Thursday, March 05, 2009

A Body that Labors

Levinas says:

For a body that labors everything is not already accomplished, already done; thus to be a body is to have time in the midst of the facts, to be me though living in the other.

This revelation of distance is an ambiguous revelation, for time both destroys the security of instantaneous, happiness, and permits the fragility thus discovered to be overcome. And it is the relation with the other, inscribed in the body as its elevation, that makes possible the transformation of enjoyment into consciousness and labor.

(Totality, p. 117)

I'll note the primacy of enjoyment and get back to what that means. What more can be said to characterize this time that is had in the midst of the facts? Is it a time of expectancies, seeing as how expectancy seems to go along with a sense that there is something yet to be accomplished? How do these expectancies manifest themselves in relation to memory, or, less thematically, to sedimentation? "Enjoyment is made of the memory of its thirst; it is a quenching" (p. 112). Levinas characterizes pure existence as ataraxia while happiness, he says, is accomplishment. (Enjoyment, he says, is "the very pulsation of the I" (ibid.)). I'm not sure that ataraxia is easily attained, and, to the extent that is attainable, as freedom from worry, I'm not sure it does away with either joy or suffering. I'm not sure that raw existing, like pure existing perhaps, doesn't alternate between joy and suffering. Isn't this the very pulsation of the self, this alternation between joy and suffering? And isn't suffering made from the memory of joys? What happens to time as the beats of the self become memory? How does the process of becoming memory move through the body?

If we insist that the alternation between joy and suffering is the pulsation of the self, Levinas is then quite sure he disagrees with us. For him life is personal because it is enjoyment, not the other way around.

Life is affectivity and sentiment; to live is to enjoy life. To despair of life makes sense only because originally life is happiness. Suffering is a failing of happiness; it is not correct to say that happiness is the absence of suffering.

(p. 115, my bold)

I'm sorry but this argument makes it seem that unhappiness, instead of being a modality of experience, is something that one discovers philosophically, something that one, correctly or incorrectly, reasons one's way into. I don't think the Epicureans have been adequately responded to, much less refuted. My characterization of Levinas' argument is of course directly at odds with how Levinas asks ut to imagine enjoyment, which would not be inconsistent with a pluralism that acknowledged feelings as having priority over reasoning. So my criticism may well be unfair. Another word from Levinas:

Enjoyment is a withdrawal into oneself, an involution. What is termed an affective state does not have the dull monotony of a state, but is a vibrant exaltation in which dawns the self. For the I is not the support of enjoyment. The "intentional" structure here is wholly different; the I is the very contraction of sentiment, the pole of a spiral whose coiling and involution is drawn by enjoyment: the focus of the curve is a part of the curve. It is precisely as a "coiling," as a movement toward oneself, that enjoyment comes into play.

(p. 118, Levinas' emphasis, my bold)

Can we enjoy a vibrancy of ex-istence without withdrawing into the self, or, more promising, a vibrancy that involves and evolves at once? Is the body, the body for whom not everything is accomplished, already a vibrancy?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 10:41 AM.


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