Young master Nate hath tagged (that’s tagg-ed) myself for this meme:
1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people.
Given that I seem to be unable to finish a post at the mo (there’s one lingering about The Apology (as it seems to be thought in the Australian blogosphere) and another responding to the lovely Ms. Pepperell’s tag about teaching which I left to the wayside because of the crazy insanity that seemed to circulate rather moralistically around that meme (which amused me given that ‘meme’ is ‘same’ in French, and that seemed to be what was required)), I figure this is a good thing to do! To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure which is the nearest book. I got out my tape measure, but is the top of a pile closer or further away? Because we could have wound up with The Meaning of the Other in Emmanuel Levinas’ Totality and Infinity, or Bodies of Women, or The Normal and the Pathological. Or possibly even The Gift of Death, Difference and Repetition… or Jane Eyre (my attempt to make myself read A Classic, which is about half-way through the experiment. They just hooked up. It’s about bloody time. The woman is worse than me: ‘oh, it must mean nothing that he took my hands, gazed soulfully into my eyes and got all awkward over calling me ‘my love,’ and left the ‘love’ bit off, or that he dressed up as a gypsy fortuneteller and told me I could have the love I wanted and blablahblah. Means Nothing.’ There’s something horribly stark about seeing self-deprecation rendered in black and white. I want to shake her; and so I wonder if people want to shake me! ;-)) Or possibly Merleau-Ponty and Derrida: On Seeing and Writing. But instead, I think what wins out is Otherwise than Being because it rests atop a pile with various writing implements marking pages that seemed relevant at the time. Ah, Levinas, Levinas, Levinas, what am I to do with you?
Find page 123, apparently, and the fifth sentence… and just my luck, he’s getting all divine on us:
From the Good to me, there is assignation: a relation that survives the ‘death of God.’ The death of God perhaps signifies only the possibility to reduce every value arousing an impulse to an impulse arousing a value. The fact that in its goodness the Good declines the desire it arouses while inclining it toward responsibility for the neighbour preserves difference in the non-indifference of the Good, which chooses me before I welcome it.
I could attempt to explain, but this requires much translation work (and translation is probably always problematic here). My attempt, though? The Good here indicates exteriority, in some sense—the other qua other. This is alterity, irreducible, not a concept, not conceptualisable (thematisable), unable to be brought within the scope of the subject’s knowingness. And the point, I suppose, is that even if you take the death of God as those weird nihilists do—that is, as the abrupt removal of an anchor that gave the world meaning and ethics leaving the world floating free (rather than, as I would argue, that requiring a re-thinking of the whole anchoring phenomenon)—you simply cannot remove alterity (or exteriority more generally, alterity seeming to attach primarily (though not always) to people-ish others). This is precisely because alterity is otherwise than being, constituted as exteriority (though never as binarily opposed to) to a world that we know, that is, the world of being. Thus even if you think God’s dead, you cannot do away with radical otherness because you cannot do away with being.
The ‘desire’ that he talks about here I think is the ambiguous desire aroused by the ‘height and destitution’ of the face (understood, loosely, as expressing the unique mortality of this other): the desire to kill the other. Killing here includes the reduction of alterity to (well, on my Irigaray-informed reading) the specular other (the other who reflects me back to myself but does not exceed my knowingness). This killing occurs in thematisation but extends all the way up to a point-blank shooting. In other words, I am drawn on to know the other absolutely, to destroy him/her as other. But the face also expresses the impossibility of such a killing (in my more silly moments, I imagine a ‘nya nya nya nya nya’ and a poked-out tongue), and as such is the injunction ‘Thou shalt not kill’ (aka Levinas goes Old Testament). This is the responsibility prior to which I am not—I am called by the other to responsibility, and as such I am brought into being as responsible, as a response to the other. In this respect, I am chosen before I welcome it, before there is an I that could perform such an act.
Phew. See, no wonder people struggle to read Levinas. Every sentence is dumb and dense. 😛 And now, for my five taggees:
Being that I am lazy (or, come to think of it, busy writing up) I haven’t checked whether these individuals have already performed this three-ring trick, so if so, kids, please, feel free to ignore me. Or to do it again :-).