File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2001/lyotard.0107, message 52

Subject: RE: ethics - Levinas
Date: Wed, 11 Jul 2001 07:00:10 -0500

Hi, all. I'm prepping for class (trying to stay 5 minutes ahead of my
students this summer), so can't really flesh this out right now. But i'm
interested in this Levinas discussion, and i want to make a coupla quick
comments. First, sdv writes:

>In Trace of the Other and in Meaning and Sense Levinas became
>convinced that the only way in which he can guarantee a form
>of ethical thinking that won t return to the self, to the same,
>is by not just relating to the human other, but by making the
>human other relate to something beyond itself, what he calls
>the trace of illeity ,or the divine, or God.

There is no doubt that Levinas was a God-guy. But it's important that via
this notion of Illeity, he totally re-scripts what we call "God" and the
"divine." God--as an entity, guarantor of Truth, etc,--may be dead (though
this in itself deserves a long discussion since God seems more like the
Great Undead, like the Idea that wouldn't LEAVE). But Levinas's God, as the
trace of Illeity (of the Other), lives on, operating as the basis for
ethical relations (after God-the-Entity).

The trace of Illeity flickers (without ever finally and fully appearing) in
any/every saying, in what L calls Conversation or the relation with the
other. The trace of Illeity is the flicker of the Other in the other: the
other's radical inappropriability. When, as i converse with you, i catch
this trace of Illeity, I experience a kind of immemorial remembrance, the
upsurge of an unconscious "memory" of the O/other who, because s/he needed
me, hailed me into existence as a "Me." Because the Other made "me"
possible, I owe it EVERYTHING--and because this Other pre-exists any notion
of (my and your) Self, there is no way to ever be done with this gigantic
responsibility; it is much bigger than "I" am. It is because I owe the Other
everything that I, to use one of levinas's frequent examples, will stand at
an open door and say "after you."

Certainly, Levinas maintains terminology (metaphysics, God, etc.) that is
uncomfortable for "us" today, and Derrida gets him for it in "Violence and
Metaphysics." But i think it's important to acknowledge the ways in which
Levinas also unworks these terms, particularly in his later works, and most
particularly in _Otherwise than Being_. Derrida's notion of the trace and
his ethical imperative "Come!" are both snagged from Levinas, which
indicates that Levinas's terminology and ethics are extremely complex and
not easily dismissed. L doesn't, imho, manage to get past certain
androcentric and anthropocentric assumptions--and derrida gets him for this,
too, in "Eating Well"--but he does take us light years beyond typical
conceptions of "metaphysics" and "God," light years beyond the conception of
God that one would need to deny via an atheistic stance. (In a Levinasian
context, it seems to me that denying "God" is something like denying

Second, Simon Critchley offers a really nice reading of Levinas and Lacan in
one of his books (sorry, can't remember which), noting the incredible
similarity between the way the two describe the construction of the subject
as an effect of an immemorial trauma. Interesting read. I guess what i want
to ask you is how you are defining "finitude." Because Jean-Luc Nancy's
post-Heideggerian redescription makes finitude the infinite lack of an
infinite Identity--or, as Avital Ronell puts it: finitude is the infinite
inappropriability of meaning and being. This approach busts any clean
distinction between finitude and infinitude. In fact, the finite becomes
that which *absorbes* the infinite. It is only because you, in your
finitude, exceed any interiorized image i may have of you, that you manage,
irrepressibly, to "make an entry" into my "world," shaking my little web of
beliefs, and sparking in "me" an experience of expropriation.

I really am going to be LATE if i don't stop--just wanted to toss out those
thoughts. Still listening...

best, ddd


     D. Diane Davis
     Rhetoric Department
     University of Iowa
     Iowa City, IA 52242


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