The Escape

AN ETHICS OF LOVE

Part 1.2

French language contains one interesting expression, which we could borrow to further discuss the encounter of the loved Other in and after Levinas: the point de fuite. Levinas does not make a use of this expression. The point de fuite is principally a technical term, belonging to the field of photography and visual art. This expression refers to the impression left by a particular perspective of objects, of which the directing vectors lead to an encounter with the implicit horizon line, generally at the centre of the image or slightly in the upper part. These vectors are usually the two oblique borders of a path or road, starting as a large width in the forefront, and ending in a seemingly singular point at the final juncture with the horizon line. In English terminology, this concept is called ‘vanishing point’. The theme of ‘vanishing’ may come, we could speculate, from the idea that all the objects located between these two lines – individuals, vehicles, etc. – ‘vanish’ or disappear as they get closer to the final point of juncture. It is a similar connotation that the French expression offers, but it is, somehow, more richly polysemic. Initially, point de fuite indicates a meaning very similar to that of the English ‘vanishing point’.

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If the lover forgets himself, denies his identity and falls for the Other in her visual appearance of singularity, the misleading promise of a sustainable, unaltered or un-agitated self, it is because this impression was already inscribed in the first contact, in the very visual encounter with this Other.

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Already, at this stage, with both the French and English expressions, one can suggest an analogy between the width of the path or road at the forefront of the image, and my subjective perception of the world, especially for sight – a sense, perhaps wrongly, favoured in the symbolic imagination of Levinas – when my attention is focused on a specific point. The same spatial arrangement is found in the photographic vanishing point and in my perception of an object. But there are two couples of lines that must, here, be distinguished in the painting. First are the two oblique lines meeting in the point de fuite, as we mentioned. But another couple precedes it, and encompasses it: the two implicit, silent lines of the border of the painting. They represent the limits of my scope, of my perception, of the landscape as it is available to my sight. It is with this larger couple of lines that one could speculate a geometric analogy, or a symbolic assimilation with another pair of imaginary lines: the oblique lines that border my visual perception. They form, according to scientists, an angle of almost 180 degrees, which is the scope of sight that I can have at one instant, in one place. There is a similarity of relations between the two sets of lines in the painting, and those of human perception when it passes from the large angle of my general perception, to the focused perception of the loved Other. The large angle of the perception by default (the 180 degree of humans; the borders of the painting) can only have the subject as geometric origin (necessary for the very phenomenon of perception; implied before the scene of the painting). This large angle is inverted and reduced to a maximum: a point. The first two lines start from me; the final two lines end in the loved Other. It is the passage from my subjectivity, perceived as singular point, to what seems, externally, as the evident singularity of the Other. We shall return to this spatial representation later, but the root of a major risk in love is already appearing here: visually, that is, in what is, arguably, in most cases, the first medium of my encounter of the loved Other, she appears as a singularity, a point of juncture for other objects existing in space. If the lover forgets himself, denies his identity and falls for the Other in her visual appearance of singularity, the misleading promise of a sustainable, unaltered or un-agitated self, it is because this impression was already inscribed in the first contact, in the very visual encounter with this Other.

This risk is, in fact, the second meaning that can be drawn from the French expression point de fuite. Fuite is translated in English as either flight as in the sentence ‘he put the soldier to flight’, or as leaking as in the sentence ‘there was a leaking of water’. Common to these multiple meanings is the idea of a departure under pressure – the pressure of the battleground situation for the fleeing soldier and the pressure of the pipes for the running water. Fuite is, in other words, an escape. In the tradition of French photography and visual arts, this particular perspective, this dynamics between objects and spaces, is therefore conceived as a sort of escape. But an escape from what? What is this object, or subject, who finds refuge in this final point, joining its path and the horizon, that is, the line of reference, the line that permits the correct inclination of the whole image? Is the point of escape, here, the culmination of the escape, the highest moment of risk, or pressure, for that which seeks escape? What is escaping, and from where?

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References

Image courtesy: Saud

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