Assumptions

The avoir of the impersonal il y a, the having (compare Heidegger's hat) of the anonymous there-is, becomes contracted to a point of focus (foyer) the instant there exists a solitary monad that, although still possessing no door and no windows, possesses itself and a name. It possesses itself because it possesses no doors and no windows. For its self-possession is a turning in on itself. And this possession of itself is a being possessed by itself. At the birth of the instant the existant is preoccupied by the existence (with) which it has contracted. Preoccupied, obsessed, con-cerned. If one is to remain in touch with what Levinas will be going on to say, it is important to grasp from the beginning the preposterousness of his analysis of the beginning.

For instance, why does he say that before being a source of pleasure (jouissance) one's self-prepossession is a source of concern? This statement appears to imply that the neutrality of the care (Sorge) that Heidegger does not limit to care or concern as worry, Besorgnis (SZ 192, 197), is undercut by what Heidegger would call its deficient mode. The very richness of self-ownership through one's belonging to being, the generosity of the Heideggerian es gibt, is cause for disquieting concern. Not only does the underlying menace of dispossession by the ily a persist, but the will to persist in one's own being is, so to speak, unwillingly bad. Prior to will, so prior to the freedom of will, the existant freed from the anonymity of the there-is remains inscribed in being. It has entered into a contract with existence. Indeed its very existence is this contracting or assumption. Levinas tells us even that this assumption is an assumption of responsibility. Responsibility, contract, inscription, charge, even possession as property and the having—of having-to-be are all ethico-legal terms. From the first instant, in the court of first instance, there is a dialectic of the ego with its inalienable self. This is a dialectic of departure from itself and return (TA 36, TO 55). When Levinas writes that through no fault of its own, or because of the fault that yawns open between the ego and the intimate self that pursues it like a shadow, it is not, like Narcissus, innocently alone, is this non-innocence equivalent to non-in-nocence? Does it mean that the ego is noxious, responsible for harm? Is the tie of the ego to its dilatory, fatigued and lassitudinous self an obligation it has inevitably contravened, not because of anything it has or has not done, but simply because it exists? These are the questions that must be answered if one is to answer the question where for Levinas philosophy must begin.

It is beginning to look as though the answer to these questions is answerability. Ontological answerability, responsibility for being. Ontological responsibility is a pervasive theme in the lectures Heidegger delivered in Freiburg from 1929 to 1930.1 It is difficult to believe that this theme did not surface in discussions in which Levinas participated during his presence in Freiburg from 1928 to 1929. In any case, it had already surfaced a year still earlier in Being and Time, for example in the sections on Ontological conscience. What is said there is under criticism when Levinas claims that Heidegger admits no third beyond the alternatives of Dasein's self as authentic and Dasein's self as the impersonal das Man (TA 18, TO 40). Even in authentic being towards my own death I am only with others as alter egos assumed within a world that remains monistic when my monad has been provided with windows and doors.

The sense 'assumption' has here must be distinguished from the sense it has elsewhere. The two senses are distinguished in Time and the Other more clearly than they are in Existence and Existents. Despite Heidegger's distinction between categories, for example readiness to hand and presence at hand, to which unDaseinish beings belong, and existentials, for example care and its modes, which belong essentially to and are ways of Dasein's being, existentials still resemble the categories of Aristotle, Kant and Hegel in that they reign over and, as the Greek kategoreo says, arraign the concepts, objects and subjects of which they are predicated. They 'go out and get them', as the hinnehmen even of the a priori forms of time and space says in Heidegger's interpretation of the schematism of Kant that was so decisive in the former's reinterpretation of being and time. Kant's so-called forms of receptivity acquire a degree of spontaneity as schemata mediating the application of the categories of the understanding to the pure forms of sensibility. Hence the phrases 'act of receptivity', 'spontaneous receptivity' and 'take in their stride' that are used for Heidegger's hinnehmen and its cognates.2 This is one of the senses in which Levinas speaks of assumption, the sense that the Latin-German word Subsumtion has in the chapter on schematism in Kant's first Critique.

A clue to the second sense in which Levinas speaks of assumption is offered by the Greek kategguao, meaning 'to make responsible, to oblige to give security or bail'. Assumption in Levinas's second sense would be the acceptance of this responsibility imposed on me by another. It would be the acknowledgement of that charge, endorsement of the justice of an accusation to which the subject is subjected. In Totality and Infinity he will speak also of welcome, though that word too will have two senses equivalent to those that Time and the Other distinguishes for 'assume'. In the latter book he speaks also of the assumption of death. But death is precisely what cannot be assumed in the sense of taking in one's stride.

So here is another duple: assume-assume. It remains to be seen whether the second sense of 'assume' is an assumption of the first. Whether it is its production-production or emphase. And whether assumption might be a dialectical but not negative Aufhebung of Aufhebung. An Aufhebung not via 'not', but via 'is', provided one could produce a non-Hegelian, nontotalizing sense of 'to be' which is not exclusive of 'not to be'. That is the question. And because Levinas's answer to this question is 'Yes' it is more than a rhetorical flourish to say that the whole of philosophy might be regarded as a commentary on Shakespeare. This is what Time and the Other begins to explain. It explains also the genealogy of ontological and ethical responsibility. It explains the genealogy of genealogy itself. Assumption-assumption, responsibility-responsibility, genealogy-genealogy. Time and the Other explains how these repetitions remark time.

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