Stranger Faces (Undelivered Lectures)
By Namwali Serpell
A New Yorker Best Book of 2020
"Wise, warm, witty and dizzyingly wide-ranging."—The New York Times
"Serpell’s vital treatise is one readers will find themselves returning to again and again."—Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
If evolutionary biologists, ethical philosophers, and social media gurus are to be believed, the face is the basis for what we call "humanity." The face is considered the source of identity, truth, beauty, authenticity, and empathy. It underlies our ideas about what constitutes a human, how we relate emotionally, what is pleasing to the eye, and how we ought to treat each other. But all of this rests on a specific image of the face. We might call it the ideal face.
What about the strange face, the stranger's face, the face that thwarts recognition? What do we make of the face that rides the line of legibility? In a collection of speculative essays on a few such stranger faces―the disabled face, the racially ambiguous face, the digital face, the face of the dead―Namwali Serpell probes our contemporary mythology of the face. Stranger Faces imagines a new ethics based on the perverse pleasures we take in the very mutability of faces.