Friday, December 19, 2008

}∅{ as a Horizon of the Improbable

Recalling my statement that "[i]mprobably the plus one, as in 'infinity plus one,' will be revealed as something other than thought," I now read that Levinas defines infinity as the desirable, which he explains as "that which is approachable by a thought that at each instant thinks more than it thinks" (Totality and Infinity, p. 62). In pointing to the improbable I expressed symptomatically a desire to escape a noetic enclosure I will now call metaphysical, knowing too well that our understanding of that term could quickly come undone. If I wanted to steer a philosophical discussion away from metaphysics would I not be aided by the desirable? Escape is not so easy, I know–or so experience has taught me so far.

Is language easy? Language is so plainly multifarious we might well point to its improbabilities. Hmm. Here Levinas reveals (which according to my grasp of English is synonymous with saying "Levinas discloses," a grasp which doesn't fail to realize that Levinas draws a meaningful distinction between his idea of aperspectival revelation and Heidegger's thinking about "disclosure") a key to his dialogism:

One can, to be sure, conceive of language as an act, as a gesture of behavior. But then one omits the essential of language: the coinciding of the revealer and the revealed in the face, which is accomplished in being situated in height with respect to us–in teaching. And, conversely, gestures and acts produced can become, like words, a revelation, that is, as we will see, a teaching. But the reconstitution of the personage on the basis of his behavior is the work of our already acquired science.

Absolute experience is not a disclosure; to disclose, on the basis of a subjective horizon, is already to miss the noumenon. The interlocutor alone is the term of pure experience, where the Other enters into relation while remaining καθ αύτό, where he expresses himself without our having to disclose him from a "point of view," in a borrowed light. The "objectivity" sought by the knowledge that is fully knowledge is realized beyond the objectivity of the object. What presents itself as independent of every subjective movement is the interlocutor, whose way consists in starting from himself, foreign and yet presenting himself to me.

(p. 67)

My views on teaching are way more relaxed than Levinas'. Apparently my views on the difference between writing and speech also differ from Levinas', not merely because I favor the trismegistic over the magisterial, I reckon, but because I don't regard writing as an act of simply representing spoken language, and this permits me to be cautious about the kind of qualities or deprivations of qualities I attribute to writing. Notwithstanding our differences, Levinas may have something to teach me about language. The following passage (it's long, but worth studying) occurs as an elaboration of a response to Buber's philosophy, which Levinas reads as a corrective to a kind of "neutral intersubjectivity" (p. 68) he finds in Heidegger. Again the field is language:

The claim to know and to reach the other is realized in the relationship with the Other that is cast in the relation of language, where the essential is the interpellation, the vocative. The other is maintained and confirmed in his heterogeneity as soon as one calls upon him, be it only to say to him that one cannot speak to him, to classify him as sick, to announce to him his death sentence; at the same time as grasped, wounded, outraged, he is "respected." The invoked is not what I comprehend: he is not under a category. He is the one to whom I speak–he has only a reference to himself; he has no quiddity. But the formal structure of interpellation has to be worked out.

(p. 69, Levinas' emphasis)

Hi. It's me again. Sorry to interrupt. I wonder if the best antidote to the notion that one understands before one listens is the notion that, in conversation, one simply does not understand the person to whom one listens. I have a few books on the topic of listening on my wish list, including Nancy's. We'll see where that leads in the coming year. To continue with Levinas, then:

The object of knowledge is always a fact, already happened and passed through. The interpellated one is called upon to speak; his speech consists in "coming to the assistance" of his word–in being present. This present is not made of instants mysteriously immobilized in duration, but of an incessant recapture of instants that flow by by a presence that comes to their assistance, that answers for them. This incessance produces the present, is the presentation, the life, of the present. It is as though the presence of him who speaks inverted the inevitable movement that bears the spoken word to the past state of the written word. Expression is the actualization of the actual. The present is produced in this struggle against the past (if one may so speak), in this actualization. The unique actuality of speech tears it from the situation in which it appears and which it seems to prolong. It brings what the written word is already deprived of: mastery. Speech, better than a simple sign, is essentially magisterial. It first of all teaches this teaching itself, by virtue of which alone it can teach (and not, like maieutics, awaken in me) things and ideas. Ideas instruct me coming from the master who presents them to me: who puts them in question; the objectification and theme upon which objective knowledge opens already rest on teaching. The calling into question of things in a dialectic is not a modifying of the perception of them; it coincides with their objectification. The object is presented when we have welcomed an interlocutor. The master, the coinciding of the teaching and the teacher, is not in turn a fact among others. The present of the manifestation of the master who teaches overcomes the anarchy of facts.

We must not say that language conditions consciousness, under the pretext that it provides self-consciousness with an incarnation in the objective work language would be (as the Hegelians would say). The exteriority that language, the relation with the Other, delineates is unlike the exteriority of a work, for the objective exteriority of works is already situated in the world established by language–by transcendence.

(pp. 69-70, Levinas' emphasis)

By transcendence. Is it so unrespectable that I should want to emerge from metaphysics, or that I should want to emerge from metaphysics and still have something to say about the journey, something honest, if that's not being too assertive? Let's back up, take a look at this world established by language, and see what, if anything, distinguishes it from other worlds. Speaking of temporality, Levinas says, "This world that has lost its principle, an-archical, a world of phenomena, does not answer to the quest for the true; it suffices for enjoyment, which is self-sufficiency itself, nowise disturbed by the evasion that exteriority opposes to the quest for the true" (p. 65). It's my opinion that one should not put antipluralism ahead of the quest for the true. }∅{ presents an opportunity to listen to questions that come from other worlds (as many as it takes); so, following my own advice, the world of dialogue that exclusively identifies the quest for the thing itself with the quest for the true, indeed creates an opposition between "evasion" and this quest, as if there could only be one true path, this world of dialogue commands respect as a place where ideas are put into question. Surely one emerges from this world with the power to improvise. What of this power? Has one called upon this very power in order to come to the assistance of instants of dialogue, utterances really? Did it never cease? Was it never held in abeyance? Should we not apologize for the incessance of our improvisations? If we do have to reason to apologize, however, if we must put our powers of improvisation on hold for the sake of the quest for the true in this special world of dialogue, don't we then at the same time call upon those powers in order to put thought into question? Or could it be that our entrance into this world of dialogue entails–a cutting to shape–a transmutation of the power to improvise into a power to question. Two points then: such a transmutation would provide a reason for understanding the work of this world as maieutic in a meaningful sense, though the malleability of this power would teach us to be careful of conflating the transmutational with the permutational; such a transmutation would be accomplished by virtue of an abiding power of improvisation which belongs to a world ordered not in line with the arch but in departure (starting) from the breach (}∅{), as far as departure (starting) goes. That is to say, this special world of dialogue is not one but many. Hasn't Levinas already said as much, already spoken of plurality, and in particular the plurality "required for conversation"(p. 59). But he also said, "The inner life is the unique way for the real to exist as plurality" (p. 58, Levinas' emphasis). Shall we put into question then the idea that plurality pertains to worlds? And why not? Is there a question of plurality not enjoying itself with our conversation? Does our respect for plurality obey a principle or are we free to put our respect into practice, free to extent that it's meaningful to speak of freedom, to the extent that we can depart from plurality, that we can go so far as to disrespect it. Is it plurality that's an entailment of freedom, or freedom that's an entailment of plurality? How do we question these sometimes premises apart from each other? Transmutation? And aren't we free to distrust transmutation?

Levinas says, "The distinctive characteristic of forms is precisely their epiphany at a distance." Does the transmutation of this δυναμις–perhaps we could say faculty if we knew what to make of the question–this power of improvisation into this power of questioning, a transmutation that itself is not beyond question, but only appears in this world of dialogue, does this transmutation occur at a distance? Well, it appears at a distance in our case. We observe our experience of dialogue.

The absolute experience is not disclosure but revelation: a coinciding of the expressed with him who expresses, which is the privileged manifestation of the Other, the manifestation of a face over and beyond form. Form–incessantly betraying its own manifestation, congealing into a plastic form, for it is adequate to the same–alienates the exteriority of the other. The face is a living presence; it is expression. The life of expression consists in undoing the form in which the existent, exposed as a theme, is thereby dissimulated. The face speaks. The manifestation of the face is already discourse. He who manifests himself comes, according to Plato's expression, to his own assistance. He at each instant undoes the form he presents.

(pp. 65-66, Levinas' emphasis)

How will I come to the assistance of my persona when he comes asking about the unformulated question, brings it into conversation, opens it to incessant deformulation? Is this not a true inquiry, this deformulation of the question? It too may have as its horizon the }∅{.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 8:54 AM.


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