Why Emmanuel Levinas… and why “Face a Face” in Painting


"Face a Face", Levinas.
“Face a Face”, Levinas.

I am a visual artist. A large part of the subject of my paintings and drawings, are people. They are not “copies” of the real people, (the global reality). I’m using the format of comics that  came to me directly and releases me from the need to be  close to this global reality. I prefer to create my own local “reality”.

I paint and draw people’s faces. Their face is an external surface. I’m guessing through this surface what they feel and express. In contrast, Rembrandt, when portraying  himself, knew what he felt when he painted them. The viewer is affected …but he only guesses what  Rembrandt really feels…Rembrandt is veiled.

The Veiled Look
The Veiled Look

And here comes Emmanuel Levinas  in…

I discovered him by chance. I saw the documentary film  “Absent god” (Why Emmanuel Levinas… and why “Face a Face” in Painting) where Levinas speaks, among other things, about his concept of “Face” ,. He says:

“…But this shock of the divine,
this rupture in the immanent order
the order that I can embrace, grasp,
the order I can make mine, possess,
it is the other person.
The way I phrase it,
it’s the face of the other person”…(Quoted from the subtitles accompanying a conversation  with Levinas in “Absent God”)


…and Derrida says on Levinas’s  “Face a Face”:

…”Ici Jacques Derrida [ …] en appelle à la tora pour contester Lévinas qui, lui, en appelle à la religion. Dans un premier temps, le texte indique “Or l’Eternel s’entretenait avec Moïse face à face, comme un homme s’entretient avec un autre” (Ex 33.11). Puis dans un second temps : “Tu ne pourras pas voir ma face, car nul homme ne peut me voir et vivre (…) Tu te tiendras sur le rocher. Qand ma gloire passera, je te mettrai dans un creux du rocher, et je te couvrirai de ma main jusqu’à ce que j’aie passé. Et lorsque je retournerai ma main, tu me verras par derrière, mais ma face ne pourra pas être vue” (Ex 33.20-23). Dieu parle à Moïse face à face, mais sa présence n’est jamais totale. Elle n’est que trace, effet de trace, effacement de la trace. Selon Lévinas, dans le face-à-face humain, il n’y a pas de symétrie. Autrui, qui ressemble à Dieu, nous parle depuis une hauteur. Tout dialogue est discours avec dieu. …” see here

J'ai vu Levinas
J’ai vu Levinas

.From another point of view here is an excerpt from ” Violence and the Vulnerable Face of the Other” by professor  Roger Burggraeve :

“”What Levinas really means by the “face of the other” is not his physicalcountenance or appearance, but precisely the noteworthy fact that the other—not only in fact, but in principle—does not coincide with his appearance,image, photograph, representation, or evocation. “The other is invisible” (TI6). According to Levinas, we therefore can not properly speak of a “phenomenology” of the face since phenomenology describes what appears. The face is nonetheless what in the countenance of the other escapes our gaze when turned toward us. The other is “otherwise,” irreducible to his appearing, and thus reveals himself precisely as face. Surely, the other is indeed visible. Obviously, he appears and so calls up all sorts of impressions, images, and ideas by which he can be described. And naturally, we can come to know a great deal about him or her on the basis of what he or she gives us “to see.” But the other is more than a photograph, or rather not only is he factually more—not only more in the sense where there is always more for me to discover—but he can never be adequately reproduced or summarized by one or another image. The other is essentially, and not merely factually or provisionally, a movement of retreat and overflowing. I can never bind or identify the other with his plastic form (EI90–91). Paradoxically, the other’s appearing is executed as a withdrawal, or literally, as retraite or anachorese.

My local singularity
My local singularity
 The epiphany of the other is always also a breaking through and a throwing into confusion of
that very epiphany, and as such the other always remains “enigmatic,”
intruding on me as the “irreducible,” “separate and distinct,” “strange,” in
short as “the other” (AS81). The other is insurmountably otherwise because
he escapes once for all every effort at representation and diagnosis. The
epiphany of the face makes all curiosity ridiculous (TI46).”” see here.
So to conclude this short note  metaphorically, the Levinasian “Face a Face” is a mystery, some sort of singularity where the picture breaks down. I as a picture maker am always positioned at the event horizon, a veiled horizon.
My Event Horizon
My Event Horizon

…And finally, it is worth reading the article by Professor Hagi Keenan  “Facing Images: after Levinas”, http://www.tau.ac.il/~kenaan/facing_images.pdf