THE SACRAMENTALITY OF THE FACE, OR, SACRAMENTAL SIGNIFICATION
Desire is aroused in the relationship with an absolute alterity which defies possession, and it is sustained in its very insatiability. As we have said, the relationship with this absolute, unanticipatable alterity is experienced as desire. The absolute draws near, in paradoxical proximity, as desire. There is another revelation of the Other in proximity, and this is in the experience of obligation. Desire reveals my subjectivity to be obsessed by the neighbour to whose difference I cannot remain indifferent (See Levinas 1981, 84). The neighbour is different, but, as Levinas points out, the proximity of his or her difference from me disturbs me and, in the face of the neighbour my difference from him "shudders as non-indifference" (ibid. 83). The neighbour is different from me, but I am non-indifferent towards neighbour. Desire thus becomes demand, and in respect of the neighbour, my "community with him begins in my obligation to him" (ibid. 87). It is a relationship of responsibility. Before ever I am able to designate the other as other than myself, which would be an act of a self-constituted and self-conscious self entering into a subsequent relationship with alterity, I am already assigned by him as responsible for him, and "this is a modality not of knowing but of an obsession, a shuddering (ϕρικη) of the human quite different from cognition" (ibid.).
Now, this summons towards responsibility issues from the face which, in its proximity, speaks, and, hearing, I am constituted as responsible. How then does the face speak? Such a question can perhaps finds its initial response in a consideration of the notion of image which takes us to the heart of the philosophical questioning of the privilege of presence. Sign, image and reality, for finite beings