Levinas and Face

Emmanuel Levinas© Photographed by Bracha Ettinger

The human face in Emmanuel Levinas

Our century has seen the man’s face disappear behind the multiplicity of determinations (biological, social and linguistic) that science has revealed: the death of the man announced by Foucault. The ambition constitutive of Western rationality to the human (as of all things) an object of science, to integrate the totality of being and knowledge, was precisely the effect … to disintegrate. Should we conclude, as has previously been the subject of God, that man is an illusion? The work of Emmanuel Levinas is one of the most rigorous attempts this century to answer this question. We propose here to give a small insight into this demanding work on this new humanism, “humanism of the other man.”
It is not for Levinas to return to the humanism of the Enlightenment, to define the man against the powers of reason, but to give meaning to humans from its weakness, the nakedness of his face, “nudity crying its strangeness in the world, his loneliness, death, hidden in his being,” wrote Levinas in the preface to Totality and Infinity. We can consider that the phenomenology of Levinas is operating face of the other man as the heart of his work. Of phenomenology is to try to describe what appears (the phenomenon) without presupposing the object being described is based on the existence, not an essence, a nature or general characteristics. How is the human? By his face and his word.
If a human sense, it is found in the call that gives me the face of the Other. If the face is related to vision, yet it is still beyond the representation, the “thing” as Sartre says, that operating the eye. “It’s when you see a nose, eyes, a forehead, chin, and you can describe them, you turn to others as to an object. The best way to meet others is to not even notice the color of his eyes, “wrote Lévinas
And now we know how to identify a man with the shape of his nose, for example, making it the sign of membership in a “race” is already a denial of their humanity. What is specifically face escapes general categories by which we can identify someone’s membership or pretend to understand it-in the sense that “understand” means include: always escape the human conceptual knowledge, as the always brings the same concept (a type common to all), while the human is always the other man. The existence of the other man not given to me as is that of the tree for example: it seems by its qualities and may lie entirely in them, or others is not fully given in which the expression (speech and face), and that is why it is at every moment possible for him to be sincere or betray me. “The face is the reality par excellence, where someone does not show its qualities.” 2 This also means that the face appears in its nakedness, the proof is that we continue to resort to tricks to “look good” as they say.

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