” threatens to surprise the reader of these faces, for the way one understands such faces is straightforward and predetermined. In a card game, the face of the card is assigned a certain value. In mathematics, the face of a shape is defined in a certain way. To read the face of a clock one need know nothing at all about the mechanism behind the face or even the in-and-outs of how we agree to certain ways of measuring time; one simply needs to follow the basic rules about hand relations. Facial recognition deals with human faces in this way, recording physical facts about the head surfaces we all carry. It does not wonder about the psyche beyond the face. Like its etymological root in the Latin, faciēs, suggests, the human face is taken as a form, not any different in this regard from other possible objects of detached and ostensibly objective consideration. And in the return of the face to a position in technological production, we are perhaps witnessing the resurgence of the face as something whose meaning is more clearly rooted in the Latin verb facere, (roughly) to make.

Facial recognition, then, deals with the human face as a simple surface. Although that dealing is then itself dealt with in more complex ways (e.g., by determining that information will lead to a certain function rather than another being carried out), the central issue is still one of appreciating the face as something readable in ways that defy subject-centered explanations of what we might call facial legibility. Consequently, when it comes to understanding what faces have already become, the issue is not figuring out whether or not we human subjects will end up carrying out our acts of recognizing faces as machines do. Rather, the call thrust upon us by our unique historical situation is to face the fact that our faces were never completely free of surfaceness. Facial recognition’s ability to read our faces depends on our faces already having been (unrecognized) surfaces—surfaces lying in wait for the moment when surfaceness could be called attention to by something that brought it close to the social sphere in which human concern dwells.

But what “something” could simultaneously read the surface as a surface and somehow drag the surface into the spotlight of the social, a realm traditionally ridden with metaphysical, religious, political, etc. pretensions to being too complex, or one might say “deep,” to be anything like simple surfaces? Functioning both as a data analysis system and a social tool, facial recognition has turned out to be such a techno-social synthesizer, and the extent to which its techno-social hybridity helps it reveal the human face as a surface will only increase as its technical capacity grows and as technological modes of recognition become more ingrained within the social sphere. In short, facial recognition is itself historically unique in its function as an interface between the surface face and the human face, making possible a communion between the two. What does this communion reveal?



III.      Revealing the Face

Technology might reveal the face in its surfaceness, but perhaps we can think about what it reveals in a way that does not unquestioningly succumb to technology. It would be wise here to remember Heidegger’s The Question Concerning Technology. Heidegger thinks that it is unavoidable that revealing has already largely been given over to us in a way that we could not have chosen—one cannot reveal revealing unless revealing is already in some way given. Prevailing modern modes of revealing objects in a technological way reflect how we have been given over by revealing itself in this current chapter in the history of Being. But our already-being-called-to-reveal constitutes “a destining that in no way confines us to a stultified compulsion to push on blindly with technology or, what comes to the same thing, to rebel helplessly against it and curse it as the work of the devil.” Danger springs from the possibility that technology might be misunderstood as an obstacle to direct access to the face. Such direct access to the face is itself a technological fantasy that attempts to reduce the face to what is given on the surface, ignoring, among other things, the meaningful potential for a misreading of the face. Heidegger worries we will forget that concealment and unconcealment are both integral parts of revealing. We find, then, a suppressed affinity between the face as some kind of non-representational human immanence of joy and nearness and the face as a formal presentation whose meaning is exhausted by its surface. Both neglect to consider how concealment figures in our revealing the face.

If we are to be free in Heidegger’s existential-hermeneutic sense of being able to take up revealing as a possibility, then concealment is not to be repressed, but allowed to “shimmer”:

Freedom is that which conceals in a way that opens to light, in whose clearing there shimmers that veil that covers what comes to presence of all truth and lets the veil appear as what veils. Freedom is the realm of the destining that at any given time starts a revealing upon its way.

Resignation of the human face to being an object of data analysis might be tempting, but it is not our fate. Nor should the horror of such a possible faciality lead us to forget the potential for the face to merely be a curved surface, a technologically impenetrable mask. The effect of impenetrability on faciality is precisely what an attempt to save face from superficial misinterpretation requires understanding. Failure to actively question how we comport ourselves to the possibility of taking human faces as mere surfaces will only further entrench technological thought, whose philosophical convenience for modern life rests in the efficiency with which it dispatches uncomfortable inquiry.

In questioning how we comport ourselves towards faces, I think Sloterdijk’s view is considerably more amenable to our everyday understanding of the face as something for subjects. This everyday understanding of faciality, however, also hinges upon a forgetting of the fact that we can and do “misinterpret” faces all the time. How might we remember this forgetting? Sloterdijk’s reduction of faces’ nearness to being a nearness of joy covers up the different ways that nearness of a face can be understood, even by an infant. We may well interpret nearness as indicating a threat, an inquisitive onlooker, an intimate embrace, a puzzling stranger, etc. So too a smile might indicate the other’s happiness, condescension, anxiety, dissimulation, etc. The irreducibly enigmatic nature of the face is a direct result of its being a surface, albeit one that we cannot help but attempt to go beyond. These surfaces are more than just surfaces, more than the simple immanences dealt with by facial recognition technology and Sloterdijk. Besides showing states of mind, they also direct us to the existence of things: psyche, soul, spirit, personality, a behavioral disposition, etc. Take your pick—you will find it intimately related to the face. Even if you, perhaps as an infant, struggle to understand what it is that the face means, a basic sense of “otherness” comes across in relation to the face. But you would never confuse this relation as one of identity (e.g. the eyes are not the soul, but a portal to it; similarly, the surface of the other’s face is not exhaustive of otherness). Perhaps the most unsettling thing about taking the face as possessing a surface that does not exhaust facial meaning is that it suggests not only that we lack unmediated access to specific emotions of the person with the face, but that the face itself does not provide the immediate access to the much more fundamental humanness that we take for granted. Unease at the complication of something so tied to how we reflect our own existence back to ourselves is hardly surprising. How are we to preserve facial humanity in light of the bleak surfaceness of the face foisted upon us by technology and covertly reproduced in Sloterdijk’s thought?

Again, the temptation to fall back to taking the face as an intersubjective immanence will not suffice. Sloterdijk’s originary face, the face as non-representational and immanent is truly a fantasy-face. It speaks to the undeniable import of the surface of the face to intersubjective relations but misleadingly treats this significance as reducible to what is given by the surface of the face and devoid of any representative complication. Precisely such representative complication is needed to understand how that surface can enter into a representative relation to a beyond, a beyond necessary to explain how faces can still be significant if their significance is not exhausted by their face value. When we are not scrutinizing our conscious and unconscious readings of others’ faces, this fantasy-face is, for the most part, the face as we understand it. The fantasy-face manages to retain the appearance of the simple immanence of the geometric face, while treating the intersubjective human face as though it could be torn from complicated processes of representation and plastered onto the simple exterior surface. But the human face is not reducible to the fantasy-face. Rather, the fantasy-face is itself an effect of the indelibly mediatory nature of faciality. A literary excursus will help explain why.

Part of the timeless horror of the myth of Medusa is the way that it presents the breakdown of the fantasy-face. Medusa’s decapitation in her sleep by a mirror-wielding Perseus suggests that her face could only be accessed representationally, as an image in the mirror. In the symbolization of the face as something that cannot (safely) be directly presented, we find a metaphorical representation of the process of representation inherent in faciality. The lasting genius of the Medusa myth rests in its depiction of the alternative, looking right at the “real” face. It shows us how horrible it would be to actually experience the full reality implied by the fantasy-face, devoid of any corrupting representativeness. Imagine living your whole life believing that what you see on the face is simply what you get. If one day you realized that every face was only a carapace whose features you had mistaken for immanent expressions (e.g. of love) and underneath which was an alien psychic reality (e.g. somehow showing the ambivalent constitution of what was simply inferred to be love on the basis of kisses, smiles, etc.), would you not freeze in terror, joining Medusa’s statues in an eternal paralysis brought on by the traumatic encounter with the full reality of the face? Perseus shows us that there is only one way to take the face: indirectly—even if what we see in the shield’s reflection suggests to us the possibility of seeing it directly. It was Medusa’s cruelly given punishment to possess the face of the “real other” in all its immanence, showing its onlookers the beyond in all its overwhelming immediacy.

It would be easy to make a fatal misunderstanding here. The point of the Medusa myth is not that we should, or even could, avoid the face. Heidegger would remind us that it would still be there as something fled from. Medusa’s face serves as a metaphor for the kind of direct access to the face that could never be realized. Desire for “direct” access to the face is itself a product of our indirect dealings with the face. The beyond of the human interior that we try to reach in our interpretation of the face will no longer be a beyond if it becomes immediately present. Nor will the interiority of the person be an interiority if it is made exterior. We can now clarify the relation between surfaceness and faciality. Surfaceness does not just so happen to interrupt our every attempt to capture what we take to be beyond the face, the beyond which the fantasy-face purports to bear as an object of direct access. Interruption itself makes it possible for faciality to sustain the beyondness of the beyond. No interruption, no beyond; no beyond, no fantasy of overcoming beyondness by making beyondness present without interruption. (But might things flip again?)

Perseus’s reflective shield, then, is both a shield that shields and a shield that exposes. It shields us from ever having the impossible experience of directly seeing the fantasy-face. And in this shielding, it exposes us to faces, allowing us to live with the fantasy-face as a reflection whose fantastical origin can never be experienced outside of representation. The fantasy-face is not something to be eliminated as a misunderstanding so much as it is something to be understood as that impossible object produced through the inherently representational nature of faciality. What our clarification of facial recognition shows us, then, is how the process of representing the face leads one to posit a real face (such as Sloterdijk’s real other) that one might face in fantasy. Sloterdijk comes close to recognizing this when he impugns modern faciality as “the dominant real fiction,” but his reluctance to characterize non-representational faciality as a similarly real fiction prevents him realizing the full import of an idea like real fiction. With an understanding of the constitutive role played by the beyond as beyond, we can recognize and respond to the reductive treatments of the face given both by Sloterdijk and technological thought more generally. If we keep the Heideggerian distinction between technology and the technological, then it seems that Perseus’ shield might offer an example of how technology could enter into systems of facial representation that do not, in a technological way, lose sight of the irreducibly representational nature of faciality. Representation must be inscribed on some medium.

(There is another story to be told from Medusa’s point of view, a story rich with insight into how gendered determinations of facial gazing/gazed dynamics have shaped faciality. Ancient Egyptian funerary practices also provide grist for facial reflection. Broadly, the funerary process sought to ensure the survival of the face for both the physical body and the spirit, corresponding with the interior and exterior of the sarcophagus: for the body inside, through a mummification process enveloping the face by wrapping it in bandages and then storing it within the sarcophagus; for the (part of) spirit outside (ka), through depiction of the face of the dead on the exterior of the sarcophagus, providing it an idealized form but preserving a minimum of similarity (on one account, so that the soul could recognize its sarcophagus, creating a facial landing pad). Notice that while the face is not differentiated from the rest of the body by being wrapped, it typically stands out on the exterior of the sarcophagus among less detailed representations of the body, suggesting again the unique importance of representation to faciality.)

We have departed significantly from Heidegger’s approach to the “shimmering veil” in the clearing. This is motivated in large part by the suggestion from Bubbles itself to take the lack of immediate access to meaning as something that is taken over on a historical basis determined by hegemonic social conditions, and not a larger metaphysical framework. Regurgitation of fantasy risks veiling how faciality always possesses a specific historical context that is irreducible to its fantastical character. In this respect, Sloterdijk’s disdain for modernity’s faciality belies his Foucauldian approach to cultural criticism, which seeks to understand phenomena as situated within and determined by particular historical contexts rather than immanent, metaphysical structures like Language or Being, structures that Heidegger struggled to shake off despite his turn to “thinking” rather than “philosophizing.” The latter tendency comes through in Sloterdijk’s acerbic treatment of modernity and his clinging to the “real other.” We have, then, a confrontation between Heideggerian History and Foucauldian history. The former understands history, and with it truth, as having all along been a “destining of revealing,” one whose interplay of concealment and unconcealment is itself an ahistorical feature of revealing, albeit one that plays out historically in the different ways that concealment and unconcealment are taken (e.g. technologically, as a forgetting of revealing). The Foucauldian understanding of history is concerned with how the particularities of history lead to the creation of discourses that provide—in a way not determined by some ahistorical constant like destining—the ground for understanding truth. It would quickly scrutinize the idea of an authentic faciality. Isn’t this Foucauldian understanding what shines through when Sloterdijk reminds us that the psychoanalytic understanding of mirroring as an ahistorical feature of subject-constitution falls once we discover that mirrors became common household objects only relatively recently?

So too this paper has vacillated between metaphysical yearnings and a desire to reckon with the specificities of particular historical contexts. A much larger discussion is about to breach about how meaning in general is structured in the context of historical contingency, too grand in scope to be covered here. The psychoanalytic dimension of this debate has already been hinted at by the epigraph. The real other, and with it its face, was never real, although we took it to be. Do we understand this constitutive misunderstanding and what follows as determined by something essential about subjectivity or rather as part of a process more open to historical contingency? Both? The importance of representation to faciality has perhaps been the strongest point of emphasis in this essay, and yet representation itself has been largely glossed over. This is in part why I caution that things might “flip” again: the surface may return. In filling out the account given here, we are fortunate that the face is not merely something that can don interpretations like gaudy, throwaway masks. Faces themselves serve as sources of rich inspiration. If it is the error of philosophy to privilege submitting face to thought rather than thought to face, then perhaps it is time for an about face.

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In Praise of Silence

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