Levinas’ use of face while available to meaning of ontic ‘expression’, however is not equivalent to ‘countenance’. The straightforward physiology of face tempts the interpretation of the correlation of the Other with their representation or image. Here a phenomenology of the Other becomes challenged by the non-conformance of the Other’s appearance, context, accomplishments, and social situation. “The essentially hidden throws itself toward the light, without becoming signification.”[1] The face therefore is a challenging and unexpected means to convey that for Levinas, the Other is invisible. Levinas writes, “ethics is an optics. But it is a ‘vision’ without image, bereft of the synoptic and totalizing objectifying virtues of vision.”[2] Phenomenology as that which describes the pure appearance cannot broach the face-leaving for Levinas ethics as the means of searching out the face. Within the irreducible and insurmountable representation of the face of the Other lies vulnerability.
            The vulnerability exists in the curious fascination with the epiphany of the face and one’s ability, and proclivity, to conflate the Other with their appearance. The ontic creates an opening or invitation to one’s ego to reduce the Other in a phenomenological manner. The Other is available to observation, and analysis; as Roger Burggraeve has pointed out, the gaze unto the face is composed of language and imagery of sickness, the observation of the eye is associated with diagnosis and prognosis. The penetrating gaze is never innocent, it fixates on the ontic physical and sociological placement of the Other, and one is always vulnerable and available to this gaze. Through the Other’s vulnerable invitation to the ego’s reductionistic and manipulative observation and diagnosing, it entreats the ethical significance of the Other.
            In the ‘naked frankness’ of the Other, one finds that the reducing diagnosis that is availed must not be undertaken. The opportunity of the gaze to delimit and gain ‘knowledge’ of the other is an invitation to the ego or self interested essence of humanity. Levinas writes in Otherwise Than Being that essence is interest and is affirmed in the positive through the conatus of beings. One’s interest is in constant struggle with the Other creating the condition of “egoisms struggling with one another, each against all, in the multiplicity of allergic egoisms which are at war with one another and are thus together.”[3] The ethical imperative arising from the Other in the “temptation to murder” owes to the Other’s vulnerability and the ego’s self interest which as conatus, attempts to incorporate the Other in the egoistic project of taming or reducing; that is, ‘to kill’.
            The ethical dilemma confronted in a conatus and the face of the Other presents a responsibility to reverse the forward striving of the conatus, a pulling back of the esse that is interest. The categorical imperative of this ethical confrontation exists in the “Thou shall not kill”. To kill is the act of reduction; the Other is conflated with the face and a reduction of the Other to the Same [le Meme]. To kill is a violence, an action of power that subsumes the Other with a priori ideas and categories, neglecting the Other’s uniqueness. The ego’s knowledge, propelled by the striving conatus, through the means of observation and diagnosis strips the Other of their foreignness, their alterity and possesses the Other by reconciling unto the Same. 

            The reduction constitutive of the ‘to kill’ is involved in a myriad of violences likened to tyranny and enslavement of the Other. The Other, under subjugation to the ego, loses their freedom to act as an ‘enslaved spirit’, and more threateningly the freedom to choose. The ego’s tyranny takes forms including that of unjust discourse. The art of specialized or technical language appeals the Other with a ‘ruse’ and the “specific nature of rhetoric (of propaganda, flattery, diplomacy, etc.) consists in corrupting [their] freedom.”[4] Through what amounts to brainwashing and intimidation in discourse, the Other is robbed from the capacity to even choose to obey and the enslaved Other can only act out of ‘blind’ obedience. The Sophists’ rhetoric reduces language to its coherence to the Same to make discourse impersonal and solitary resulting in “suppressing ‘the other’ who breaks this coherence and is hence essentially irrational. A curious result: language would consist in suppressing the other, in making the other agree with the same!”[5] Once the conscious ability to choose has submitted to tyranny, there remains only a non-cognizant inclination to accept, submit, and obey. The counter to this is a disengagement from objectivity, in what Levinas calls conversation. In conversation, the other is ‘let be’ their own expression, their own language to where the Other remains foreign to the Same- “the other qua other is the Other.”[6]

[1] Levinas, Emmanuel. Totality and Infinity (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press. 1969), 256.

[2] Levinas, Emmanuel. Totality and Infinity (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press. 1969), 23.

[3] Levinas, Emmanuel. Otherwise Than Being (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press. 1998), 4.
 

[4] Levinas, Emmanuel. Totality and Infinity (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press. 1969), 70.

[5] Levinas, Emmanuel. Totality and Infinity (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press. 1969), 73.

[6] Levinas, Emmanuel. Totality and Infinity (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press. 1969), 71.

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