File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2001/lyotard.0107, message 69

Subject: RE: ethics - Levinas
Date: Fri, 13 Jul 2001 10:41:34 -0500

Steve, I think we're going to have to agree to disagree about the
significance of Levinas's thought. Let me point to a few (there are more)
points in your two posts where we disagree:

1) As I understand it, the face, for levinas, is not what is typically
called the face--it is not something to recognize or to be recognized. It is
precisely what resists all recognition, sparking the experience of
expropriation. The face is what one ignores or avoids when claiming
recognition. It is a threshold "site," a site of presentation, yes, but
simultaneously a site of exposure to the other or the "outside." For
levinas, the face therefore exceeds any kind of self-recuperation, including
the self-recuperation of the lacanian mirror-stage. Levinas: "The way in
which the other presents himself, *exceeding the idea of the other in me*,
we here name face" (Totality and Infinity, his emphasis). The face--as
threshold "space," space of irreparable exposure to the other--is also what
he calls Conversation: both designate the placing into relation...with the
Other. Or, more carefully, the "epiphany" of the face is the result of
conversation's "non-violent transitivity," which is a teaching that is not
reducible to maiutics: "it comes from the exterior and brings me more than I
can contain."

2) By "otherwise than being," levinas is trying to designate that which
withdraws from comprehension and signification, that which exceeds all
phenomenality and is experienced only as enigma. That it withdraws from or
exceeds a phenomenality of presence and that it therefore cannot be simply
comprehended, however, doesn't mean that *is* not. The trace (in both
levinas and derrida) names precisely that which exceeds or escapes the order
of simple presence or what derrida calls "the living." This lurch beyond the
metaphysics of presence is necessarily awkward linguistically (there are no
idioms for it), and Levinas is stuck trying to make them up as he goes along
in Otherwise than Being. He uses the third person personal pronoun "he" or
"il" to express this enigma, this beyond being--the undesignated "he" or
"il" is the "pro-name" or "pro-nom" that precedes any identity but that
nevertheless traverses every identity, leaving its trace as Other and as
otherwise than being. And one catches this trace of illeity (as opposed to
ipseity) in the face of the other, according to Levinas.

3) So, "the beyond from which the face comes is the third person," sez
Levinas, which L names "he" or "il." The il, as the Third Person, "is not
definable by the Self, by ipseity" ("Meaning and Sense"). Is this "third
person" what you are referring to when you mention "the absurdity of placing
all relations in the proposed trinary relationship"? Because I don't see
this as absurd or in any way reducible to theology--it can be READ
theologically, but it can also be read philosophically. In what way is
Levinas's notion of illeity less rigorously intellectual and philosophical
than, say, freud/lacan's notion of the unconscious and of repression?

4) About this: "Hence the implicit relationship with defining and
understanding 'the other as victim.'" Lost me there. I don't hear Levinas
suggesting that the other is in any way a victim. Can you refer me to some
passages on this or something? Because as I understand him, Levinas defines
the Self, any Self, *my* Self AS its responsibility to the other--this,
then, is a gigantic and continuous responsibility, a debt I owe the other
that I will never be able to pay but am compelled to keep giving it a shot.
According to levinas, I ("I") exist only in that I am "hostage" to the
other. The relation with the other is never symmetrical in Levinas. "I"
owe/s. And any relation to the other, in fact, any encounter with the face
of the other is a giant risk to my "I" since the other's face cannot not put
"me" into question. I owe everything to this Other in the other, the trace
of whom, when I catch it, will *take "me" out.*

5) You also say that Levinas's work returns us "to the mainstream of western
thought--the passivity of the other." This is problematic for me, too,
because I hear levinas totally busting the active/passive dichotomy. "My
Levinas" ;) is not dealing in a "passivity" that could in any way be located
as the opposite of activity, in other words. This is a radical passivity
that is not simply inactive. And it's not simply the other who is passive in
this regard, it is any I-dentity, my-Self included. Because any Identity
always already owes its very existence to the Other that is beyond being.
(btw, Thomas Wall's book, Radical Passivity, really is a  wonderful resource
for this.) Heidegger's got this radical passivity operating in his work,
too, in his notion of originary thrownness.

Ok, enough. As I said, steve, I think we're going to have to agree to
disagree on this.

best, ddd


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

-----Original Message-----
[] On Behalf Of
Sent:	Friday, July 13, 2001 6:07 AM
Subject:	Re: ethics - Levinas

Eric and all,

An interesting note:

Levianas constructs an anti-ontological notion of being because he is
attempting to produce something 'beyond being' hence the necessity for
Levinas of the theological line. His discussions with the aetheistic
Heidegger of being and time are constantly around this divide. The
obligation referred to  is the 'basic obligation' placing self in a
relationship to the other... Levinas uses it in  way to replace and refind
the logic of the same within his ethic - the obligation being the
responsibility as the primary structure of subjectivity, which he can hold
as a position because he describes and defines subjectivity in ethicical
terms. The subject and subjectivity is ethical, and understood as
responsibility/obligation, or it is nothing. Obligation to the Other.

But this returns us to the same because it assumes recognition of the other
through the 'face', through a recognition of the similar.

But this does not adequately address the constitution of the self as defined
through psychoanalysis - the mis-recognition of the self through the
mirror-phase which combines death-drive/instinct with primary narcissism -
mixing aggression and self-destruction (towards the other) with delight in
the other.

I am wondering how to read the differend through the earlier Lyotard and
wondering what the results might be.



Mary Murphy&Salstrand wrote:

> 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


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