This workbook journal explores the difference between relational and the identity-based way of being in everyday life. The distinctions will be identified through comparison of experiences through time and space. The close reading approach will be used together with personal experiences, questions and responses to draw the analysis. Emanuel Levinas states that, “the face is exposed, menaced, as if inviting us to an act of violence. At the same time, the face is what forbids us to kill” (1985).
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Typically, the above statement identifies what people see of other people’s face and the range of thoughts that go through their mind. In other words, when an individual’s identity has already been classified, labeled and categorized, further course of action can be forestalled or undertaken, following a literal face to face encounter (Barthes, 1981).
Indeed, my previous face to face encounters with people have tended to elicit certain feelings that were not there I first heard, read or was informed, of them. According to Levinas, an individual’s face gives a connotation that cannot be identified with any given context (1985). In normal circumstances, a signification must be described within a given context. For instance, a teacher must be described in relation to a certain educational discipline or institution, and this applies to all other professionals.
Contrary to such observations, an individual’s face cannot be put to any immediate contextual meaning. Levinas elaborates that a face gives a content that goes beyond an individual’s thoughts and judgments. It makes an individual act in ways that were previously not imagined. Therefore, an individual’s face can twist their identity and make them appear different to different people.
The face does not reveal anything regarding an individual’s character. It creates a disconnection between what one knows about an individual, and who they are. It provides straightforward encounter that is not consistent with what one knows, or is trying to understand. A look at a strangers’ face may invoke diverse feelings in different people. Most common expressions include the following: “this person looks intelligent; this person looks familiar and this person looks kind” (Barthes, 1981).
Levinas further explains that though murder is a phenomenon that occurs in everyday life, communication received from looking at a victim’s face can forestall a potential murder (1985). The expression “the face is what forbids us to kill” comes in at this point (Levinas, 1985). This demands an investigation on how the face stop one from committing murder. Could it be that a certain facial expression evokes kindness in a potential murderer? Whether this is true or not, there is a difference created by facial encounter.
An interesting part of it is that the signal conveyed by an individual’s face might not be apparent to him/her (Barthes, 1981). Thus, there can be another state of being that is quite distinct from both relational and the identity-based way of being. An individual exists as a unique being within a larger system. The uniqueness that is found in an individual being is not always apparent to those he/she interacts with in everyday life. Therefore, a facial expression may provide a chance for people to have a real view of the inner part of an individual, in addition to what they see (Barthes, 1981). Though, it is still interesting to understand how different people come to different conclusions.
Barthes, R. (1981). Camera Lucida. New York: Hill and Wang.
Levinas, E. (1985). Ethics and Infinity: conversations with Philippe Nemo. Pittsburg: Duquesne Univerty Press.