Skip to main content Accessibility help

Faces of the Self

  • Vanita Seth (a1)


This paper traces the centrality of the human face in the construction of modern individuality. It argues that the face of individuality no less than that of typology, is mired in and born of historical and political conditions that are subsequently disavowed in order that the individual (and the face she bears) is rendered a product of nature, an instantiation of the universal. Attempting to denaturalize and defamiliarize the authority invested in the face, this paper maps out three interrelated arguments: that the human face is historically produced; that its history is closely tethered to the production of modern subjectivity, and that its status as a purveyor of meaning relies upon the reiteration of preexisting norms through which it can be “read.” And yet, while this paper turns to the nineteenth century to trace the novel privileging of the face as an extension of selfhood, interwoven through this history is the figure of the “effaced” Muslim woman and the Muslim terrorist type.


Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Vanita Seth, Politics, University of California, Santa Cruz, CA, 95064. E-mail:


Hide All
Abu-Lughod, Lila. 2006. “The Debate About Gender, Religion and Rights: Thoughts of a Middle East Anthropologist.” PMLA 121 (5): 1621–30.
Austen, Jane. 2012. Pride and Prejudice. San Diego: Canterbury Classics.
Bartsch, Shadi. 2006. The Mirror of the Self: Sexuality, Self-Knowledge and the Gaze in Early Roman Empire. Chicago: University Chicago Press.
Berger, Harry. 1994. “Fiction of the Pose: Facing the Gaze of Early Modern Portraiture.” Representations 46: 87120.
Bordo, Susan. 1987. The Flight of Objectivity. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Bunting, Madeline. 2010. “Racism Veiled as Liberation.” The Guardian. Available at
Butler, Judith. 1990. Gender Trouble. New York and London: Routledge.
Butler, Judith. 1993. Bodies That Matter. New York and London: Routledge.
Butler, Judith. 2005. Giving an Account of Oneself. New York: Fordham University Press.
Cameron, Averil. 1998. “The Mandylion and Byzantine Iconoclasm.” In The Holy Face and the Paradox of Representation, eds. Kessler, Herbert L. and Wolf, Gerhard. Bologna: Nuova Alfa Editoriale, 3354.
Copé, Jean-François. 2010. “Tearing Away the Veil” New York Times, [Op-Ed]. Available at:
Cowling, Mary. 1989. The Artist as Anthropologist. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Davidson, Arnold. 2001. “Sex and the Emergence of Sexuality.” In The Emergence of Sexuality, ed. Davidson, Arnold. Cambridge [Mass] and London: Cambridge University Press, 3065.
Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix. 1987. A Thousand Plateaus, trans Brian Massumi. Minneapolis and London: University of Minneapolis Press.
Dickens, Charles. 1997. Our Mutual Friend. New York: Penguin.
Eastlake, Elizabeth. 1851. “Physiognomy.” Quarterly Review XC: 6291.
Ekman, Paul 1993Facial Expression and Emotion.” American Psychologist 48 (4): 384–92.
Elkin, James. 1996. The Object Stares Back. San Diego: Harvest Books.
Farrelly, Elizabeth 2010. “Lets face the facts the burqa is an affront to feminism.” Sydney Morning Herald [Opinion Page].
Fernando, Mayanthi. 2014. The Republic Unsettled. Durham and London: Duke University Press.
Lombroso, Cesare and Ferrero, Guglielmo. 2004. Criminal Woman, the Prostitute and the Normal Woman. Trans. Nicole Hahn Rafter and Mary Gibson, Durham: Duke University Press.
Fontane, Theodore. 2000. Effi Briest. Penguin Classics.
Friedman, J. B. Spring, 1981. “Another Look at Chaucer and the Physiognomists.” Studies in Philology 78 (2): 138–52.
Gilman, Sander L. 1985. Difference and Pathology. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Gilman, Sander L. 1976. Hugh W. Diamond and the Origin of Psychiatric Photography. NJ: Citadel Press.
Gould, Stephen Jay. 1993. “American Polygeny and Craniometry Before Darwin.” In The ‘Racial’ Economy of Science: Towards a Democratic Future. ed. Harding, Sandra. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 84115.
Grafton, Anthony. 1999. Cardano's Cosmos. The World and Works of a Renaissance Astrologer. Cambridge [Mass] and London [UK]: Harvard University Press.
Grice, Andrew. 2010. “Champion of UK burka ban declares war on veil-wearing constituents.” Independent. Available at:
Gyewon, Kim. 2016. “Faces That Change. Physiognomy, Portraiture and Photography in Colonial Korea.” In The Affect of Difference, eds Hanscom, Christopher P. and Washburn, Dennis. Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press, 133–58.
Hacking, Ian. 2001. The Taming of Chance. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Hallett, C. H. 2005. The Roman Nude. Oxford: University Press.
Hartley, Lucy. 2001. Physiognomy and the Meaning of Expression in Nineteenth Century Culture. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Hoy, David. 2004. Critical Resistance. Cambridge (MA) and London (UK): MIT Press.
James, Liz. 2004. “Senses and Sensibility in Byzantium.” Art History 27 (4): 522537.
Karatani, Kojin 1993. Origins of Modern Japanese Literature, trans. By Brett de Bary. Durham and London: Duke University Press.
Kelves, Daniel J. 1985. In the Name of Eugenics: NY and Toronto: Alfred Knopf.
Kessler, Herbert L. 2000. Spiritual Seeing. Picturing God's Invisibility in Medieval Art. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press: 2952.
Kumar, Hari Stephen. 2013. “Brofiling.” Available at:
Lévinas, Emmanuel. 1969. Totality and Infinity. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press.
Lutz, C. and Abu-Lughod, L.. 1990. Language and the Politics of Emotion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Lutz, C. and White, G. M.. 1986. “The Anthropology of Emotions.” Annual Review of Anthropology 15: 405–36.
Magli, Patrizia. 1989. “The Face and the Soul.” In Fragments of the Human Body. eds. Feher, Michael, Nadaff, Ramona and Tazi, Nadia. NY: Zone Books: 86127.
Melchoir-Bonnet, Sabine. 2001. The Mirror: A History. Trans. by Katharine H. Jewett, NY: Routledge.
Murphy, Sean. 2013. “The Real Face of Terror: Behind the Scenes Photos of the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Manhunt.” Boston Magazine. Available at:
Nietzsche, Friedrich. 2002. In Beyond Good and Evil trans. by Norman, Judith. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Nott, J.C. and Gliddon, George. 1854. Types of Mankind. Philadelphia: Trübner.
Pausch, Hogler. 2007. “The Face of Modernity.” In Modernism, eds. Eysteinsson, Astradur and Liska, Vivian. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 347–63.
Perkinson, Stephen. 2009. The Likeness of the King. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.
Pick, Daniel. 1993. Faces of Degeneration. Cambridge, New York, and Melbourne: Cambridge University Press.
Pope-Hennessy, John. 1979. The Portrait in the Renaissance. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Randolph, Walter W. B. 2003. “Introduction: The Authority of Likeness.Word and Image 19: 15.
Reitman, Janet. 2013. “The Bomber. How a Popular, Promising Student Was Failed by His Family, Fell Into Radical Islam and Became a Monster.” Rolling Stone RS 1188 (August): 4657.
Rorty, Richard. 1979. Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Rushton, Richard. 2002. “What Can A Face Do?: On Deleuze and Faces.” Cultural Critique 51: 219–37.
Sauerländer, Willibald. 2006. “The Fate of the Face in Medieval Art.” In Set in Stone: The Face in Medieval Sculpture. NY: (Metropolitan Museum of Art), New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 317.
Scott, Joan. 2007. Politics of the Veil. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
Sekula, Alan. 1986. “The Body and the Archive.” October, 39: 3–64.
Simons, Patricia. 1988. “Women in Frames: The Gaze, the Eye, the Profile in Renaissance Portraiture.” History Workshop Journal 25: 430.
Simons, Patricia. 1995. “Portraiture, Portrayal and Idealization.” In Language and Images of Renaissance Italy, ed. Brown, Alison, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 263–31.
Sokol, Ronald P. 2010. “Veiled Arguments,” The New York Times. Available at:
Squatriti, Paolo. 1988. “Personal Appearance and Physiognomics in Early Medieval ItalyJournal of Medieval History 14: 191202.
Steedman, Carolyn. 1995. Strange Dislocations. Childhood and the Idea of Human Interiority. London: Virago Press, 17801930.
Stern, Mark Joseph. 2013. “Rolling Stone's Boston Bomber Cover is Brilliant.” Slate. Available at:
Straw, Jack. 2006. “I want to unveil my views on an important issue,” republished in full in The Telegraph. Available at:
Sweeny, Anthony. 2010. “Letter to the Editor,” The Sydney Morning Herald.
Swencionis, Jillian and Fiske, Susan. 2014. “More Human. Individuation in the Twenty-First Century.” In Humanness and Dehumanization, eds. Bain, Paul, Vaes, Jeroen and Philippe, Jacques. New York: Taylor and Francis: 276–93.
Synnott, Anthony. 1989. “Truth and Goodness, Mirrors and Masks—Part 1: A Sociology of Beauty and the Face.The British Journal of Sociology 40 (4): 607–36.
Synnott, Anthony. 1990. “Truth and Goodness, Mirrors and Masks—Part 2: A Sociology of Beauty and the Face.” The British Journal of Sociology 41(1): 5576.
Taylor, Charles. 2001. Sources of the Self. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.
Thomassen, Lasse. 2011. “(Not) Just a Piece of Cloth: Begum, Recognition and the Politics of Representation.” Political Theory 39 (3): 325–51.
Tytler, Graeme. 1982. Physiognomy in the European Novel. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Valdez, Indez. 2016. “Nondomination or Practices of Freedom? French Muslim Women, Foucault and the Veil BanAmerican Political Science Review 11 (1): 1830.
Waldman, Paul. 2013. “Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's Face and the Power of Images.” American Prospect. Available at:
Zamudio, Margaret and Rios, Francisco. 2006. “From Traditional to Liberal Racism: Living Racism in the Everyday.” Sociological Perspectives 49(4): 483501.
Zola, Emile. 2004. Thérése Raquin. Penguin Classics.



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed