The Effaced from History conference will open with a public lecture by Dr Suzannah Biernoff (Birkbeck, University of London). This is presented in association with the Centre for Modern History, the University of Winchester. All welcome but please register here.
Hampshire Record Office, Sussex Street, Winchester, SO23 8TH.
Thursday 31 March 2016, 6pm for 6.30pm. Download a poster for the event.
Disfigurement: A Cultural History
Dr Suzannah Biernoff
‘Disfigurement’ is usually thought of as a physical attribute, something visible, definable, and more or less treatable. In fact, to quote Heather Laine Talley, the term has ‘no static intelligibility, no objective point of reference, no stable shared meaning …’ This paper will plot an alternative approach: a cultural anatomy of disfigurement that acknowledges the negotiated nature of appearance, and the role of facial difference in politics, law, art, literature and popular culture. Reimagining disfigurement as a cultural formation means locating it within a history of ideas, representations, material practices and ways of seeing. The face itself – often overlooked in histories of the body – would necessarily come into focus as a site of historical inquiry.
In contexts of war and violence, disabled bodies and disfigured faces are especially burdened with meaning; they become symbols of nationhood and allegories of loss. Thanks to the large number of facial casualties returning home from the battlefields of WWI, plastic surgery – described by the pioneering surgeon Harold Gilles as a ‘strange new art’ – became a recognized medical specialism. Part of the ideological project of post-war reconstruction, the work of facial ‘repair’ occupied artists as well as surgeons. This paper will consider the legacy and durability of some of these ideas and the coincidence of art and medicine in contemporary images of facial war injury.