Question and Answer

On Facebook, someone asks: "Come on people, is it so hard to have manners?"

I would say "yes" because having manners rests on a recognition and prioritization of the other person. So much of our contemporary technological life aims at the obfuscation of other people (iPods, iPhones, e-readers, nintendo DS, etc), at filtering the external world out and amping my internal world up. It takes more and more effort to keep oneself tethered in reality, to acknowledge the face-to-face with others.

I am thinking of D. Diane Davis' discussion of Nancy in the introduction to her Inessential Solidarity. She reminds us that Levinas's primordial concept of the face-to-face "is a relation of nonindifference, Levinas tells us, that pivots neither on shared meaning nor on identification but on an obligation, an imperative that precedes understanding [...] You might whip out your Blackberry or plug into your iPod or feign sleep or complete absorption in your magazine, iPad, or Nintendo DS, but the active refusal to be responsive is a response and so no longer simple indifference" (11). I am tweaking this a bit, suggesting that our contemporary technologies obliviate the other--such that the encounters that trigger the "conscious" responses of avoidance (of avoiding my responsibility toward the other, my hospitality, my repaying the debt) Davis articulates do not present themselves to consciousness. Of course, we still are left with the conscious decision to put these technologies away, and to invest our time in the presence of others. But such investing can be hard, hard work. Worthy work, though.

1 comment:

pure_sophist_monster said...

I like the emphasis here on the work of relations. That, for me, has always been an important note in terms of rhetoric and teaching. The assumption that because human beings are "social animals" being or becoming social is somehow innate or automatic. For example, how little we actually prepare students to work in groups when we assign them group projects. I don't think there is much that's automatic about anything. Becoming anything at all is "hard, hard work. Worthy work, though."

Note (of the uncanny): I posted something to my blog last night that might very well be the "opposite" of this post. I'd be interested to see how you think our latest posts intersect or interact: http://pure-sophist-monster.blogspot.com/2012/03/feedback-absence.html