Saturday, November 01, 2008

Limitrophe within Metaphysics?

Is language for metaphysics in some essential way, or might we ascribe such a conceit, perhaps a bit unfairly, to a narcissism of philosophers? As I approach, slowly, Levinas' understanding of language, I can just make out the features of a dialogism, a dialogism of the face-to-face encounter and not of the utterance per se–but I am speaking too quickly; the utterance as such has yet to be unpacked, and, besides, I am sure we will find that Levinas offers a word or two to say about the utterance. Levinas promises:


We shall try to show that the relation between the same and the other–upon which we seem to impose such extraordinary conditions–is language. For language accomplishes a relation such that the terms are not limitrophe within this relation, such that the other, despite the relationship with the same, remains transcendent to the same. The relation between the same and the other, metaphysics, is primordially enacted as conversation, where the same, gathered up in its ipseity as an "I," as a particular existent unique and autochthonous, leaves itself.


(Totality and Infinity, p. 39, Levinas' emphasis)


Lingis, Levinas' translator, has given us a difficult sentence to interpret, since we don't usually say "limitrophe within." What Levinas means is that your transcendence is never completely encompassed or enclosed by your relation to another which is language. Well, Levinas is defining metaphysics and language in the same way, as a relation between same and other, or, more exactly, he sees discourse as an enactment of metaphysics. Is there such a thing as a natural language, or a natural discourse, a discourse that would be physical before or without being metaphysical? (Is there any enactment that doesn't require the physical, if only to earn the name of action?) Could languages be metaphysical in ways Levinas couldn't have imagined, or did he have in mind an incalculable multiplicity of metaphysical enactments that would indeed cover every usage? Put another way, should I allow you the possibility of transcending metaphysics itself? How would making such an allowance affect my approach to conversation? Wouldn't I have to in some significant sense let go of the business of enacting metaphysics, or an expectation of a mutual enactment of metaphysics? I'm leaning towards the idea that conversation puts metaphysics at risk, that conversation always makes openings for the possibility of a verbal gesture that would undo metaphysics. What would be a good example of such a gesture? Search me.


P.S. It temporarily slipped my mind to say something about the sojourn, about the sojourn into conversation. What did we have to learn before we learned to sojourn? There is a relation between the limitrophe and the sojourn, taking nourishment at the border, perhaps even from the border one has every intention of freely crossing. A demand for hospitality? Such a demand might precipitate a refusal, an undoing of metaphysics. How might the sojourner into metaphysics be reminded of what it means to reside? Yes, I'm intrigued by the idea of the sojourner leaving himself at the border, but if that's what happens in conversation, where did we come into our memory of how to live in a place, which I feel we draw from in order to sojourn? It can't be that knowing how to live in a place is always knowledge in the form of memory, can it?

Labels: , , ,

posted by Fido the Yak at 11:02 AM.

6 Comments:

Blogger Tal said...

Hi

I wanted to ask you about your "Mixotricha paradoxa" post from a year ago July.

Do you mind emailing me directly? Address is: tcrbachman @ gmail.com

Thanks! Interesting blog.

November 02, 2008 3:12 AM  
Anonymous Shahar Ozeri said...

Hi, Fido. You raise some interesting points.

You wrote: "Is there such a thing as a natural language, or a natural discourse, a discourse that would be physical before or without being metaphysical? (Is there any enactment that doesn't require the physical, if only to earn the name of action?) Could languages be metaphysical in ways Levinas couldn't have imagined, or did he
have in mind an incalculable multiplicity of metaphysical enactments that would indeed cover every usage? Put another way, should I allow you the possibility of transcending metaphysics itself? How would making such an allowance affect my approach to conversation? Wouldn't I have to in some significant sense let go of the business of enacting metaphysics, or an expectation of a mutual enactment of metaphysics? I'm leaning towards the idea that conversation puts metaphysics at risk, that conversation always makes openings for the possibility of a verbal gesture that would undo metaphysics. What would be a good example of such a gesture?"

Just a comment, really, because I can't answer all of those questions at once. Yes, throughout Totality and Infinity, the non-totalizing relation of the face of the other capable of generating absolute separation and radical asymmetry between individuals can be produced in discourse.

In Levinasian parlance discourse is an interpellation in which ethics comes to the forefront as a command from the other. The face of the other signifies as expression, which is a speaking that exceeds the other’s plastic manifestation that calls me to responsibility. The link between such a robust responsibility and expression is what L calls “the ethical condition or essence of language.” This "ethical language" is characterized as having an extraordinary straightforwardness and justice, and as such, condemns any language, especially rhetoric, that is troped or figured as a form of language that is boldly circuitous and in turn, irresponsible. Such an ethical language, according to Totality and Infinity, is always (e)vocative and does not include poetic activity. Levinas already suggests as much in the introduction to Totality and Infinity.

However, later on, L reworks this somewhat significantly, esp., in Otherwise than Being what with the Saying and the Said (and I would argue that many of those concepts are at work in earlier writings). Really though, the urgency of Levinas’s project, with its various expressions of commitment--whether “After you, sir,” “Here I am,” or conceptual categories like hostage or substitution (in OTB), or one of the other gestures that Levinas likes to talk about is taking the bread out of one's mouth and giving it to the other person-- take on a far more forceful critique of phenomenology and metaphysics.

November 03, 2008 7:03 AM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

Shahar, I'm glad you commented. This idea caught my attention in particular: "Such an ethical language, according to Totality and Infinity, is always (e)vocative and does not include poetic activity. Levinas already suggests as much in the introduction to Totality and Infinity." I think that will help me interpret Section 1 B. I have read the Preface yet again and I am not seeing the suggestion of an ethical language that excludes poetic activity. Perhaps I could see that if I narrowly defined poetic activity as either violence, non-reason, or even as disclosure. However, I don't quite see things that way. How are infinition and poetry mutually exclusive? (I would insist that my reading of poetry is reasonable, if it came to that.) How exactly is poetry unethical? Is there at work an idea of an unread poem, a poem that could never be freely interpreted but could only be carried out as violence? That wouldn't strike me as fair. But I don't want to be unfair myself. I am just not seeing it yet. At the extreme end I am willing to think any metaphysical drama, however unscripted, any conjuncture in being, couldn't do without poetry.

What is an aspiration to radical exteriority? The idea of the possibility of a signification without context is quite challenging. Yet perhaps significations wouldn't be possible without such an idea. (Oh no, I'm trapped within the totality, inextricably and forever drawn to things as they are.) Do you and I share this same idea (of the possibility of a signification without context)? How has it come to pass that we have this idea? Yes, what is the context of such an idea?

I wander. As always your comments are much appreciated.

November 03, 2008 10:02 AM  
Anonymous shahar ozeri said...

Yes, you are pointing to a great ambiguity in Levinas, e.g. his relation to poetry and more broadly, aesthetics. It stems from, at least I think, a robust iconoclasm, both religious and philosophical that forms a thread through much of his corpus. On the other hand, it's a way for him to separate himself from Heidegger, who for Levinas, lacks an ethical "voice" or discourse that arrives from beyond the visual. There are a number of things to sort through in your interesting series of comments/questions, but I'll just make a few comments aimed somewhat generally.

To find a lot of Levinas's work on aesthetic issues, it's best to look pre-Totality and Infinity, really. In fact, as early as 1947, in an essay called "The Other in Proust" Levinas contrasts the philosopher’s denotative language to the poet’s figurative language; between a language of communication and a language that freezes the very function for
communication, and between a ostensibly singular meaning and the multiplicity of meaning.

Like Sartre's distinction in "What is Literature," [sorry to drop all these names but it makes the point nicely] in which he portrays the prose writer as an agent of history, subject to the necessity of choice and thereby responsible for all of his actions, including literary ones. The prose writer, unlike the poet, understands language as a toolbox and unveils
the “real” world with the intention to change it. The poet, on the other hand, understands
words as things and refuses the use-value of language. The irresponsible poet confuses the aesthetic object with the natural one. Levinas, making use of similar categories,
groups the philosopher under the category of “prose writer.” The poet, on the other hand,
draws upon his reasoning to “produce a certain rhythm."

In short, Levinas uses Proust(in that particular essay) as an example of the problem with aesthetic experience, namely, that it charms, enraptures and transports its audience through rhythm. Throughout Totality and Infinity, poetry stands in for all aesthetic phenomena, while prose is exactly that which interrupts
the very "raptness" of rhythm.

If you want to read a sort of manifesto that greatly mistrusts most forms of art, have a look at an essay 1948, "Reality and its Shadow," yet, Levinas does like some poets/writers/artists, (esp. Blanchot) which is detailed in _Proper Names_. I can't remember if it's Levinas or a commentator on Levinas (or hell, maybe I said it!) who wrote something to the effect that language at its most significant when "tongued" to another. Or something like that.

Anyway, I have to run, but this is certainly a fun discussion.

November 03, 2008 12:14 PM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

I put a request in for Proper Names and The Levinas Reader.

On the basis of no authority whatsoever I say it's irresponsible to attribute to the poet a refusal of the pragmatic aspect of language, irresponsibility with respect to the just demands of communication, confusion, and anything else we don't want cluttering our philosophical discussions, until at least we have questioned the poets, or, what we could do on our own, begun to examine our poetic productions and capabilities rather than just pretend to repress them. How very oafish of me. I know. I haven't yet even heard Levinas' argument and already I am forming an opinion. Of course now if I read Levinas for the poetry of Levinas I will have compromised the encounter and perhaps succumbed to vicious impulses. Yet I would almost feel irresponsible if I didn't take up this challenge of reading the anti-poet for his poetry. Hmmm. Is it good fortune that I can read for more than one purpose?

November 03, 2008 1:50 PM  
Anonymous Shahar Ozeri said...

Don't worry, Fido. Levinas's hostility to the visual/poetics is a bit off putting, but there are ways to "save" aesthetics, for one, vis a vis his own "exceptions." By the time one gets to Otherwise than Being, at least in my view, it's kind of impossible to not read Levinas "poetically" (whatever that may mean] or minimally, by paying close attention to his style. That's a whole other story, but we are certainly not alone in thinking this. Here's Blanchot commenting about Levinas in his essay “Our Clandestine Companion:"

"Jean Wahl used to say that the greatest transcendence, the transcendence of transcendence, is ultimately the immanence, or the perpetual referral, of the one to
the other. Transcendence within immanence: Levinas is the first to devote himself to this strange structure (sensibility, subjectivity) and not to let himself be satisfied by the shock value of such contrarieties. Yet, one is always struck by one of his typical procedures: to begin, or to follow out, an analysis with such rigor…until we get to a minor remark…which fissures the whole of the preceding text, disturbing the solid order we had been called upon to reserve, an order that nonetheless remains important"

November 03, 2008 2:23 PM  

Post a Comment

Fido the Yak front page