The Importance of the Face; in terms of Emmanuel Lévinas

There is a large amount of literature based around the face and the reactions it creates for other people. Emmanuel Lévinas is one of the main writers on the topic of the face and this relates directly to our performance due to the complexities of the questions it encourages the audience to ask. Lévinas argues that “[t]o expose myself to the vulnerability of the face is to put my ontological right to existence into question. In ethics, the other’s right to exist has primacy over my own, a primacy epitomized in the ethical edict: you shall not kill, you shall not jeopardize the life of the other.” (Lévinas, N.D, p.24). This represents the importance of the face and the ‘other’ in relation to you. If you are prepared to acknowledge the ‘other’, then you should be prepared to give ownership to them. A face will ask you things that are never voiced, whilst still ensuring that you are offering yourself to them. To look into someone’s “face[,] is the other who asks me not to let him die alone, as if to do so were to become an accomplice in his death.” (Lévinas, p.24). After reading Lévinas, you are able to question things such; is my existence my own? Or does it belong to the ‘other’ when they look into my face?

I personally do not like to rely on others too much and therefore it is difficult for me to try and comprehend that I am technically only ‘alive’ when being viewed by another person. Our performance encourages the audience to question these philosophical issues without actually stating this.

Lévinas’ work is based around the writings of Martin Heidegger, who argues that to be fully alive, you must understand and accept death. It is my understanding then that Lévinas’ and Heidegger’s work put together gives you an insight to the ‘other’, the face, death, nothingness and existence. I believe that most of these aspects of their work are indeterminable as they are absent from our sight. To physically see something is to understand it. Can you point out what ‘love’ or ‘fear’ is? No, you can only point out actions that are socially accepted as forms of ‘love’ or ‘fear’.

These are details that are now included in our performance. Allowing someone to sit and hold hands with a stranger for any amount of time, is giving them a chance to explore the existence of the ‘other’ and the socially acceptable actions of this stranger. Is it ok to kiss somebody you do not know? Socially and culturally, this action would be frowned upon, or it would at least raise questions because it is not something we do.

As performers, it is us, asking the audience to give us their time to sit, kiss, cuddle and hold hands with us, therefore: are we taking ownership over their existence; are they taking control of ours, or is it both? This performance has caused me to ask a lot more questions than I expected. In the beginning, our ideas were too complicated for us to complete and so we stripped back the idea and took it ‘back to basics’, however we seem to have resulted in a performance that is more complicated philosophically.

Work Cited
Lévinas, Emmanuel, and Richard Kearney (N.D) Dialogue with Emmanuel Lévinas. In: R. A. Cohen ed. 1986. Face to Face with Lévinas, Albany: State University of New York Press, Ch. 1

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