Reading and Writing the Passions in Duchenne de Boulogne's Mécanisme de la physionomie humaine
Abstract:This paper examines Duchenne de Boulogne's Mécanisme de la physionomie humaine (1862) as a limit case between Foucauldian epistemes of signification. Electrically inducing 'expression' in his subject's face, Duchenne, a neuro-physiologist, claimed to have discovered the true 'orthography' of the passions. He photographed and published his experiments to offer the art world a positivist corrective to the historically 'arbitrary' representation of emotion. The narrative accompanying the photographs provides the basis for this analysis which focuses on how Duchenne used the image/text idea of an 'orthography' to shape his technologically mediated expressions with a Renaissance and Classical poetics of resemblance and representation. Making an analogy with linguistic 'units', Duchenne located a scene of writing under the facial flesh where action was 'transfigured' into passion. The Classical debate on the origin of language and the Renaissance physiognomic tradition inspired his discourse, which failed to grasp the modernity of his technologically mediated passions.
Document Type: Research Article
Publication date: 2003-04-01