File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2003/lyotard.0302, message 116

Subject: Levinas and Psychoanalysis
Date: Sat, 22 Feb 2003 03:02:01 -0600


You raise excellent points regarding the deficiency of Badiou's critique
of Levinas.  This is an issue upon which you and I continue to be in
agreement. I also share with you the view that even though Levinas
himself may have been pious and full of "god talk", it is certainly
possible to read him in a way that avoids the necessity of theology.
Lyotard, to merely give one example, was a great reader of Levinas who
remained far from being religious. I will even concede you the point
that, for similar reasons, Levinas need not be considered as necessarily
conservative or reactionary in the political sense.  I have no wish to
be unduly reductive in my interpretation of Levinas.  

What I want to explore further with you instead, however, is this very
relationship of Lacan with Levinas.  This is because I believe Badiou's
ethics also bear a deep relationship in many ways with Lacan's own
ethical concerns.  

I thought you made an excellent point when you said that "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."

I agree and would go on to say that this formulation is also close to
what Levinas calls the 'il y a' or 'there is' in "Existence &
Existents."  Levinas writes: "In horror a subject is stripped of its
subjectivity, of his power to have private existence...It is a
participation in the there is, in the there is which returns in the
heart of every negation, in the there is that has "no exits." It is, if
we may say so, the impossibility of death, the universality of existence
even in its annihilation."  

To me this sounds suspiciously like Lacan's notion of a traumatized
subject.  Certainly, some of the other elements you name such as
masochism, being held hostage to the other, substitution, and the
principle of alterity itself as a kind of shattering of the mirror stage
all lend themselves to a psychoanalytical interpretation.  

I am not saying this as an attempt to do an easy refutation of Levinas
that subjects it to Freudian analysis or one that merely interprets his
ethics as a masking of the superego under the guise of the other.

What I find so impressive about Lacan, in spite of his jargon, is that
he presents psychoanalysis as a way that leads us into the ethical, not
beyond it.  Despite the horror Levinas would have with my
interpretation, there clearly seems to be psychoanalytical elements in
the way Levinas presents his ethics, if only because he presents them in
a phenomenological, existential fashion.  He does not argue logically
like Kant, but rather puts us at the primal scene, as it were, of the
birth of ethics, in the destitute face of the other that creates an

By showing us how ethics is situated in the Event of the Other, doesn't
Levinas reveal a basic affinity with Badiou and Lacan? And doesn't this
allow us to minimize the significance of the "god talk" and interpret
his ethics in a much more radical fashion?

As Lyotard puts it in the Differend (171):

"Levinas' "marvel" comes close to the "alienness" of the Gnostics,
particularly in Marcion's case. Obligation alienates the ego: it becomes
the you of an absolutely unknowable other. Jonas also uses the word
Unheimlichkeit, which gathers within itself the contradictory relation
between ego and other.  In acceding to this request, I go out far away
from my home, as a hostage, without ever taking up habitation with you,
nor ever being your guest, since you have no residence, but I also
thereby fulfill my calling, which is to be at home no longer.  Freud,
putting the id in the place of you, goes the wrong way when he assigns
to the ego the call of evicting the id.  He would be succumbing to the
temptation of empty knowledge. But the analysis, supposing that it
consists in this substitution, it is still interminable."

Keep in mind Marcion was also a very close reader of St. Paul as well as



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