A broad and riveting cultural history of physiognomy, exploring how the desire to divine deeper meaning from our looks has compelled humans for millennia.
How do you read a face? For thousands of years, artists, philosophers, and scientists have explored the question of what our outer appearance might reveal about our inner selves. In The Language of the Face, a marvelously comprehensive exploration of the pseudoscience of physiognomy, Frank Gonzalez-Crussi considers over a millennium’s worth of primary sources to paint a splendid portrait of the face’s cultural symbology.
Gonzalez-Crussi, an acclaimed pathologist and writer, transcends disciplines with a singular balance of depth and levity. Blending literary analysis of both ancient and modern texts with the insights of medical anthropology, his narrative ranges from an investigation into “nasal semiotics”—a subject whose legacy persists most destructively in myths of racial typology—to equally astute analyses of the thrills of the erotic kiss, the diagnostic art of astrology, and the enlightening qualities of supposed ugliness. While our appearances may ultimately be no more than surface-level signifiers of identity, Gonzalez-Crussi’s work is anything but superficial in its treatment of the consummately human urge to find profound meaning amidst seemingly arbitrary attributes. As rigorously researched as it is wildly entertaining, The Language of the Face is a vibrant contribution to both the emerging field of medical humanities and the popular understanding of aesthetics and physiology at large.