File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2003/lyotard.0302, message 120


Date: Sat, 22 Feb 2003 10:12:54 -0500
Subject: Re: levinas


Quoting "steve.devos" <steve.devos-AT-krokodile.co.uk>:

>  However is it true that he refuses the 
>  mediation of the universal by focusing on the individual? Of course not 
> for he produces every specific encounter into an encounter with absolute 
> otherness.  But this production of "...Infinity, is the mediator of 
>  them all, letting me get just close enough to see the others face, but 
> close enough to know the color of his, her eyes" (ethics and infinity). 
> Bizarrely where Levinas transforms the encounter between human beings 
> into this encounter with the infinite he makes this meetining into 
> something simpler than it in fact is, where we should regard an 
> inter-human meeting as something that engages all of the individual 
> human participants personal, social, economic history and of course 
> nature - the placing of the 'infinite' in the relationship plainly fails 
> to develop the complexity required.  This is not to say that the subtle 
> and enlightening understanding of  inter human relations (phenomenology) 
> is not particularly in tune with the later ethics.

Steve, I'm not sure if the section you're citing/sighting here is Cohen or 
Levinas.  Here's the section I'm familiar with in Ethics and Infinity 
concerning the color of one's eyes:

"I do not know if one can speak of a 'phenomenology' of the face, since 
phenomenology describes what appears.  So, too, I wonder if one can speak of a 
look turned toward the face, for the look is knowledge, perception.  I think 
rather that access to the face is straightaway ethical.  You turn yourself 
toward the Other as toward an object when you see a nose, eyes, a forehead, a 
chin and you can describe them.  The best way of encountering the Other is not 
even to notice the color of his eyes!  When one observes the color of the eyes 
one is not in social relationship with the Other.  The relation with the face 
can surely be dominated by perception, but what is specifically the face is 
what cannot be reduced to that" (EI, 85-86).  

"The best way of encountering the Other is not even to notice the color of his 
eyes!"  That, to me, seems pretty complex.  Keep in mind that one of the 
cliches of the early stages of a relationship is, "Sure you say you 'love me,' 
but I bet you can't even tell me the color of my eyes."  I mean, isn't the 
oldest pick-up line in the world, "You have such beautiful eyes."  (Think, too, 
of the money spent on colored contact lens, the Aryan model of blonde hair-blue 
eyes, or the eyes as "window to the soul.")   

But Levinas says the best way is "not even to notice" because to do so is 
to "not [be] in social relationship with the Other."  He sees a reduction here.

It's a huge stretch, and it is something I brought up in one of my first posts, 
but I wonder if a case might not be made here, in Levinas's non-reduction of 
the eye to Clarice Lispector's refusal to reduce the sight of a cockroach in 
the Passion of G.H.  She sees the scarab back of what most of us consider 
a "repulsive bug" as something much more ancient, something much more Other.  

For sure, Levinas by and large is arguing for the face-to-face of the Human.  
But his face-to-face is very wary of the visual, and I think this may hold out 
some possibility for a reading of Levinas that MIGHT include the non-human in a 
way that Donna Haraway does with Simians and OncoMice.  

"The face is present in its refusal to be contained.  In this sense it cannot 
be comprehended, that is, encompassed.  It is neither seen nor touched--for in 
visual or tactile sensation the identity of the I envelops the alterity of the 
object, which becomes precisely a content" (TI 194).   

Certainly Haraway in her defense of the OncoMouse (a copyrighted 
experimental "product" that is "made" by Dupont) and in Lispector's depiction 
of the "salty eyes" of a cockroach we hear in their work a "refusal to be 
contained" in the familiar.  

I realize Levinas may not be wholly consistent, but I really do think that this 
notion of a face-to-face that does not notice the color of the Others eyes is 
important.

Best,  Geof  

 

   

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