Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Imagine a Face

Scarry asks us to imagine a face. "It may seem than in shifting from the motion of skating to the motion of smiling, we have veered away from the subject of circles, but we have not, for when the face breaks into a smile, the mouth moves into a small upward opening arc" (Dreaming, p. 208). Levinas asks us to imagine a face that would break through the image of the face, a face that would appear above and beyond phenomenality. This metaphysical face that transcends appearances is a face that speaks.

To speak to me is at each moment to surmount what is necessarily plastic in manifestation. To manifest oneself as a face is to impose oneself above and beyond the manifested and purely phenomenal form, to present oneself in a mode irreducible to manifestation, the very straightforwardness of the face to face, without the intermediary of the image, in one's nudity, that is, in one's destitution and hunger.

(Totality, p. 200, Levinas' emphasis)

If we could ever turn off the imagination, everpresent as life, we might be able to discern whether faces ever appeared without touching on images. The imageless appearance perplexes. Perhaps, however, it is intermediacy rather than the image per se that has vexed us so. What appears to be a phenomenon of the persistence of images may be an aspect of intermediacies, in which case we might prefer to approach an understanding of living with images, their betweens and their middles, before thinking we know what an image does to the point where we could identify appearances that weren't images.

I imagine the face of the beloved. Images appear. That much makes sense. Are appearances irreal? Is the face of the beloved any less a real face for appearing as an image to me? Well, it is not the face of the beloved until it speaks to me and breaks through its image? How long does that last? Are there pauses in conversation? Perhaps a mistake has been made by Levinas in isolating a purely phenomenal form. How many images in life are purely phenomenal forms? My ruminations on the imagination have led me towards the idea that the imagination, rather than being an activity I can easily start and stop at will, by a process that might generate purely phenomenal forms, is instead integral to my life at every moment. Its rhythm doesn't belong to the will in any unscrutinized sense of that idea. My imagination surrounds the spoken, interweaves, intermediates. Has enough been said about the betweens of the said, or the betweens of the said and the unsaid?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 9:43 AM.


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