Sunday, 26 August 2012

Another Note on Expression


“Expression consists for us in incalculability. If I knew exactly how he would grimace, move, then there would be no facial expression, no gesture.”

There is a sense in which a grimace or wink (for example) are part of a code of expression – so, for instance, they are commonly understood, and can be represented iconically. They are in this sense 'calculable'. But a smile or wink that simply conformed to the accepted code would be expressionless (mechanical). It is a condition of expression that some ‘disturbance’ of this code must take place. This disturbance of the code (by affect) is part of what is meant by individual expression. But there cannot of course be disturbance without the code.
Once again expression requires predefined shapes but only in order to surpass them. Expression lives in the disturbance not the code.


  1. Makes me wonder if there are situations in which expression becomes impossible.

    I work at a grocery store, and after a while, passing by the same co-workers down the aisles day after day, I've noticed a peculiar habit that a majority of us have partake in: When passing each other, we often flash each other "spontaneous" facial expressions - perhaps a goofy or distorted face or an out of place grin - expressions that normally would have been sufficed with a simple smile (as per the code) but are instead anything but the conventional expressions (I suppose we do this out of boredom of the day to day routine, but who knows? Perhaps there is something else here.) Yet, these expressions are meaningless. They do not register as memorable or have any real emotional value; the "spontaneous" in this instance has become the code. One expects a funny face walking by a co-worker just as much as one expects no expression whatsoever.

    What happens in an environment where anything and everything is suspected?

    This also leads us to think about the fact that in moments that are often most emotionally charged - moments when expression is communicated most deeply - such moments can be the very ones in which there is no disturbance in the code at all. Think of a funeral, for example, where everyone expects weeping, yet the weeping (as iconic as it is) and the saddened faces are actually more potent in this situation than anywhere else. This example (which many of us have experienced) poses a direct contradiction to Wittgenstein's idea here.

  2. Thanks Aric. So, are you and your colleagues in effect 'quoting' goofy or funny faces, albeit cartoonified, in a kind of blank mockery?

    Re Funerals, i'm really not sure - isn't weeping something that dissolves any code? Maybe not, as actors can do it, and would we automatically able to pick out an actor at a funeral? Slavok Zizek writes about "the weird phenomenon of "weepers" (women hired to cry at funerals) [..] "in traditional societies". He compares their function to that of canned laughter on TV.

    Re actors, I think its interesting that if you randomly turn on the TV you can always tell if something is real or acted. Say you switched over and there was an interview taking place. My hunch is that we always immediately know whether we're looking at an actor or an actual person. My guess is that this has something to do with the issue of code.??