Facing images

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Abstract

This paper seeks to articulate the significance of an intimate connection that exists between faces and images. It argues that the manner in which images face us - a picture's turning toward a viewer - is the primary condition of its meaningfulness. The article explicates the significance of an image's facing through a dialogue with Emmanuel Levinas's philosophical understanding of the human face. The analogy I draw between Levinas's notion of the face and the facing (peniyya) of images runs against predominant readings of Levinas which emphasize the Levinasian ambivalence, not to say hostility, toward the visual, and the clear opposition he makes between the face's infinity and the finite and objectifying essence of images. My aim, however, is to show that there is an interesting sense in which Levinas's reflections on the human face offer, perhaps in spite of Levinas, a crucial prism for approaching pictures: I show that the Levinasian face can be understood in a manner that illuminates a dimension of alterity in pictures, one that remains uncontainable and, as such, questions the responsibility of the interpreter and opens up the ethical depth of the image. As a central case study, I turn to a series of provocative graffiti images, chimeric animal-human faces, which were created by Klone, a Tel Aviv-based street artist.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)143-159
Number of pages17
JournalAngelaki - Journal of the Theoretical Humanities
Volume16
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 2011

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