“Emmanuel Lévinas’ face-to-face relation (rapport de face à face) describes the duties between beings in the IRL encounter. Faces “order and ordain” us into “giving and serving” the Other. But with the corporatization of the internet revealing the illusory nature of the URL/IRL split, the two merge to reconfigure the face-to-face encounter, conflate the face with the selfie, and re-inscribe systemic inequality through the trap of visibility. As such, these poets interrogate the “defenseless nudity” of the Levinasian face in digitality. Working with found text, digital practice, post-confessional lyric, and other poetic forms, the four readers explore the reconfiguring effects of trauma on memory and temporality, working in a mode that, to paraphrase Bunny Rogers, exists in a perpetual mourning which still retains jouissance.”
…so goes manuel arturo abreu‘s text written for the press release of the Rapport de face à face. Rogers / Le Fraga / Abreu / Dragonetti poetry reading held at New York’s Hester Gallery on November 7. Featuring manuel, Sophia Le Fraga, Bunny Rogers, and yours truly, the room where we read is also home to Erin Jane Nelson’s ‘Dylan’ installation. Her use of strong sensory elements, such as aromatic teas and spices, thermodynamic textiles, and glass-blown figures is evocative of a body, literally engulfing the space. It’s an immersive experience that effectively becomes part of the event, (re)orienting us from digitality to the physical present, with an intention that’s not dissimilar from our own, in reinterpreting digital or digitized works for a physical space.
The URL/IRL split refers to the relationship of the internet to so-called ‘real life.’ Our work contends that the perceived split is a fallacy, considering how the online has altered, to draw on philosopher Emmanuel Lévinas, the face-to-face relation. One of the ways in which digitality does this is through uncovering what is ‘hidden’ by the individualized, affective relationship. The Levinasian rapport de face à face encompasses only the one-on-one interaction, the ‘subject’ to the ‘Other’. The position of the subject -as each and every individual self from the perspective of that self -is mediated by the larger context of society, connecting the two positions to subjectivity as an ideological structure. When we question the relation of the artist or performer to the audience, we must therefore also question how their subjectivity is socially evaluated.
All of the works read involved the reconfiguration of narrative and trauma. manuel read from a collection called areítx, which they describe as “a refusal of colonial narratives regarding the ‘original Dominicans’, the Taino people, arguing instead that these post-apocalyptic survivors of European settler genocide passed down their traditions through syncretic coalition with escaped African slaves”. Sophia read from ‘I DON’T WANT ANYTHING TO DO WITH THE INTERNET’, suggesting conflict: a rejection of or exhaustion with the corporatism of the URL, coupled with a #neoneoneoromantic reuse of classical elements in post-technical contexts. I read an email sent to a man who aggressively fetishized me, presented as found text, between two other works about gendered violence wherein I practiced self-flagellation. Bunny read from ‘My Apologies Accepted’, a work that, through reliance on simple language and conventions, seeks to reveal the brutality of the norm. Lévinas writes of the gaze of the Other as saying, “do not kill me”; Bunny writes, in the poem ‘Not my mama’s feelings’, “if you want to kill someone / U hav every right to / Best wishes from my kitchen to yours.”
Our works are representative of how colonialism, gender, and capitalism mediates the affective expression of the oppressed. And though incorporating sociological context into the face-to-face experience modifies the rapport, we cannot reclaim our selves. Foucault writes, “visibility is a trap”: we have no control over the audience’s subjective experience, or their interpretation of our work, of us. As manuel touches on in their text, we also cannot transcend the mediation of our expression by both digital and physical institutions -hence the capitalism of visibility, the appropriation of ‘invisible’ identities to be curated, co-opted, and synthesized into a new hegemonic discourse. The institutions of society mediate the Levinasian rapport, exporting violence to where it is ‘hidden’; our curation of a rapport ‘unhides’ the violence but does not prevent our experiences from being assimilated. **
Rapport de face à face. Rogers / Le Fraga / Abreu / Dragonetti was on at New York’s Hester Gallery on November 7, 2015.
Header image: Bunny Rogers @ Rapport de face à face. Rogers / Le Fraga / Abreu / Dragonetti @ Hester, New York. Image courtesy Ijin Chung.