PRINT November 1988


Thy head is like a rough-hewne statue’ of jeat,
Where marks for eyes, nose, mouth, are yet scarce
Like the first Chaos, or flat seeming face
Of Cynthia, when th’earths shadowes her
—John Donne, Elegie: The Comparison

THE FACE IS PROBABLY the primary site of visual representation, and has shaped the very conditions of visuality. In the history of visual culture, the face’s significance is continuously attested to, and not just at the moments of its greatest visibility and diffusion—the cultic head, the “individualized” Renaissance portrait, the TV talking head—but also in those moments of head-lopping iconoclasm when it has been most forcefully suppressed.

Caught in the contradictions of early–20th-century Modernism, the head/face was either evacuated from the scene of representation, or hyperrationalized (Oskar Schlemmer), or etherealized (Odilon Redon), or radically distorted (Ernst Ludwig Kirchner). If the academic nude was the much touted bugbear of the slogan-waving Futurists, so the face became Modernism’s repressed token for the whole inheritance of pre-Modernist humanism. Faces could no longer be naturalistically reassembled and comprehended by any logic of incarnation or “human essence” or pre-Modern subjectivity. Under the new conditions of modernity, the face was either marked out, alienated from the body and the social envelope alike, or it was reconvened as a structure, invaded and controlled by the outside. As the supposed locus of (authorial) intentions and phenomenological “presence,” the face was withdrawn further by the killing-off of “authors” and the refutation of perceptualism. Even in the renewal of attention to the body in formations of technology and power, the face, with its ceaseless implications of previous symbolic orders—imperial, religious, bourgeois—has been more or less effaced.

But if we consider the face as a territory rather than as a token or even as a sign, with its appearance, disappearance, and reappearance always written-through with traces of history of its forms and uses, we find it one of the places in representation where the past and the present collide most powerfully, and continually exchange a message of crisis. Represented faces have crucially mediated in the formation of theocratic and political power; they have put god in the midst of man (as with the heads of Commagene, and the Roman Imperial bust); they are literally the recto to the verso of monetary exchange and capitalist accumulation (on coins and in currency); they have hierarchized and subjugated populations through their appearance as “types”; and they have produced effects of reality, individuality, and distinction in humanistic portraiture. Some of these moments will be traced here; some of these pastnesses of the face will be followed into our present.

II. Commagene
The common throne-room of all the gods
Inscription, Nemrud Dağ

NEITHER QUITE GREEK NOR ROMAN, neither Persian nor Christian, the now-scattered sculptural faces on the mountain-top terraces of Nemrud Dağ in southeastern Anatolia are the faces of gods, heroes, and kings. Notwithstanding the manifold uncertainties about their particular role in the religiopolitical order that created and sustained them, these sparkling, weatherstruck limestone images overlooking the Euphrates Valley mark out, it is conjectured, the final resting place of King Antiochus I of Commagene. More specifically, this sanctuary or “hierothesion” (and its associated processions and feasts—detailed in what is by most reckonings the longest surviving Greek inscription) articulates the ritual by which Antiochus the man-King becomes Antiochus the God by taking his place in this “common throne room” to which he so conspicuously elevated himself.1 Thus, Nemrud Dağ offers probably the most grandiloquent of ancient testimonies to the conjunction of beliefs (ideologies), institutions, and political practices that we know as “epiphany”—god made manifest (theos epithanes). And yet the king in question has often been dismissed by archaeologists and historians as a kind of provincial monomaniac whose architectural and sculptural efforts are of little esthetic (read “classical”) merit, and thus of only slight historical interest.

But it is precisely the relative isolation of this kingdom from the previous (Greek) and forthcoming (Roman) centers of western power in the Mediterranean world; the poignancy of its brief rise (just about half a century before the year 0) and its fall (just over half a century after the year 0) in the power vacuum between the decline of the Hellenistic world, the edge of Persian power, the ascendancy of Rome, and the coming hegemony of Christianity; and the sheer scale and hyperbole of Antiochus’ project, that make so compelling this particular case of the power of the king-god imaged and performed in a complex mountain-high representational scheme.

Antiochus thrice takes his place in the monumental ensemble of syncretic enthroned protagonists doubly articulated on the two main terraces (west and east). He sits between the bearded and club-bearing hero-god of strength, Heracles-Artagnes-Ares, and the similarly hirsute Thunder-shaker, Father of the gods, Zeus-Ahuramazda. We find him again alongside the clean-shaven Sun-god, Apollo-Mithra-Helios-Hermes, and Fortuna, the fertility goddess representing the kingdom of Commagene. His third presence is within the vast conical mound (assembled from fist-sized rocks) that caps the peak of Mount Nemrud, already (at ca. 7000 feet) the highest point in the Anti-Taurus range; for this mound, it is supposed, serves as his tumulus. His faces, like those of his four compeers, are roughly but deliberately modeled, to offer ideally passive, deified frontal visages; the iterated demands of the celebration and the particular working-out of the lineaments of his features suggest that these images were sculpted to satisfy the relatively distant glance of the preoccupied observant and not the more concentrated gaze of the enthralled worshipper.

The five enthroned figures, with their backs to the tumulus and fronts onto the terraces and the vast landscape panorama beyond, are flanked by two ranks of reliefs that trace the crucial ancestral bloodlines of Antiochus from Alexander the Greek (on the maternal side) and from Darius of Persia (on the paternal). The lines of blood, the staggering elevation of the site, the closely formulated ritual, even the silent determinations of the stellar heavens focused on a stone lion-as-horoscope—echoing the lions emblazoned on Antiochus’ special “Armenian tiara” (“uniquely his own”)2—converge in the face of the king-god-star, whose inexorable transformation into the substance of the divine they both engender and witness. It is almost as if this vast, elemental, open-air hierothesion had burst through the architectural constraints of the Greek temple (which, as Vincent Scully has argued, were already deeply embedded in the signifying conditions of the occupied and in-visioned landscape3) to go the little distance more to the gods, as if to manifest what Strabo suggested in his commentary on the (seated) statue of Zeus by Phidias:

[It] is of such colossal size that . . . [it creates] the impression that should he rise and stand upright he would push the temple roof off.4

Already, then, in this midway moment between “primitive” and “civilized” culture, Commagene stands as a powerful, virtuoso rehearsal of the efficacious power of the “genetic axis” in the construction of the face; its key sanctuary acting out the transition from a semiotics of the “heterogeneous [and] polyvocal” to a semiotics of “subjectification” in the human face, and its relentless aftermath of a coded godhead.5

III. The Pneumatic Head
an ideogram of “public” meanings condensed into the image of a human face
—Sheldon Nodelman, “How to Read a Roman Portrait”

IN THE STILL, FISSURED FACES of Nemrud Dağ we find the fullest testimony to the theory of the king becoming god of all the practices of epiphany that touched the Hellenistic kingdoms after Alexander—who himself-caught the godlike habit while trampling on the East and was imaged ever after with a “perfervid . . . passion,” a “stormy movement” of the head and “heavenward-gazing eyes.”6 Rising out of that Greek world, Commagene’s faces were in the process of formation as the Roman empire began the dissemination of its own potent visual tokens of imperial control. And during that time, the mass-produced cultic face of the western-based emperor, as S.R.F. Price points out, served to diffuse, transform, and incorporate the charisma of the central Roman power into the Greek world over which it laid claim.7

The Roman portrait bust has conventionally been interpreted either as a startling premonition of abundant naturalism, or as a trivialization of the supreme values of Greek idealism, or as a vigorous emergence of the representation of types. Two of these positions come together in L. Goldscheider’s 1941 account:

They depicted old age with its wrinkles and its turgidity, showed withered dryness or obesity, deformity and disease, the stages of the struggle with death, without poesy and with all its repulsive details, its vulgar lack of charm, even when their work had sunk to parody and caricature. But all these statues and statuettes of street Arabs, humpbacked beggars, fat and deformed women, dropsical persons, elderly drunkards, worn-out fishermen, have only the physiognomy of their vices and sorrows, being embodiments of poverty and senility; and they have the characteristics of types, not individuals.8

Sheldon Nodelman, however, makes an interesting case for a kind of layering in the signification of these imperial “types,” arguing that they condense a “forceful propagandistic language” through a “shifting montage of abstractions from human appearance.” Deriving “meaning” from these images, then, requires the active interpolation of a spectator, and thus marks one of the first complex acknowledgments of audience and reception in Western visual culture. Both the beguiling naturalism of the Roman portrait busts of the first century B.C. as well as the classicizing emperor-heads redolent with the rationality of “Apollonian intellectual order” became crucial mediators in the ever-shifting negotiations of imperial power. They served as manipulable “political icons” formalizing “ideologically significant traits of character”—sobriety, “Hellenistically tinged pathos,” the heroized “electrical gaze” of semidivinity—to provide a whole visual colloquium of social desiderata and political imperatives to be inculcated in the public domain.9

Goldscheider’s account, then, begins with the vigor and immediacy of supposedly naturalistic representation and yet finally concludes by subordinating it to the sophisticated coining of types. Nodelman’s emphasis on the social coding of the head seems, at first, to reverse Goldscheider’s terms. But Nodelman ultimately arrives at a reading of a deep “human presence” in the late imperial bust. Thus, Nodelman’s reading challenges the ahistorical idealism of most traditional understandings of antique sculpture, but whether it retreats into a kind of phenomenological essentialism or begins to reckon with the post-Structuralist reconstruction of subjectivity is unclear. Nevertheless, by attributing to (certain) third century A.D. portraits a “deep-lying ultimate center of self-hood” and/or “the presence and the substance of the divinity,” Nodelman points to a crucial and historically specific dichotomy in the late antique period between the face as a site for the imaging of a self and the face as a site for inscribing the presence of the divine.10

But the fact is that for a millennium after Constantine (288?–337), the divine face had almost complete hegemony in the system of visual representation. The Christ-face and the demeanor of saints, prophets, angels, princes, and sundry homines spirituales were struck into a calculated psychic formula. Each of the attributes of the iconic face—its awe, sublimity, radiance, its globular eyes and “phosphorescent light”—even the strange cranial geometries of the martyred sainthood (“the sacred rectangularity of the god-like man”)—were accounted for in hagiographic literature as particular manifestations of the effulgence of grace.11 Even rulers were caught in “an abstract soul-formula, a mask-like impress of the visional life.”12 The tendency to liveliness or stylization in the eyes is always crucial to any system of representation and its particular culture. While the eyes were highly naturalized in both the Roman art that came before and the Renaissance art to follow, the great face-bearing culture of the Byzantine and Catholic middle ages stylized them to the threshold of absence and beyond. Goldscheider notes that by the middle of the second century A.D. “expression began to be indicated plastically by drilling out the pupils.” From the third century onward this strange abstract expressionism was further exaggerated. The eye was “surrealistically enlarged and borings were made . . . [so that by the early 500s A.D. in the portrait of the Empress Ariadne in the Palazzo dei Conservatori, Rome] we see nothing but the black hole that has been bored out.”13 At this early apogee of the lux divinis, the pressure of pure godly spirituality has literally invaded the eye and taken over its socket. The eye has become the inner eye; the whiteness of radiance and the formulaic definition of positive space have collapsed inward toward the “black hole of subjectivity.”14

IV. Physiognomy, caricature, photography

In the classical historical formation, the forces within man enter into a relation with forces from the outside in such a way that the compound is a God-form, and not at all a Man-form. This is the world of infinite representation.
—Gilles Deleuze, Foucault

THREE CENTRIST DISCOURSES circulate and antagonize around the forces of the face in the classical order after that constellation of technical, social, and political formations that we know as the Renaissance. The first is physiognomy. Defined by the Swiss pastor Johann Caspar Lavater in his Physiognomische Fragmente zur Beförderung der Menschenkenntnis (Physiognomical fragments for the advancement of knowledge, 1774–78), and promoted by his disciples, physiognomy is the “science of knowledge of the correspondence between the external and internal man, the visible superfices and the invisible contents.”15 That correspondence was drawn, in this would-be science, by conceiving of the face as a dictionary of configured parts, which could then be interpreted in order to determine “signs of the powers and inclinations of men.” The limits of the discourse were clear. It would not address either the mobility or the interrelation of parts, for it was precisely by reference to movement that Lavater carefully separated physiognomy from the “science” of pathognomy: in physiognomy the face is studied “at rest,” but pathognomy concerns itself with “the [necessarily animated] signs of the passions.”16 The third discourse set out among the blustering certitudes of the Enlightenment rejected the face-in-movement of pathognomy, and referred itself instead to the ultimate fixtures of the skull. For phrenologists the brain itself was subdivided into discrete sectors whose muscular growth in the course of human development exerted a literal shaping pressure on the cranium, with the resulting bumps and bulges indicating the precise emotional and moral disposition of the skull’s owner/producer.

These lexicographies of the head have been interpreted as a contestation of Renaissance “effects of the real”—the production of dignified individuals particularized in deep recessional space. John Pope-Hennessy has written of how, in his view, the Renaissance portrait represented a cumulative achievement of physical and “psychological truthfulness,” the “story of how eyes cease to be linear symbols and become instead the light-reflecting, light-perceiving organs we ourselves possess.”17 According to Norman Bryson, the 17th-century painter Charles LeBrun had already begun to refute the naturalistic order of the Renaissance and to codify the head in the manner of the physiognomists in the illustrations for his Conférence sur l’expression générale et particulière (Conference on the general and particular expression), where he reduced the face “to a combinatory schema which permutates a few basic semaphoric units.” And both Renaissance naturalism and the overt codification of the body and the face were disputed by certain painting practices of the later 18th-century—Watteau’s “long-shot” denying the detailed legibility of the face, Fragonard’s rapid sketches focusing “on the signifying material” (that is, on the painted surface, rather than on the depth beyond it), Chardin indulging in the plays of the “painterly trace”—all in some sense repudiating LeBrun’s desire for legibility, “which he no doubt considered timeless and inherent within the world as a natural language.”18

It is not surprising that the always coded face, the product of the rationalism of biological (and spiritual) engineering, the realism of calipers, “craniometers,” and plaster casts, should find a particular site of struggle in the domain of visual practice. But while physiognomy, pathognomy, and phrenology offered a hermeneutic grid for the knowledge of human character, and while they were well used by the accelerating positivism and theories of moral perfectibility of the 19th-century, these centrist discourses found in caricature and photography a demon and a ghost.

The demon was caricature. Predicated on exaggeration and deviance, the socially immediate and thus highly perishable, the caricature acted both to affirm and to deny those “Augustan values about universal norms” that were bolstered by physiognomy and other Enlightenment sciences.19 It played out its refusal of these values by leveling abuse, scatology, and calumny at the potentates and epigones of the religious, political, and social status quo:

Angels fart, Kings sit on close-stools, Ministers stand convicted by the public of bribery, theft, and treason, and opponents make pacts with the devil. Husbands are cuckolds, ladies are whores, alleged lovers are invested with phenomenal parts.20

On the other hand, caricature affirmed Augustan values in as much as it was articulated precisely through distortion and deviation from a given norm. That supposed point of departure has primarily been characterized as a psychological constant “inherent in perception.”21 But it would be more appropriate to search for the measure against which caricature was read in the specific discourses of the time that sought to account for human character. Caricatures actually derived their energy from the mutation of observable physical traits that were considered specific to, or inferred from, a particular type—the rentier, the bourgeois, the peasant, the pompous aristocrat, etc. And thus, with its excesses and effronteries shackled to its empirical referents, caricature was, in effect, physiognomy registered in a convex mirror. The face here, then, is a manifestation less of the sensible divinity of the human kind, than of its demonic possession; the God-form is momentarily displaced by the devil-form.

To the rational “laws” governing the head and the face, and to the controlled irrationality of caricatural deviation, to the analyzed head and the mocked head, we must add the reproduced head of photography. Judith Wechsler has pointed out the relationship of the technological initiatives of the earlier 19th century (which include lithography as well as photography) to the subject matter, “distribution system,” and ideological positioning of both physiognomy and its 19th-century progeny, and to the caricature.” And Anne McCauley has shown that both Nadar and Carjat, long known as pioneers of early photography, also made caricatures; that Nadar in particular, in his hybrid portrait-caricatures (portraits charges), “concentrated his graphic energy on the face.”” The euphoric iconicity of the photograph could serve equally as “raw material” for physiognomic or evolutionary research or for caricatural ridicule. And it certainly became an unquestioned and efficient research tool of historical, anthropological, even sociological discourses well into the 20th century. Indeed the catalogue introduction to a 1929 August Sander exhibition in Germany makes the following claim: “How to write sociology without writing, but presenting photographs instead, photographs of faces and not national costumes, this is what the photographer accomplished.”24 For the 20th century the photographic became the crucial domain of conflict between the real and the reproduced. It put on a series of masks ranging from the supposedly pure social presence of the documentary to the pure abstract materialism of formal experiment (Man Ray’s rayographs). But both extremes of the photographic stage their signification through an implicit notion of the absolute: thus photography becomes the ghost in the machine of rational and universalist knowledge, the very flicker of the God-form.

Given ab = length of face 24 cm (circle with c as center and r = ac), Golden Section gives root of nose c circle and square d1–d6, circle with c as center and r = ac gives e = lower edge of lip
—Oskar Schlemmer “Simplest construction of the head from the front,” 1928

In Modernism, that is, in the heyday of structures, the painted and sculpted face became a double zone of distortion and reduction. From Manet to the Fauves, the face is a crucial site of conflict with the postulates of realism and naturalism. The very focus of specular attention and painterly (or sculptural) craft and skill, the special place that required the hand of the master from the Greeks to the Romantics, the face becomes the particular subject of a whole gamut of antinaturalist gestures—saturated colorism ousting scrupulous chiaroscuro, visages packed with the marks of the brush, features and blemishes subordinated to new demands for expression, symbolism, and mystery. The face is no longer a visible token of public esteem or self-aggrandizement; it is no longer a mirror for the soul or an assigned marker for the narrative flow: it has eventually become an arena of facture among other adjacent places, other marks.

So after Fauvism, the face becomes a grid; a particular geometry among geometries, and an exemplary architecture among structures. The reduced, fractured planes of the “hermetic” Cubist portrait, and the dynamic, convoluted folds of Futurist painting and sculpture, radically deny the frontality and “presence” of the depicted face, substituting a multiple viewpoint, the invasion of context, and the improvisation of speed. As Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari suggest, concrete faces are engendered by an “absolute machine of faciality.”25 From this manifest conjunction of icon and the “black hole of subjectivity,” the face (was) never recovered.

It is in the work and writings of Oskar Schlemmer that we can find one of the most intense and compelling confrontations with that problematic conjunction. During his last two years at the Bauhaus, 1927–29, Schlemmer was given charge of the required course for third-semester students. And we might pity the incoming Bauhaus students who probably had no more expectations of their new course than that they would be liberated from the strictures and pieties of the academic classrooms they had fled. For in his syllabus, Subject of Instruction: Man, Schlemmer’s extraordinary synthetic attempt to inscribe his chosen object of study, Man, within a vast “formal,” “biological,” and “philosophical” totality, his zealous Modernist humanism overflowed in an almost infinite series of elaborate and detailed lists and tree-diagrams which purported to notate all the circumstances by which the available disciplines of knowledge touched on the mind and the body of man. Cells, hygiene, the vascular system, and hypnosis, for example, were specified adjacent to “intestines, bowel, respiration, sex”; these, in turn, were held dimly consequent upon the atomic theory, embryology, ontogenesis of the internal organs, anatomy, anthropological comparison of skulls, and a short system of phrenology of the natural sciences.26

In relation to the system glut that somehow surrounded, constructed, and positioned them, the zones of the face and the head were doubly articulated. First, and most visibly, in Schlemmer’s schema, the face and head were regulated by the signs of algebra and proportion, which float around his diagramed body like a halo of rationality. “We need number, measure, and law as armor and as a weapon, lest we be swallowed up by chaos,”27 Schlemmer was to note in the late 1930s. And with this positing of the face as a grid of differences (marked over the imputed characteristics of the “type,” which constructs our notions of race and gender), the rhetoric of the Gesamtkunstschule (the total art-school) almost converges with the antidifferential logic of fascism. In fact, Schlemmer’s rational head might be seen as almost the manifestation of his desire (as he had written from the front in 1917) to give “this period its characteristic [German] face.”28 Its “pure, concise, hieroglyphic style” (sought for by Schlemmer as early as 1915, and realized with a formal calculus departing from Cézanne—“the cylinder of the neck . . . the circles of the head, the eyes . . . the triangle of the nose . . . the line connecting the sight with the object seen...the ornament that forms between the body and the outer world”29) represents, ultimately, a calculated drive for symbolic order, wrought equally against the depradations of expressionist distortion (Kirchner), the disorderly signification of abstractionist reduction (Kandinsky), and the “perversion” of naturalism (“the cyclorama and the waxworks”30). And this middle-of-the-road pictorial Modernism asserts itself by its attempt to write itself into the order of architecture, and the stylistic trump suit of classicism. “My pictures [are not] pictures in the familiar sense,” wrote Schlemmer in 1919. “Rather, they are tablets which burst out of their frames and ally themselves with the wall . . . thus actually becoming part of an ideal architecture. . . . Tablets of the Law.”31 Thus Schlemmer’s pictures (of faces) seek to return us to the ritual solidity and authority of the genealogical bloodlines of Commagene, but now with that power amplified by the machinic whir of accumulated knowledge.

But the face formulated as positive knowledge also has its other (negative) side. Traces of anti-utopian disorder and irrationality often escape from Schlemmer’s governing schema, and cast troublesome shadows on that still-luminous site of all human measure. An antagonistic face of disorder pops up with some frequency in Schlemmer’s private comments on his “theatrical projects.” He once imagined, for example, a play “for ‘Burmese marionettes’ with an idiotic text—comical, erotic, Indian.”32 Madness, comedy, race, and the erotic are all aligned in this citation for the artificial face of an artificial body. And so it is tempting to attribute this “negative” face to the disorderly propensities of theater, always the “other” pole of Schlemmer’s activity throughout his career. While theater was for Schlemmer usually a rational, highly scripted event, he makes several asides that reveal his awareness of its occasional tendencies to excess, frenzy, (demonic) possession, thus acknowledging a theater of caricature as well as of classical lucidity. The distance between the two, between kinetics and carnival, was not, perhaps, as great as the rationalistic Bauhaus meister tried to contend. And so most freely within the arena of the theater, it seems, would Schlemmer permit the concatenated otherness of the negative face to disport itself in disguise, though, of course, choreographed and controlled by the string-pulling puppeteer.

But even within the density of Schlemmer’s notations for the course on Man, the “negative” (or demon) head appears, becoming a primary yet obscure site for the supplementation of a simple anatomical lesson by a troubling inrush of extra-somatic implications. Starting with questions of order, such as “What is the status of the represented anatomical body within classes of bodies and heads?,” Schlemmer seems almost unwillingly to advance into an interrogation of the body/head for its other meanings. Here is the outline proposed by Schlemmer for his figure drawing class of 1927:

(1) head: (a) hair (b) skull (c) nose (d) eye (e) mouth (f) chin (g) ear (physiognomical studies, study of character, theory of race) . . .
(2) neck: larynx, vertebra
(3) trunk: (a) breast (b) back (c) stomach (d) buttocks
(4) legs: (a) thigh (b) knee (c) lower leg (d) foot (joint, heels, toes)
(5) arms: (a) upper arm (b) elbow (c) forearm
(6) hand: wrist, palm (chiromancy), fingers (prints)33

Schlemmer’s three parentheses attached to the head and hand, which still function as Modernist repositories (as they also did in high Cubist portraiture) of determining codes and technical bravura, represent crucial markers for the potential disruption of anatomical rationalism. Attendant to the head, then, Schlemmer first places two related areas of logical analysis—“physiognomical studies” and the “study of character.” But by distinguishing these two categories (which, as we have discussed, were traditionally seen as one and the same), Schlemmer seems to be implying the insufficiency of physiognomy to account for the complexities of “personality.” To these two areas, however, he has added a third: [the] “theory of race.” “Race,” however, is not ratified as a body of rules for study; instead, through its designation as “theory,” it is rendered contingent and provisional, suggesting its dependence on the definite, if out-moded, system of physiognomy. And so even within his overwhelming drive for order and control, Schlemmer, scrupulous grammarian of form that he was, is forced to permit a glimpse of the problem of reckoning with the social meaning of his anatomy lesson; and it is the face, in his schema, that becomes the site of anxiety in this process. Through its designation as a locus of study and of theory, the place of order and speculation, the face is returned to us, under analysis and in representation, as always in conflict between identity and difference.

But the dialogue we have been charting—between the face as algorithm and the face as always outside number and form—Schlemmer might finally be cl(e/i)nching by the (inked) fingertip against the (open) palm. In the parentheses in the category for “hand,” the meister pits fin de siècle occultation (chiromancy) against positivist criminology (prints), that is, destiny against detection. For it is in the hieroglyph of the palm that destiny becomes materially manifest; and it is in the fingerprint, allied with the photographic print in the development of a criminal archive, that the actual physical presence of the body is confirmed by irrefutable tokens of its presence. And both the palm and the print pass from the material condition of the body through a hermeneutic machine (the interpretation of the palmist, the affirmation of the detective) into a new order of metaphysics: for chiromancy this is the whole conundrum of futurology; for fingerprinting it is the more devious metaphysics of “proof” and “prevention.” By assigning to the hand these issues—whose interweavings potently echo the conficts of determinism and freedom that antagonize around the face—the neorationalist Schlemmer could continue to assert the face as a site of order, rather than acknowledging it as a repressed metaphor for the staging of difference.

And thus at the same time that Schlemmer manipulated the face for its still-rational aspect, he was deeply insinuated into its disorder. He attempted to give Modernist inflection to the physiognomic by fastening it into a panoply of totalizing knowledge, yet could not evade the caricatural return of the head by sublimating (social) distortion into (theatrical) kinetics, or by the sleight of hand that attempts to draw the face’s conflicts into the body. And perhaps most significant, Schlemmer’s painted, drawn, and diagramed heads attempted to refuse the photographic in both its disguises, the naturalistic and the formal. In the calm mathesis of his order, photography—with what he probably considered its literal printing of reality, and its pitiful (and nonclassic) naturalism and overexcited special effects (Man Ray’s “marvels,” he said)—could only be a threat. Speaking of what he characterized to Otto Meyer as László Moholy-Nagy’s desire to “wipe the slate clean of anything that might be called painting,” Schlemmer declared that Moholy “sees, like a soldier, only the enemy (painting) and his victory (photography).”34 Schlemmer, standing at the barricades with his “armor” of lists and diagrams, struggled to fight off the demon photography that threatened his hand-worked universal-head.

V. Photo-probe
AND YET, DESPITE SCHLEMMER, photography’s alliance with the painterly has become a preferred means for the recuperation of the caricatural head. We can see its almost complete compromise with political distortion (somewhat like the hybrid portrait charge) giving rise to the blurred and flattened “society icon” (Andy Warhol) and the over animated pigmento-pathognomy of Arnulf Rainer. On the other hand, the painted and sculpted faces of the various returns to the body in the ’60s and ’70s literally split the personality of the face. Some of these practices, notably superrealism, produced the face as once more an architecture of abstractions, though one glowing with mimesis. More often the face was recidivated into “mystery” and “poetry,” or forced back into the codings of the late antique—“wrinkles, pores, gooseflesh,” “gravity and dignity” (George Segal).35

And in the practices of Minimalist art, we can find a kind of theater of the face; with Minimalism’s intense perceptualism returning the abstract image/object to the body/face of the viewer. In this sense, then, it was a demon-theater—a disarmingly gentle and, we might say, knowingly impossible caricature of inner being. In conceptual art, we might say that the body/face was also returned to the reader/viewer, but only as so many ellipses of presence—text, serial glimpses, attributes, definitions, aphorisms—a rain of supplements to the always absent face.

More recently, however, emboldened by the glyph of irony that post-Modernism implicitly claims to invest in every retracing of the past, the face itself has been readmitted, but to emblematize the same interrogation of subjectivity coded in the icon of the portrait/head that was circumscribed though never confronted through the artwork of the ’70s. And so the ironic, would-be immanence of the photo-face now weaves its way in and out of the historical conjunction of heads—characterized by Deleuze and Guattari as “primitive heads, Christ-face, and probe-heads”^^36—to produce the gender-face (Barbara Kruger), the nogender-face (Nancy Burson), the ego-head (Cindy Sherman), the fad-head (Robert Mapplethorpe). For the fact is that the photographic has momentarily subsumed physiognomy and caricature under its probe.

In Burson’s computer-generated portrait composites in particular, we can find convening many of the historical and political questions around the head that we have discussed so far. First, as William E. Ewing and Jeanne A. McDermott point out, Burson’s investigations are explicitly related to a long history of composites that dates back to the pioneer of eugenics, Francis Galton, and 19th-century “ethnological research on racial differences” and criminality, and that travels through subsequent experiments with the composite from Moholy-Nagy in the 1930s to William Wegman in the 1970s.37 Her retechnologized photographic head becomes a “symbol machine” for permutating “negative” and “positive” heads, using their literal collision and overlay to dispute the generic abstraction of the Modernist pictorial face (Schlemmer) through the exotic (ghostly) materiality of film.

Secondly, Burson’s digitalized images of the face offer a mechanical representation of a “real,” filmed face through a minutely resolved grid of black to white tonalities that (in their unitary state at least) “are ghostlike accretions of information [that] refer to nothing.”38 This produces a latter-day technological imprimatur for the “holey surface” system39 proposed by Deleuze and Guattari—that is, a face system that is both positive and negative, present and absent. As the territory of the face is at once the most abstract and the most concrete thing that we come to know, so the problematic of faciality can be found precisely in the exchanges between the face in its specificity and the face as an abstract machine. Burson’s composites overlay the already abstract specificities of two or more filmic images to achieve a median compromise of the facial map. Yet even here, the material coexists with the impalpable, and the face is revealed once again as recalcitrant beyond measure. The results are unpersoned faces, subjectless conundrums, that yet interrogate the very conditions of political power and our constructions of race and gender. This interrogation is taking place as much in recent critical theory (from Walter Benjamin to Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida) as it is in contemporary practice. Discussing the filmic face, Barthes noted a certain transition from the “classic,” nonsexed face of Greta Garbo, still masked, still divine, to the plastic morphology of Audrey Hepburn in the ’50s: “the face of Garbo is an Idea, that of Hepburn, an Event.”40 Here, the viewer response to the face momentarily triumphs over the other effects of film, its strategies of narrative and suspense, making of the face a world of its own, a face-world of “ideas” and “events.” For Benjamin, on the other hand, “the human countenance” was an exemplary site of the “ultimate retrenchment” of “cult” or “ritual value” even within the technologies and materials of mechanical reproduction. Thus Benjamin held Eugène Atget’s strategically peopleless streets to signal the displacement of the overcoded gaze ( or the bourgeois “free-floating contemplation”), of ritual value (“Kultwert”) by the “exhibition value” (“Austellungswert”) that can challenge the viewer and reveal “hidden political significance.”41 But of course the point of origin and the mode of reception of these “political effects” of photography and cinema are as open to question as those of the power-heads of Rome or the spirit-heads of the Byzantine apse. And it is precisely this interrogation that Derrida takes on when he confronts Valerio Adami’s Ritratto di Walter Benjamin, 1973 (Benjamin’s head, his name, his effects), with the Benjamin “text.” Derrida paraphrases and interpolates the“referential naiveté” of this conjugation of photograph and drawn profile (the Benjamin Front), but he too conjures from the pulverized (“triturated”) auratic image a litany of social and personal meanings:

Material thoughts, technical processes, war machines or political apparatuses, legends gorged with culture dragged along in an incessant eruption, a powerful mythographic wave draining all the strength of a revolutionary song.42

The face becomes for Derrida, then, the possibility—or we might say the point of return—of social action; that is, it serves as a kind of vessel for the inrush of material culture and political conflict. And so almost despite itself, the face is returned to us by Derrida—not so much as a fixed schema or paradigm, but rather as a model that poses in front of knowledge in the arena of deconstruction. The former texts of godlike fullness, imperial power, the Christ-drunk soul, Renaissance proportionality, photographic exactitude and caricatural distortion—even the vernaculars of “personality,” “experience,” and “identity”—are reconfigured as materials for a new construction of subjectivity. The lesson of these several moments of the face ally themselves with the deconstruction of “authors” and “intentions,” and with recent questionings of the biological determinism that attempts to fix our notions of race and gender. But at the same time that these inquiries are taking place, the history of the represented face—with its inexorable return of the partly unfathomable conditions of subjectivity—might aid us in our struggle against the reductions of both the classical order and that of modernity: the replacement of the subject by “exterior structures.” For what we have seen here are so many impresses of a faciality that we can never reproduce, but that we will always have to negotiate and always exceed—a faciality that is neither just mystery or only system, neither ghost nor demon—a faciality of volte-faces.

John Welchman teaches in the Visual Arts Department of the University of California, San Diego.



1. Donald Sanders’ Nemrud Dağ: The Hierothesion of King Antiochus I of Cornmagene, scheduled for publication in 1989, offers an in-depth exploration of this site.

2. John H. Young has offered the most comprehensive analysis of the headgear of the statues; see his “Commagenian Tiaras: Royal and Divine,” American Journal of Archeology 68 no. I, January 1964, pp. 29–34. See also Friedrich Karl Dorner, Kommagene, Bergisch Gladbach: Lubbe, 1981.

3. See Vincent Scully, The Earth, the Temple, and the Gods: Greek Sacred Architecture, rev. ed. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1969.

4. Cited in S.R.F. Price, Rituals and Power: The Roman Imperial Cult in Asia Minor, Cambridge: at the University Press, 1984, p. 181. Price claims Strabo’s statement suggests that “the god can be represented within a temple but can not be confined within it.”

5. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi, London: the Athlone Press, 1988, pp. 170, 181.

6. H.P. L’Orange, Apotheosis in Ancient Portraiture, Oslo: H. Aschehoug & Co., 1947, pp. 26, 16.

7. See Price, p. 206

8. L. Goldscheider, Roman Portraits, London: Phaidon Edition/George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1941, p. 5.

9. See Sheldon Nodelman, “How to Read a Roman Portrait,” Art in America 63 no. I, January/February 1975, pp. 27–30

10. Ibid., pp. 32–33.

11. L’Orange, pp. 106, 104.

12. Ibid., p. 112.

13. Goldscheider, pp. 8–9.

14. Deleuze and Guattari, p. 168.

15. J.C. Lavater, cited in John Graham, Lavater’s Essays on Physiognomy: A Study in the History of Ideas, Bern/Frankfurt am Main/Las Vegas: Peter Lang, European University Studies, 1979, p. 48.

16.Ibid., p. 49.

17. John Pope Hennessy, The Portrait of the Renaissance, New York: Pantheon, 1963, p. 3.

18. This is a highly abbreviated summary of Bryson’s discussion in Word and Image: French painting of the ancient regime, Cambridge: at the University Press, 1981, pp. 29–121. My quotations are from pp. 50, 82, 107, 121, 109.

19. Robert L. Patten, “Conventions of Georgian Caricature,” Art Journal 43 no. 4, Winter 1983 (“The Issue of Caricature”), p. 331. Patten emphasizes the denial: “The growth of caricature is another manifestation of the Romantic movement, that exploration of individuality and difference which confuted Augustan assumptions about universal norms.” And John Graham notes that “in contrast to the latter work of Gall, Lavater refused to deal with patently evil men except when, in effect, he was forced to.” Graham, p. 46.

20. Patten, p. 335.

21. Rudolf Arnheim, “The Rationale of Deformation,” Art Journal, Winter 1983, p. 321.

22. Judith Wechsler, “Editor’s Statement: The Issue of Caricature,” in ibid., p. 318.

23.Anne McCauley, “Caricature and Photography in Second Empire Paris,” in ibid., p. 356.

24. Alfred Deiblin, “About Faces, Portraits and their Reality: Introduction to August Sander, Antlitz der Zeit,” 1929, cited by Allan Sekula in “The Traffic in Photographs,” Art Journal 41 no. I, Spring 1981, p. 18.

25. Deleuze and Guattari, pp. 180–81.

26. Oskar Schlemmer, Man: Teaching Notes from the Bauhaus, ed. Heimo Kuchling, trans. Janet Seligman, Cambridge: M.I.T. Press, 1971, pp. 25, 26, 38, 132.

27. Quoted in Karin von Maur, “The Art of Oskar Schlemmer,” Oskar Schlemmer, exhibition catalogue, eds. Arnold L. Lehman and Brenda Richardson, Baltimore: the Baltimore Museum of Art, 1986, p. 120.

28. The Letters and Diaries of Oskar Schlemmer, ed. Tut Schlemmer, trans. Krishna Winston, Middletown, Conn.:Wesleyan University Press, 1972, p.48. Schlem mer described his experience in World War I as “four years of systematic deper sonalization” (diary, 10 October 1918), p. 61.

29. Ibid., 1915, pp. 23, 32.

30. Ibid., 1918, p. 52.

31. Ibid., p. 73.

32. Ibid., 1921, p. 105.

33. Schlemmer, Man, p. 31.

34. Schlemmer, Letters and Diaries, 1925, p. 184.

35. George Segal, quoted in Gerrit Henry, “The Artist and the Face: A Modern American Sampling,” Art in America 63 no. I, January/February 1975, p. 36.

36. Deleuze and Guattari, p. 191.

37. William A. Ewing and Jeanne A. McDermott, introductory essay in Nancy Burson, Richard Carling, and David Kramlich, Composites: Computer-Generated Portraits, New York: Beech Tree Books (William Morrow), 1986, p. 10.

38. Ewing and McDermott, in ibid., p. 9. The authors also discuss, on page 15, how Burson (with collaborators Carling and Kramlich) converts patterns of light and dark into numerical values, and how they further encode these values into pixels.

39. Deleuze and Guattari, p. 170.

40. Roland Barthes, Mythologies, selected and trans. Annette Lavers, New York: Hill and Wang, 1973, pp. 56–57.

41. Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” 1936, in Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn, New York: Schocken Books, 1978, pp. 225–26.

42. Jacques Derrida, The Truth in Painting, trans. Geoff Bennington and Ian McLeod, Chicago/London: The University of Chicago Press, 1987, p. 180.