Monday, October 27, 2008

To Love the Tout Autre

John Caputo offers defense of deconstruction as an act of love. I'd like to accentuate a relation Caputo makes apparent between the transcendence of the other–if it's okay to use terms I don't yet fully understand–and the ongoing nature of conversation, which I'll venture to say is constitutive of philosophy. The latter:

To love the tout autre, which phenomenology calls "transcendence," is to love and respect its inaccessibility. Let us return to this phenomenological point for a moment. Our access to what is transcendent is always limited, not because of the limits of our faculties, but because of the transcendence of the other, because of the recessiveness or structural withdrawal from us of the transcendent. The transcendence of the tout autre is not a function of our limitations; rather, our access to the tout autre is limited because it transcends us. It is the absence or non-givenness in what is given that bears testimony to its transcendence, which is why the thing itself always slips away.

Now, I respect your inaccessibility, but I wouldn't say I love you for your inaccessibility. In any case, let's move from the former to the latter consideration. Here Caputo, having previously identified speaking with response, talks about the ongoing nature of interpretation, taking the idea of the secret as a launching point.

This is not to say that the secret refers to an uninterpreted fact of the matter, like a Kantian noumenon, an unknowable Ding an sich, whereas all knowledge would have to do with appearances. The inaccessibility of the secret for Derrida refers rather to the inescapability and inextinguishability of interpretation, to the ongoing and incessant need to interpret anew. There is no “end” of interpretation, neither a telos nor a terminus, in which we would sink into the arms of the Ding an sich and fall fast asleep, all our limited perspectives having melted away in the presence of the thing itself. On the contrary, the effect of the secret is to multiply interpretations, to interpret without end, so that the end is without end, and this for love of the things themselves which always slip away. In the place of the idea of some uninterpreted fact of the matter, the inescapable necessity of interpretation, which is what I have also called a radical hermeneutics, thinks in terms of the sum total of all possible interpretations, what the classical tradition calls a potential infinity, which means it does not end and you cannot in principle get there from here. All you can do is to try to go where you cannot go, to go on multiplying interpretations, which must shift with the shifting sands of the situation, and cope with the swift and choppy currents of changing historical circumstance.

Actually I'm a little uncomfortable agreeing that it's the secret that multiplies interpretations, or the secret that defers. Rather, I'd suspect that it's the engagement which also means the withdrawal of the tout autre that creates différance, meaning, I suppose, that we can more or less hold others responsible for their adventures in dialogue. And we have our own motives for engaging and disengaging anew, for responding in particular ways to the call of the tout autre, which can be scrutinized if we'd rather they not be shrouded in secrecy. Of course I'm not trying to interpret Derrida here. I appreciate Caputo's work and I recommend this brief essay to you.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 6:49 AM.


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