The face, and the image of the face, remains hugely powerful in contemporary politics. Images of family members lost in war become treasured objects passed down the generations like heirlooms and can contest commemorations which present those killed as national heroes. When people go missing or are disappeared those protesting the disappearances or seeking the missing carry photographs of those they have lost. They do this because they know that marching with the faces of the dead will generate a powerful emotional and political response. These faces are not images of atrocity or suffering, they are the snapshots, torn from the family album, of people unaware of what their fate was to be.
The book examines the following questions
Why does the image of the face remain so powerful? What political impact does it have, and how?
What can the continuing centrality of the face tell us about politics? Does it remind us that we are all distinct individuals, far from becoming post-human, or is there something more going on? If so, what might that be?
The book will proceed through an examination of the changing image of the face in different mediums and in a diversity of geographical locations and historical periods, a study of developing scientific conceptions of the face and its function, and an exploration of discussions of the face in philosophy. It will draw out the implications of changing conceptions of face, but also emphasise the continuities. The work is motivated by the hypothesis that a focus on the face, and its enduring importance in understanding what being human might be, can lay the groundwork for a different conception of political possibility. Although individual ‘man’ may, as Foucault argues, be disappearing as the key figure in our political thought, the face, even though ‘drawn in sand at the edge of the sea’,remains of haunting significance.