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Posts Tagged ‘faces’

What We See When We Read

August 14, 2014 | by

If I said to you, “Describe Anna Karenina,” perhaps you’d mention her beauty. If you were reading closely you’d mention her “thick lashes,” her weight, or maybe even her little downy mustache (yes—it’s there). Matthew Arnold remarks upon “Anna’s shoulders, and masses of hair, and half-shut eyes … ”

But what does Anna Karenina look like? You may feel intimately acquainted with a character (people like to say, of a brilliantly described character, It’s like I know her), but this doesn’t mean you are actually picturing a person. Nothing so fixed—nothing so choate.

AK1

AK2

Most authors (wittingly, unwittingly) provide their fictional characters with more behavioral than physical description. Even if an author excels at physical description, we are left with shambling concoctions of stray body parts and random detail (authors can’t tell us everything). We fill in gaps. We shade them in. We gloss over them. We elide. Anna: her hair, her weight—these are only facets, and do not make up a true image of a person. They make up a body type, a hair color … What does Anna look like? We don’t know—our mental sketches of characters are worse than police composites.

Visualizing seems to require will …

… though at times it may also seem as though an image of a sort appears to us unbidden.

(It is tenuous, and withdraws shyly upon scrutiny.) Read More »

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The Other Side of the Face

May 28, 2014 | by

Wagstrom-Thomas

When I consider the neck, the first things that spring to mind are guillotines, beheadings, executions. Which does seem a little strange, since we live in a country where executions do not take place, there are no guillotines, and beheading is thus an entirely marginal phenomenon in the culture. Nevertheless, if I think neck, I think, chop it off.

This may simply be because the neck leads a hidden existence in the shadow of the face, that it never assumes a place of privilege in our thoughts about ourselves, and only enters the stage in these most extreme situations which, though they no longer occur in our part of the world, still proliferate in our midst, given the numerous decapitations in fiction. But I think it runs deeper than that. The neck is a vulnerable and exposed part of the body, perhaps the most vulnerable and exposed, and our experience of this is fundamental, even without a sword hanging over us. In this sense, it is related to the fear of snakes or crocodiles, which may as well appear in people living on the Finnmarksvidda plateau as in Central Africa, or for that matter, the fear of heights, which can lie dormant in people who have never seen anything other than plains and sand dunes, lowlands and swamps, fields and meadows.

Fear is archaic, it is embedded in the body, in its purest form untouchable to thought, and it is there to keep us alive. There are other vulnerable parts of the body, the heart being perhaps the most obvious, but when I think of the heart, I don’t think of it being pierced by a javelin or a spear or a bullet; that would be absurd. No, the heart fills me with thoughts of life and force, and if vulnerability and fear are involved, it is no more than a mild concern that one day it will simply stop beating. This must be because the heart belongs to the front of the body, the front we turn to the world, and always keep in check, since we can see what lies ahead of us, we can see what is coming, and take our precautions. The heart feels safe. That the neck is in fact just as safe, since we live in a world where people no longer carry swords, makes no difference to the feeling of vulnerability, it is archaic and closely linked to the fact that the neck belongs to the reverse side of the body, it is always turned toward what we cannot see and cannot control. The fear of everything we cannot see converges on the neck, and if in earlier times it used to be associated with physical violence, the most pressing association now is its figurative sense, which lives on in the social realm, in expressions like being attacked from the rear, getting it in the neck, watch your back, having eyes in the back of your head, being spoken about behind your back. Read More »

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Warhol via Floppy Disk, and Other News

April 25, 2014 | by

warhol floppy

Andy Warhol, Andy2, 1985, ©The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., courtesy of The Andy Warhol Museum

  • Shakespeare: playwright, poet, armchair astronomer. “Peter Usher has a very elaborate theory about Hamlet, in which the play is seen as an allegory about competing cosmological worldviews … Claudius happens to have the same name as Claudius Ptolemy, the ancient Greek mathematician and astronomer who we now associate most closely with the geo-centric Ptolemaic worldview.”
  • From the mideighties: Andy Warhol’s rediscovered computer art.
  • New research by the University of California-San Diego’s Rayner Eyetracking Lab—nobody tracks eyes like the Rayner—suggests that speed-reading apps might rob you of your comprehension skills.
  • I have been surreptitiously scrutinizing faces wherever I go. Several things have struck me while undertaking this field research on our species. The first is quite how difficult it is to describe faces … We might say that a mouth is generous, or eyes deep-set, or cheeks acne-scarred, but when set beside the living, breathing, infinitely subtle interplay of inner thought, outward reaction and the nexus of superimposed cultural conventions, it tells us next to nothing about what a person really looks like.”
  • In Germany, business is booming. The secret: pessimism. “German executives are almost always less confident in the future than they are in the present.”
  • Discovered in an archive of the LAPD: more than a million old crime-scene photographs, some of them more than a century old.

 

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