Norman Finkelstein`s Amazing Jawline
February 11, 2010, 05:48 PM
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Not being terribly interested in the Israel-Palestine conflict, I haven`t paid much attention to the endless Alan Dershowitz-Norman Finkelstein controversy, in which OJ`s old lawyer, secure in his Harvard tenure, pillories the pro-Palestinian Finkelstein from post to post.

So, I`d never seen a picture of Norman Finkelstein, until I idly clicked on the review ("Is This a Man Who Sheds Light, or Simply Sets Fires?") of a documentary about him in today`s NYT. To my surprise, Professor Finkelstein turns out to be a remarkably formidable looking 56-year-old, who could be credibly cast as the colonel of an elite commando squad in a big budget war movie.

Novelists used to be obsessed with the correlation between looks and personality. Dashiell Hammett, for example, goes on at great length in The Maltese Falcon describing Sam Spade`s looks, which turned out to be the exact opposite of Humphrey Bogart`s: Hammett`s Spade was a 6`-3" blonde Scandinavian. In a world where images were expensive, conjuring up images through words were part of what a writer was paid for. It`s still a part of high-end literary writing, but for the modern day equivalents of meat and potatoes novelists like Hammett, it`s a losing proposition: the idea is to get Leonard DiCaprio and Tom Cruise into a bidding war for the movie rights to your novel, not to dissuade anybody from thinking they could play the part.

But, it was also that old time novelists believed there was a link between looks and personality. I`ve never paid that much attention to the idea, in part because I have a hard time decoding the facial terminology that old writers used, so I tend to skim over those long sections. For instance, Hammett writes:

Samuel Spade`s jaw was long and bony, his chin a jutting v under the more flexible v of his mouth. His nostrils curved back to make another, smaller, v. His yellow-grey eyes were horizontal. The v motif was picked up again by thickish brows rising outward from twin creases above a hooked nose, and his pale brown hair grew down— from high flat temples—in a point on his forehead. He looked rather pleasantly like a blond satan.

I just can`t call up a coherent image from these sentences, but, evidently, a lot of readers used to be able to do that.

(By the way, Hammett looked just like another alcoholic novelist, William Faulkner. Who was copying whom?)

How much research been done on questions of the correlation of looks and personality? For example, just from the pictures of Dershowitz and Finkelstein, could people guess at better than random chance which one would take the popular and which one the unpopular side of a political controversy?