Concreteness

More than once Of Evasion couples together the nouns that appear in the title De l'existence a l'existant of the book published in 1947 incorporating a discussion of the there-is, the il y a, published as a separate article in 1946. Just as this book, published in English under the title Existence and Existents, is announced by Of Evasion, so it in turn postpones but explicitly promises the more detailed analyses of time and the Other begun in Le temps et l'autre (Time and the Other) which will also be published in 1947. In Existence and Existents 'Le temps et l'Autre' is the subheading of a brief section only, following one that claims to be only on the way to time, 'Vers le temps'. Levinas is touching there on topics which, as he says of eternity in Totality and Infinity, exceed the limits of the present study (DEE 147, EE 85). The approach is again provisional. It is as though Levinas is writing within the framework of Being and Time in order the better to engage with it and explode it at its seams. Heidegger advises his prospective reader that his study is prospective: 'Our aim in the following treatise is to work out the question of the meaning of "Being" and to do so concretely. Our provisional aim is the Interpretation of time as the possible horizon for any understanding whatsoever of Being.'1 It could be said that any aim is pro-visional, vorläufig, and that Heidegger's adjective is redundant. The redundancy would be avoided if the provisionality of the aim meant that the aim is not the ultimate one, but one adopted for the time being. That is how one might describe the aim of an analysis of Dasein that will give way to an analysis of being as such, as the third division of the first part was going to do under the title Time and Being'. That too is how one might describe the aim of the first division of the first part of Being and Time, which is concerned with the existential analysis of the being of Dasein and qualified as preparatory (vorbereitend) in the index of the book in relation to the second division of the same part which proceeds to express the preceding analysis in terms of temporality. That progression at least is mirrored in the agenda drawn up for himself by Levinas.

It is not beyond credibility that when in the passage cited Heidegger uses the adjective vorläufig he is anticipating, running ahead to, the second division's analysis of being-towards-death as anticipation or running ahead toward a certain possibility: the possibility of impossibility by which all Dasein's possibilities are embraced. This and these possibilities are concrete. There is no reason why the philosophical working out of the question of the meaning of being should not be possessed of the concreteness of this ultimate possibility. And if Levinas is ultimately to propose that death is not the possibility of possibility and impossibility but the impossibility of possibility, there is every reason why his philosophical working out of the response that precedes questioning should be no less concrete.

In this quest for concreteness Heidegger and Levinas are following the example of Bergson and of Husserl, the dedicatee of Being and Time. Up to a point. For Heidegger rejects what he takes to be Bergson's doctrine that the abstract quantitative time of objects in the world results from an externalization of inner qualitative duration. Bergson's account of objective time belongs on Heidegger's reading of it to the Kantian tradition whose shortcomings Bergson's account of duration was meant to make good. Through Kant it belongs to the ontological tradition going back to Aristotle. Heidegger holds that 'The question of Being does not achieve its true concreteness until we have carried through the process of destroying the ontological tradition' (SZ 26). Levinas holds that this question does not achieve its true concreteness until both the Greek tradition and the Heideggerian alternative have been 'destroyed', that is to say, de—and reconstrued.

However, both the Heideggerian and the Levinasian destructions follow Husserl in stressing the importance of concreteness, even where they disagree with the philosopher whose lectures they both attended. Husserl contrasts the concretum with the abstractum. This contrast is equivalent to that between the independent and the dependent (or non-independent) as exemplified by the distinctions between whole (e.g. a coloured surface) and part (e.g. a part of a coloured surface) examined in the third of the Logical Investigations.2 This logical and ontological notion of concreteness is carried over into Ideas, volume 1 (e.g. §15), but in that book a methodological and phenomenological notion of concreteness is derived from the so-called principle of all principles which applies to every 'object', concrete, abstract or whatever. This principle of 'bodily selfhood' states that 'immediate "seeing" (Sehen)...in general as primordial dator consciousness of any kind whatsoever, is the ultimate source of justification for all rational statements'.3 This is a principle of concreteness, but in the sense of concreteness of eidetic essence, not in the sense of empirical 'individual concrete being' (Ideas, vol. 1, §3) or in the sense of mystical insight

(ibid.). As Husserl insists in the book for the French version of which Levinas was one of the translators, 'Phenomenology's purely intuitive, concrete, and also apodictic mode of demonstration excludes all "metaphysical adventure", all speculative excesses' (Cartesian Meditations §60).4 While being a positive principle of concreteness this 'first methodological principle' (ibid. §5) is a principle of caution and criticism. It affirms not only that 'whatever presents itself in "intuition" in primordial form (as it were in bodily reality), is simply to be accepted as it gives itself out to be', but goes on at once to warn 'though only within the limits in which it then presents itself (Ideas, vol. 1, §24). It is therefore a principle of gradualism:

It is plain that I, as someone beginning philosophically, since I am striving toward the presumptive end, genuine science, must neither make nor go on accepting any judgment as scientific that I have not derived from evidence, from 'experiences' [Erfahrungen] in which the affairs and affair-complexes in question are present to me as 'they themselves'. Indeed, even then I must examine its 'range' and make evident to myself how far that evidence, how far its 'perfection' [Vollkommenheit], the actual giving of the affairs themselves, extends. Where this is still wanting, I must not claim any final validity, but must account my judgment as, at best, a possible intermediate stage on the way to final validity.

(Cartesian Meditations §5)

Whether or not phenomenology is always 'on the way', and whether or not this principle of gradualism is already evidence that there must be a phenomenology that is a genealogy, a phenomenology subject to the law of 'oriented' constitution (ibid. §58), it merits repetition that this principle remains a principle of rigorous rationality when adopted and adapted by Heidegger and Levinas. This rigour and rationality require methodological concreteness that has ontological concreteness as its aim. Analysis into abstracted pieces, parts, components and levels must keep the synthesis of the manifold in view. Thus the first division of the Daseinsanalytik of Being and Time ends by asking 'Has our investigation up to this point ever brought Dasein into view as a whole?' Given the biological 'root' of the word's meaning, one cannot read without a sense of irony Heidegger's repeated demands for con-creteness (from crescere, 'to grow'), despite the fact that he is analysing what he allows himself to call Dasein's everyday life. Do these last three words not verge on incoherence in the context of the strictures he puts upon philosophical biologism? Do not these strictures make it very difficult for him to agree that all human life is there, da? Or are we meant to imagine that the last of those three words is flanked by inverted commas? Husserl and Levinas have no such compunction. Concrescence is an entirely apt description of the incremental way in which their analytico-synthetic genealogies of the lifeworld proceed.

However, just as Heidegger warns against 'verbal mysticism' (SZ 220), so Levinas will take pains to argue for the extreme rationality of what in his redefinition of metaphysics may seem from a traditional point of view to be extreme irrationality. Heidegger will redefine phenomenology ontologically to allow its subject-matter, the 'phenomenon', to include not only 'experiences', what discloses itself, but also what conceals itself, being. So Heidegger's fundamental phenomenological ontology is not limited to an analysis of the noetic-noematic structures to which Husserl's analyses are confined, despite the fact that the hyphen here marks Husserl's insistence on the concreteness of these structures and despite the fact that their noematic objects are not just representations in the empiricist or Kantian transcendental sense. That limitation is one of the chief targets of the criticism of those analyses made by Levinas in The Theory of Intuition in Husserl's Phenomenology (1930). But notwithstanding the precedence Heidegger gives to readiness to hand over presence at hand in his analysis of everyday life, and despite Heidegger's turn and return to the question of being as other than a being, Heideggerian ontology is still in the strict sense a phenomenology, that is to say, it is still concerned with the giving and given in light. The 'seeing' may be less narrowly conceived than it is in Husserl's already broad reconception of sight, but, as is suggested by Heidegger's attribution of forms of spection (Sicht) to Dasein's Da in §§15, 31 and 36 of Being and Time, seeing remains for his phenomenology 'the prince of senses' that it was for St Augustine.5 This is one misplacement that Levinas sets out to correct in Existence and Existents. He also continues there the meditation on 'the tragedy of being' begun in Of Evasion. Third, rather as Fichte, Schelling and Hegel undertake the task of repairing what they regard as Kant's failure to deduce the categories, so Levinas undertakes to make good what he sees either as Heidegger's failed attempt to deduce the ontic from the ontological or as his failure even to make that attempt.

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