Bit o' Levinas

From "The Thinking of Being and the Question of the Other" in Of God Who Comes to Mind:

We have asked whether the Other--who refuses identification, that is, thematization and hypostasis, but whom the philosophy of the tradition attempted to recover in the patience of the concept through the methodology of history as self-consciousness--must not be understood wholly as otherwise, in a putting in question of thought by the Infinite which thought could not contain; in the awakening. This is a putting in question and an awakening which are reversed into the ethics of responsibility for the other; an incessant putting in question of the quietude of the identity of the Same. It is a susception more passive than any passivity, yet an incessant awakening, a waking up in the midst of awakening that, without this, would become a "mood," a state of wakefulness, or wakefulness as a state. A thought more thoughtful than the thought of being, a sobering up that philosophy attempts to say; that is, which it attempts to communicate, and this, if only in a language that ceaselessly unsays itself, a language that insinuates.

The strong above is perhaps the most concise definition of postmodern metaphysics that I have encountered. I am currently working to equate the encounter with the screen as both an encounter with another(s) (other "sames" made other by their digital response-ability) and an encounter with the Face of the Other (Infinity). The screen can be passive in its presenting infinity, in its resistance to be said as any one identity. Of course, we also experience it as active: as comments, responses, mail, spam, as the presence of others (whose responses often question the primacy of my own thought).

This essay, "The Thinking of Being" is my favorite Levinas I have read. It is short (a mere ten pages), but outlines many of Levinas' key concerns. If you've always wanted to know why Derrida considers indeterminacy such a big deal, read this essay (specifically page 116!)


Casey said...

Isn't the challenge for us to become passive?

I'm going to a conference soon and I'm going to use you as an example if you don't stop me now.

I'll say:

"I have this friend who I shared an office with until recently. We both watch the TV program LOST. Every Friday morning, he would come in and sit down, and I would say, 'LOST was awesome last night. And he'd say, 'I think I've almost got it figured out...' and then go into a complicated ontology of being to explain why one of the characters said a certain thing before doing a certain thing, or whatever."

And then I'll talk about the two different ways of viewing: A) the way of viewing that leads to an exclamation at the end of each episode that sounds something like, "Oh my God I can't wait till next week! -- that was so awesome!!!" And B) the way of viewing that leads one to scribble furiously over their notes on the show at the end of each episode, whispering to their viewing partners -- hold on, I've gotta get this down; I'm gonna turn this into a paper!

And my argument is going to be that, for Hawthorne, at least, the first method would be a far more ethical manner of viewing because it simply receives.

All this because I'm arguing that the way we read (or view) may correspond with the way we treat others.

And so the question: is it more ethical to listen to my story and respond with critique or ingenious summaries OR to simply listen... to listen attentively but not respond actively -- certainly not verbally?

Which is a more ethical way of listening to (for example) a poor person tell the story of how they became poor: A) to listen with quiet sympathy until they finish, and then to say "Thank you for sharing." OR B) to listen until they finish and then write a paper on it, or underscore something they said, or tell your own story, etc.

Am I drawing an unfair comparison?

Casey said...

You know about Jeremy Bentham, right? (!)

I mean, from Discipline and Punish or whatever...