Friday, May 29, 2009

Resumption of the Drama

"Infinite being, that is, ever recommencing being—which could not bypass subjectivity, for it could not recommence without it—is produced in the guise of fecundity" (Totality, p. 268). Levinas explains that his concept of fecundity denotes a future which is both mine and not mine, not a future of the same, but an adventure for me (ibid.). It is both a possibility of myself and of the Beloved, and as such it "does not enter into the logical essence of the possible. The relation with such a future, irreducible to the power over possibles, we shall call fecundity" (p. 267, my emphasis). Is there a significant dialogic essence of the possible, or a polylogical dimension of the "can" (the originary importance of which I Levinas would reject in the form of the "I can," the living body)? Is there, alternatively, a meaningful polylogic ethos of possibilities? My departure from Levinas may be radical. I'll get back to it.

Have we found, in infinite being, a remedy to the vexation of repetition? Levinas speaks of the cessation of the tediousness of the reiteration of the I, but not the cessation of the reiteration. "The diverse forms that Proteus assumes do not liberate him from his identity," he insists (p. 268). He continues, "In fecundity the tedium of this repetition ceases; the I is other and young, yet the ipseity that ascribed to it its meaning and its orientation in being is not lost in this renouncement of self. Fecundity continues history without producing old age." A marvelous concept to be sure, and perhaps not only that. Levinas finds that senescence, conceived in continuity, manifests a limitation on the infinitude of being in the form of the past. I'll hold off criticism on this point a moment longer. The theme of the monotony of identity noted here is one Levinas repeats in his conclusions (p.304). Breaking the monotony of identity ties in with the absolute necessity, in Levinas' eyes, of discontinuity established through death and fecundity.

Levinas is keen to recognize discontinuity at the core of ipseity. In the context of outlining his concept of childhood and filiality, he argues that resuming the thread of history, which must be regarded as distinct from continuity, is marked by an originality "attested in the revolt of the permanent revolution that constitutes ipseity" (p. 278). He speaks at length on temporal discontinuity:

Time is the non-definitiveness of the definitive, an ever recommencing alterity of the accomplished—the "ever" of this recommencement. The work of time goes beyond the suspension of the definitive which the continuity of duration makes possible. There must be a rupture of continuity, and continuation of across this rupture. The essential in time consists in being a drama, a multiplicity of acts where the following act resolves the prior one.

(pp. 283-284)

Now, here is where I find Levinas truly challenging my predilections: for me the face to face could be described as a modality of coexistence; Levinas believes nothing of the sort:

To say that universality refers to the face to face position is (against a whole tradition of philosophy) to deny that being is produced as panorama, a coexistence, of which the face to face would be a modality. This whole work opposes this conception. The face to face is not a modality of coexistence nor even of the knowledge (itself panoramic) one term can have of another, but is the primordial production of being on which all the possible collocations of the term are founded.

(pp. 304-305)

Levinas' critique of panoramic being comes as he bypasses existential phenomenology in favor of an ethics, perhaps an ethics at the limits of philosophy. At bottom of the face to face there is goodness in place of either being or nothingness, which "consists in going where no clarifying—that is, panoramic—thought precedes, in going without knowing where. An absolute adventure, in a primal imprudence, goodness is transcendence itself" (ibid.). He takes a strong position, which I sympathize with, against a certain style of existential phenomenology. Before I would follow him, however, I would be concerned about throwing the baby out with the bathwater. A criticism of panoramic being could conceivably leave existence unscathed, criticisms of the clarifying work of existence can't make appearance go away, and rejecting a certain notion of pre-understanding doesn't make hermeneutics uninteresting. There are other modes of pluralism and other possibilities of existentialism besides those on offer in the pages of Totality and Infinity. Nonetheless Levinas has inspired me. I respond to a call to think repetition as operating within a temporality of limited scope, whereas the most vital temporalities take their shapes from the dramatic encounters with other persons. In a future post I will explore variations of the synkairotic encounter while keeping open the question of coexistence, as much as that's possible given my predilections.

Addendum. In a footnote to a passage in which he discusses the difference between his sense of "revelation" and "disclosure" (touched on here), Levinas tells us how he would have us interpret the term "drama":

In broaching, at the end of this work, the study of relations which we situate beyond the face, we come upon events that cannot be described as noeses aiming at noemata, nor as active interventions realizing projects, nor, of course, as physical forces being discharged into masses. They are conjunctures in being for which perhaps the term "drama" would be most suitable, in the sense that Nietzsche would have like to use it when, at the end of The Case of Wagner, he regrets that it has always been wrongly translated by action. But it is because of the resulting equivocation that we forego this term.

(p. 28, note 2)

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posted by Fido the Yak at 6:56 AM.


Anonymous shahar ozeri said...

Interesting post.

You write: Is there a significant dialogic essence of the possible, or a polylogical dimension of the "can" (the originary importance of which I Levinas would reject in the form of the "I can," the living body)?

I don't think "dialogic" is particularly helpful for L because of the asymmetry he insists upon throughout his corpus. Throughout TI, 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. I'm not sure I see a problem with "polylogic," couldn't the "poly" simply be "co-originary?"

I see your point about phenomenology, and by TI one could certainly be justified in calling L's work "post-phenomenological;" but his early stuff on forced labor, nausea and the il y a etc seems like a phenomenology of sensation, no? At bottom, when L brings the phenomenological project face to face with death I think he rearranges it completely. For now phenomenology must address itself towards non-phenomenalizable realms, this I take it, would perhaps mean he's exhausted phenomenology...

I wonder if such a phenomenology of sensation is carried throughout all his work--by the time of OTB I've wondered if L is providing a post-phenomenology (?) of the survivor of late.

You also write: "A criticism of panoramic being could conceivably leave existence unscathed, criticisms of the clarifying work of existence can't make appearance go away, and rejecting a certain notion of pre-understanding doesn't make hermeneutics uninteresting."

I'm not sure what you mean by this. How is existence unscathed? I don't think L would suggest appearance recedes either. Quickly, L's reworking of subjectivity contrasts greatly with hermeneutics, which tries to penetrate the interior of a self or text to uncover the hidden essence, no?

May 29, 2009 7:32 AM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

Thanks for your response, Shahar.

I have to run but I'll try to say a few quick words right this second.

"Discourse is discourse with God and not with equals" (p. 297). I think I depart from this notion but am still able to take something from Levinas. For one thing I'd like a way to think about the singularity of speakers.

"Justice consists in again making possible expression, in which in non-reciprocity the person presents himself as unique. Justice is a right to speak" (p. 298). I'd like to think about dialogue without assuming reciprocity but questioning—oh, shoot. I have to run. Back later.

May 29, 2009 8:10 AM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

I note again how very well you understand Levinas, how very clear your thinking about his work is to me. I think I hear what you're saying about "dialogic" but despite my egalitarian presuppositions I am not sure that the dialogic shouldn't in any case whatsoever be characterized by asymmetry. I want different ways of thinking about dialogue. What should we call a logos "grounded" in a relation to the other, a relation which escapes any system of relations? Ethical? Sure, but not dialogic in what sense? Simply not a logos of the between? Not elenctic? Do we work with images of dialogue that are ready-made? Do we make up an understanding of dialogue as we go along? Is there room at all in the absolute adventure for the imagination of dialogue?

Well, maybe I'd rather speak of the polylogic anyway.

The idea that Levinas rearranges phenomenology completely is simpatico from where I'm sitting, but I'm not sure it follows that if I want to do phenomenology now I must direct my work towards non-phenomenalizable realms—if I'm not forcing an argument here. Also, I'm not sure if postphenomenology represents an exhaustion of phenomenology or rather a recommencement, a critical recommencement.

I don't know the corpus, but I tend to read Levinas as a survivor.

"How is existence unscathed?" By not being panoramic in the first place? Just a thought.

"I don't think L would suggest appearance recedes." "Epiphany at a distance" means what? Excess of plastic manifestation doesn't cause manifestation to recede? In my opinion this is thorny. Levinas undercuts Sinngebung, imagination, "disclosure" (in a very "technical" sense, I reckon), thematization (and with it horizons) and finally intentionality. Does the face appear to us? In the end I am foggy on this idea. But this business of appearance is really my issue of late and I will apologize for abusing Levinas along the way of discovering what there is to think about appearance.

"Quickly, L's reworking of subjectivity contrasts greatly with hermeneutics, which tries to penetrate the interior of a self or text to uncover the hidden essence, no?"

I would say it contrasts greatly with Heidegger's hermeneutics, to be explicit.

May 29, 2009 7:55 PM  
Anonymous shahar ozeri said...

Thanks Fido, you're too kind and I think you're asking interesting questions here.

RE: unscathed existence. I see your point, I think. However, given Levinas' early phenomenological descriptions of death, time, nausea, fatigue etc and later on, trauma, substitution, etc. it's hard for me to see how existence is unscathed. I'll have to think on it.

RE: distance, excess and undercutting imagination etc. I think in one sense, he's rather close to Heidegger on many of these. In early essays like "Reality and its Shadow" Levinas is clearly echoing Heidegger. A thing and its appearance are both phenomena, they both “appear” and although different, they are connected.

Really, for Levinas, distance is the condition of ethical responsibility: the defamiliarization wrought by the other ruptures our world and calls us to respond. As is well known, Levinas puts the phenomenological presupposition that the other would be revealed to me as presence into question. His characteristic move of de-familiarization away from the primacy of ontology and towards a trace suggestive of presence through its withdrawal into absence introduces a disturbance into the order. A disturbance to which we must answer...The ethical subject, for Levinas, is constituted through a relation to the demand of the good to which it is completely inadequate. Levinas’s ethical subject chooses to relate itself to something which exceeds its relational capacity. This is precisely what Levinas calls the relation without relation, which is the anti-dialectical core of Levinas’s thought.

RE: face. As a proper place, the face has a form and as expression, it undoes this form. Since the face is, strictly speaking, not a phenomenon, it is invisible and thus un-figurable unless it is reduced to its plasticity. Yet, if the face is not seen, it is at the very least that which sees.

June 01, 2009 6:35 AM  

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