337 Cohen Hall
Sharrona Pearl, University of Pennsylvania
“Face Transplants and the Meaning of Identity”
This talk explores the bioethical debates and media maelstrom surrounding the first face transplant of Isabelle Dinoire in 2005. I’ll decode these debates, arguing that they rest on a misrecognition of the surgery as “only cosmetic,” ignoring the very real therapeutic value of the surgery in the risk-benefit calculation. Through a close reading of the bioethical, medical, and journalistic literature on the topic, I demonstrate that objections to the surgery rested on both this misrecognition and a very real -- and very covert -- fear of identity transfer. I'll discuss the force of the objections and offer some analytical and theoretical reasons why they dissipated. At its core, this is a talk about the tremendous power vested in the face, in the link between appearance and identity, in our investments in how we look and how others look. And this is a talk about how much we fear changing the rules that govern visual judgment. This hearkens back to very old beliefs in physiognomy, in the idea that the face is an index to character. The facial allograft surgery lays bare our hidden beliefs that this index – the face – ought to be an accurate one.
NOTE: This workshop will begin slightly later, at 3:45 pm.