"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.
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.
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)