Saturday, April 25, 2009

A Question Prior to the Question

I question correlations between desire and the addressee of the question, I question desire, and, as much as I'd agree that the question's addressee is a necessary condition for there being a question, I question the addressee's presence, his mode of spatiotemporal persistence, or givenness. Here's Levinas:

[T]he question that asks about the quiddity is put to someone. He who is to respond has long already presented himself, responding thus to a question prior to every question in search of quiddities. In fact the "who is it?" is not a question and is not satisfied by a knowing [hmm, FtY]. He to whom the question is put has already presented himself, without being a content. He has presented himself as a face. The face is not a modality of quiddity, an answer to a question, but the correlative of what is prior to every question. What is prior to every question is not in its turn a question nor a knowledge possessed a priori, but is Desire. The who correlative of Desire, the who to whom the question is put, is, in metaphysics, a "notion" as fundamental and as universal as quiddity and being and the existent and the categories.

(Totality, p. 177, Levinas' emphasis)

Because of the relationship with the Other, the ethical relation, man can know the difference between being and phenomenon and recognize his own phenomenality (pp. 179-180). Could this ethical relation form in response to a question, even a question that would not be satisfied by a knowing? Does any kind of ethical relation logically follow from the question who? On the other hand, by asking who? we presuppose an ethical relation. Was it really there waiting for us already? Did it not need to be welcomed, following on the welcoming of a who?

The face I welcome makes me pass from phenomenon to being in another sense: in discourse I expose myself to the questioning of the Other, and this urgency of the response–acuteness of the present–engenders for me responsibility; as responsible I am brought to my final reality. This extreme attention does not actualize what was in potency, for it is not conceivable without the other. Being attentive signifies a surplus of consciousness, and presupposes the call of the other.

(p. 178)

Let's return, with no overriding sense of urgency, to the question of the question prior to the question. Of course it can't really be a question just yet, as an a priori. It's first questionality is imaginary. It begins to resemble/by resembling an imaginary question. Thus we've been made aware of the phenomenality of the question, perhaps especially the first question. How then can we begin to separate what the imagination brings from what the Other brings to the question? Imagination as other, Other as imaginary: "The phenomenon is the being that appears, but remains absent" (p. 181). Imaginary phenomenality. Do we recognize the phenomenality of the ethical self–by which I only mean the other of the other, or, to move towards a definition, one who listens to the call of the other–in the same manner that we recognize the phenomenality of the quiddity? Are all phenomenalities put together the same way? The key to Levinas' thinking here seems to be the remaining absent of the being that appears, and this would seem to have something to do with desire. Should I desire to transcend phenomenality? Now, if I say that in my experience there are temporary absences, or intermittent absences, that I become inured to temporary absences, does this say nothing about phenomenality, which presumably has to do with permanent absence? I don't actually know that I will always be able to reformulate the first question at will, or at the suggestion of the other. Questioning could fall apart. Why would we want to imagine a questioning that could never fall apart? (A question that would resemble being impervious to time, a questionee who was always and never there?) Would that be logical?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 7:14 AM.


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