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Face in Trouble – From Physiognomics to Facebook

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Edited By Olga Szmidt and Katarzyna Trzeciak

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.

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The physiognomic lie of hysteria (Anna Rowińska)

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Anna Rowińska

The physiognomic lie of hysteria

In the Salpêtrière hospital for the mentally ill, Doctor Jean-Martin Charcot (1825–1893) used physiognomy as a method for constructing diagnostic tables of hysteria, an invented illness. Photographers took portraits of suffering women; their expressions and gestures served as a basis for a typology. These faces of hysteria were backed by the nineteenth century belief in the objectivity of photography. The drama and the visuality of hysteria were perfect for creating physiognomic diagnostic tables. This article offers a critical analysis of these photographs and the paradigm of the madwoman.

Keywords: photography, physiognomy, hysteria, typology

Hysteria has been a phenomenon in the history of art and culture since Antiquity, becoming the most characteristic illness of the fin de siècle. The nineteenth-century French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot (1825–1893) carefully described and documented the psychological abnormalities he believed to be a neurological sickness he called hysteria. He manipulated his patient’s physiognomies in order to support his medical theory. Photography became Charcot’s main tool; it became the medium which revived the lie of hysteria. His thesis was debunked by his students, but it partly survived in psychiatry, psychology and neurology. The images created during the process are now a chapter in the history of art [Didi-Hubermann 2003], but they also bear witness to and produce lies and the manipulation of physiognomy for medical and artistic purposes.

The depiction of...

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