File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2001/lyotard.0107, message 34

Date: Sun, 08 Jul 2001 18:12:32 -0100
Subject: Re: ethics

Eric and All,

In subject  post, you collected and focussed on most of the key points of
recent discussions of spirit, self, subject, ethics, religion, and I leave
that document attached without alteration.

As far as I'm concerned we are, fortunately, getting more opinions and less

I tried, several times to start discussions of "obligation", as presented in
"Le Differend".  Never thought of positioning obligation opposite "ataraxia"
or other "sublime" or "divine" varieties of experience, but that's a
provocative idea.

As for the "stories" approach to selfhood, that is only a part of what I was
trying to understand and get help on, when I posted comments on July 5th and
6th.  People in extreme circumstances need better stories as well as better
medication, but that is only one example of the reality of the ephemeral
states of mind and memory we call "spirit".  Find a Pandora's Box of
definitions of spirit at:

Thos. Huxley seemed confident of the physical nature of spirit, and so, I
was William James, who is often quoted by present-day scientists who study
the phenomena of mind and consciousness..

Was there a "real" Hamlet?  Certainly there was a Shakspearean Hamlet, who
"experienced" his father's ghost, and of course the ghost "lives" in the
minds of
millions of people, compared with the handful of Shakespeare contemporaries.

Aren't other myths, gods, ghosts, spirits, and necessary fictions, of a
sameness - difficult to live with, difficult to live without yet an
essential resource in the pursuit of wisdom.



> Steve, Hugh, John and others,
> Steve writes of ethics in terms of the subject/other continuum. Levinas,
> as I read him, considers this subject as always already narcissistic.
> "The self-sufficiency of enjoying measures the egoism or the ipseity of
> the Ego and the same. Enjoyment is a withdrawal into oneself, an
> involution."
> It is only when the face of the Other confronts us with its need, its
> hunger and its destitution that an opening breaks though into this
> closed circle of the subject.  When such an event occurs, it is no
> longer the subject as I who enters into an asymmetrical relationship
> with alterity, rather it is the you who is obligated, the second person
> who is being addressed.
> Levinas refers to this as being held hostage by the Other. "I have
> always been at issue: persecuted.  Ipseity, in its passivity with the
> arches of identity, is hostage.  The word I means here I am, answering
> for everything and everybody."
> Thus, this being that is held hostage becomes the triangulation between
> the subject and the Other.  There are now longer merely two, but three
> who are present.  The subject becomes fissured, no longer capable of its
> dialectical, Hegelian moves towards totality. Its needs for enjoyment
> become transcended by a desire that can never be satisfied.  As Lyotard
> puts it; "saying yes to the gift of the undecipherable message, to the
> election that the request is, the (impossible) alliance with the other
> who is nothing, signifies the assumption of the I's fracture."
> Furthermore, as Lyotard also points out, any commentary upon this
> obligation runs the risk of replacing prescription with description,
> ethics with knowledge, converting the question of justice to the mere
> question of logical truth. And since this issue of misinterpretation
> lies at the very heart of alterity, it becomes the triumph of the Other
> over the Same.
> To quote Lyotard again: "The irony of the commentator easily goes so far
> as persecution: the less I understand you, he or she says to the
> Levinnassian (or divine) text, the more I will obey you by this
> fact....Satan would be God's best servant, if it is true at least that
> he disobeys Him.  For 'the disobedient man obeys in some way.'"
> So much for the privileging of ethics over the differend.  The pieties
> of religiosity are met with the impious laughter of the pagan.
> However, this notion of the hostage opens up a way that leads beyond the
> subject/object dichotomy.  It points to the risk the subject always runs
> of becoming an alien to its self, Unheimlichkeit, a stranger.
> The Greek word for happiness is eudaimonia.  It literally means
> possession by the daemon (as Socrates was) - God dwelling within us.
> There is also something noticeably different about ethics in this
> classical sense, as it is presented by Aristotle, Epicurus and Zeno.
> Such an ethics is more pragmatically concerned about the possibility of
> happiness than it is by the demand for obligation.  It is more like a
> map for the journey of life than a legal codebook of morality.
> One of the major questions raised by scholars about Aristotle's
> Nicomachean Ethics is concerned with this very concept of eudaimonia.
> As Thomas Nagel points out, does eudaimonia for Aristotle involve the
> full range of human life action, in accordance with the broader
> excellences of moral virtue and practical wisdom?  Or, does eudaimonia
> involve realizing the divine part of our nature through contemplation?
> Aristotle is ambiguous on this topic and gives excellent grounds for
> defending both interpretations.
> It is only with Epicurus, who came of age the generation after Aristotle
> that this tension becomes resolved.  The goal of ethics for Epicurus is
> clearly to reach a state whereby the divine part of our nature is
> realized.  Epicurus calls this condition ataraxia and defines this state
> as one of continuous pleasure in which one is free both of bodily pain
> and the anxiety of mind.  Here the gods act as simulacra, furnishing us
> with the images of blessedness we must contemplate in order to realize
> our own inherent godlike happiness.
> The end of our ethics here is consistent with the ideal Steve wrote of
> as "the construction of the human and non-human subject, language,
> cultural values that are perhaps worth respecting rather than using them
> simply as a resource, cultural values that would take care of bodies as
> nature, perhaps even spiritually but still understood as bodies. A state
> of being that is not reducible to alienation and reductionism."
> Furthermore, this notion of ethics as the realization of an inherent
> state of pleasure beyond social construction and conditioning is not
> egoic, at least in the sense that both Aristotle and Epicurus
> understood.  These philosophers posit friendship as concurrent with the
> good life and this ideal is not the impoverished notion of friendship we
> are familiar with today, but one that for the Greeks was intimately tied
> to the Polis and community.  In order to realize the state Epicurus
> called ataraxia it was also necessary to create the political conditions
> that would make this possible.  Epicurus found it necessary in the time
> of Alexandrian Empire to withdraw with others to create the community he
> called the garden.  Ultimately, ataraxia is a public, not a private
> affair.
> I want to connect this as well to Hugh's notion of the self as
> storytelling.  What is needed today perhaps is an ethics of stories,
> which act not so much as obligations but as invitations to conviviality.
> Here the pagan gods act as necessary fictions because in the telling of
> their stories, images of mad exuberant joy beyond the scope of reason
> unfold, and we swoon to delight and become hostages to bliss, possessed
> by the alien gods and goddesses. The categorical imperative is that I
> ought to be enraptured, therefore I can and this maxim is one I must
> practice as if it were universal for all.  The Critique of Practical
> Ecstasy as the rational foundation for ethical and political practice
> within the many worlds.
> As Luce Irigaray puts it: "Where can one's eye alight if the divine is
> no longer to be seen?  And if it does not continue to dwell in the flesh
> of the other in order to illuminate it, to offer up to the look the
> other's flesh as divine, as the locus of a divine to be shared?  For
> this exchange, do not figurative writing and art represent necessary
> articulations?  In particular to harmonize listening and seeing."


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