File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2001/lyotard.0111, message 14

Date: Sun, 04 Nov 2001 21:48:50 -0600
Subject: Does the Other Exist?

Chapter 2 of Badiou's Ethics is basically a critique of Levinas.  

As Badiou points out, the essential characteristic of Levinas' project
is that he is anti-philosophical.  To the Same, he opposes the Other as
ontologically prior to identity, following the Jewish conception of the
Law as divine, as opposed to the rational laws of the Greek city-state.

The question Badiou raises is: what is it that testifies to the
originality of my de-votion to the Other?

As Badiou points out, the phenomenological, mimetic or psychoanalytic
approaches will not satisfy Levinas. The ontological primacy of the
Other before the Same must be guaranteed in some manner and there is
nothing in our experience of the Other that will make good this

"The Other, as he appears to me in the order of the finite, must be the
epiphany of a properly infinite distance to the other, the traversal of
which is the originary ethical experience." This infinite
'Altogether-Other' is, as Badiou points out, simply another name for

The only way Levinas can avoid having his ethical project collapse into
mere phenomenology is by having God be what grounds the Other as the
infinite.  By this means, ethics becomes a category of pious discourse. 

To attempt ethics without this religious character is to attempt what
Badiou sarcastically terms "a dog's dinner."  It is simply a pious
discourse that lacks piety. Such individuals may declare the 'right to
difference' but in practice are horrified by any vigorously sustained
difference. (This may be seen currently in the discussion here in
America of the Taliban and Islamic fundamentalism.)

The problem is that this respect for differences appears to define an
identity.  An identity which is structured in a hierarchical fashion.
The implicit motto of this identity is simply the imperative of a
conquering civilization.  "Become like me and I will respect your

In place of the Other, Badiou insists that the real issue lies in
recognizing the Same.  Infinite alterity is what always already is. Even
my own experience of my self is normalyy not that of a unity, but a
myriad of multiple experiences.  

The current fascination of contemporary ethics with the Other is really
cultural, what Badiou calls a 'tourist fascination' with exotic foods,
artifacts, fashion and customs.  Becoming multicultural confers the
status of a global cosmopolitan as opposed to being merely a local
redneck.  Since money is a major component that makes possible this kind
of diversity, to a certain extent this form of ethics acts as a kind of
class marker.
Multicultural ethics is merely a good global marketing strategy.

The Same is not merely what has been, but also what comes to be.  When
the advent of the Same occurs, it is a truth. Only a truth is, as such,
indifferent to differences because a truth is the same for all.  Truth
signifies our capacity for art, science, love and politics since all
truths fall under one of these universal names.

Thus, Badiou asserts "the only genuine ethics is of truths in the plural
- or more precisely, the only ethics is of processes of truth, of the
labor that brings some truths into the world."  Ethics does not exist.
There is only the "ethics-of." 

 Badiou also claims; "There is not, in fact, one single Subject, but as
many subjects as there are truths, and as many subject types as there
are procedures of truths."  



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