Prima Facie and Second Nature: Prosopopeia and the Faces of Origin (ACLA 2012)

full name / name of organization: 
Organizers: Andrea Gadberry (UC Berkeley), Amanda Jo Goldstein (Cornell University, UW-Madison)
contact email: 

Having narrowly escaped the clutches of a band of marauders, Montaigne attributes his good luck to his face: "If my face did not answer for me, if people did not read in my eyes and my voice the innocence of my intentions, I would not have lasted so long without quarrel and without harm." With his legible eyes and voice, Montaigne's "Of Physiognomy" projects a face that quells quarrels and establishes "innocence."

But in essays seminal for critical theory, Paul de Man stressed the violence – to meaning, body, and causal sequence – inherent in the face-giving trope of prosopopoeia. In this technique of rhetorical reading, the rhetoric of giving face (figure) conforms closely to this ACLA's theme: catastrophic interruption underlies figuration and ties poetics to a "history" conceived in similarly violent terms. Yet, following Montaigne, are there ways in which prosopopeia evades or mitigates violence, entailing not de- facement but mutual, indifferent, or felicitous forms of trans-figuration? And if, as seems likely, social and ecological catastrophe need not conform to the apocalyptic temporality of crisis, what tropes – or readings of tropes – are more adequate to slow and complicated devastations?

Our seminar on faces and figuration calls for papers on physiognomies and their fictions, the "faces" that subtend fictions of self, society, and state to found second nature. We especially encourage submissions from classical, medieval, early modern, ecocritical, and non-western studies that propose alternatives to the "faces" that have proliferated in recent critical debate (from de Man, Levinas, Deleuze and Guattari).

To participate in this seminar, please submit a paper abstract through the ACLA conference website ( by November 15th.