Sunday, September 09, 2007

About the face:

A-propo the recent melee with Elections-Canada concerning granting voting permission to women who choose to cover their faces, about which I blogged here, I decided to post again my thoughts about what it means when one individual forbids/prevents another's gaze, however rudimentary, upon her face.

A face expresses feelings, moods, inclinations, all those attributes that define one’s character and uniqueness. Human visual sense is the strongest. First, comes the impression of a human face, and then comes the verbal accordance of a name. I, as I encounter another’s face, can respond to what I see in her face.

For Emmanuel Levinas, the face is the place where ethics (and responsibility) begin. In Ethics and Infinity, conversations with Philippe Nemo, he says:

There is first the very uprightness of the face, its upright
exposure, without defence. The skin of the face is that which stays most naked,
most destitute. It is the most naked, though with a decent nudity.... The face
is meaning all by itself...it leads you beyond.

In Face-to-Face encounter with the other, she signals to me that she shares with me my humanity, human frailties and vulnerabilities. Naked and needy, the face makes a demand upon my care, my concerns, and my dependability.

For Levinas, as much as I can understand him, the face-to-face encounter is the undeniability of the other’s autonomous self. To which I respond. It makes possible an exchange. When a face is covered, the encounter cannot take place. There is no recognition on any level, no flow of emotion, and no transaction of good will.

Here is what Buthayna Nasser, a Saudi woman, says:

Sir, when I appear on TV, and when Iclaim my right to play a role in this professional field, I demand that my face,which constitutes my identity, be seen. Under no circumstances am I prepared toallow my identity to be obliterated.

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