Call for Papers: (Inter)Faces:Thinking the Face in Literature and the Visual Arts

World Literature Studies, Special Issue, vol. 11, no. 4, 2019

Edited by Tomáš Jirsa (Palacký University Olomouc) and Rebecca Rosenberg (King’s College London)

Across cultural history, the face has figured both a site of intimate familiarity and radical unknowability. On the one hand, the face is the most immediate and recognizable marker of identity: an organic surface upon which interiority is projected and displayed. The pioneer of psychobiological theory Silvan Tomkins, for example, defines the face as the primary site of affects, making a significant equation between the face and the human being. On the other hand, the face emerges as a mask, a simulacrum, and an unsettling site of dissimulation, rejecting the causal link between external appearance and inner essence rooted primarily in the 18th-century physiognomic tradition. While the latter understands the face’s exteriority in terms of a semiotic surface that faithfully reflects the mental or cognitive state of the human subject, recent scholarship has brought about not only a critical reassessment of such determinism, uncovering its devastating historical consequences (Gray 2004), but also radically different conceptions of the “cyberfaces” now inhabiting digital landscapes, undermining ideas of facial resemblance and likeness (Belting 2017).

The recent exhibition “Gesicht” at the German Hygiene Museum in Dresden (2017), curated by literary scholar Sigrid Weigel, illuminated these multiple and ambivalent approaches to the face, foregrounding the eminent importance of further research into the face amid current sociopolitical and technological shifts. Exploring the affective and technological dimensions of the face from the point of view of both cultural history and contemporary neuroscience, the exhibition attested to the face’s call for interdisciplinary exploration. From the ubiquity of Facebook and Instagram, to the politics of identity, to innovations in plastic surgery, to the “uncanny valley” inhabited by robots’ faces, the face continues to constitute a site of contestation, resistance, transformation and plurality which demands to be thought in greater diversity. How do literature and the visual arts invent and explore the manifold aesthetic, political and socio-cultural dimesions of the face? How does the face fit specifically within discourses of embodiment? How do faces catalyze new modes of aesthetics, society and sociality in the contemporary moment as well as across technological and posthuman futures? In both the recent debates around the face in humanities and its contemporary uses in various aesthetic forms and cultural practices, the premise of this edition of World Literature Studies is to think the face beyond the boundaries of the classical subject and its interiority.

For this issue of World Literature Studies we are looking for contributions that address the face in its various aesthetic constellations, cultural uses and theoretical conceptualizations. Contributions may be based on case studies or specific works or bodies of work, or may address methodological, theoretical and philosophical issues of a more general nature. We are particularly interested in interdisciplinary approaches on the threshold of literary, visual and film studies, cultural analysis, media theory, comics studies, philosophy, anthropology, science studies and the medical humanities.

In particular we invite contributions relating to (but not limited to) the following issues:
o “Inventing” and constructing the face in the visual arts, film, and literature
o The affective, artistic and technological modalities of portraiture
o Destruction, deformation, and the disappearance of the face across cultural history
o “Cyberfaces” and other digitally generated faces in contemporary cultures
o Beyond anthropocentrism: the face as cultural technique and its mediality
o Animal and other non-human faces
o Biological, ecological, and environmental approaches to the face
o Approaches to the face in the medical humanities and disability studies
o Queer approaches to the face: drag, gender, performativity
o The aesthetics and politics of the face in race and identity studies
o “On the face of it”: the politics and aesthetics of superficiality and judgment
o Famous faces and celebrity studies

Deadline for abstract proposals: November 30, 2018.

Please send your abstract (300-500 words in English + bibliographical references) and a short biographical note to and by November 30, 2018. All notifications of acceptance will be emailed no later than December 20, 2018. If accepted, 5 – 6,000-word essays will then be required for peer review by July 30, 2019.

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