Friday, May 31, 2013

Sometimes When You Stare Into the Abyss, the Abyss Stares Back at You

This brings us to the true enigma: why does the encounter with a face covered by burka trigger such anxiety? Is it then, that a face covered by burka is no longer the Levinasian face, the Otherness from which the unconditional ethical call emanates? But what if the case is the opposite one? From a Freudian perspective, face is the ultimate mask that conceals the horror of the Neighbor-Thing: face is what makes the Neighbor le semblable, a fellow-man with whom we can identify and empathize. (Not to mention the fact that today, many faces are surgically changed and thus deprived of the last vestiges of natural authenticity.) This then, is why a covered face causes such anxiety: because it confronts us directly with the abyss of the Other-Thing, with the Neighbor in its uncanny dimension. The very covering-up of the face obliterates a protective shield, so that the Other-Thing stares at us directly (recall that burka has a narrow slip for the eyes: we don’t see the eyes, but we know there is a gaze there). Alphonse Allais presented his own version of Salome’s dance of seven veils: when Salome is completely naked, Herod shouts “Go on! On!”, expecting her to take off also the veil of her skin. We should imagine something similar with burka: the opposite of a woman taking off her burka and revealing her natural face. What if we go a step further and imagine a woman “taking off” the skin of her face itself, so that what we see beneath her face is precisely an anonymous dark smooth burka-like surface with a narrow slit for the gaze? “Love thy neighbor!” means, at its most radical, precisely the impossible=real love for this de-subjectivized subject, for this monstrous dark blot cut with a slit/gaze… This is why, in the psychoanalytic treatment, the patient is not sitting face to face to the analyst: they both stare at a third point, since it is only this suspension of the face which opens up the space for the proper dimension of the Neighbor. And therein also resides the limit of the well-known critico-ideological topic of the society of total control where we are all the time tracked and recorded – what eludes the eye of the camera is not some intimate secret but the gaze itself, the object-gaze as the crack/stain in the Other.
- Slavoj Zizek, "The Neighbor in Burka"


Always On Watch said...

Those women in burkas make the think of Peeping Thomasinas!

Thersites said...

The veils were most certainly an asset in this particular case.