File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2001/lyotard.0107, message 59

Date: Wed, 11 Jul 2001 21:42:38 -0500
Subject: Re: ethics - Levinas

Note on Levinas

Obligation is a scandal in the Hegelian sense.  As Lyotard points out;
"If the ego was but the closed (abstract) moment of a dialectical
alteration of the self, you could reveal nothing to me that I didn't
already have in myself."

Besides this resistance to a Hegelian monopoly on philosophy, the
concept of scandal is interesting because this word also bears in on the
theological tradition of Christianity.  Paul spoke of the "scandal of
the cross" and what he meant by this has a similar analogy.  The cross
was a scandal because it meant that God no longer acts from on high as a
monarch or superior, but comes from below through a kenosis or
self-emptying that does not refuse either persecution as a criminal or
even death itself.

There is also a sense here, echoing Sartre, that the other is my fall. 
Continuing on with the theological theme, however, one could interpret
this as a fortunate fall, a felix culpa, because it leads to a new
understanding.  One is born again, not from above, but from below
through the scandal that befalls the self once it encounters the face of
the other.

Such are a few of the religious underpinning implicit in this ethical
prescription which I have perversely placed in a Christian, rather than
Jewish context, to point to the Western universality of the themes.

Which is exactly the point. I provide a commentary in theological terms
and someone who is atheist may then proclaim: "I want nothing to do with
this. It is simply the ancient regime updated.  Old wine in new
bottles."  As if their atheism could make them immune from obligation.
This is the risk Levinas must run - his ethical prescription of
obligation will be transformed into a mere description and hence
betrayed. Denied before the cock crows thrice.

Lyotard points out, however, that this situation cannot really be
avoided.  As Lyotard points out in Just Gaming (Au Juste), one can only
say: "Be Just."  The attempt at cognition only defers the ethical and by
doing so betrays it.

Lyotard compares this with speech act theory where the command to  "act
before you understand" is related to the immediacy of the performative
statement which enunciates the event.

Another comment Lyotard makes concerns the relationship of Levinas to
Buber.   Stated very simply, Levinas critiqued the I-Thou dialogue
relationship that Buber posited by pointing to the asymmetrical
relationship of the Other to the self.  What is interesting about this
critique is that it seems to prefigure Lyotard's own criticism of
Habermas and communicative action. Buber and Habermas remain brothers
beneath the skin.

Also, in the phrase universe of "The Differend" a phrase occurs before
it is understood.  The event remains a kind of analogue to the ethical
situation Levinas invokes.  A godless Torah, if you will. The law,
silent and inarticulate to which one must testify, even as one must also
bear witness to all those I's without a face.
 Next - Note on Levinas - Part II


Driftline Main Page


Display software: ArchTracker © Malgosia Askanas, 2000-2005