The face of the Other

“Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other”. (Genesis 11:7)

 “And who is my neighbour?” (Luke 10:29)

“In front of the face, I always demand more of myself.”  (Emanuel Levinas, Difficult Freedom: Essays on Judaism)

The “diversity” rhetoric of our times is a sad perversion of something sacred and beautiful. It became an encapsulation of the infinite under the pressure of different political/activist agendas. We transformed the encounter with other in a matter of supremacy, obeying to the new social and ethical commandments and transforming the transcendence of the other into something easy to reproduce, de define, to categorize. A lot of angry proclamations of our own revindications block the pathway to discover the other’s beauty. Our ugliness is imposed as beauty just because now we have access to different ways to dominate and control others. Under the pressure of some huge historical injustices done in the recent or distant past, the inherent revenge is covered by expressions such as “social justice”, “inclusion”, etc.. Our vices now must be proclaimed by others as universal virtues. The immanent and instantly social justice is a therapeutics for an identity that feeds from the others aggression. There is no responsibility, but only revendication. There is no  forgiveness because no one wants to be vulnerable.

We are blocked in the prison of the surface. Surface of boxes, skins, carcases. The transcendence of the Other (God/other human being) is forbidden because we are systematic learned to admire the skin not the face of others. We like to think we are radicals, comparing with our past, but we forget to be radical comparing with our present. In a plethora of “diversity” rhetoric, we are destined to be clones of those who shout louder.

To be different is something marvellous. Because only the imagination of an almighty Creator designed us to be different. Every human utopia is doomed to have the serial reproduction of the same. Even when people continued to revolt against God, He chose to create a pathway to salvation through… diversity (of languages, nations). “Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other” (Genesis 11:7). And this was done looking for the purpose at the end of history: “The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendour into it” (Revelation 21:24).

Our biggest problem to understand the diversity of each other is expressed in the question of an expert in religion and human rights:  “And who is my neighbour?” (Luke 10:29). We see ourselves as the centre of the question and exploration of others. The answer is totally vindicative:  “Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” (Luke 10:36, my emphasis). The problem is not who is my neighbour but whom I am his/her neighbour.

To understand all of these we have to stop looking each other through the egalitarian lens of human relations (reminiscences of the judicial Protestant theology). The asymmetrical and non-reciprocal relation is paradoxically the healthiest way to discover and delight the diversity of the other. Here are some quotes from Emmanuel Levinas, one my favourite philosophers (Totality and Infinity. An Essay of Exteriority, Translated by Alphonso Lingis, Duquesne University Press, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1969):

The face is a living presence; it is expression. . . .  The face speaks. (66)

What we call the face is precisely this exceptional presentation of self by self.  (202)

Expression, or the face, overflows images. (297)

The way in which the other presents himself, exceeding the idea of the other in me, we here name face. . . . The face of the Other at each moment destroys and overflows the plastic image it leaves me, the idea existing to my own measure. . . .  It expresses itself.  (50-51)

. . . the face is present in its refusal to be contained.  (194)

The face resists possession, resists my powers.  (197)

. . . the face speaks to me and thereby invites me to a relation . . .  (198)

[T]he face [is] a source from which all meaning appears.  (297)

The face opens the primordial discourse whose first word is obligation.  (201)

[T]he Other faces me and puts me in question and obliges me. (207)

The being that expresses itself imposes itself, but does so precisely by appealing to me with its destitution and nudity–its hunger–without my being able to be deaf to that appeal. (200)

. . . the face presents itself, and demands justice.  (294)

In the face the Other expresses his eminence, the dimension of height and divinity from which he descends.  (262)

[T]he Other manifests itself by the absolute resistance of its defenceless eyes. . . .  The infinite in the face . . . brings into question my freedom, which is discovered to be murderous and usurpatory.  (Difficult Freedom: Essays on Judaism, p. 294)

  2 comments for “The face of the Other

  1. February 12, 2014 at 3:18 am

    Reblogged this on Romania Evanghelica.

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