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.
... sharp ... Perhaps despite itself, [Serpell] collection performs an ethical gesture in treating such faces as objects of attention and pleasure. The essays that follow are wise, warm, witty and dizzyingly wide-ranging...Her clear prose unknots a dense tangle of academic concepts along the way ... But Serpell may be at her most thrilling when she interrogates the very humanity of the Ideal Face ... Stranger faces refuse to signify or symbolize, which may be exactly why we try so hard to read them — and why it is so fun to read about them, at least when Serpell is doing the writing.
... wander[s] and wonder[s] and suppose[s] more than it state[s] outright ... If Serpell sometimes becomes what she calls a Too Close Reader—fixating, for example, on a pair of mops in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho—she just as often arrives at surprising insights that see the familiar with new eyes.
In Stranger Faces, Harvard professor Namwali Serpell uses semiotics to describe her version of a 'failed face.' An award-winning novelist, Serpell’s writing spans literary criticism, short stories, and film reviews, and Stranger Faces adds to her skill in writing across genres. The second book in the Undelivered Lectures series, Stranger Faces reads more like a collection of intellectually rigorous long-form blog posts than an academic monograph ... With a sharp eye and critical wit, Serpell topples [the] Ideal Face from its pedestal. She offers robust counterexamples of faces in history, literature, and film that do not embody this Ideal: disabled faces, racially-ambiguous faces, substitutive faces, animal faces, and emoji faces ... And here is what I think is Serpell’s most intriguing take on strange faces: she says that we should take pleasure in these facial failures, to see them not as indexes of human worth, but as art ... Playing with this faciality phenomenon, is, in fact, something we already do; Stranger Faces says we should not deny this impulse, we should embrace it. Serpell ushers in an ethics that does not adhere human value to something as fickle—and paradoxical—as the facial surface.