The Face as Icon: Rethinking Pictorial Representation through Lévinas’ Concept of the Face

Friday, May 26 •  – 3

In the second half of the 20th century, phenomenological observations played a significant role in shaping our understanding of the face.

Emmanuel Levinas, among the early proponents, emphasized the face-to-face encounter as a means to challenge metaphysics and rethink ethics. Levinas argued that the face of the other is more than mere physiognomy and that, instead, it reveals a profound presence characterized by an inherent excess.

Jean-Luc Marion further developed this perspective, introducing the concept of the icon and exploring the intersection of aesthetics and theology. While early works focused on theology, Marion later associated the icon with the saturated phenomenon, highlighting its significance in phenomenology. Marion’s philosophy offers an opportunity to reevaluate the realm of pictorial representations, and provides a solid foundation for reinterpreting cinematic close-ups.

In my presentation, I analyze renowned auteur films, particularly those by Ingmar Bergman, Andrei Tarkovsky, and Béla Tarr. I examine how these films depict the face, capturing the excess mentioned by previous authors.

What does the face signify in terms of phenomenology and film? How does it transform into an icon? When does the excess become visible? Can we argue that these film representations are not solely concerned with replication? I seek answers in an art form often criticized for its representational nature and perceived imitation of reality.

HUN 🇭🇺 • PhD candidate at the University of Szeged || Full bio

Alexandra Okanovic is a PhD candidate in Philosophy at the University of Szeged in Hungary, where she received her MA degree in philosophy in 2019. Her research is focused on aesthetics, specifically the philosophy of Emmanuel Lévinas and Jean-Luc Marion.

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