Face in Trouble – From Physiognomics to Facebook

by Olga Szmidt (Volume editor) Katarzyna Trzeciak (Volume editor)
©2017 Edited Collection 164 Pages


This book analyzes unobvious relations between historical definitions of the face and its contemporary usage in popular culture and social media, like Facebook or Instagram. Bringing together a wide range of methodologies, it includes essays from manifold disciplines of the humanities such as philosophy, literary and art criticism, media and television studies, game studies, sociology and anthropology. The authors focus on both metaphorical and material meanings of the face. They grapple with crucial questions about modernity, modern and postmodern subjectivity, as well as with origins of certain linguistic terms and popular, colloquial phrases based on the concept of the face.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • About the Contributors
  • De-facing philosophy: Negativity, the government of ethics and the concept of the ethical (Przemysław Tacik)
  • Face 2.0. A philosophical approach to Facebook’s semiotic facialization (Mathieu Corteel)
  • The physiognomic lie of hysteria (Anna Rowińska)
  • The significance of face in John of Głogów’s Phisionomia hicinde ex illustris scriptoribus (1518) (Ewelina Drzewiecka)
  • White sculpted faces: Between the Medusa’s gaze and prospopopeic blindness in Irving Feldman’s All of Us Here (Katarzyna Trzeciak)
  • Me, myself and my face: Pirandello meets Gombrowicz (Adrianna Alksnin)
  • Hybrid creatures and uncanny faces in digital cinema (Beja Margitházi)
  • The videotaped confession: Authenticity and the suicidal spectacle of the face. A study of a fragment of the Homeland TV series (Olga Szmidt)
  • #face, #selfie, #belfie – A new chapter in the history of the human body? Instagram as a body-centric product of the infinity of lists. (Magda Ciereszko)
  • Presence and agency: Narratives of representation in modern computer role-playing games (Mateusz Felczak)
  • Series Index

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To Walter Benjamin’s way of understanding, the face is the sign which manifests itself through its withdrawal, which introduces the possibility of presenting the materiality of its medium. As such, the medium becomes open to future selfconfigurations which are unavailable when an identity is fixed and stable. This concept reaffirms the position of the self as the other. It is opposed to the main metaphor of face, conceived of as a signifier of mere selfpresence. Therefore, the term ‘face to face’, a signifier of pure communication, can be seen as a false promise and should be redefined in the proliferation of material meanings.

Another tendency opposed to the idea of facial transparency stems from the work of Deleuze and Guattari. Their concept of facialization attacks Levinas’s ‘face as the other’. A Thousand Plateaus proposes a kind of departure from the universal domination of the face, its imperial position (facialisation obliges the subject to assume a face). Dismantling this oppressive face means performing defacialisation. Schizos are subjects who lose the dominant significations of the face.

The essays in this book were originally given as papers at a conference at the Jagiellonian University in 2015. Each essay aims to examine different tendencies which problematise the transparency of the face in ancient and modern culture. The purpose of this volume is to provide insight into some of the most important cultural phenomena related to the status of the face.

Face in Trouble: From Physiognomics to Facebook provides a wide-ranging and up-to-date overview of the recognitions and misrecognitions that constitute the universal concept of the face. Thus the figure of the face functions both as a concrete, figural representation of the human body-part, and in a more metaphorical sense, as a metaphor for the most important issues and categories in epistemology and ontology.

The articles collected in this volume adopt different perspectives and use various approaches. It includes philosophical essays, case studies influenced by cultural studies or comparative literature, and media studies. The article by Przemysław Tacik, entitled ‘De-facing Philosophy: Negativity, the Government of Ethics and the Concept of the Ethical’, is an insightful philosophical study on the modern tradition of thinking about the face. The author discusses modernity as well as the idea of negativity in the context of works by Emmanuel Levinas, Giorgio Agamben, Martin Heidegger and Slavoj Žižek. Levinas’ imagery (including masks, mirrors, and ethical dilemmas) is a central issue being examined. Like most of the articles, Levinas’ perspective and imagery are more a point of reference for ← 7 | 8 → discussion than a point of conclusion. The article by Mathieu Corteel examines contemporary semiotic systems of the face as well as a virtual social system like Facebook. The article is strongly influenced by works of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, as well as by Michel Foucault. The next article, contributed by Anna Rowińska, discusses the phenomenon of hysteria and depictions of madness in an inspiring way. The historical context of physiognomy and its consequences are examined through a feminist approach and a critical analysis of the patriarchal concept of female hysteria. Another essay deals with physiognomics and its influential ideas and practices. Ewelina Drzewiecka examines its presence in Renaissance culture. Her article analyses a work by John of Głogów, Phisonomia hicinde ex illustris scriptoribus (1518). This insightful interpretation gives us a glimpse into the historical state of knowledge about the human body and the idea of the face.

The article by Katarzyna Trzeciak examines sculptural art in its aesthetic and philosophical dimensions. The problem of the face is crucial to her interpretation, though it also includes general reflections and observations on aesthetics. Modern literature is the topic of the article by Adrianna Alksnin. In the article significantly entitled ‘Me, Myself and My Face: Pirandello Meets Gombrowicz’ she explores the issue of the disintegration of the modern self. The comparison of the two novels also leads the author to investigate the relations between face and identity.

The following chapters of Face in Trouble contain articles focused on film, television, social media and games. The first one is written by Beja Margitházi. By exploring the concept of the Uncanny Valley, the author examines technology used for building characters, especially computer-generated ones, in cinema. Another case study pertains to a fragment of the Homeland TV series. This kind of spectacle of the face in contemporary television is at the core of Olga Szmidt’s article. A suicide tape also is interpreted as an act of confession. Apart from interpreting this specific case, the article focuses on contemporary approaches to the idea of authenticity.

While the article by Magda Ciereszko is also focused on contemporaneity, it is of different complexion. Her interpretation of Instagram and other social media images of the face and body gives the reader a chance to explore the latest phenomena. The face and the body are not only ideas in these cases. They are rather well-designed practices, images as well as products. The article which concludes the volume is focused on modern role-playing games. The voice of the avatar and the face of the other are used to play with ideas of agency and control. The essay by Mateusz Felczak leads us to surprisingly new ways of considering the face and its usage in contemporary art and entertainment. The problem of ← 8 | 9 → the player’s presence and agency are investigated in the context of twenty-first-century role-playing games.

All the articles discuss the idea and representations of the face in different ways. We begin Face in Trouble with philosophical perspectives and historically influential physiognomics, and we end with role-playing games and faces on Instagram. One might say it is hard to open a discussion about a phenomenon of such complexity from such diverse perspectives and fields of knowledge. In our view, the idea of the face requires this diversity. Its beauty and ugliness, complexity and naivety, its weakness and power fascinate and disturb at the same time. We shall face this phenomenon and its representations in different periods and cultures. Although, as with gender, one thing is immutable: the power of the face and all the trouble it causes.

Olga Szmidt

Katarzyna Trzeciak ← 9 | 10 →

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About the Contributors

Adrianna Alksnin is a PhD Candidate at the Faculty of Polish Studies (Center for Anthropology of Literature and Culture Studies), Jagiellonian University in Krakow. She has published in Teksty Drugie, Przegląd Humanistyczny and Pamiętnik Literacki. She is also a student of the Faculty of Drama Directing at the National Academy of Theatre Arts in Krakow.

Magda Ciereszko is a PhD Candidate at the Institute of Applied Polish Studies, Department of Rhetoric and Media of the University of Warsaw. She graduated from the Faculty of Polish Studies and the Faculty of Journalism and Political Science at the Univeristy of Warsaw. Her Master’s thesis examined relations between pornography and mainstream culture. Her PhD thesis focuses on the concept of obscenity in modern advertising. She also lectures on the poetics of advertising, critique of advertising, social media and copywriting. She has been working in advertising since 2012. Selected publications: ‘Performing for the followers – social media as a platform for the artist’, Contemporary Lynx, Vol. 2, pp. 68–71 (2016); ‘Popularna pornografia? O rodzajach pornografii funkcjonujących na ziemiach polskich na początku XX wieku i jej relacji z ówczesną kulturą popularną’, Kultura i historia, Vol. 29 (2016).


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (August)
Facialization Authenticity Face Physiognomics Subjectivity
Frankfurt am Main, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2017. 164 pp., 4 ill.

Biographical notes

Olga Szmidt (Volume editor) Katarzyna Trzeciak (Volume editor)

Olga Szmidt graduated in Polish Philology and Literary Criticism at the Faculty of Polish Studies of the Jagiellonian University in Kraków. Her research interests concern authenticity, contemporary culture as well as self and identity. Katarzyna Trzeciak is a literary critic and a scholar in comparative literature. She teaches literary criticism and gender theory at the Faculty of Polish Studies, Jagiellonian University.


Title: Face in Trouble – From Physiognomics to Facebook
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166 pages