This article considers the prospects of “facial politics” in the wake of CoVID-19. Recounted through the author's positionality as an Asian American feminist academic, the article describes her encounters in the university and the street, in the United States and China. Addressing gestures of face touching and the trope of the mask relative to its wearer, the essay draws on the work of Mel Y. Chen on the viral conjunction of race, animality, illness, and gender as inflected further by both historical and contemporary treatments of “Chineseness” and visibility. In so doing, the article reframes concepts of perfomativity and the face that are associated with Judith Butler, with the face becoming “the fallen site of discourse” under the conditions of a pandemic.
For Mel Y. Chen and Julia Bryan-Wilson, and the students in the 2020 spring graduate seminar “Picture Industry” at Yale University. This essay was written before news of the state-sponsored murders and vigilante killings of Georg Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and too many others. The mask is off.