Face, the Fact

Our pal TanFin has always dug that line in Twilight of the Idols where Nietzsche takes on his nemesis—the famously ugly Socrates—writing: monstrum in fronte, monstrum in animo [“monster in face, monster in soul”].

“A foreigner who knew about faces once passed through Athens and told Socrates to his face that he was a monstrum — that he harbored in himself all the bad vices and appetites. And Socrates merely answered: “You know me, sir!” (Twilight, The Problem of Socrates, iii)

I thought of TanFin/that passage recently when I came across these amusing anecdotes in an article about portraiture:

Abraham Lincoln reportedly refused to appoint a qualified candidate to a post in his government because he didn’t like his face, justifying the decision by retorting that “every man over forty is responsible for his face”. The same sentiment would later be echoed by a dying George Orwell, who, aged forty-six and on his hospital bed, decided that it was at fifty that “every man has the face he deserves”….

Ha! It’s your fault! Though I guess the question is: Are we responsible for our faces, or are we held responsible for our faces? Is it that a well-used face “reveals a lifetime’s worth of traits, beliefs, emotions and aspirations” or are we forced by others into matching our face (i.e. a lifetime of inducing winces in passersby cements a wince-worthy personality, etc.)? Heraclitus said that character is fate, but maybe face is fate. Hey, that’s why portraiture is a fascinating art! Listen to this podcast already! (((And gaze into strollers with care! Morbid Mr. Flaubert said when he peered into a cradle he could only see a skeleton, but yesterday when I gawked at a bebe I could only see his horrid adult face—& I wanted to warn the parents of the future ill-mannered butthead coming down the pike! (That conversation would have gone down extremely well I’m very sure.)


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