Latour, Levinas, Vitanza, a Rhetoric of Obligation

A quick threading of my last few posts: Levinas, from the later essay "God and Philosophy" (a rather remarkable essay that integrates so much of Levinas's career--the discussion of insomnia from Time and the Other, the insistence upon (un)saying the said from Otherwise than Being, and the extremely difficult discussion of eros from Totality and Infinity):

Transcendence is ethical, and the subjectivity which in the final analysis is not the "I think" (which it is at first sight), or the unity of the "transcendental apperception," is, as responsibility for the other, subjection to the other. The I is a passivity more passive than any passivity, because it is from the outset in the accusative, oneself--which had never been in the nominative--under the accusation of the another, although without sin. The hostage for another, the I obeys a commandment before having heard it; it is faithful to an engagement that it never made, and to a past that was never present. This is a wakefulness--or opening of the self--absolutely exposed, and sobered up from the ecstasy of intentionality. (from Of God Who Comes to Mind 68-69).

I am reading this quote across Bruno Latour's call for a constructive ethos dedicated to protecting and caring in "Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam"):

My question is thus: can we devise another powerful descriptive tool that deals this time with matters of concern [rather than epistemological matters of fact and facticity] and whose import then will no longer be to debunk but to protect and care, as Donna Haraway would put it? Is it really possible to transform the critical urge in the ethos of someone who adds reality to matters of fact and not subtractreality? To put it another way, what's the difference between deconstruction and constructivism? (232)

To embrace what Latour elsewhere refers to as a might mightier than might (Pandora's Hope225, 239) is to embrace our primordial obligation to the commandment: "thou shall respond". I read this commandment across Burke's/sophistry's/Levinas/Latour: "thou shall not be absolutely certain." The ethical transformation Latour seeks requires this kind of pathetic motivation--a reminder of our obligation to the others (networks) and Others (the question of the beyond, transcendence). The Other (God/alterity/non-negative/beyond the negative-dialectics of Being and consciousness understood as intentionality) sobers me from my "joyous possession of the world" and commands to enter into the deliberations of the other and the neighbor, to make the difficult choices, to give.

To pay a debt, Levinas reminds us, that costs more than we ever have to give.

The University has scarcely ever committed itself to such an ethical obligation. It has, in the image of Latour's Modernity or Levinas's ontology, been the center of purification, order, kNOwledge (Vitanza's skepticism toward dialectics and negation). We can, I hope, construct a new mission built around Levinas's concepts of obligation and responsibility, wound around Latour's concepts of protection and care. A new poetics, Vitanza might say, dedicated to describing the networks that help us to be, scribbled in the shadow of our perpetual ignorance of what Rightly (or Mightly) lies (in an extra-moral sense?) beyond being. A perpetual questioning of myself brought on by the perpetual question of what is Other.

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