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Jakób Liszka THE FACE: I AND OTHER IN GOMBROWICZ'S FERDYDURKE Though all other animals are prone, And gaze upon the earth, God gave to man an upright face, and bade Him stand erect and turn his eyes to heaven. Ovid, Metamorphoses I am no doubt not the only one who writes in order to have no face. Michel Foucault The skin is that visible, tangible boundary between the body and the world, but also the exterior of the Other. It is the persistent geometry which keeps us fettered to a notion of interiority and exteriority. But it is undoubtedly the face—the most differentiated part of the anatomy—that seems to define the appearance of the Other the most. With the upright position, man had no choice but to centralize this aspect—that space which seems to escape cloth covering, which is the locus of the four senses, the focal point of conversation. It has become the criterion of beauty; it is where the personality seems to be centered. It is precisely for these reasons that it became, in the early beginnings of the human sciences, the point of access for knowledge of the Other. Empathy, mimicry, were the methods employed. It was the hope, especially of the early physiognomists, that the interior of the Other could be penetrated, revealing its inner nature, giving man a knowledge always coveted: the secret thoughts of the Other. The goal was to probe that last outpost of the Self, as yet untouched by science. It is easy to see this new science as the logical outgrowth of the scientific philosophy of Descartes. For Descartes, reflection gave access to the structure of one's own mind and its intuitable, self-evident content. To complete the universal claim of his philosophy, it had to be assumed, 62 Jakób Liszka63 then, that all minds were structurally the same, in which case Mind could serve as the ground of all thought, especially science and philosophy . What was discovered by reflection on the process of one's own thinking was extended, by analogy, to the process of anyone's thinking. Reflection always remained a unique process, in that introspection was possible only on one's own mind and not another's; however, it was a universal operation in the sense that anyone could do it, discovering the same, essential character of the mind. By retaining the same assumptions, making them a bit more empirical, and inverting the logic, it is possible to argue that access to the Other would be possible by adopting the mental and emotional posture of the other; if minds were essentially the same, then the emotional and thinking processes would always engender the same visible signs (e.g., facial expressions). By imitating these signs men could come to know their invisible source. To speak in Saussurean terms—the facial expression served as a signans for an invisible, interior signatum, which could somehow, mysteriously, transfer itself in toto to a correspondingly identical signans. It was as if signata were attracted magnetically to a kind of sensible matter that best suited its expression. The raising of the corners of the mouth, the lifting of the eyebrows—these were signantia which best captured the signatum—happiness. Could it be possible to expose to others that which the Self had always possessed as its own? Would, in fact, science be able to make this last private realm accessible to the gaze of all? The key was the facial expression, which acted as an external sign of the interior. The task was to decipher the patterns of this new semiotic. The almost childlike impatience awaiting the accomplishment of this task is expressed , curiously, by Chateaubriand, in his analysis of a similar kind of semiotic—the invention of the stethoscope, which allowed man to listen to the audible signs of the body's interior: By means of a tube applied to the outer parts of the body, our learned compatriot Laënnec has succeeded in recognizing, by the nature of the sounds of respiration, the nature of the complaints of the heart and the chest. This great and wonderful discovery will mark an era in the history...


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pp. 62-72
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