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About Face
     

About Face

by Jonathan Cole
 

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What is special about the face, and what happens when neurological conditions make expression or comprehension of the face unavailable? Through a mix of science, autobiography, case studies, and speculation, Jonathan Cole shows the importance not only of facial expressions for communication among individuals but also of facial embodiment for our sense of self. He

Overview

What is special about the face, and what happens when neurological conditions make expression or comprehension of the face unavailable? Through a mix of science, autobiography, case studies, and speculation, Jonathan Cole shows the importance not only of facial expressions for communication among individuals but also of facial embodiment for our sense of self. He presents, in his words, "a natural history of the face and an unnatural history of those who live without it."

The heart of the book lies in the experiences of people with facial losses of various kinds. The case studies are of blind, autistic, and neurologically impaired persons; the most extreme case involves Mobius syndrome, in which individuals are born with a total inability to move their facial muscles and hence to make facial expressions. Cole suggests that it is only by studying such personal narratives of loss that we can understand facial function and something of what all our faces reflect.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
" About Face ... is, I believe, a truly important book, which could do much to counteract the extremes of sociobiological reductionism." John Cornwell SundayTimes (UK)
Sunday Times (UK) - John Cornwell

About Face...is, I believe, a truly important book, which could do much to counteract the extremes of sociobiological reductionism.

Journal of the American Medical Association
About Face should be required reading for students of clinical neurology and others who are interested in the mechanisms by which disease alters the ability to communicate by facial expression and for those who are interested in the response of persons to such loss.
Kirkus Reviews
A physician's curiosity leads him to a subject oddly underexplored in its own right: the face.

British neurophysiologist Cole pursues the link between our faces and our inner selves in a science-minded inquiry that is very much a natural history rather than a cultural one. But it's not strictly scientific, either: Cole's topic lies among questions just out of the confident grasp of science—the nature and relationship of mind and body, of thoughts and feelings, the definition of consciousness itself. Given that, Cole assembles persuasive speculations from his journalistic research among people who either can't perceive facial expressions or can't make them as a result of blindness, autism, disfigurement, or face-impairing Möbius syndrome, Bell's palsy, and Parkinson's disease. Despite the variety of conditions described in these uniformly heartfelt interviews, his conclusions from them are largely similar: that facial expression exists somewhere pivotal between the mental and the physical, that the face, beyond simply expressing interior states, actually affects the emotional life through its importance in relating to others. The chapters on autistic subjects—for whom the disctinctions between self and others, body and mind and emotion, are strangely ruptured—are powerfully suggestive of the complexity of the face's meaning; but relying heavily, in brief encounters, on the ad hoc personal vocabulary used by subjects to try to explain their experiences, this study remains little more than suggestive. But that's only to say that Cole has initiated an ambitious synthesis, putting the face at the center of various disciplines that touch on it—neurological, psychiatric, evolutionary (he surmises that faces function emotionally in primates' individual relationships as well as humans') that may be taken up by such specialists in response to his impressions.

A genial peek—in the mirror, as it were—at the mystery of the self.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780262531634
Publisher:
MIT Press
Publication date:
02/18/1999
Series:
Bradford Books Series
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
237
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are Saying About This

John Campbell

By providing case studies of people who for one reason or another have problems with facial expression, About Face raises a flood of questions about the role of face in our knowledge of other minds. It is suggestive and stimulating about fresh lines of inquiry for anyone interested in, broadly, 'the problem of other minds'. It is not just reading for specialists, though. The book is light and easy to read. And you would have to be inhuman not to be moved by some of the stories it tells.

Oliver Sacks

What is a face? Why do we have faces? What is it to 'face' another person? Or, literally, to lose face, to be faceless, or de-faced? As a physician and neurologist, Jonathan Cole considers every aspect of the human face--its evolution; its exquisite delicacy of musculature and neural control; its capacity to transmit every feeling, intention, mood, state of mind; its crucial role in making contact, establishing identity and relationships; and the dire effects if any of these are defective or break down. About Face is a remarkable book, the first comprehensive exploration of the face, and a fascinating one, which combines the clinical and the human, the biological and the cultural, in an altogether original way.

Simon Baron-Cohen

Jonathan Cole attacks the problem about what is special about the face, and what happensin different neurological conditions when expression or comprehension of the face is unavailable. He conveys something about the first hand experience of what it is like to have autism, visual impairment, or Moebius syndrome, for example, through excerpts or interviews with sufferers. This is a fascinating book, which I think will grab the reader via its unusual style.

Nancy Etcoff

This is a highly readable, useful, and interesting book filled with many thought-provoking discussions and ideas. It could become a classic reference text for those of us interested in the face and facial expression as researchers, psychiatrists, neurologists, or simply as human beings.

Antonio R. Damasio

A thoughtful and rich book about the human face, written from an unusual perspective.

From the Publisher
" About Face ... is, I believe, a truly important book, which could do much to counteract the extremes of sociobiological reductionism." John Cornwell Sunday Times (UK)

The MIT Press

Nigel Leigh

This is a fascinating work, on a topic to which anyone interested in human behaviour will relate. Dr. Cole has assembled an extraordinary array of stories illustrating literally how we face the world. This is both a very erudite work, and an immensely readable and enjoyable one. It will certainly give neurologists cause to reflect on much that they see, but the topic goes far beyond any interest in neurology and psychology, and reaches into some of the deepest and most perplexing problems of human communication. The magic of this book is that it does so with an extraordinarily light and entertaining touch. It should become a classic at the very 'interace' between real human experiences and the theoretical and emotional responses we construct to give them some sort of order.

Shaun Gallagher

Cole has a remarkable ability to be objective and scholarly and at the same time personal and caring with regard to the subjects who reveal themselves in this book. About Face is also exceptional in the fact that it is at once focused and comprehensive -- it provides a well-defined portrait of the face, yet the scope of Cole's examination extends from evolutionary issues, to neonate behavior, to extraordinary pathologies, and to the dynamics of social communication, as well as to philosophical and ethical concerns. Despite the breadth, Cole manages to dig deeply, to explore important implications, and to raise profound questions.

Meet the Author

Jonathan Cole, D.M., F.R.C.P., is Consultant in Clinical Neurophysiology, Poole Hospital, and at Salisbury Hospital (with its Spinal Centre), a Professor at Bournemouth University and a visiting Senior Lecturer, Southampton University.

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