Passive Engagement And ‘the Face’: The Possibility Of Witnessing, Recognising And Recovering Mediated Bodies In Suffering

Glen Donnar
Vol 28, Number 2, p.43
The viewer of the televisual image often looks away from the mediated suffering of (distant) bodies, victims of terrorism, overwhelmed, helpless, seemingly consigned to a despairing passivity. But to not look is to refuse recognition of these suffering bodies and to accept their effacement (in death and mediation) as subjects. This paper adopts a Levinasian approach to ‘the face’ to discern a way for the viewer to bear witness and establish a social connection with mediated bodies in suffering. Ultimately, for the viewer, it is not agency but responsiveness that matters, a passive engagement; an openness and a readiness to respond to the Other’s call upon us, which makes possible a meaningful engagement. The effacement of mediated bodies in suffering cannot be reversed, but in the viewer’s recognition and respons(ibility) it can be exceeded, transcended and they can be re-covered finally as subjects.