Reflection on the Effaced from History? conference

Josh Powell, PhD student at Exeter University, reporting on his experience at the ‘Effaced from History?’ conference. Josh’s thesis focuses on the role of experimental psychology in Samuel Beckett’s late work. He recently published an article on Beckett and face-reading in the Critical Survey.

As a PhD student who became interested in cultural approaches to the face through the disciplines of literary studies, experimental psychology and psychotherapy, the recent Effaced conference offered me a wide variety of new perspectives.

It certainly gave me some invaluable historical insights. My thesis focuses on the work of Samuel Beckett which means that my research mainly covers the twentieth century. The conference, though, heightened my awareness of the attitudes and approaches to the face that developed in the classical, medieval and early modern periods. In my writing, I frequently find myself falling into the trap of assuming that particular attitudes were peculiar to the twentieth century. The Effaced conference will help me place these attitudes in a much broader context and this should prove really useful when I am trying to draw conclusions from my research.

The conference – and the output of the Effaced project more generally – has also nuanced my theoretical understanding of the face. Up until now, my work has tended to focus on facial expression and the way in which facial interaction is managed in particular social spaces. What I hadn’t considered was the impact of perceived facial differences and disfigurements on these interactions. The conference has altered my approach to the face by prompting me to consider the difference that facial difference makes.

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