▶TR :: Trans-machine Express!

Everything is a machine. We are here to convey expressive thoughts traversing all those machines. Expecting their reaching to numerous unknown machines, we hope to assume the role of making them unfold outward and be folded inward by the outside.

  26. The face-machine and the politics of face


Yi-Jinkyung, Professor

Seoul National University of Technology


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The concept of face starts with distinguishing the face from the head. The head is a part of the body, whereas the face is not the body but its surface(TP 170), and is the expression that is engraved on the surface. The face expresses the state of the body, but more than that, it is a sign in that it demands something from someone facing it. In that sense, the face is born when it is deterritorialized from the body and becomes an incorporeal machine of expression. The face is a sign in itself, but, furthermore, it is also a sign that indicates what the words from the mouth or the letters written by hand practically demand. A machine that indicates the order-word as the redundancy carried on the sign, that is the machine of expression called face. Arbitrary signifiers that have no meaning in themselves, like linguistic signs, are signified when they are reterritorialized through and on the face. The face also demands empathy or resonance from the face it faces. It is through the face that the subjectification of calling and answering is made.

“The face is a politics.”(TP 181) This proposition, which summarizes Deleuze/Guattari’s thought on faciality, is a statement in point that breaks our conventional view on the face. It is also a statement that can be easily accepted when we have a close look at things going on over the face. That is because it is the face that sends out various order-words that demand signifiance or subjectification. An angry face, a frowned face, a sad face, a disheartened face... these faces all demand specific response from me. We often read face to see what the other person wants. We also control our facial expressions, looking at the faces around us. The face of the employer facing a worker, the face of the teacher facing a student, or the face of the politician facing a voter all demands a face that accords with it. As such, order-words are moving around between the faces. The same goes for the face of a loved one or the face that catches my eye, which is the face that demands resonance and response. Here, power is operating through the face.

Here, Deleuze/Guattari distinguish between the two types of faces, which are the face as seen from the front and the face in profile. The former is the round face having blank spaces of the forehead and cheek, and the face that emits the sign that signifies with the eye, mouth, and eyebrow, etc. The latter is the one that calls and answers facing the other face, which is the face corresponding to subjectification. Of course, there are also the faces in profile facing the opposite directions, turning the faces away from each other. These two types of faces being mixed, the patterns of signifiance and subjectification are expressed. The word “A very special mechanism(dispositif) is situated at the intersection of signifiance and subjectification(TP 167) came out in this vein.

The head operates by the code that moves the body, but the face is born when the corporeal coding stops and the head is overcoded by something called facial expression. When the head becomes a face and gets to have expressive signs in this way, other parts of the body in turn get to be facialized(TP 170). The fist raised with spirit or the hand with the middle finger raised is not a body paired with a tool but a sign paired with the face. The same is true of the deeply bowed head, the upper body with two arms raised, and the legs with knees bent. The face covers the entire body, going beyond the head. Furthermore, the face expands to the clothing that covers the body. The ’garb’ that complemented the corporeal function is changed into a ‘clothes’ that has an expression by pockets, buttons, shoulder pads, slender waistline, belt, and brooches(TP 189). The ‘conquering’ of surface that started at the head now expands to the all surface of the body of things. Everything, large or small, has its own expression and is facialized(TP 175): a kettle, a car, a house, a building, a city, etc.

The facialization of things transforms the milieu, which is the condition of corporeal survival, into a landscape. In other words, the landscape is the face of the milieu or the facialized milieu. Conversely, art or movie now treats the face as a landscape(TP 172). An outstanding portrait landscapifies the face of that person into the world he lived in. The close-up in a film turns someone’s affect or emotion about a certain event into a scene by making the face a landscape itself. In this respect, the tool is the correlate of the hand, whereas the landscape is the correlate of the face.(TP 172)

What we can see through the facializations of various bodies or landscapifications of the face is the fact that the face is not limited to just the human face. Of course, there are frequent attempts to interpret the expressions of buildings, cities, or things in a human way, but the human face never has a status ‘in general.’ The human face is just one type of numerous faces. For example, the headlights and radiator grille of a car easily make us recall a human face, but it can’t necessarily be said to be a human face. The streamlined slim body of the car often refers to the bodies of nonhumans such as birds or dolphins, and authoritarian officials remind us of robots. Even when such reference or association is used, it is, indeed, to express affects like slimness, speediness, lightness, and hardness, etc. This is what it means to say that “there is even something absolutely inhuman about the face”(TP 170). Therefore, there is not just human face, but numerous faces.

There’s an abstract machine that creates various faces as such. The face works through the ‘white wall’ where the order-word, which is the redundancy of signs, is registered and the ‘black hole’ which pulls the passion of subjectification. The various expressions engraved on the white wall between the forehead and the cheek express what the real meaning of the word from the mouth is, that is, what this word wants. The two black holes that catch the eye of the seer not only make the signs engraved on the white wall but also pull the empathizing passion. As such, through the combination of the white wall and black hole, various expressions are created. Therefore, they call the “white wall/black hole system” that makes various faces with concrete expressions ‘an abstract machine of faciality (visagéité)’(TP 167-168)

When we say that the abstract machine of faciality is a white wall/black hole system, the ‘white wall’ means a sort of ‘tablet’ where signs are engraved. ‘White’ means ‘empty,’ that is, an empty space suitable for signs to be engraved. There’s no reason that the color of this tablet must be necessarily white. Not all human faces are white, and not all the walls of buildings, clothes, or things are white either. When the white color is privileged as if it is the best way for engraving signs, the word ‘white’ becomes a designation of a particular color. A particular color or a preference for such color gets to be regarded to be the criterion of the face itself. Then, the degree of whiteness now being considered to be the indicator of the degree of ‘good face,’ a hierarchy of face colors is made. This is why “it[the abstract machine of faciality] is White Man himself, with his broad white cheeks and the black hole of his eyes.”(TP 176)

It is the face of Jesus that played a decisive role in this event. As we know, anywhere in the world, the face of god or ‘saint’ is created based on the image of the people themselves who worship it. The god or saint of black people, for example, in no way has a white face. It was during the renaissance era that the face of Jesus, which no one knows because there’s no sculpture or portrait of the time based on the real person, was drawn in its present form. The face of Jesus was an invention through the average face of the European white men of the time it was painted. Anyway, as it, since then, becomes the face of ‘Jesus,’ it become ‘the face of saint,’ ‘the face to copy,’ and, in a nutshell, ‘the good face.’ It now takes up the place of the criterional face. A hierarchical racism, where the degree of discrimination operates according to the degree of distance from this face as the criterion, hereby comes out. Not only the skin color but also the shapes of eyes and noses, etc now become the subjects of preference and discrimination. This is what it means to say that “Racism operates by the determination of degrees of deviance in relation to the White-Man face”(TP 178). In other words, racism is the product of this selective criterion-making that gives ‘universality’ to the white men’s own faces.

The arbitrariness of this criterional face, modeled on the ‘white cheek,’ indeed clearly reveals itself in the eye, which is black holes. The word ‘black’ when we say ‘black hole’ indeed means not a particular color but an attractor that pulls passion or eye. However, like the ‘white wall,’ this also could designate an eye of a specific color. But, whereas the non-white cheeks are hierarchized by the degree of whiteness, non-black eyes are not hierarchized by the degree of blackness. This is because Europeans themselves don’t have black eyes.

In short, there is an ethnocentric circular reasoning where European white men make the face of Jesus based on their faces and use the face of Jesus as the measure of good face. By giving to the white male face the status of a universal measure, the selection and grading for all faces is activated. Hereby, the abstract machine of faciality, which is a white wall/black hole system, becomes a racist abstract machine that privileges white color. Earlier, we saw power in the face that emits order-words, but in this face that exercises the power of selection, hierarchization, and discrimination by becoming the criterion, we see another power of the face, another power exercied by the abstract machine of faciality itself. This is also implied in the proposition “the face is politics”.

The abstract machine of faciality activates the power of faciality in two ways. One is the ‘elementary face,’ and the other is the ‘selective response.’(TP 177-178) First, the elementary face is the face that serves as a criterion within a specific relationship or assemblage. They are the standard faces that form the ‘good sense’ of faces such as the faces of fathers and children, the faces of employers and employees, the faces of police officers and suspects, and the faces of adults and children. These being used as the criteria, good faces and bad faces, and acceptable faces and unacceptable faces are distinguished and selected. “Why! how dare you make such a face in front of your father!” “Jesus, how can you draw a child’s face like this!” “Your face doesn’t look like a police officer.” The same, of course, goes for ‘human’ faces and Asian faces. The degree of good or bad is arranged according to the degree of deviance from the standard. The degree of face color determines the order of the face among human faces, and the degree of impudence is determined by the degree of obedient expression. Depending on the degree, the extent of possible faces is proliferated. Of course, the vector of power that tries to identify the faces toward the criterial face in the center operates in the opposite direction.

The variations of abstract machine that show the operation mode of the abstract machine of faciality are defined as ‘limit-faces’ by Deleuze/Guattari(TP 182), which are mixed faces that are made up through elementary faces and selectiive repsonse. And these are machines that work across different assemblages. First, there are abstract machines of the face as seen from the front that are led by signifiance. First of all, there is a simple abstract machine made up of white wall and black hole. Next, there is an abstract machine with multiple boundaries that expands to the boundaries drawn through deviations. However, if these faces are paired like those of employers and employees, and teachers and students, signifiance and subjectification will operate at the same time. It consists of a pair of two eyes emitting signs and two eyes resonating with them. It is a face-machine where a pair of faces as seen from the front face and resonate with each other. And multiple boundaries are made according to the degree of ‘appropriate’ expressions between the two faces. It is the ‘four-eye machine’(TP 183). Faces that accord with the criterion are produced through this abstract machine according to the concrete conditions such as school, home, company, house, police station, etc. The more the faces interrelated with each other proliferate, the more eyes proliferate accordingly. Deleuze/Guattari call these abstract machines that inscribe signs on the white wall having the status as the earth for the signs ‘Terrestrial Signifying Despotic Faces.’(TP 183)

On the other hand, the face in profile of subjectification usually has two faces facing each other in pairs. The couple machine that is drawn into the black hole, calling and answering each other like Tristan-Isolde, operates along the line that is one and two at the same time toward the black hole. The abstract machine that expresses the mode in which the face in profile corresponding to the regime of subjectification is drawn into the black hole also proliferates according to the number of persons who resonate and the number of components that induce resonance. As resonant musics, landscapes, faces, rituals, and paintings, etc are added, these lines proliferate, overlap, and operate(TP 184-185). However, the subjectification of cogito, that is, the subjectification that operates through the equation of ‘thinking I=existing I’ doesn’t have a pair-face that faces itself like that. The abstract machine of subjectification that is named as ‘celebatory machine’ in that it is an isolated face without a mate operates in such a way that a single face in profile is pulled into the black hole inside the self called ‘I.’(TP 185)

It was Sartre’s phenomenology that suggested the thinking of the face earlier. He points out that a certain being in itself becomes a ‘being for me’ through a gaze distinguished from an eye, a gaze that is an eye staring with an intentionality. At that moment, in his head I see his face. Gaze and intentionality create a face. However, Deleuze/Guattari criticize that “The gaze is but secondary in relation to the gazeless eyes, to the black hole of faciality.”(TP 171) Even if you don’t gaze or passed by unintentionally, when someone shouts out and attracts your eye, we can see that black hole is more primary than the gaze. Even when dashing for somebody, calling her or him ‘flower,’ there can be faces that reject the meaning given by me and run away from its phenomenological intentionality, pushing me away as if I’m a ‘stalker.’ On the other hand, Lacan emphasizes the imaginary identification that integrates the partial objects into an organism through mirror image, but we are well aware that there is the power of face that commands identification. Identification is nothing more than the result of subjectification that has become a convention through the repetition of the act of accepting the order-words written on the white wall. It is in this context that the word “the mirror is but secondary in relation to the white wall of faciality” comes out.(TP 171)

Additionally, Levinas says that the ‘suffering face’ is indeed the ‘other’ that exists outside the thought and sense of the subject, but the ‘suffering face’ can’t be said to be the only other. Rather, grimacing faces, angry faces, and grim faces are more frequent and ordinary others. In truth, the suffering face is also the one that demands compassion and resonance, the one that emits the order-words of signifiance and subjectification. The ‘ethics’ that transcends the subject oneself toward others lies in the actions of the ordering power coming from outside of my will, the power that orders even compassion or identification. It is for this reason that the question of face becomes the subject-matter of politics rather than that of morals or ‘ethics.’

There’s no such thing as biological evolution or moral superiority and inferiority between the head and the face(TP 171). The face is the product of a particular assemblage correlated with the delivery of the order-word that is sent out through arbitrary signifiers. “Very specific assemblages of power impose signifiance and subjectification”(TP 180), and “only certain social formations with such assemblages need face, and also landscape”(TP 180). Therefore, when the assemblage varies and the social formation transits to a different kind of social formation, the face could stop being a power apparatus that emits order-words. Deleuze/Guattari suggest to break through the walls of signifiance, pour out of the holes of subjectivity, dismantle the strata in their wake, fell trees in favor of veritable rhizomes, and steer the flows down lines of positive deterritorializaton or creative flight, performing a veritable defacialization and freeing something like ‘probe-heads (têtes chercheuses).’(TP 190) The concrete meaning of this suggestion is indeed vague. Rather it would be as well to say that it is a question to activate new thinking on the face and the head through the politics of face.


translated by Jung Ki Lee


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