DOI link for Ironizing Physiognomics
Ironizing Physiognomics book
When regarding irony in the context of physiognomics, it is perhaps itself ironic that irony etymologically means "dissimulation", i.e. the very aspect of insincerity that physiognomics traditionally claims to see through. It is therefore peculiar that no one has suspected Joseph Conrad to be ironic in his treatment of Lombrosian physiognomics in The Secret Agent. There are three different interpretations of Conrad's negotiation of Lombrosian physiognomics— as either affirmative, ambiguous, and dismissive. Conrad's novel suggests not only the complicity of Lombrosian physiognomics in the production of criminal men and a society of suspicion, but also that it may have much worse consequences: that it may lead to social hygiene and eugenics. The portrait itself appears as a traditional realist physiognomic portrait until the accumulation of hyperbolic details forms the surprising ironic twist that demonstrates that the portrait is not only not physiognomic, but that it is straightforwardly anti-physiognomic.