Maybe Levinas was just yelling into the canyon, hearing his echo, catching the attention of a few gophers going about their business in the void. However, the implications of what he was expressing was quite profound, nothing less than a re-structuring, de-structuring of the basis of Western society, most notably patriarchy, misogyny and racism: ” Clearly,and most certainly, I do believe the infinite responsibility of the I for the Other is the most valuable and important everyday experience, one which permits us to resist a purely hierarchical world”.
It is the purely hierarchical world,the pecking order, motivated by the will to power over others, the evil cabal at the peak from which tyranny always manifests itself through all spheres of society and on a global level. It results in masks of compassion being a form of compassion without intuitive knowledge. Deformities of interpretation turned into a mask. This almost decomposed mask inflicting pain in its near abandoned raw nakedness.
Its been called a “hopeless” compassion as Levinas says, since we are all equal before misfortune; not a misfortune giving rise to guilt or “charity” as a measure of one’s supremacy or domination, but misfortune as something inherent, even intrinsic to creation and the creative act with hopeless being the unavoidable suffering. The simplicity of Levinas’ idea is compelling, being that in the individual’s face is to be found the original ethical code. It means that a look, a gaze into the face of the Other results in a becoming, an awareness of essential human responsibility and an expansion and deepening of the meaningful. Levinas was harsh towards a society in which its citizens are depersonalized, a society in which for the most part we move around side by side, or circle like vultures, instead of the face to face meeting. And the digital age adds a new code and complexity to this, with the chip being an additional mask….
…As a corollary to the absolute assertion of his own sense of reality over any other consideration, the models in Witkin images typically wear masks. When not explicitly masked, their faces are otherwise obscured or defaced from the picture to eliminate personalizing features. Early in his career, Witkin had the following realization: “To me people were only masks. My interests would not be to reveal what the individual subject chose to hide, but instead to make the qualities of the hidden more meaningful. This is why I could engage the world on my own terms. I could
deal with people by superimposing my own mask on theirs. . . . My work would have the impact of my irreality.”…
By comparison, the individuals in Diane Arbus photographs who bear masks are not thereby deprived of their separable reality. The masks typically present in her portraits are occasioned by unexceptional social events such as a costume party, charity ball, or Halloween. The masks themselves tend toward the ordinary, from store-bought scary faces and homemade designs to a minimal covering for the area around the eyes, with decorative touches added in some cases. In most cases, the masks present in Arbus portraits are only partial guises, they do not cover up other expressive features of the face such as the forehead, cheeks, or mouth…. Read More:http://www.ohiostatepress.org/books/Book%20PDFs/Goodwin%20Modern.pdf…
…For Arbus the masked or costumed figure is thinly disguised. He or she continues to exist in propria persona in an existential sense. This quality is most poignantly true in the Arbus photographs of asylum Halloween participants seen in the 1972 exhibition and in the later collection Untitled (1995). Witkin, in contrast, is concerned to portray a “condition of being” rather than the individual models he selects. The portrait encounter is an occasion primarily for himself, not for the portrait subject. It is his opportunity to costume, stage, and pose a live mannequin according to the wishes of his daemon….
…It is clear from photographs such as Las Meniñas (1987), which reimagines the Velázquez canvas, Studio of the Painter (Courbet) (1990), Studio de Winter (1994), and Poussin in Hell (1999) that Witkin conceives of the photographer in his studio on a grand artistic scale. There the photographer engages in a transformative process to devise a scene in the image of its creator’s inner truths. When required by circumstances to be on location Witkin continues to work in much the same manner….
…The differences between the work of Arbus and that of Witkin are further clarified through a consideration of the ideas of Emmanuel Levinas on the matter of “ethics and the face.” One primary objective for Levinas is to endow contemporary phenomenology with the principle of transcendence, and in doing so he identifies it as the ground for ethics, the fundamental responsibility of self with others and thus the basis for self hood in the first place: “The idea of infinity, the infinitely more contained in the less, is concretely produced in the form of a relation with the face” of another person….
… This concept of infinity leads directly into personal ethics: “The face opens the primordial discourse whose first word is obligation, which no ‘interiority’ permits avoiding. The face, thus perceived, is not a fixed entity nor an appearance that can be fully or finally comprehended: “Inasmuch as the access to beings concerns vision, it dominates those beings, exercises a power over them. . . . [Yet] the face is present in its refusal to be contained”. One thus regards not only another person but a fundamental of being: “The relation between the Other and me . . . draws forth in his expression” and “in expression the being that imposes itself does not limit but promotes my freedom”….
…Such possibilities, I believe, can remain true in the photograph, even while the expression it contains is produced through the stop-action, fixed impression of a camera. Arbus—like Sander, Strand, Evans, and other great portraitists before her—provides a remarkable vantage upon the faces of others. Many facial expressions in Arbus’s Untitled, even where the face is partially masked, are available to our regard. Such portraiture is ethical in Levinas’ sense of the term, and it refuses the mystifications that Witkin promotes. “The face to face,” Levinas explains, “cuts across every relation one could call mystical, where events other than that of the presentation of the original being come to overwhelm or sublimate the pure sincerity of this presentation. . . . Here resides the rational character of the ethical relation and of language. … Read More:http://www.ohiostatepress.org/books/Book%20PDFs/Goodwin%20Modern.pdfa