Anca Parvulescu

Washington University of St. Louis

Anca Parvulescu is Professor of English and Liselotte Dieckmann Professor of Comparative Literature at Washington University in St. Louis. She is the author of Laughter: Notes on a Passion (2010), The Traffic in Women’s Work: East European Migration and the Making of Europe (2014), and Creolizing the Modern: Transylvania across Empires (2022). She is currently at work on a project titled Modernist Faces: Physiognomy and Facial Form.

Speaking at the conference

Saturday, 24 September, 6pm, Kosovel Hall

The Face of the Master

The master comes equipped with a face—the face of the master. The highly influential discourse on physiognomy has produced a number of facial hagiographies, accounts in which the biography of “great men” is filtered through the face. In these accounts, mastery is legible as a series of facial features. This talk analyzes the role of physiognomy in the construction of Gustav von Aschenbach, the main character of Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice (1912). Mann equips Aschenbach with the face of a literary master, his intellectual adventures and hard work having dug material traces onto his skin: the art Aschenbach has both created and studied engraved itself on Aschenbach’s face. In a modernist twist, however, as Mann’s novella progresses, a cosmetician (an expert in modern facial manipulation) gives Aschenbach a makeover, which destabilizes the physiognomic relation between mastery and face. 

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