Face To Efface With The Pout
The key emerges from the pout as if it will open us. I'm in a
checkout queue looking at David Duchovny on the cover of last week's
TV guide and he is everywhere in chains except for the freeing pout,
the coy emergence of the key from between x-laxed lips. The celebrity
is naked and bound and oh so dependent on my devotional browse, which
has already fickled off to other facial fare, Tom Cruise's profile on
Vanity Fair, Travolta and spawn on something else.
The picture of Duchovny's face knows this. Its pout is a parsimony of
appeal, it is the minimal pout possible and still be a pout. It lets
itself off the hook it puts itself on, the barb of our attention. The
face is out there. We are not alone. But the Duchovny pout
pretends it is.
It isn't. David Duchovny's neurasthenic X-pout keeps company at the
amour propre emporium of celebrity, with the Brad Pitt pout of
preemptive whatever, the pouts wide shut of Cruise and Kidman, the
in-spite-of-you pout of Courtney Love — an ingratiating sneer if ever
there was one.
Some of these are pouters who would be extracurricular to the culture
of celebrity. They would be outside the frame but they can only
reframe the pout. There is no parergonal pout. The pout is framed.
Credit them though for their discomfort in countenancing the frame.
Consider the embalmed puberty of poutophile Calvin Klein's ads. See
the haut colonic connoisseur pout of Karl Lagerfeld's Karl
Lagerfeld. Or remember Norma Jean.
Others are the middling faces, the sulk ingenues, as in the pout
noire of Alicia Silverstone, and the Merchant Ivory pout of Helena
Bonham Carter whose acting has all the signs of a brooding
interiority, without the interiority.
The extremes of appeal and indifference that Duchovny would frame in
one face have been framed together before, but it took a band. Mick
Jagger's peristaltic pout needed the terminally smacked lips of Keith
Richard's cryonic Yorick pout, as alpha supposes omega.
A pout is more than contiguous lips. Marilyn Monroe's pout was the
pupa of a kiss, a kiss attenuated into a kissable. "Just kiss here."
A pout is pneumatic passivity, not an imminent kiss. A pout is
kissable, without the kiss. A momentary suspension of reciprocity,
that's what we buss in viewing the pout.
"Her habit of speaking without using her lips was unnatural,
obviously superimposed," acting coach Natasha Lytess said of Marilyn
Monroe. Likewise, her habit of using her lips without speaking, while
slurring her gaze, was denatured, superexposed.
She used her pout as cleavage for the face.
Monroe was a same-sex transvestite, so overproduced she was the camp
spectacle of a woman pretending to be a woman. Her gift to the human
portfolio was the lip embalm of passivity in the pout.
A produced, an advertent, pout puts a face in profile even when it
faces you. The pout puts itself in full frontal profile, effects or
at least affects a minimal self-abasement. The pout is a very
Today's first-string pouters dissociate professionally, in a facial
pull me-push me of availing versus indifference. But their faces
suffer from premature irony.
For Duchovny, irony is the pout's collagen.
He says "ahh Channelhopper, if you can wipe this pout off my face
with your remote before my prophylactic dispassion unrolls around it
you are free to become a producer" in an acting technique one might
franchise as the face made safe from the pursings of its mouth.
To learn the Duchovny technique study the Marilyn Monroe pout, how
her whole face affected to be the deer in our headlights. Now
abstract the rest of your face from the pout until only your mouth is
the deer in the headlights. The rest of the face is proactively
deadpan. That's the Duchovny pout.
Hollywood hasn't always been so up front with the male pout. Before
the male pout came out of the closet it had to present itself in
drag, as it were, masked in smoke. Bogart, James Dean, Sinatra. The
cigarette was a pout surrogate.
Look at Bogart when he's not smoking, his trademark inversion of the
upper lip like it's bridling from an invisible bit, or a latent pout.
But Bogart's anti-pout was a pout as surely as your anti-Catholic is
another sort of Catholic.
What might a pout be, before we put our lights on it? Before the
fake there is the natural pout.
Darwin: "With young children sulkiness is shown by pouting, or, as it
is sometimes called, 'making a snout.' When the corners of the mouth
are much depressed, the lower lip is a little everted and protruded;
and this is likewise called a pout."
In the genealogy of the oral, pouting is older than amour-propre
and at least as old as amour de soi. The pout is as old as the
first fin-de-suckle sulk of our mammalian mouths.
Had Hegel produced a Phenomenology of the Pout it might have traced
the engulfings of new by newer improved pouts through a series of
aufhebungs, of lippen aufwerfens (pouts, upraisings of lips).
From unselfconscious pout through to the most self-reflexive
will-to-pout the sulk dialectic might have run something like:
1. pout is facial concomitant of ill humour
2. pout points to, declares, ill humour
3. pout dissimulates ill humour
4. pout dissimulates but advertises it does
5. pout whatevers
Traces of the simpler pining-for-suckle pout remain in the sexy
self-reflexive pout of popular images. The Ur Pout, the mouth's
virtual murmur as it mulls the memory of mammary, has all but
disappeared servicing those images of Total Availability. Think about
it. The face's trace of lost suckle is inverted in the pout-
as-spectacle, into the succulent thing-itself.
So common are the sulk simulacra of the modern pout, there was never
a time, or so it seems, when pouting was not put on. But there was,
there is. An inadvertent pout signals ill humour. I'm not happy, it
sulks its self-consoling.
That's why the sexy pout unnerves, why the imminent suck in the sulk
spectacle of the pout is so unhappy a thing. In the pout another's
unhappiness is primped for my desire. Or the pout lip-syncs
unhappiness, fakes it. Please pretend to be unhappy for me.
When you pout you place my ill humour before your own. Your pout ill
humours me. My ill humour effaces you.
Why does pouting, when it is a mock-up of unhappiness, ever arouse
desire? Why should someone else's sulk seem sexy?
Maybe in the pout, eros and ressentiment are too close for
comfort. The lush stigmata of your pout serves as proxy for my
The pout can be a response to the imperative: you will be unhappy,
for me, because I want it. You will at least appear to be deferring
desire. More, I want more than is possible. You will appear to desire
this deferring of desire, in deference to yours truly. I want you to
want to put off your want and I want you to do it for me. At the same
time. Or, since a pout will do, I want the appearance of your want. I
know you want it.
Witness the porn genre, the "facial".
We even like the news to pout. Victims who evince trauma play better,
even when "trauma" is inadequate to their situation (voraciously
sympathetic CBC anchor to reporter framed by the Rwandan exodus: "Are
they traumatized?"). It can't be long before the "smiling heads of
state" photo op, as Joyce Nelson called it, becomes the pouting heads
of state. It works for Putin.
There are of course degrees of concession in the currency of the
pout. Not all pouts self-efface. The pout may pretend ill humour. Or
the pout says "Look, I'm pretending ill humour and on your behalf."
It wants its pretense known. Or, getting really gluey here, the pout
pretends to undo pretending (ie. appeasement, pretending for). See
Courtney Love's kinderwhore pout which appeases, even as it disses
Self-refuting or not, the pout is the mouth's come hither. Duchovny's
Mulder pouts with only his lower face, the rest exiting stage right
into deadpan. This understatement is over the top. Irony and
availing, the Janus profiles of celebrity today, vie in every frame
of the Duchovny close-up. "Come hither" and "whatever" in one face.
Open lip pouting is the lotus position of his face. But it is more
lotus than lotus. Lotus + irony.
The deus ex machina of the abstracting face has left the house, and
locked itself out looking in.
Xtreme nexus of will and abulia, this is the countenance of a kind of
vertical hemiplaegia, a selfsame face's south labouring its
Incisivii labii superioris, its Depressor labii inferioris, and
all the other muscles of its humiliation, while its north vacates,
abstracts, disses appearance.
I phoned a few local cosmetic facial surgeons to see if any have a
Mulder Makeover. None do, but you can get 1/2cc of collagen injected
in one lip for $225, $375 for 1cc split between two lips. Time,
however, is not on your side with this pout enhancement, which will
give your lips the extra added "volume" you desire for only 3 months.
If you want more staying power you'll have to spring $2600 to have
your own fat transplanted from some nether region to a pout that will
have a 3-year life expectancy, or the same $2600 for lip implants
which will probably survive your face. Irony isn't included.
To achieve the appearance of irony you might get injections of
botulinin toxin (bo-tox), which, in small doses smartly divorces
nerves from muscles, and in larger doses, Kurds from life in Iraq.
Irony is the saving face, if not grace, of today's pout. Duchovny,
Love, Silverstone, Pitt. Irony is the default mode of the
whatever-weathered face, even as the pout is saying "Put the organ of
your attention here." The pout is kapo to the face, says the rest
of the face, as if irony firewalls it from its own complicity.
Duchovny is not Marilyn because the rest of his face disavows in its
deadpan, what the pout avails. His face is Corey Hart on a bo-tox
binge, because he left his sunglasses at home.
The movie Excess Baggage has a couple of pouters in Benicio del
Toro and Alicia Silverstone and neither of them is Marilyn. There is
the lovable lout pout of Benicio del Toro, but he's only wearing it
for this character. There is Alicia Silverstone who's face has
perma-pout drag at the wingtips of the mouth. Her face looks knotted
in a Gordian sulk older than origin, like it was never newborn.
Just looking for the pout she had before the world was born.
In "The Aesthetic Significance of the Face" Georg Simmel said "The
fact that in the face mere bodily weight need not be overcome to any
noticeable degree strengthens the impression of its spirituality."
Gravitas rather than gravity proper, freights the face at its best.
But gravity will do to a pout what it does to cleavage. Alicia needs
a pout bra. Her pout is Stevie Nicks minus a decade's dissolution, or
Sally Struthers without orphans. But she isn't Marilyn. She isn't
Marilyn because she also has this way of licking the inner rim of her
pout to signify savvy disgust, little hints her own pout tastes like
an ashtray to her, intimations of a hurl. But she pouts anyway.
Pout bra is what Nietzsche thought culture itself was, at least the
culture rooted in Christianity. For him, Christian ethos is
ressentiment's trainer bra. In Christ, the inimitably proximate
proxy, we figured for the human portfolio the pouting apotheosis of
suffering. Read as the originary proxy, Christ is more Marilyn than
Pitt is not Marilyn because he pretends he's not putting out for
anyone but himself when he pouts. Pitt is his own Pout Club. In one
Annie Liebowitz photo he wears the middle-distance-is-mine pout,
where with Marilyn that middle distance was always for you and nobody
else but you.
There's also Pitt's uberpout giving succor to the 14th Dalai Lama,
the bodhi of insuperable compassion, in one more panorama where
history pouts histrionic. It offers the fantasy of the egoless and
the ego finding common ground, in the ego. This is Seven Years in
Tibet, more aptly Seven Years of Pout Elocution.
Still, Duchovny remains the pout laureate (and he's also, in
fairness, a passable poet). The Duchovny pout is so noncommittal it
can be a koan of the sulk, the sound of one lip pouting.
The ancient Greeks considered us impelled by desire for recognition,
by thymos. Modern celebrity is a kind of thymotic cull, the
interest compounded on others' interest. At its pseudo-inadvertent
best the Duchovny pout is such a cunning linguist of thymotic
cunnilingus (?!) that even I want to put the cunnus of my interest
Much work has been done in the last decade studying facial
recognition processes and it serves at least two purposes. One is the
understanding of prosopagnosia, the inability to recognize faces,
caused by impairment of face sensitive cells in the inferior temporal
cortex and elsewhere. ("Greek prosop [face] + A + Greek gnosis
[to know]") The other is the development of facial surveillance/
identification systems such as Eigenface ("After acquiring an
initial training set of images, they calculate the eigenfaces
(eigenvectors) for the matrix and use those to define a 'face
space'"[Sukthankar, 2000]) and FaceIt which can "automatically
locate faces in complex scenes, track and identify who they are —
totally hands off, continuously and in realtime."
Face recognition software is a subset of the "sightless vision" Paul
Virilio saw in the emergent wares of "visionics", and FaceIt is in
fact a product of one Visionics Corporation. The recognition tool is
the mienless means. We are becoming recognition tools.
This machination of recognition is symptom of a sort of sociosomatic
prosopagnosia, or is it vice versa? We lose our ability to
recognize faces and begin to see only potential pouts. Even when
we're not consciously critical, we read the pout of celebrity for the
eigenvectors of capitulation and resistance, how the famous face
veils itself with availing. And the face that presents is the one
that answers this audience of our cynicism. Ours is the age of the
eigenschafted face, the face as proxy It, as pout. "Continuously
and in realtime" we are become failsafe flaneurs of faciality, and
the pouts celebre are what we thereby countenance.
We devalue that unequalled unity of a complexity of parts, which
Simmel found characteristic of the aesthetically regarded face, and
we degrade the infinity of responsibility which Emmanuel Levinas
argued others' faces signify in us. A prosopagnosia that veils both
aesthetic unity and ethic infinity is, well, hard to face.
Pouts never marry well, so I rented the X Files movie last year
expecting any kisses to be virtual. There are two, and they are.
One is the pout-to-pout rescucitation of Scully by Mulder's xtreme
kiss of life. The other pout de deux is a spectacle of two deadpans
fading towards a passion as they make their separate passes for our
Two kissables do not a kiss make! If two pouts meet in an ostensive
kiss (try it), their passivities keep each other exterior, rather
than sharing an interior between. No kiss, but lots of fuss, when two
Parallel pouts never meet.
Put that in your pout and sulk it.
Darwin, Charles. "Chapter IX. Reflection — Meditation — Ill-temper
— Sulkiness — Determination" in Expression of Emotion in Man and
Animals, 1899, available at:
Eigenface-based techniques, supplemented using the "local feature
analysis" of "Miros TrueFace Neural Network",are explained/pitched at
Miros Inc's site:
Levinas, Emmanuel. Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority,
tr. Alphonso Lingis. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1961.
Simmel, Georg. "The Aesthetic Significance of the Face", tr. Lore
Ferguson in Essays on Sociology, Philosophy & Aesthetics, ed. Kurt
H. Wolff. New York: Harper & Row, 1959.
Sukthankar, Gita. Face Recognition: a Critical Look at
Biologically-Inspired Approaches. Tech. report CMU-RI-TR-00-04,
Robotics Institute, Carnegie Mellon University, January, 2000:
Summers, Anthony. The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe. London:Victor
Gollancz Ltd, 1985.
Virilio, Paul. "The Vision Machine" in The Virilio Reader, ed.
James Der Derian. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1998.
VISIONICS Corp website: http://www.faceit.com
Steven Whittaker is working on a book titled Things Hidden Since
the End of the World.
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