Angela Todd



The Face is a Politics

Traditional reconstructions of the eighteenth century have omitted women from the "big" histories that took place primarily in the public sphere. Recent rereadings of those histories have posited uneven development of separate, gendered spheres, dividing cultural events into those "public" and those "private," with women firmly located in the private. Unfolding a specific eighteenth-century cultural practice, however, complicates these separate spheres. Tracing the politics of the eighteenth-century beauty mark, or patch, reveals that women across class boundaries served, in class- and gender-specific ways, to maintain or temporarily stabilize social positions within the public sphere.

Seventeenth- and eighteenth-century cultures of femininity allotted the facial mole or beauty mark enormous beauty and fashion significance. I will use Deleuze and Guattari’s notions of faciality and deterritorialization to argue for a historically specific set of early modern facialities, that eighteenth-century women’s facialities were public, and that anxiety about fluctuating class positions was managed in part on the public face of the woman. In A Thousand Plateaus Deleuze and Guattari theorize "faciality" as a form of subjectivity. The machinations of the social "perform the facialization of the entire body and all its surroundings and objects, and the landscapification of all worlds and milieus" (TP, 181). Faciality is a social production which is not limited to the literal physical face, yet is concerned with making legible the face, the body, the landscape.

The face is a text. "It is not the individuality of the face that counts but the efficacy of the ciphering it makes possible, and in what cases it makes it possible" (TP, 175). Deleuze and Guattari posit faciality as those recognizable social categories on and within which we can decipher or read a "look" manifest on the body or, in this paper, the face.

Faces are not basically individual; they define zones of frequency or probability, delimit a field that neutralizes in advance any expressions or connections unamenable to the appropriate significations. Similarly, the form of subjectivity, whether consciousness or passion, would remain absolutely empty if faces did not form loci of resonance that select the sensed or mental reality and make it conform in advance to a dominant reality. (TP, 168)

Not only, then, is the face subsumable within social categories but faciality is simultaneously constitutive of those very categories. Faciality is that both on which and by which subjectivity is written. The continued appearance of "appropriate" facial types resonates with those categories of faciality and subsumes faces that do not conform to type, so that they are perceived as conforming to types nonetheless. Faces conform to, resonate within, a dominant lexicon of possible subject positions. Camilla Griggers shows how social facialities make individual significations conform in advance: "Is she white or colored? Straight or lesbian? Sane or mad? The face will tell. And if she is something else entirely, the social process of facialization will capture her in one aspect of a categorical binary or its other." Faciality presupposes an exchange, a face and a gazer, and thus takes place in a social, public space.

While Deleuze and Guattari use faciality to name a social identification and subjectification that washes over the entire body and more in the interests of legibility, I want to explore how the literal faces of eighteenth-century women get caught up in facialities that position their bodies. Further, I want to look at how women straddling the public/private dichotomy adapt their practices to make themselves legible—to guide readings of their legible bodies and to promote or prevent misreadings.


(This text is only a selection. For the complete essay please see our journal)