Cultures of the (masked) face


  • Gabriele Marino Department of Philosophy and Educational Sciences, University of Turin (UniTo), Italy



face, form of life, mask, semiotics, visage


What we generally regard as ‘the face’ should be semiotically understood not as something given and monolithic, but rather stratified – it is at least threefold: biological (face), physiognomic (expression), perceivable (visage) – and relational as it has to be put within a narrative in order to make sense. The face lies at the centre of a whole semiotic system, the form of life, revolving around the issue of identity (which the face – the visage, to be precise – embodies and still does not resolve). What we may call ‘the natural face’ is not, as common sense would suggest, the precondition of the ‘culturalized’ one (featured with modifications ranging from make-up and proper masks to surgery), but rather just one of the possible semiotic masks a person may choose to wear. At the same time, the mask does not have to be reduced to a deceptive device only (nor to be meant merely as a material object), being in fact at the centre of a more complex axiology. The classic veridictory square articulating the opposition between Being and Seeming may provide a suitable model for the semiotic square of ‘visageness’, so that we would have: Face, Disguise (the place of the mask proper), Fake, Anonymity. Based on these theoretical premises, the paper finally addresses popular music and outlines a provisional map of the pragmatics of the mask (subtractive vs. additive, ritualistic vs. continuous, material vs. virtual, mask as face vs. face as mask), as a suggestion for further studies.


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How to Cite

Marino, G. (2021). Cultures of the (masked) face. Sign Systems Studies, 49(3-4), 318–337.