In the Image: Figures of the Face in Modern Jewish Aesthetics

Pinckney, Martin, Religious Studies - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Biemann, Asher, University of Virginia
Bouchard, Larry, AS-Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Flores, Nichole, University of Virginia

The ‘face’ is perhaps the most recognizable theme in Emmanuel Levinas's philosophy, well-worn by decades of established discourse. This familiarity, however, belies a deeper legacy that remains relatively unexplored. The principle claim of the present study is that Levinas’s phenomenological description of the face draws on aesthetic developing from Neo-Kantian readings of history and art. Chapter One gives a brief account of a debate amongst 19th and 20th century German intellectuals over the origins of modernity. I show how this debate gave rise to an emerging aesthetics, wherein the face came to represent an aesthetic unity in the midst of an otherwise fragmentary modern world. The following two chapters take a closer look at how this aesthetic developed in two "figures of the face" integral to Levinas's pedigree: Hermann Cohen (1842-1918) and Franz Rosenzweig (1886-1929). Chapter Two explores elements of Cohen’s treatment of the human countenance in his "Aesthetik des reinen Gefühls." In particular, I explore how the aesthetic unity of the face arises from a correlation between the human and divine, which is mediated through speech. Chapter Three explores how some features in Cohen’s aesthetic are adapted in Rosenzweig’s "The Star of Redemption." Using his “configuration” as a guide, I explore Rosenzweig’s treatment of the human countenance in three thematic ways: the mask, the gaze, and the kiss. I show that while Rosenzweig follows Cohen in privileging speech as a means for shaping our encounter with the visual world, it takes on the added quality of disrupting our vision, reimagining the face as a vital unity. I conclude with a reflection on the implications this study may have for a reengagement with Levinas's face. Put more poetically: in shattering the ‘plastic image’ of the face that Levinas has left us, it might begin to once again be made new.

MA (Master of Arts)
The Face, Aesthetics, Herman Cohen, Emmanuel Levinas, Nicholas of Cusa, Franz Rosenzweig
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