Consider the category of desire that is the desire to make a stony expression break. Think of those humans who are attractive for the primary reason of how the presentation of their face and body is impenetrable or brooding or fierce or impassive with brooding fierceness. This category of desire is simple, slightly mechanistic : to penetrate the brooding, fierce, impassive, impenetrable presentation.
There are several ways to make a stony expression break. These include to enrage, to surprise, to humiliate, to sadden, and to give pleasure. The experts at impassive expression, however, are not so vulnerable to sadness, rage, or humiliation : it is precisely these expressions that they have practiced steel looks against over many years, testing their own faces always against their own afflictions. For every affliction they endure they might think « And how may I use this affliction to sharpen my appearance of impassivity ? » For what, they conclude, is a humiliation if the humiliator does not succeed in casting down the eyes downward ? And what is sadness with no tears ? Or rage with no flashing eyes ? Those humans who are attractive for the primary reason of the impenetrable presentation of their face are attractive for the rigor with which they self-cultivate their impenetrability. The experts at facial impassivity are the hard scientists of themselves.
Surprise, while effective at making the unbroken expression break, is difficult to achieve in this population. It takes practiced unpredictability to surprise the expert of the unrelentingly unmoved face. The surprised look, however, is a moment of intense satisfaction for those who have the occasion to witness it. In a stony face surprise is something like a rock slide––or if an exceptional example, as if a cliff face falls––and revealed by this fall is an entirely new landscape of unimaginable charm and elasticity, one that practically bounds with itself : meadows, flowers, small animals, clear lakes ruffled by soft breezes.
Of all the reasons to test against a hard face, to watch it express its own pleasure is the most compelling. Emily Dickinson described it : « It is a Vesuvian face. Had let its pleasure through. » It is no mistake that Dickinson imagined the « pleasure through » to be of the kind that could eviscerate cities. This expression of pleasure, when let through this kind of face, has no small effect : it is exactly, too, like Dickinson suggests in the same poem, the firing of a gun : whatever is a not-nothing is the not-nothing of this event, which is really undeniably something, like any form of explosion. To achieve a look of pleasure in a face which has practiced itself against expressing open delight is always an historic accomplishment in the history of desires and faces.
This desire––to delight the undelighted face––can compel an ambitious person to attempt to cause another pleasure for years. « Might I break open their face with pleasure ? » the ambitious appreciator of undoing impassive face asks, and failing, tries again, and failing, tries again, employing every weapon in the arsenal of interpersonal pleasures, until one day, if they are lucky, the pleasure in the unpleased face is revealed.
When the pleasure arrives (as if a gun shot, volcano, dynamited urban structure, star which has imploded) it is unsurprising if an entire city must be devastated into a monument of that very moment, all things frozen under ash, lovers curled together, infants in mothers’ arms, bathers eternally in baths––all necessarily sacrificed to memorialize a moment when she or he or they who often appears beyond pleasure displays, in his or her or their face, a look of it.
to effect a number of rapid changes on an already rapidly changing face
The impassive face has its rival : the face that can never hold still. The face is kinetic, elastic, morphologically indistinct, blooming like fractals, the curse of digital photographers and bio-informationists who must try to fix, in data, what is in its very form unfixable. This face provides an onrush of information which comes so quickly it almost evades processing : this face is prolific, a human comedy of feeling––any one hour of reading this face means one can read a Balzac’s worth of novels, also witness a projected record of the generic legacy of the human race (and beyond that, the pre-human ones), also witness an ardent record of feeling in a bathetic leaping from the grotesque to the precious to the sublime and whatever chimerical expression of feeling results from quick leaps from one feeling to the next : the grotesque-delicate, the thoughtful-enraged, the distracted-amused.
These are the faces, which, like the avant-garde literature, must at once create their own texts and their own theories of reading them. For what are these faces without a unique critical infrastructure newly invented to interpret them ? These are the faces easily mistaken for noise, like the sounds of traffic outside the window, so relentless it soon becomes what you can’t hear.
The highly sensitive flashing of these eyes might appear, without sufficiently developed methods of reading, random, aleatory, chaotic. At their extreme, and like any complex thing, such rapidly flashing and elastic and rapidly expressing faces might be mistaken for disorganized.
When they arrive without theory, these faces are a delight to those enthralled with enlightenment methods, who need a lot of things to categorize, who like to impose order, who are besot, like Fourier’s children, with the passion to sort small things into useful piles1. Not accidently, these faces are also of delight to sadists, those sub-sub-enlightenmentarians, who also never forget to bring with them a scalpel. For what could be of more delight to a sadist than a face that in a few minutes can write a dozen very clear books about exquisite and surprising varieties of pain ?
to resolve a face’s contradictions
Do not forget the face that looks like its opposite : the face of a cherubic CEO, or a villainous and sometimes demonic face on a person who it virtuous, or a languid face on a firebrand, or an angry face on a person who is mostly indifferent, or a stupid face on a very bright person, or an ugly face on en attractive person, or some combination of the above––a villainous stupid face on a bright and virtuous person, an ugly cherubic face on a sexy CEO. These faces present those who look upon them with a challenge of interpretation : should you believe the face, or should you believe the condition of personality under the face ? Or, if there is a third option, is any manner of belief about the face only in fact belief about a condition in which the face is opposite to itself ?
These faces are of particular desirability to the suspicious, like Platonists, or fans of the idea of false consciousness, or admirers of Freu. Such a desire-er of faces might want to wash off the accumulation of misleading fleshy evidence that is a person’s face, so as to reveal whatever kind of truer, demystified thing exists under it.
Similarly, these faces attract the humans who like to be righters of wrongs, fighters against injustices, exposers of truths, and seekers of remedies. If I am a mirror enough, the exposer of truth thinks to herself (making her habitual error of thought), the face itself will transform in response to the veracity of my reflection : what is virtuous, if I reflect it, will soon appear with virtue, what is evil will be revealed !
But among the reformers who like these faces, there is another sort of person who might gaze upon these faces with a different interest. These are the rough dialecticians, always looking for the contradiction. How interesting, they think, and what could it mean for history, that a face is wrong for itself in a time in which all is also so wrong. The animals sit forlorn or ride subways in city centers. The water has become poison. The old behave like the young, and the young are too worried to move. Pilotless weapons have the name of birds, so why shouldn’t faces, also, lead away from the facts ? To the lovers of the contradiction, these faces are a perfect account of our time : the poetry of the wrong.
I have often thought that the faces do not reveal the person but rather the conditions in which all things are the opposite of what they appear to be would become most interesting in a death mask. With the personality gone, would the face that was always untrue finally be made the truth ? And what do we do with a contradiction when its only resolution is that half the facts are removed ?
- Fourier believed that the perfect work for very young children was sorting peas : « The thing to be done is to separate the smallest peas for the sweetened ragout, the medium ones for the bacon ragout, and the largest for the soup. The child of thirty-five months first selects the little ones which are the most difficult to pick out ; she sends all the large and medium ones to the next hollow, where the child of thirty months shoves those that seem large to the third hollow, returns the little ones to the first, and drops the medium grains into the basket. The infant of twenty-five months, placed at the third hollow, has an easy task ; he returns some medium grains to the second, and gathers the large ones into his basket. » ↩