File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2003/lyotard.0302, message 113

Date: Fri, 21 Feb 2003 16:08:02 -0600 (CST)

But Steve, when Levinas says God, he is not evoking some being or montheistic 
entity; not even close. He is completely redefining the notion of "god" 
and "religion" in terms of an originary sociality. My initial resistance to 
Levinas years ago had to do with what Eric called his "god talk":   as a 
recovering xian (hallelujah), I wanted no part of such shit. And for that 
reason alone it took me quite some time to really read Levinas. But it’s clear 
right away that what he’s doing is nothing that any religious denomination 
could handle; in fact he makes an argument in at least one place for atheism. 
Right outta the shoot, he nixes any sense of God as a being one might pray to. 
Badiou does not do him justice on this point but instead does a kind of Rush 
Limbaugh-ish lumping and dumping routine that makes him seem readily 
dismissable. His reduction of Levinas’s ethics to theology (without following 
or even hinting at Levinas’s wild redefinitions and refashionings) is 
ridiculous. It does not do justice to the radicality of Levinas’s thought but 
instead effaces it through a "pragmatic" approach that dances dangerously close 
to the metaphysics of presence, to the immanentism that Levinas’s work so 
beautifully explodes.

Levinas as a conservative???? Folks, you have GOT to be kidding. Levinas gives 
us a completely, radically different notion of "self" as inessential, 
nonsubstantial--not negative (? wha?) but based on what he calls 
substitution. .... I can't do this justice here, but basically, the "I" only 
comes into being via the assignation to respond, which is non-negotiable: prior 
to every decision, "I" am exposed to and called by the other, who demands a 
response that "does not leave any place of refuge, any chance to slip away." 
Since the myth of interiority followed romantic notions of transcendence and 
immanence down the toilet, there is nowhere to hide--you are originarily and 
irreparably exposed to an inassimilable alterity who interrupts your 
spontaneity and whose demand for a response comes through without reprieve: one 
speaks/writes/acts in response to the other and because there are others. And 
inasmuch as "my" writing/speech/action is always already a response, it is 
made, Levinas says, "despite the ego, or, more exactly despite me." When I am 
on assignment, no one can take my place: I am the one called, and to this call, 
only a "'here I am' (me voici) can answer." However, in this case "the 
pronoun 'I' is in the accusative, declined before any declension, possessed by 
the other." So, it doesn't quite cut it to say that *I* write, that *I* respond 
to the other; strictly speaking, the one who responds is not an ego but "me 
under assignation," me deprived of first person status, me without an I--or 
perhaps: my I sans any ego/ism (OTB 141-42). And this essentially gutted "I" is 
in every way driven by desire. Alterity does not "trump" desire--desire in 
Levinas is always desire *for* the radically other, and the more you get it the 
more you want it. This desire is never satisfied. 

It's true that levinas has been accused of being masochistic, and to that 
accusation, he says if that is true, we can't be masochistic enough: ethics is 
tied to masochism. Once again, however, we'd have to RADICALLY redefine our 
terms here inasmuch as masochism as we typically define it is an ego-ity's 
masochism; Levinas's ethics relies on a passivity *beyond* passivity. 

What Levinas offers is an ethics of/as interruption, of/as a disruption of the 
play of the Same (habitual economy), and his works belt out what we might 
describe as an ethical scream inasmuch as the ethical moment is associated with 
a kind of trauma, with a non-cognitive "experience" that one can only undergo. 
For him, the relation with the other is not reducible to *knowledge* about the 
other; the other is what announces the insufficiency of knowledge, requiring 
instead an exorbitant and deracinating hospitality, an "approach, which 
contrasts with knowing," as he puts it (OTB 193, 120).  For Levinas, the 
ethical relation does not move toward commonality or re-cognition; it does not 
involve the movement of appropriation but an "experience" of depropriation. It 
names, as Blanchot suggests, "a relation that is foreign to every exigency of 
identity, of unity, even of presence" (IC 300). This relation is un/grounded, 
instead, in "the strangeness between us" (IC 168), which interrupts my power to 
appropriate and assimilate--which interrupts my power, period. And/but 
paradoxically, responsibility (from responder, implying the obligation to 
respond to the other) requires that "I" respond precisely at this moment 
when "I" have lost the power to do so. It is this interruption that opens a 
rapport with the other as other. 

This "relation without relation," as Levinas puts it, is what he 
calls "religion." And God is the name he gives to radical alterity, to that for 
which your own little web of beliefs and hermeneutic fictions cannot account. 
God is the name for that which infinitely exceeds the tropological structure; 
and though Levinas would hate this, it looks and acts an awfully lot like (but 
is not simply reducible to) what Lacan calls the Real.  

 Okay…………………………done ranting. Back to work. 



  D. Diane Davis
  Division of Rhetoric & Department of English
  1 University Station B5500
  University of Texas at Austin
  Austin, TX 78712-0200

  Office: 512.471.8735; Dept: 471.6109; FAX: 471.4353

-----Original Message-----
From: [mailto:owner-] On Behalf Of steve.devos
Sent: Friday, February 21, 2003 1:40 PM
Subject: Re: Fear.



The trinary structure (self/god/other) that is at the heart of Levinas ethical 
structure explicitly requires that God and Ethics are inseparable. Not only is 
this extraordinarily reactionary given that it assumes that ethics derives from 
christian, judiac and islamic thought, in that it assumes that ethics derives 
from religious thought, and as such makes the assumption that morality and 
moral thought requires a tight connection between God and Morality.  Is 
it "sensible" to, or even possible to argue that an ethics founded on the 
necessity for the existence of a montheistic God used to justify 
ethics/morality - as oppositional to an understanding of ethics as being 
socially determined - is feasible?  Is it the case then that Levinas is so 
ahistorical as to be simply irrelevant then?  

The following is required for L.
* There are moral values.
* The existence of these values depends on the existence and nature of god.

Plainly absurd.

shawn wilbur wrote:

I'm curious. If we do not acknowledge a basic difference in the economies
of "obedience to [explicit] law" + "fear of the lord" and "the law of
then where, in terms of very practical critique, does that leave us? The
conflation is useful if you want to lump all "religions of the book," but
such talk of "tendencies" is simply ahistorical, and ignores essentially
of the conflict within the "western moral tradition." You end up in the
position of claiming that very progressive social practices have been
covertly "reactionary" because of some tendency (which they may even
have been quite explicitly working against.)
I'm thinking, for example, of Mayor Samuel Milton "Golden Rule" Jones,
of Toledo, OH, and very practically successful politician who, the record
suggests, was far more progressive that most of the Progressives of his
era, precisely because he paid close attention to the differences between
these two economies of "law."
As an anarchist, it naturally warms my heart to hear folks claim that
to law is inherently reactionary. I even agree, within limits of how we
"law." But anarchism's specific form of the "what is to be done?" question
revolves precisely around how the necessary functions of social
are to be differentiated from "law" and "government." I won't pretend to
answer those questions, though i have some strong opinions. However,
one of those opinions i will advance is that only close attention to the
dynamics of systems will bring anything like illumination. Isn't it, for
the case that "original sin" is far from a uniform factor even within
practice - and that plenty of secular philosophies include some attention
the internal division of human beings which has much the same function?
Eric wrote:
Let me say first of all I thought Geof's position was rather eloquently
stated. I want to chime in, however, in favor of Steve's comment that
Levinas is reactionary. Perhaps, Geof is right about Levinas being hard
to put into politics terms because his ethics is concerned with a
mirco-level face-to-face basis regarding the other. I think it is still
possible to raise the issue that Levinas does not really break with the
moral tradition of the west, he simply finds new ways to defend it, and
therefore the core of his ethics remains conservative and even
Certainly, at the heart of this western tradition there lies the notion
of original sin - the self left to own device becomes evil. This self
must always be subjugated through the law in order to be saved. When
this is done, the worship of god and the respect for the neighbor are
seen as the primary ends of ethics.
Jewish tradition obeys the Torah; Christianity discards the rules of
kosher and ritual purification, but still maintains the law of love. One
of the ways this break is characterized (usually by Christians) is that
the old law is based upon 'fear of the lord' where god is seen as a
being who is wrathful and quick to anger. Nonetheless, this fear is
useful insofar as it teaches humility, the repentance to sin in sack
cloth and ashes. Christianity usually claims this fear must be overcome
by love and posits a new, more intimate relationship with god - Jesus is
my friend.  This kind of tenderness seems to be related closely to the
kind of positive fear that Geof was invoking. Levinas is interesting
because he rewrites this tradition in a way that stands Christianity on
its head and tends to validate the Jewish tradition from facile and
empty criticisms.
The problem with all this, however, is that this disowned self under
both the Jewish and Christian traditions tends to be very negative. In
the Lacan-Badiou sense it gives up on desire. The western tradition
strongly advocates making the self at best, passive and at worst,
Feminists have usually critiqued this kind of ethics as follows. It
tends to idealize service and for women, roles such as being a mother,
teacher, nurse, nun, - the so-called caretaker and nurturing roles are
valorized. Certainly these are concerned with the ethics of the other,
but in a way that tends to limit the woman herself. If a woman chooses
to become something else, such as an artist, writer, athlete these roles
tend to be seen as somehow suspect and less than the ideal.  Such a
woman may be described by religious judgment as being selfish when she
was really being ethical.
Without going into the details, I think it is fairly obvious that
Levinas never really breaks with any of this basic orientation in his
ethics. He always tends to disavow the self (chez soi) versus the face
of the other.  In his system, alterity always trumps desire.
In this sense, Badiou is more modern and more political in his approach.
Instead of the traditional self-other axis, his is an immortal-animal
axis which is guided by truth rather than god as the ultimate source of
its ethics.  This may be seen as contra-natural in the sense that
ontology-sets-difference-being are in some sense natural. It is not,
however, concerned with the care of self, but rather with the event of
truth. Who we ultimately become stems from this break; this encounter.
In this way, ethics are always political in their import.
-----Original Message-----
[] On Behalf Of Don Socha
Sent: Monday, February 17, 2003 3:23 PM
Subject: Re: Fear.
I had thought of the Levinas angle but discarded it, for
myself at
least, because of my rejection of his ethics.  Beyond the
critique of
Levinas by Badiou, there is something deeply reactionary in
such as "...Ethics is, therefore, against nature because it
forbids the
murderousness of my natural will to put my own existence
I don't see what's necessarily reactionary about this
position, Steve.  Surely you don't mean to suggest that
Levinas is anything like a biological determinist. Though I
don't want to overlook the always difficult context of his
work, isn't he simply saying that while nature is
indifferent, people need not be fatalistic?
I've yet to read Badiou (plan to begin this week), but
doesn't Levinas mean something quite distinct when he
says "against nature"?  I do know he wasn't in favor of
putting his own existence first... rather, his whole ouvre
stands against precisely this.
Or do you see ethics as something other than an artificial
means by which better versions of ourselves might be
Don Socha

  Dr. Diane Davis 
  Division of Rhetoric and Dept of English
  University of Texas at Austin
  PARLIN 19  (512-471-8735)
  Austin TX 78712-1122


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