Picasso: (in)human face

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Rejecting the notion that Picasso's representations of faces should always be considered in a biographical context as portraits, it is argued that in considering them as human faces we encounter a crisis in the idea of an essential humanity. The essay then discusses Picasso's faces relation to Georges Bataille's treatment of vernacular portrait photography and of animality in human emotional expression, arguing that Picasso's human faces court the inhuman. This inhuman countenance, bred so effectively in the artist's work in the 1930s and 1940s, raises in turn the question of the origin of the human in the inhuman. Turning to Bataille's discussion of the cave of Lascaux, discovered in 1940 and made to stand for the question of humanity posed so brutally by the war, the essay analyses the irruption of the origin of the human ideal in the sovereign act of the depiction of animality. A double refusal of destinies, of animality and of humanity, is caught before our eyes in such depictions. This temporal suspension of destinies is read back into Picasso's (in)human faces.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)199-222
Number of pages24
JournalAngelaki: Journal of Theoretical Humanities
Issue number1
Early online date3 May 2011
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • Picasso
  • Bataille
  • Lascaux
  • Faciality


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