31.3.08

Violence and Metaphysics, part 2

Some rough draft I was working through today:

The best liberation from violence is a certain putting into question, which makes the search for an archia tremble. Only the thought of Being can do so, and not traditional ‘philosophy’ or ‘metaphysics.’ The latter are therefore ‘politics’ which can escape ethical violence only by economy: by battling violently against the violences of the an-arhy whose possibility, in history, is still the accomplice of archism.” (“V&M” 141)

The violence here comes both from theory and totality (knowledge) and from the search for foundations and hierarchy(ontology). Knowing is always a political act, often a totalitarian one, which subsumes the alterity of others (our act of theorizing them as existents reduces the possibilities of what they may be, and of what Being might be in general). For Levinas, then, there is a great suspicion of knowledge and the desire to know, of traditional philosophy and metaphysics, of any thought principally concerned with discerning archia.

Hence why Levinas insists that our relation to the other is not a knowledge (and Derrida repeatedly points out that Heidegger’s conceptualization of Being is not as a genre or category of knowledge). Our relation to the Other, or our relation to Being, both transcend positive knowledge. They are the something through which “knowledge,” and language as a precondition of knowledge, emerges. The transcendental relationship between Being and Other thus, from first principle, suspend all knowledge. The “thought of Being,” as Derrida puts it above, is the question of Being- a continual (let’s say deconstructive, to use the term in its “proper” sense) questioning of the transcendental property of Being. Such impossibility, emanating from the core of all knowing, opens us to an ethics mindful of the requisite violence of theorization, communication, philosophy, and rhetoric.

For Levinas, a suspension of the primacy of Being opens us to the ethical- rather than considering others as Beings (which requires an act of ontology, categorization, theorization, etc). Levinas places the thought of Being (a questioning of Being’s primacy atypical for traditional philosophy) at the forefront of his thinking. Derrida notes:

Not only is the thought of Being not ethical violence, but it seems that no ethics—in Levinas’s sense—can be opened without it. Thought—or at least the precomprehension of Being—conditions (in its own fashion, which excludes every ontic conditionality: principles, causes, premises, etc.) the recognition of the essence of the existent (for example, existent as other, as other self, etc.). It conditions respect for the other as what it is, other. Without this acknowledgement, which is not a knowledge, or let us say without this “letting-be” of an existent (Other) as something existing outside me in the essence of what it is (first in its alterity), no ethics would be possible” (137-38)

In the first line above, Derrida stresses that Levinas’s questioning of Being, though disrupting the classical foundations for ethics, actually seeks to extend the possibility of ethics by reducing the security with which we think “presence” and “truth.” Let me playfully suggest that the conditions of digitality, both social and material, that I have elucidated in chapters one and two suggest the possibility for “letting-be”: for experiencing and respecting the other as other. At the heart of this suggestion lies the transience, uncertainty, and anxiety attached to the medium. To be clear: such conditioning and respect does not promise to end violence- there is no final idealism here. But I do assert a hope, albeit a tentative one, that exposure to the conditions of conditionality, to the transience, uncertainty, and anxiety of the digital, can temper the violence of politics, ontology, communication, possibility, life. To understand how the digital might promote such “letting-be,” we must familiarize ourselves with another critical and complex Levinasian concept: the face, and its relation to metaphysical ethics.

2 comments:

Casey said...

"...the search for archia trembles?" I've seen a lot of searches in my life, and none of them ever trembled before.

Seriously, though: okay, I like this notion of "letting be." Except: I wonder if ultimately it will lead us away from community... let's take wikipedia, since it seems to be representative of what you mean by "digitality" (right?):

If someone else begins an entry on "Mind" by arguing, as the current article on "Mind" suggests (among many other theses), "mind is the stream of consciousness."

Now I can (violently) reduce that statement to an essence, and then proceed to agree with it or disagree with it, revise it, etc. On the other hand, I can simply "let it be."

If I do let it be -- if I just let it wash over me without necessarily agreeing or disagreeing with it (that is, if I just watch it become) am I participating in culture, in civilization, in "humanity?"

And if I am, then isn't all action essentially based on "essences," or "existents?" Perfect passivity, perfect unknowing, seems either impossible or not desirable to me...

For example, think of how helpful some of the criticism you have received from your peers and professors has been to your writing -- that is active, and based on essentializing, isn't it?

I don't mean to slow you down, Santos -- so don't worry about replying ever. I just like following along...

In short: is it possible that a little violence is good for a person? My parents could've simply "let me be" as a child, but instead they disciplined me at times -- that's a very scary word for people of the Foucault generation, I know, but I think it's a very legitimate question.

Or even shorter: isn't "potty training" a necessary kind of violence?

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