So Covid covered our faces (like slaves)
by Gianfranco Amato
Power needs to destroy social relations, to create lonely, perfectly manipulable individuals. It even legitimized having to hide his face with a mask. However, how do you have a relationship with the other without seeing him in the face? The human face is the part of the body that must always be naked and that must not be hidden. It is no coincidence that in ancient Greece the slave was defined as faceless, therefore without dignity.
During an afternoon walk under the arcades of the center, a friend greeted me but I didn’t recognize him. The mask he wore had prevented me from identifying his features. Only after he contravened the strict anti-Covid rules, that is, after having lowered the “muzzle”, I was able to understand who he was and return the greeting. A trivial episode, which will have happened to who know how many Italians in these times of pandemic. Yet that little incident made me reflect on the importance of the human face. A relationship is impossible without the recognition of the other’s face.
I remembered reading somewhere that every human being as soon as he opens his eyes to life looks for a face: that of his mother. A research that continues throughout existence and which represents the soul of the same communication and relationship with others. We discover that we are men when we can look to a face and say “you”. In fact, the newborn looks for the face of the mother, as the child looks for the face of the parents, the lover looks for the face of the beloved, the disciple looks for the face of the teacher, the man looks for the face of God.
The drama of today’s liquid and postmodern society lies in the fact that today’s man is unable to consciously say “you” to anyone. Precisely in this drama lies and hides the obsessive and violent search for power that largely characterizes the usual relationships between people, based mostly on the systematic reduction of the other to a design of possession and use.
It is a cultural model that has long been imposed by power and fed through its deadly propaganda machine. Just watch any prime-time television drama, or read the entertainment magazines.
Power needs to destroy social relations, to create individuals who are lonely, isolated, possibly single, without roots, without identity, fragile, defenseless and fearful, that is, perfectly manipulable subjects.
From this point of view, the Covid-19 pandemic is an unexpected (or willed?) Manna from heaven. It even legitimized having to hide the face with a mask. But how do you have a relationship with the other without seeing him in the face? The human face is the part of the body that must always be naked and that must not be hidden.
It is no coincidence that in ancient Greece, the slave was defined as ἀπρόσωπος (apròsopos), that is without (a-) face (pròsopos), therefore without dignity, without freedom, a mere “res” [latin for “thing”], an object in the hands of the master. The uncovered face is a sign of freedom. Even the lepers removed from the community were faceless.
The face is also what distinguishes man from the animal, as the great Cicero taught us in his work De Legibus (I, 27): “(…) is qui appellatur vultus, qui null in animante esse praeter hominem potest, indicat mores” (what is called a face, which cannot exist in any living being except in man, indicates the character of a person).
The face is an essential element of the human relationship. Even God to make himself known by men had to make his face glimpse by becoming man, that is, by entering History as a person. It is revealed through the face of Jesus Christ, who has become the face of human destiny, the nature of the meaning of our being, precisely because Jesus Christ is the face of the Father.
Thus, the total definition of the meaning of man in the world has passed through a face.
I also remembered that the Lithuanian philosopher Emmanuel Levinas devoted much of his philosophical research to the meaning of the face. For the Lithuanian thinker, the epiphany and therefore the manifestation of the other, takes place in dialogue, in the “face to face”. The other then becomes a revelation granted in particular by the face, which is the primary means of communication and the instrument through which the humanity of each one is revealed, to the point of allowing a glimpse of a trace of the Infinite. The face is the place where, more than anywhere else, man’s dynamics are played out, and therefore also his relationship with Power. For this reason – as Giorgio Agamben, another philosopher whom I respect, has clearly written – the face is also “the place of politics”.
The state of exception in which humanity has fallen following the Covid-19 pandemic has gone so far as to consider the concealment of the face as normal, even the need to prevent the epiphany of the other as a duty. Agamben also warns, however, that “a country that decides to renounce its own face, to cover the faces of its citizens with masks everywhere is, then, a country that has erased every political dimension from itself”. And “in this empty space, subjected at every moment to limitless control, individuals isolated from each other are now moving, who have lost the immediate and sensitive foundation of their community and can only exchange messages directed to a name without a face”.
Never as in these times where the law appears to be conditioned by the health emergency, in which Carl Schmitt’s Ausnahmezustand (State of Exception) risks becoming a normal paradigm of government, the face is truly the place of politics. It is the challenge to the tyranny that a people of “apròsopos” [faceless] claims, made up of faceless individuals, without dignity, without identity, without freedom.
Once again Agamben on this point is very clear: “Our unpolitical time does not want to see its own face, it keeps it at a distance, masks it and covers it. There must be no more faces, only numbers and digits. Even the tyrant is faceless”. That’s it.
(Translator note: I continue to offer foreign readers glimpses of the Italian reality, this time by Gianfranco Amato, 60, Catholic, lawyer. While the Italian reality continues in its endless shame, the voices calling for wisdom and responsibility continue to be too few. On the other hand, if they were more numerous, we would not have ended up in this situation.)
Original column by Gianfranco Amato:
Reposted on “Come Don Chisciotte”:
Translation by Costantino Ceoldo