22.3.10

A Little Levinas for Monday

From the interview "Violence and the Face," published in the 1999 Alterity and Transcendence. Levinas responds to a question on how his work differs from traditional philosophical investment in "historicism, materialism, structuralism, ontology":

I don't say that all is for the best, and the idea of progress doesn't seem to me very reliable.

I thought that part deserved to stand there on its own. Sometimes I think the most powerful statements to me are quite simple. My favorite line from Derrida is a simple under-appreciated sentence from Archive Fever: Order is no longer assured. The line above isn't quite as sublimely simple to me, but its close. Anyways, here's the rest of the passage:

But I think that responsibility for the other man, or, if you like, the epiphany of the human face, constitutes a penetration of the crust, so to speak, of "being persevering itself in its being" and preoccupied with itself. Responsibility for the other, the "dis-interested" for-the-other of saintliness. I'm not saying men are saints, or moving toward saintliness. I'm only saying that the vocation of saintliness is recognized by all human beings as a value, and that this recognition defines the human. The human has pierced through imperturbable being; even if no social organization, nor any institution can, in the name of purely ontological necessities, ensure, or even produce saintliness. There have been saints.

Now replace saints with students. Or with teachers (both! at the same time!). Perhaps "learner" would work. Replace saintliness, especially in that final sentence, with education. I go back to my writing.