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.
Namwali Serpell is a Zambian writer and Professor of English at Harvard University. She’s a recipient of a 2020 Windham-Campbell Prize for fiction and the 2015 Caine Prize for African Writing. Her first novel, The Old Drift (Hogarth, 2019), won the 2020 Anisfield-Wolf Book prize for fiction and the 2020 L.A. Times’ Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction, and was named a New York Times Notable Book of 2019.