EING as behind as I am, I’d had the lovely Fido‘s posts sitting in my feed reader promising goodness that I held out for later, later, ever later. I suspect it’s because I’ve been thinking about habits, habituation and habitation quite a bit of late and didn’t want to be too terribly distracted. Fortunately (because I’m so very far behind and I hate clicking the ‘Mark as Read’ button) and unfortunately (because I actually love doing a long reading session of Fido’s posts, tracking threads of thoughts), all at once, Fido has been less like his enviable post-daily self of late (perhaps a counter to NaNoWriMo, which has had Nate writing practically a thesis-worth of words in a month!) But the richness of what he has put up…!: his post ‘Habitation in the Open,’ engaging with Nancy (I won’t excerpt it, because you should go and read it), recalled for me the key passage from a book I’m re-reading at the moment from the wonderful, rather intimidating Rosalyn Diprose. This excerpt, when I first read it, wove together disparate ideas I already had in a way that gave me that heady half-gasping moment of consolidation, perhaps even the moment of the sublime, where it feels like the world falls into abrupt immediacy, even as the impossibility of compassing its entirety strikes… and so I share it:
Even if we grant that ethics is about moral principles and moral judgement, it is also about location, position and place. It is about being positioned by, and taking up a position in relation to, others. Being positioned and locating others requires embodiment and some assumption about the nature of the place from which one moves towards others. It should not be surprising then that ‘ethics’ is derived from the Greek word ethos, meaning character and dwelling, or habitat. Dwelling is both a noun (the place to which one returns) and a verb (the practice of dwelling) [Levinas so loves these nominal and verbal forms too…]; my dwelling is both my habitat and my habitual way of life. My habitual way of life, ethos or set of habits determines my character (my specificity or what is properly my own). These habits are not given: they are constituted through the repetition of bodily acts the character of which are governed by the habitat I occupy. From this understanding of ethos, ethics can be defined as the study and practice of that which constitutes one’s habitat, or as a problematic of the constitution of one’s embodied place in the world.
The discrepancy between this approach to ethics and that based on universal principles is not simply a question of etymology. Related to this are different, and usually unacknowledged, understandings of the components which go to make up our spatio-temporal being-in-the-world. The difference pertains to whether we think our ‘being’ is composed primarily of mind or matter; to what we understand by the relation between mind and matter; and to whether we think the world we inhabit is homogenous or fragmented. Underlying all these questions is some assumption about the meaning of ‘in’. An ethics based on universal rational principles assumes that our being’ is a discrete entity separate from the ‘world’ such that we are ‘in’ the world after the advent of both. An ethics based on the problematic of place, on the other hand, claims that our ‘being’ and the ‘world’ are constituted by the relation ‘in’. In other words, the understanding of ethics I am evoking recognises a constitutive relation between one’s world (habitat) and one’s embodied character (ethos).
I have also suggested that, besides an understanding of the constitution of embodiment, it is also necessary to consider the effect our relation to another may have upon the constitution of our ethos (and vice versa). This is necessary because to belong to and project out from a ethos is to take p a position in relation to others. This invovles comparison, relation to what is different and to what passes before us. Taking up a position, presenting oneself, therefore requires a non-thematic awareness of temporality and location. And the intrinsic reference point for temporality, spatial orientation and therefore difference is one’s own body. Taking a position in relation to others again involves some reference to embodiment, the significance and specificity of which comes together with ethics by virtue of our spatio-temporal being-in-the-world. But if ethics is about taking a position in relation to others then it is also about the constitution of identity and difference.
(The Bodies of Women: Ethics, Embodiment and Sexual Difference. (also available as a Kindle book for you speedy tech uptake people) p. 18-19)