Levinas and Weinberger

In jest, I offer my dissertation in two quotes. The other pages are just filler.

Levinas on difference as the foundation of the subject:

Reason makes human society possible; but a society whose members would be only reasons would vanish as a society. What could a being entirely rational speak of with another entirely rational being? Reason has no plural; how could numerous reasons be distinguished? (Totality and Infinity 119)

Dave Weinberger on how the digital "fractures" knowledge:

In conversation we think out loud together, trying to understand. The noise this makes is very different from the scratch of a philosopher's ink on paper. Paper drives thought into our heads. The Web releases thoughts before they're ready so we can work on them together. And in those conversations we hear multiple understandings of the world, for conversation thrives on difference. Traditionally, difference has been a sign that knowledge hasn't been reached: There can be only one knowledge because the world is one way and not any other. But there will always be multiple conversations and thus multiple understandings. We're never going to stop talking with one another, silenced by the single, unified, true, inescapable, and final knowledge of all that is.

I love Weinberger. He continues to point out that we'd be hard pressed to identify when the stable, unifying knowledge ever existed. But I do build off of his quote to warn that, when we work on the web, we aren't necessarily "working" toward a singular understanding. The work we do is different--we're working on the rhetorical bridge that keeps the conversation together, maintaining kairos, and shaping you in response to me (in response to you and in response to me, obligated to you, obligated to me).


We're Still Here...

I haven't put anything up recently, but I wanted to let everyone know that Rowan is doing fine after the second round of chemo. She has become a big fan of the Wiggles. Somebody save us (for those who do not have kids, you just have no idea...).

My mom and dad came down to help us with this round. Dad has returned to Plymouth, but mom is still here. Meg and I got to go out for the first time in almost a year last night--good times. My mother also bought her first computer yesterday, so we're teaching her some basics (and by basics, I mean what the space bar does. Seriously). Its exciting for her, and exciting for us to know that she can see Rowan over iChat every night if she wants to.

I watched the last half of the first debate the other night and will say this: I thought McCain did much better than I expected. I was disappointed in Barrack's reversion into very strict partisan politics. His campaign has been so predicated on difference, change, and transcendence that I thought it really undermined his ethos. I want that ethos back (and not the guy forcing discussions of the environment into questions regarding Russian relations--boo, bad form). Don't get me wrong, I'm still voting for him, but I hope he can improve his performance in debate 2 and 3 (which should target his strengths). If I'm worried about anything, its the silent racism underlying this election. The very fact that, the day after McCain stated "the fundamentals of our economy are strong" we suffered the second worse fiscal crisis in our nation's history and the polls didn't shift signifies that Barrack is up against something silent, hidden, and scary. Make sure you tell your students to vote... and tell them who to vote for...


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.


Trip to the Library

I went to find three books. One of which, Alex Reid's The Two Virtuals, was lost. Of course, I walked out with a stack (listed in the order they appear on my shelf):

  • Derrida, Politics of Friendship
  • Derrida, Psyche / Inventions of the Other (one of the books I originally went to the lib for)
  • Moore, The Internet Weather: Balancing Continuous Change and Constant Truth
  • Mosco, The Digital Sublime
  • Sconce, Haunted Media
  • Poster, The Second Media Age
  • Purves, The Web of Text and the Web of God
  • O'Donnell, The Avatars of the Word
  • Eriksen, The Tyranny of the Moment
  • Keren, Blogosphere
  • Levy, CyberCulture
  • OCLC, Sharing, Privacy and Trust in Our Networked World
  • Galloway and Thacker, The Exploit: a Theory of Networks (the other book I initially needed)

When I first arrived at USF, MZ told me about this "to your desk" service the library offers: essentially, fill out a web form and someone will bring the book to your office and place it on your desk. This seemed like a great idea. But stumbling through the stacks this morning, breezing through introductions, flipping through bibliographies, I remembered how much I love rummaging in the stacks.

I don't love carrying a pile of 13 books from the library to Cooper Hall, even if the building are right next to each other. Its Florida. Its hot. Its humid. And I will use that little service to help track down Reid's book.


For Your Viewing Pleasure

Rowan's story will be featured on Inside Edition Friday night. Megan and I are fairly confident that we're not made for TV, so we're hoping to come out of this looking like semi-capable parents.

Here's a link to find when the show will be on in your area.


We just found out that Rowan's segment will be on Monday's Inside Edition, not Friday nights.

Carry on.



I guess I cannot complain too much. We've had things pretty good in New England for awhile now. You know: fewer confederate flags (future post coming), really good seafood, and a string of championships.

So rather than cry about Brady, I'll enjoy the Red Sox, look forward to the Celtics, and remind myself that this is a "free year" when it comes to the NFL. If we lose this season, then we're no different than any other NFL team: sunk in the water without their starting QB (especially since our starting QB happens to be the reigning MVP).

But oh, if we win...

P.S.- This lowers my faith in humanity by about 4.736 points. Just for anyone keeping score.


Why Not...

...share some Cicero. I just got through two class discussions on Cicero today and thought I'd throw up a few quotes. All are from Cicero's On Oratory and Orators. Enjoy.

For it is by this one gift that we are most distinguished from brute animals, that we converse together, and can express our thoughts by speech.

...your retired lucubrations must be exposed to the light of reality.

...for if we bestow the faculty of eloquence upon persons destitute of these virtues [grace, aptitude, congruity], we shall not make them orators, but give arms to madmen.

That last quote makes me think of my favorite passage in Quintilian in which he defends rhetoric against accusations of misuse. Someday I need to print this and put in on my door:

There follows the question as to whether rhetoric is useful. Some are in the habit of denouncing it most violently and of shamelessly employing that powers of oratory to accuse oratory itself. "It is eloquence" they say "that snatches criminals from the penalties of the law, eloquence that from time to time secures the condemnation of the innocent and leads deliberation astray, eloquence that stirs up not merely sedition and popular tulmult, but wars beyond all expiation, and that is most effective when it makes falsehood prevail over the truth."

Doctors have been caught using poisons, and those who falsely assume the name of philosopher have occasionally been detected in the gravest of crimes. Let us give up eating, it often makes us ill; let us never go inside houses, for sometimes they collapse on their occupants; let never a sword be forged for a soldier, since it might be used by a robber. And who does not realize that fire and water, both necessities of life, and, to leave merely earthly things, even the sun and moon, the greatest of the heavenly bodies, are occasionally capable of doing harm. (Instituto Oratoria, I.xii)

Two students today commented that "It was rhetoric that got O.J. off." This is true. I retorted, however, that it was rhetoric that helped forge the law from which O.J. escaped. Can't have one without the risk of the other.

As much as I love that passage, I do have to wonder: by what criteria does one rightly assume the name philosopher? Is it impossible for a "right" philosopher to engage in crime? (Yeah, yeah, I know that Quintilian believed the well-speaking man could not be anything but "good"...)