Concerns about the passages on race and physiognomy in Béla Balázs's film theoretical writings often focus on his references to cinema's promotion of a normative “white psyche.” Through comparative analyses of Balázs with the racial physiognomist Ludwig Ferdinand Clauss as well as with Balázs's fellow Marxist Walter Benjamin, this article outlines key aspects of both right-wing and left-wing physiognomics. While Balázs did share with reactionary physiognomists the problematic idealist tendency to view the body as materialized soul, his views on physiognomy evaded racial essentialism, as he promoted cinematic physiognomics as a way to overcome boundaries of race and nation. Furthermore, Balázs and Benjamin used physiognomic perception to reconfigure social hierarchies and the relationship of spectators to technology and the material world, thus converting potentially reactionary concepts into ones that could be made serviceable for Marxism.

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