Emmanuel Lévinas: the concern of the other

Posted: October 10, 2007 in Emmanuel Lévinas, Philosophy

By Alain Finkielkraut
Literary magazine n° 345
July-August 1996

“Nothing, in a sense, is more cumbersome only the next one. This desired isn’t it the undesirable one even?”
Emmanuel Lévinas

“It is necessary to cease, known as Plato in the Sophist, to tell intrigues.” Thus philosophy starts, thus continues it until Heidegger which reiterates in Being and time the inaugural injunction of Plato.

However, what the philosophy of Lévinas if not the account unceasingly taken again, unceasingly started again, indefinitely commented on and dug increasingly major, of a primitive scene, an original or pre-original intrigue: the meeting of others.

“Intrigue” is besides one of the Masters words of this thought which, maintaining us only morals, is never edifying, refuses with any preachifying, does not make us at any moment morals. ‘ ethics according to Lévinas is not more one law imposed by God to the men that the demonstration in each man of his autonomy. It is an event and even a blow of theatre. It is necessary that something occurs with ego so that this one ceases being a “force which goes” and wakes up with the scruple. This something, it is somebody, and this somebody is not with properly
Speech nobody: it is this share of the other man who escapes from the image or the idea that it leaves me, which demolishes form by which however it appears, which resists its conceptualization, with his thematisation, with its definition, and which Lévinas names magnificiently visagE.
The romantic literature accustomed us to read the human faces like hiéroglyphes, through the emotions which cross them and to detect the secrecy of the hearts in the expressions of this always emerged part of the body. For the novel, the face is a consent.
The ethical novel that written and rewritten Lévinas inlassablement involves us beyond the opposition or even of the tangle of the truth and appearance. The face, says it, borer the attributes which in him are offered to the knowledge. Its significance exceeds my representation, so perspicacious, also topic, so exact is it. The face naked, i.e. at the same time abstract and without protection, is stripped its ornaments cultural and vulnerable, irreducible to same qualities as it raises and strips of any defense, external with its determinations empirical and exposed to bearing end. And it is precisely that, this transcendence and cettre brittleness, this disarmed which repeals in me in spite of me the quiet selfishness of perseverance in being it. The face exists initially with the requirement. Before all that it me dissiumule or that it reveals me, there is what it reveals me, namely: “you will not kill!”. Vis-a-vis with the face, I recognize myself like being enjoint. The face, it is not a spectacle which is offered, these are a voice which silently order. Very of a blow, the other looks at me and obliges me. Very of a blow, it falls to me and it orders to me of all its load of indigence and weakness. Failure ‘ ‘ to be falling as a humanity. Unfasten autistic provision. Dismissal of the concern of oneself: ego I transfer with me here. “No one”, is not good voluntarily written Lévinas with the wrong way, once again, of all the moral tradition of philosophy. The ethics of which it speaks to us and which it invites us to discover or to rediscover with him is not an asceticism but a traumatism; it is not a work of oneself on oneself, it is an intrusion, a tearing, an effraction, or an affection, i.e., any unit, a connection and a lesion, a feeling which attaches and a burn which afflicts. One would in vain seek morals in the substance of each person taken separately or in the administraion of individual improvement. Morals is caught like a disease: it is the disease to be it.
“human Being”, says one to designate the man. Lévinas makes emerge implicit contradiction that there is between the two terms. Ego takes dimension of humanity when it deserted sound being and from goes away for the other. Can one date this when? One moment ago in the history of each one where this scene took place, where this intrigue was tied? Not undoubtedly. But that does not want to say that the intrigue is fictitious nor that this strange novel is only one novel. There is not first once and, at the same time, like it writes Paul Ricoeur, it is each time the first time that the other, such other says to me: “You will not kill!” The face makes conspicuous the command: “Each face is the Sinai which prohibits the murder.”
To speak about morals, it is not thus to formulate the regulations of the reason, it is to tell an adventure of the sensitivity. Venture foreign moreover where the other seems to occupy all the parts and to play all the parts, it is the sender of the history – that of which I answer – and his recipient – that in front of which I answer. It is also the subject of the action since it is him which takes the initiative, which enters without striking in the citadel of my interiority, and which assigns me or which shows me. And this “I” itself which answers the call, which is if not literally one which pro quo, an hostage, a host involuntary and inhabited until in the most intimate recesses of as for oneself, one oneself who attests himself by the movement even in which he is dislocated, like says it once again Ricoeur? Isn’t this there too much to give to the Other and too much to ask self? There is not something of insupportable in this paroxystic definition of subjectivity like total subjection and the identity like pure abnegation?
“If I am not for me, which will be for me? If it is not now, when? If I am only for me, which am I?”, it is says by Hillel in Talmud. Doesn’t Lévinas, which likes to quote this sentence, neglect of them the first and the second moments? Doesn’t it jump too quickly to the last question? To doesn’t force of higher bid and déconstruction, arrive-til from there to describe under the name of ethical situation an intolerable report/ratio?
This perplexity is legitimate and even those (of which I am) that the obsessional writing of Emmanuel Lévinas maintains under its philosophical charm, poetic and narrative, cannot avoid putting the question. We keep nevertheless too simple answers. Before qualifying exaggerated this indiscretion with regard to the inexpressible one that wants to be the philosophy of Lévinas, let us ask us if by the systematic practice of excess and the hyperbole, it did not make occur with the trembling light words something which had never been known as. Its most hyperbolic book and more haletant, Otherwise than to be and beyond the gasoline, opens on this terrible dedication: “A memory of the beings closest among the six million to assassinated by the national-Socialists, beside the million men of all confessions and all nations, victims of the same hatred of the other man, the same anti-semitism.”
The Xxe century tore off with the anti-semitism its apocalyptic secrecy. The anti-semitism, it is the hatred of the other and this hatred, it is not the aversion for the difference of the other man, its strangeness, its exoticism or its supposed inferiority; it is the allergy to its proximitié, the revolt and the resentment against the violence of the social relation.
To twist the neck with the scruple to be; to release the life of any foreign interference, to deploy it without obstacle, to return its aggressiveness, its natural cruelty, its wild vitality and its spontaneousness of sleepwalker to him; to make conceal the faces by reducing them to samples or specimens of a species; to substitute, as a sociality, racial fraternity with the proximity of the other man: what indicates, by antiphrasis, this nostalgia hitlérienne of a world without utrui, it is concern where the fact even of others plunges the existence.
“Nothing, in a sense, is more cumbersome only the next one. This desired is not it the undesirable one even?”, one still in Autrement than to be and beyond the gasoline reads. All-out war to have finally peace, the Nazism dissipated confusion between silliness and morals while revealing, in the decision to even put an end to it, the capacity of others to start with sharp peace to be.
In Difficult freedom, Emmanuel Lévinas defines the Judaism like “the singular destiny which, beyond misfortunes of people, teaches the incompatilibé land one of spiritual and of idyllic”. This teaching, Lévinas made enter, and how, in philosophy at the time even where this one saw or believed to see in the history the glorious theatre of its achievement. With us, vis-a-vis other idyllic temptations, not to let it lose.

In literary magazine n° 345 – July-August 1996.

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