15.9.08

Derrida on Levinas

I've been enjoying Derrida's performative essay "At This Very Moment in This Work Here I Am... (He will have obligated [Il aura oblige])." In the essay, Derrida explains that a reader can never be sure if the final clause of the title is part of the title or rather an opening epigraph. This indeterminacy, of the structural borders of an opening, reverberates through Derrida's examination of the Levinasian subject, and of the complexities one such subject owes another for its being. Such complexity is exemplified by the content of the potential epigraph-- "He will have obligated"--a meaningful yet meaningless fragment divorced from any context yet still highly contextual. Who is this he? Under what authority will he have obligated? What will he have obligated? Though definition cannot be assured, we can propose as responses: Both Levinas and the Other which speaks (through) him, the responsibility of Saying the law of Being/Said, mybeing, which in turn obligates a response. Sorry for all the language games--but I'm still working on an easier way of saying what needs to be said...

Anywho, I really like the following passage, in which Derrida explicates the "present" of Levinas' "Here I am" (and, like everything else in L and D, presence is a double entendre: present as presence emerging in space time, and present as gift--how do we respond to a gift?). Derrida:

It is not the presumed signatory of the work, EL, who says: "Here I am," me, presently. He cites a "Here I am," he thematizes what it nonthematizable (to use this vocabulary, to which he has assigned a regular--and somewhat peculiar--conceptual function in his writings). But beyond the Song of Songs, or Poem of Poems, the quotation of whoever would say "Here I Am" has to mark out this extradition in which the responsibility for the other delivers me over to the other. No grammatical marking as such, no language or context will suffice to determine it. This present-citation, which, as a quotation, seems to erase the present event of any irreplaceable "here I am," also comes to say that in "here I am" the I [le Moi] is no longer presented as a subject, present to itself, making itself present of itself (I-me): it [il] is declined before all declension, "in the accusative," and it, il

Il ou elle, he or she, if the interruption of the discourse is required. Isn't it "she" in the Song of Songs? And who would "she" [elle] be? Does it matter? Is it EL? Emmanuel Levinas? God?

The passage ends abruptly, strategically signaling a desire to know the Other. But, such an interruption attempts to preserve Levinas' injunction against reducing the alterity of other to a knowable same (in the form of the said). There's two other things happening in the passage that drew me to it: first, Derrida's highlighting that the subject emerges in the accusative: as the direct object of the verb of verbs (as D refers to it 152) "to be." The subject is produced for the other / by the other in the movement of the verb to be. Second, that the first movement of the subject emerges "declined before declension." I read this in light of the arguments surrounding Levinas and gender- a move toward a universality of the subject who first emerges as a movement irreducible to ontological distinctions. An odd move, given the highly emboddied nature of Levinas' theory. It is quite possible that I am misinterpreting here.

3 comments:

Geof said...

Remember that "elle" is feminine in French and that JD is drawing attention to this in his playful, but serious move with E.mmanuel L.evinas--EL.le. (As you suggest, the issue of gender in L's work is not so clearly outlined. Just as JD focuses on the ambigious role of the cogito in Foucault's work on madness, his effort here to draw attention to the feminine form in L's own sig.nature reveal JD's controversial close reading/writing practices.)

Insignificant Wrangler said...

Thanks Geof-- I didn't pick up on the EL /elle play.

Casey said...

Didn't Rhianna write (or at least perform) a song about this?