Monsters and Dust

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Immanuel Kant described three judgements of logical quality: affirmative, negative, and infinite. His inclusion of the infinite quality opened the binary of affirmative and negative to a third possibility of assimilating the previous two. Dead or not dead. You or me. But what about undead? What about not you anymore, and not me anymore? These ideas were abstract before Isabelle. The idea of the undead captivates people with zombie and vampire stories. But for Isabelle, a dead face really did become undead.

Her doctors used technology so sophisticated that they were able to take a dead face and reanimate it, attaching more than twenty muscles and hundreds of nerve endings to Isabelle, watching the gray flesh bloom pink as it filled with blood before their eyes.  But technical precision could not eliminate the metaphysical confusion of two souls meeting. Both women attempted suicide. The donor died, and Isabelle’s symbolic rebirth was made tangible with a new face. Isabelle still feels her donor, and acknowledges her. Because the doctors draped her donor’s face over Isabelle’s bone structure, their features met somewhere in the middle, creating a new face. The dubiety of Isabelle’s identity entered her language. Isabelle would say “her nose” and her daughter would correct her, “That’s your nose!”6 Kant’s infinite judgement does not simply negate but implies something else is there instead. Isabelle’s donor died, but never left. She lives on, her flesh assimilated to Isabelle’s. The medical miracle is a cliche, but Isabelle and her donor’s unwitting suicide did illuminate a supernatural dimension to medicine, and Isabelle’s doctors even used the world rebirth to describe Isabelle’s new face. And for that face, Isabelle was truly grateful. “Sylvie gave me the mirror. I was scared to look at myself, but when I did it was already marvellous and I couldn't believe it. I thought it would be blue and swollen but it was already beautiful.”7



1, 3, 6.  Follain, John. "Face Transplant Patient Isabelle Dinoire Reveals Her New Life." Timesonline.uk17 Jan. 2010.

2, 4, 5. Allen, Peter. "Face Transplant Woman Struggles with Identity."  2 Nov. 2008.

7.  Austin, Naomi. "My Face Transplant Saved Me." BBC News 7 Oct. 2006.