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Giorgio Agamben: The face and the mask

Another analogous translation (we ask our Italophile readers to forgive us) of a text by Giorgio Agamben, which was published on Quodlibet on October 7.

Originally published by Quodlibet. Translated by Enough 14.

German version on Sunzi Bingfa: https://sunzibingfa.noblogs.org/post/2020/10/18/das-gesicht-und-die-maske/

All living creatures move in a space that we call public, they reveal themselves and they communicate with each other, but only humans have a face, only humans make their appearance and their communication with other humans to their own basic experience, only humans make their face to the place of their own truth.

What the face reveals and unveils cannot be put into words, cannot be formulated in this or that meaningful sentence. In his own face, a person unconsciously puts him/herself at risk, in the face, in front of the word, he/she expresses and reveals himself/herself. And what the face expresses is not only the state of mind of an individual, but above all his openness, his nakedness and his/her understanding with other people.

That is why the face is the place for politics. If there is no politics for animals, it is only because animals, who are always in “public”, do not make a problem of their exposure, they simply linger in it without caring. That is why they are not interested in mirrors, in the image as an imitation. Humans, however, want to recognize and be recognized themselves, they want to appropriate their own image, they seek their own truth in it. In this way they transform the open into one world, into the realm of a continuous political dialectic.

If people always and exclusively only had information that they could share with each other, always this or that, there would never be any real politics, only an exchange of messages. But since people must first of all communicate their willingness to be open, i.e. their pure ability to communicate, to each other, the face is the real condition of politics, the one in which everything that people say and the true exchange is founded. In this sense, the face is the true city of the people, the political element par excellence. By looking at the face, people recognize each other and are almost passionate for each other; they perceive similarity and diversity, distance and closeness.

A country that decides to give up its own face to cover the faces of its citizens with masks everywhere is thus a country that has erased all political dimensions from itself. In this empty space, which is subject to unlimited control at all times, there now move isolated individuals who have lost the immediate and sensitive foundation of their community and can only exchange messages addressed to a faceless name. To a faceless person.

Giorgio Agamben, October 7, 2020.



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