New Dimension

Visual representation and enjoyment, touch and work, facilitate a forgetting of the horror of the there-is by enabling separation. The amorphous is succeeded by form and comprehension. But the space across which objects are seen or grasped is not absolute exteriority. That space is the space of the interiority of-the Same in which depth is a dimension of being side by side, a third dimension equivalent to laterality perceived from a different point of view. It is the space in which the ego exercises power. Absolute exteriority is a new dimension where depth has no lateral equivalent and where there is no comparison of depth; a dimension beyond measure. Not the interval between a viewpoint and a phenomenal surface or façade, the absolute interval is the face to face.

The face is the place where sight is intersected by speech. Discourse, discourse, breaks the continuum of the space in which visible and tangible objects are in relation (rapport) one with another and can be carried (rapporté) within mutual proximity. The proximity of one face to another is one of infinite distance. It is a relation that preserves the separateness of the terms from each other and from the relation itself. This relation of locution dislocates power, despite the fact that it is a relation of orientation, that is to say, a relation in which I look up to the Other rising above me. Orientation, presupposed by occidentality, where language sets into concepts, paralyses the very power to power, Levinas says. It disempowers, one might add, the will to power, the pouvoir of voir, the faculty of sight, the faculty of light, the faculty of clear ideas. Senseless by the standard of formal logic, it is yet rationality par excellence penetrating form: ratio in the sense of the ethical regard that one interlocutor must have for another as interlocutor, whatever the message conveyed.

But if this superlative reason is incarnate in a phenomenal face, is not Levinas confronted with the problem of schematism that confronted Kant, the problem of the union of reason and sensibility that Descartes failed to overcome when he appealed to the pineal gland? Is this problem not posed by Levinas when he says that the face is at the limit between holiness, implying separation, and caricature, implying phenomenal representation? One way of attempting to circumvent this problem is to argue for the irreducibility of the corps propre, the body lived as one's own, from which body and mind are unreal abstractions. This is a solution favoured by, for example, Merleau-Ponty.1 Levinas considers that although this carnative account covers more than the self as 'I think', it does not extend beyond the self as 'I can', the self of possibility, ability, activity and will, the self which on his account is the self of enjoyment, work and perseverence in one's being. It leaves out of account the non-phenomenal face. Instead of saying that the face as expression is incarnate, he prefers to say that it is that by which the self is disincarnate. Like Merleau-Ponty, Levinas is objecting to the typically idealist identification of reason with will, an identification that entails the identification of ethics with politics (TEI 192-3, TI 216-17). This is already typical of Kantian idealism. For Kant the reason that is architectonic of the mind, reason as faculty of Ideas, is one with the good will. Levinas holds the two apart by grounding will in the lived body of the free agent while positing a reason beyond even the infinite rationality of the Kantian Ideas. Levinas's rational Desire of the Other exceeds Kant's rational will because it is positively infinite, whereas the infinity of the Kantian Ideas is only the negation of finitude. It is positive infinition. Descartes's idea of God is an idea that cannot comprehend infinity because infinity is not its object. It exceeds objecthood, including the noematic objecthood within which it is confined in Husserl's theory of ideas. It exceeds theory and thematization in the Husserlian sense of the word—though not in the emphasized sense given to the word when Levinas writes that a thing is thematized not when it is simply made an object of contemplation but when it is placed at the disposition (thesis) of another. That alone is true objectivity, objectivity in which the reference to others that objectivity implies is achieved only through my ability to distance myself from my possessions by offering them to the other through speech (TEI 184, TI 209). Language is the door through which the other comes in. And indeed Levinas applies the metaphor of the open door to Descartes's positive account of infinity. It is a door through which he himself passes on his way toward his account of infinition. Infinition is the infinition of Desire for the Other, and the infinition of Desire for the Other consists in the increase in responsibility that comes with my response. So that, as distinguished from need, ethical Desire cannot approach satisfaction even asymptotically. The anasymptotic infinition of Desire for the Other means that there is always time for my response—even though my response is always too late.

Yet non-ethical desire or will (vouloir), while grounded, as we put it, in the economic self concerned with its own survival and happiness, has anAbgrund, a disground, in ethical Desire. For the desire to preserve oneself implies in principle that I may want to kill someone who puts my life at risk. I can want to kill or murder (the distinction seems not to matter here) only a being over whom I can exercise power. I can exercise power only over a being that belongs to the sensible world. But a being that belongs entirely to the sensible world, although a being I can exterminate or destroy, is not one I can want to murder or kill. I can want to murder or kill only a being with a face that expresses itself phenomenally, that is to say, in the physical countenance, while at the same time escapes my power through resisting it not with force but by the first and original expression of the face commanding 'Thou shalt not kill'. This says the same as 'Peace be with you', 'Shalom'. Therefore war presupposes peace. The dialectic of master and slave presupposes the relation of teacher and pupil. It is in the teacher's weakness that resides his or her strength: in the vulnerability of the Other's face which is indeed sensible, but in a manner that permits the Other to preserve his or her independence from my power to slaughter or enslave.

In appealing to me both as height and in the humility of his unclothedness and hunger, the Other does not limit my freedom. On the contrary, he sets my freedom free. By imposing on me the burden of responsibility, the Other releases me from the anonymous fatality of the burden of being from which enjoyment and work could bring only temporary relief.

I do not escape that fatality and he does not escape my grasp by each of us testing the other's strength of will. For although I may impose my free will, I am not free to prevent my will being alienated by historical, sociological and psychoanalytic explanations that bend the motives of my acts and the meanings, the vouloir dire, of what I say. My freedom is taken into slavery. And I do not rise above this slavery by courageously willing whatever the other wills for me. For if courage ultimately means willingness to die, that too can be what another wills, so that the outcome of my will satisfies his.

However, in view of the corporeity Levinas ascribes to the will, how can an infinite regress of schematisms be avoided, or an endless proliferation of pineal glands? If my free will is conceived as spontaneous causality, its freedom is already prejudiced by my having been thrown willy-nilly into the circumstances in which I find myself born, the Befindlichkeit of the Geworfenheit of Being and Time. This, it may be said, still leaves me with a finite freedom. But how, if the will is incorporated, does its freedom relate to the embodiment by which that freedom is limited? The postulation of a mediating gland, valve or clutch to explain how the limiting factor can gain purchase upon the limited and how agency can to some degree overcome resistance simply turns into the problem as to how the two parts or aspects of the intermediary relate. For an account of freedom one must therefore turn away from causality as sui generis causa sui, to non-causal, ethical creation.

And the interpretation of creation as ethics demands a reinterpretation—an interpretation different from that which Being and Time gives—of the deferral of death.

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