File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2003/lyotard.0302, message 124


Date: Sat, 22 Feb 2003 19:53:00 +1000
Subject: Re: Levinas


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--Boundary_(ID_ziLRmIx+/+FPKu5s7ineuA)

All,

Lately, I've been musing on the idea of "belief systems" as the integration of "meanings" into "values" (Levinas is about values) and the integration of values into comprehensive systems of belief, often described as religious, atheistic, scientific, socialistic, etc.

About language and points of view:  

Common words:  such as:  chair, table, shoe, designate abstract classes of objects, not the specific chairs, tables and shoes any individual has seen, but a collective name for objects having a common function, a common meaning, for those of us who share language, geography and culture.

Less common words: Snow.  Eskimos are supposed to have about 40 words for snow.  Some primitives in tropical climates may never see or hear of snow, and others might know of snow only as falling flakes.

Point of view:  If a someone in a tropical climate described his personal observation of the Sun to an alien from another planet, the alien might be confused. 

If he later heard a personal description of the Sun from an Eskimo living inside the Arctic Circle, who had seen the Sun in one season, but had been unable to see it in another season, it would seem to be a different Sun.

Observing and describing events assumes human or human-like senses and intelligence,
By Divine Intelligence, God mirrors human intelligence.

Darwin's ideas about survival of the fittest seem to indicate "survival" as a prime source of meaning for humans and related species.  Confronted with danger a species may flee or fight.  

Finding strange fruits a human might eat or abstain remembering that  a similar fruit caused illness or death.

Now, 50 years after discovery of DNA, knowledge of the genetic similarity of mice and men,
knowledge of cell communication and the function of genes, de-mystifies religious and philosophical theories of God-given faculties of reason, a categorical imperative, a "thing-in-itself" etc.

With this background, I'll comment on some statements from recent messages quoted below - especially items highlighted in blue.

Steve wrote:
  Where Simon Critchley proposes that the normal reading of Levina's work 
  as remaking ethics into philosophy does not capture the centrality of 
  his work and project. He argues that the importance of the project is 
  the importance of the human in front of me. "With Leveinas the relation 
  to the other takes place in the concrete situation of speech. Where I 
  focus on the particulart individual in front of me and forgo the 
  mediation of the universal..."[Anti-Hegelian and consequently 
  anti-marxist to the end]. However is it true that he refuses the 
  mediation of the universal by focusing on the individual? 

  Hugh:  The named and focusing "I" is also a particular individual with a particular history.  
  This first-person "I", like the "other" to whom s/he speaks was influenced by "mediation of the universal". 

  Steve:  Of course not for he produces every specific encounter into an encounter with absolute otherness.

  Hugh:  The "otherness" we encounter is the behavior of an "other" person whose exterior demeanor is supplemented by words, images, body language, or other behavior. To say "absolute otherness" is to name an abstraction that exists only in the mind of the one who names.  

  Steve:   But this production of "...Infinity,

  Hugh:  The abstraction "infinity" is to some degree communicable with words, as "infinite space", or "infinite time".  One can experience units of time and dimensions of space, but not infinities of either.

  Steve:  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 - 

  Hugh:  Agreed in principle, but it's sometimes extremely difficult to comprehend an other's present "state of mind", much less an other's personal history. The only "mind" we know is our own.  We get from an "other" only what words, images, languages of the senses and the arts can communicate. .

  Steve:  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.

  Eric to Diane:

  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." 

  Hugh:  Call it the "il y a", the "is it happening", the "Real".   Steve mentions encounter with the infinite and with nature.  Are we speaking of the unknown?  Of future potentials, of potential futures?  

  Hugh:   And Levinas' statement:  "if we may say so, the impossibility of death, the universality of existence even in its annihilation."  is contradictory, but with God-like faith, or faith in God, contradictions are unimportant compared with immortal bliss.  

  Hugh:  On the other hand,
  "In horror a subject is stripped of its subjectivity", sounds like a worse-than-Christian-Hell.

  best,
  HB

--Boundary_(ID_ziLRmIx+/+FPKu5s7ineuA)

HTML VERSION:

All,
 
Lately, I've been musing on the idea of "belief systems" as the integration of "meanings" into "values" (Levinas is about values) and the integration of values into comprehensive systems of belief, often described as religious, atheistic, scientific, socialistic, etc.
 
About language and points of view: 
 
Common words:  such as:  chair, table, shoe, designate abstract classes of objects, not the specific chairs, tables and shoes any individual has seen, but a collective name for objects having a common function, a common meaning, for those of us who share language, geography and culture.
 
Less common words: Snow.  Eskimos are supposed to have about 40 words for snow.  Some primitives in tropical climates may never see or hear of snow, and others might know of snow only as falling flakes.
 
Point of view:  If a someone in a tropical climate described his personal observation of the Sun to an alien from another planet, the alien might be confused.
 
If he later heard a personal description of the Sun from an Eskimo living inside the Arctic Circle, who had seen the Sun in one season, but had been unable to see it in another season, it would seem to be a different Sun.
 
Observing and describing events assumes human or human-like senses and intelligence,
By Divine Intelligence, God mirrors human intelligence.
 
Darwin's ideas about survival of the fittest seem to indicate "survival" as a prime source of meaning for humans and related species.  Confronted with danger a species may flee or fight. 
 
Finding strange fruits a human might eat or abstain remembering that  a similar fruit caused illness or death.
 
Now, 50 years after discovery of DNA, knowledge of the genetic similarity of mice and men,
knowledge of cell communication and the function of genes, de-mystifies religious and philosophical theories of God-given faculties of reason, a categorical imperative, a "thing-in-itself" etc.
 
With this background, I'll comment on some statements from recent messages quoted below - especially items highlighted in blue.
 
Steve wrote:
Where Simon Critchley proposes that the normal reading of Levina's work
as remaking ethics into philosophy does not capture the centrality of
his work and project. He argues that the importance of the project is
the importance of the human in front of me. "With Leveinas the relation
to the other takes place in the concrete situation of speech. Where I
focus on the particulart individual in front of me and forgo the
mediation of the universal..."
[Anti-Hegelian and consequently
anti-marxist to the end]. However is it true that he refuses the
mediation of the universal by focusing on the individual?
 
Hugh:  The named and focusing "I" is also a particular individual with a particular history. 
This first-person "I", like the "other" to whom s/he speaks was influenced by "mediation of the universal". 
 
Steve:  Of course not for he produces every specific encounter into an encounter with absolute otherness.
 
Hugh:  The "otherness" we encounter is the behavior of an "other" person whose exterior demeanor is supplemented by words, images, body language, or other behavior. To say "absolute otherness" is to name an abstraction that exists only in the mind of the one who names. 
 
Steve:   But this production of "...Infinity,
 
Hugh:  The abstraction "infinity" is to some degree communicable with words, as "infinite space", or "infinite time".  One can experience units of time and dimensions of space, but not infinities of either.
 
Steve:  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 -
 
Hugh:  Agreed in principle, but it's sometimes extremely difficult to comprehend an other's present "state of mind", much less an other's personal history. The only "mind" we know is our own.  We get from an "other" only what words, images, languages of the senses and the arts can communicate. .
 
Steve:  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.
 
Eric to Diane:
 
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."
 
Hugh:  Call it the "il y a", the "is it happening", the "Real".   Steve mentions encounter with the infinite and with nature.  Are we speaking of the unknown?  Of future potentials, of potential futures? 
 
Hugh:   And Levinas' statement:  "if we may say so, the impossibility of death, the universality of existence even in its annihilation."  is contradictory, but with God-like faith, or faith in God, contradictions are unimportant compared with immortal bliss. 
 
Hugh:  On the other hand,
"In horror a subject is stripped of its subjectivity", sounds like a worse-than-Christian-Hell.
 
best,
HB
--Boundary_(ID_ziLRmIx+/+FPKu5s7ineuA)--

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