Facing up: masked to uncover the other

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.

---Knowing/deciding/selecting whom to photography is part of the genius of the portrait photographer. Diane Arbus always had an uncanny ability to sense whom she could connect with to make a great portrait. In this case, her decision to try to photograph women and children with Downs’ Syndrome and other impairments on their home ground was inspired. Much of the power of these images comes from who these women are, from the details of their condition, and from the place where they live together and isolated. We can stare at these portraits in a way that we couldn’t stare at these women and girls if we met them on the street. We can be fearful and curious and safe all at once. They are Other.--- Read More:http://www.americansuburbx.com/2009/10/theory-untitled-by-diane-arbus-review.html

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….

Read More:http://brucesilverstein.com/galleries.php?gid=283&i=2&page=next

…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.”…

Joel Peter-Witkin. LevinasThe face, actually the whole person of the Other, puts me under a tremendous obligation. Even without saying a word, encountering another person speaks volumes. The human face comes with a built-in “ought.” I can recognize or refuse the gaze of the stranger, the widow, the orphan. Welcoming the Other puts my own freedom into question. It involves a fundamental responsibility that should function in all interpersonal relationships. Above all, it entails the command, “Thou shalt not kill.”

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

Diane Arbus. ---Why does each person want the Other to go first when they meet face to face at a doorway? It’s that the encounter with the face of the Other makes one empathic and solicitous. To stand aside and let the other person go first is a gesture which Levinas explores and describes in his philosophy. Finally, to the question of the face of the Ultimate Other and Scripture. Again, I cite some quotations from Levinas: In the access to the face there is certainly also an access to the idea of God.... To my mind the Infinite comes in the signifyingness of the face. The face signifies the Infinite.... --- Read More:http://www.mocp.org/collections/permanent/arbus_diane.php image:http://www.mocp.org/collections/permanent/arbus_diane.php

…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….

---This ethical origin of citizenship is the condition for a community of respect, what Levinas (1998, p. 20) calls a true society: “a configuration of wills which concern each other through their works, but who look one another in the face”. The realm of identity alone cannot make sense of, cannot account for, the signification in which peace for the Other, for these stranger neighbours, is our business. No doubt, this concern can easily be discounted in the “national interest” -- where we look out for our own, and the charity that begins at home doesn’t ever quite make it past the front door. Identity becomes both destiny and fate, and then, again quoting Levinas (2004/1934, p. 19), “If race does not exist, it must be invented!” --- Read More:http://radic

ychology.org/vol7-2/Douglas.html image:http://www.edelmangallery.com/Witkin/witkin84.htm

…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….

---In Levinas’s term, oppression denies and disregards the Face of those who are oppressed. It is others -- allies and comrades -- who can infuse us with pride and dignity by naming our suffering unjust and by calling us to account as ethical subjects. And perhaps it is this work, this commitment of one for another, that is the true vehicle for change.--- Read More:http://radicalpsychology.org/vol7-2/Douglas.html image:http://www.demeterclarc.com/tag/diane-arbus/

… 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”….

---The "bounds of knowledge" constitute the frame that surrounds, or contains, the reality we have constructed in our minds, our "same," to use Levinas's language. The Other exists, despite our attempt to contain it, outside of this frame. Furthermore, height is significant here. The other does not slide down beneath our same. Rather, the Other rises up above our boundaries, our constructed knowledge and thus transcends us, transcends our poor attempt to know and categorize it. This transcendence makes the Other holy according to Levinas (Totality 195); furthermore, the Other becomes "the one for whom I am responsible . . . the one to whom I have to respond" (Basic 19). --- Read More:http://www2.widener.edu/~cea/361carriere.htm image:http://www.artnet.com/ag/fineartdetail.asp?wid=425264806&gid=424187413

…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

---A face is formed, as Jean-Paul Sartre teaches us, in the "look": through the interplay and mutual dependence of seeing and being seen.16 The face is by no means only an object in which I can read. On the contrary, it is my way of interpretation itself which belongs to the face and which comes toward me from there. Yet the face is not merely my own design - it speaks for itself, and it is my task to understand this language. Every face can be a mask,17 but it is to be revealed as such only after it has first been acknowledged phenomenologically in its right to existence. The "naked face" may distinguish itself from the masks, but only in the end, after the masquerade of the life-world is over. Faces are not roles, for they don't play anything: Faces are what they appear to be - whether as mask or as true face.--- Read More:http://www.egs.edu/faculty/wolfgang-schirmacher/articles/the-faces-of-compassion/ image:http://evansklar.blogspot.com/2009/10/happy-halloween.html

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