Davis > Derrida > Levinas

Today's reading: John Muckelbauer's "Rhetoric, Asignification, and the Other: A Response to Diane Davis" and D. Diane Davis' "The Fifth Risk: A Response to John Muckelbauer's Response". Muckelbauer challenges the assumption that any discourse or pedagogy can claim ethical or political superiority, all share "a different orientation into the impossible wager of discourse" (he is specifically discussing the hermeneutics of Mailloux, the Levinasian alterity of Davis, and the possibility of a third position). Muckelbauer's conclusions performs well his argument that rhetoric, as an art, is not solely concerned with what can be told or shown--it is also very much a matter of feeling.

That is, one of the crucial lessons of Levinas's and Davis's work may well be that, rather than being the telos of rhetoric, judgment may simply be the residue of asignifying, rhetorical processes. But none of these discourses would have any heightened purchase on those processes, as each of them is nothing more (or less) than a different orientation into the impossible wager of discourse, some of which are driven by the desire to criticize or advocate, and some of which are driven by the desire to immanently interrupt the operations of critique and advocacy. In the end, perhaps the best that one can hope for is an impossible encounter with the other on the necessarily impure terrain of the same. Of course, this hope cannot tell you what to do. It cannot tell you what to denounce and it cannot tell you what to endorse. Then again, perhaps it can.

It is the precarious placement of the perhaps--itself an interruption--that interrupts the desire for a Certain judgment. Sweet. And, of course, reading his conclusion made me want to write this post...

I find stomach rejecting Muckelbauer's conclusion--its a bit queezy and tied up in knots, but my head hasn't quite caught up yet (and this returns to his opening point: that rhetoric is more than reason, its sense). This might have something to do with sleep deprivation, who knows. But, while we might not have a stable foundation from which we can make decisions of absolute supremacy, this does not mean we cannot hypothesize from the mists. I believe our orientation toward discourse can affect its political and ethical impact; and Davis' picks up on this when she writes/cites that for Levinas "ethics is not some 'proper response' but this interruption of the self by the other, each time, in which 'the I loses its sovereign coincidence with itself, its identification' ("Trace of the Other 353)." This does not mean that we can extract one ethical program from Levinas' work--rather, we are provided with a first principle, one that eschews egoism and synthesis.

The following comes from the conclusion of Davis' response to Muckelbauer:

Judgment with an eye to justice has no illusions of finality; it is a tentative gesture that is offered without clarity or certitude, both as a test and an invitation. In Otherwise than Being, Levinas writes: "This book interprets the subject as hostage and the subjectivity of the subject as a substitution breaking with being's essence. The thesis is exposed imprudently" (Otherwise than Being 184). Derrida notes that for Levinas the thesis "is therefore not posed, it is imprudently and defenselessly exposed, and yet that very vulnerability is ('this weakness is necessary,' we will read a little later on) the provocation to responsibility for the other, it leaves a place for the other in a taking-place of this book where this here no longer shuts in upon itself, upon its own subject" ("At This Very Moment in This Text Here I Am" 31). As Avital Ronell puts it, "rather than flexing a thetic muscle that would buff up under the light of truth, Levinas offers a discourse vulnerable to its own sense of exposure, frailty and uncertainty" ("The Sacred Alien: Heidegger's Reading of Hölderlin's 'Andenken")

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