The Political Significance of the Face: Deleuze's Critique of Levinas Articles uri icon



publication date

  • October 2016

start page

  • 279

end page

  • 303


  • 3-4


  • 17

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 14409917 (ISSN)


  • While Levinas famously claims that ethics precedes ontology and emanates from the concrete experience of the other's face, it is often forgotten that Deleuze also discusses the face in numerous writings. The purpose of this paper is to briefly outline Levinas's arguments regarding the constitution of the face to chart its ethical importance, before engaging with Deleuze's critique of Levinas's position. I show that, by distinguishing between two systems of signification &- the head-body system and the face system &- Deleuze agrees with Levinas that the face is an important signifier delineating the other, but destructs the notion of face to show that it: (1) is more complex and multi-dimensional than Levinas realizes; (2) emanates from a specific semiotic relationship; and (3) emanates from specific socio-historical circumstances. Showing the face is a semiotic construct based in and emanating from a specific socio-historical configuration allows Deleuze not only to conclude that the face is related to politics not ethics as Levinas claims, but also to claim that it entails the inhuman in the human. This clarifies the nature of the face in Deleuze, offers a critique of Levinas's influential thinking on ethics, brings us to a discussion of the relationship between ethics and politics and reveals what Deleuze takes the political to entail. © 2016, © Critical Horizons Pty Ltd 2016.


  • deleuze; ethics; face; levinas; politics; signification