Displacement

Levinas writes in Time and the Other that he has there omitted stages in what we are calling the genealogy of his ethics. This implies that he already has at least an outline plan in mind if not on paper for the book that will be entitled Totality and Infinity. In the preface composed for the second edition of the earlier book published in 1979 he observes that some of the topics dealt with in that earlier book are treated differently in the later one. The same will have to be said about the relation of a still later book, Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence, to Totality and Infinity.

In the commentary on parts of Totality and Infinity which the present chapter begins it will be convenient to take as point of departure a sentence from an essay to which several references were made in chapter 5 and which was published in the same year as was published Otherwise than Being. The sentence contains the word 'substitution' that provides the title for what Levinas deems to be that book's most important chapter.

Vigilance—reawakening in awakening—gnifies the de-fection of identity, that which is not its extinction but its substitution for the neighbour—order or disorder where reason is no longer either knowledge [connaissance] or action but where, dislodged from its station by the Other [désarçonné par Autrui de son état]—dislodged from the Same and from being—it is in an ethical relation with the other [autrui], in proximity to the neighbour.

If what is meant here by 'substitution' is to become clear, what is meant by defection of identity must be investigated.

What is meant by saying that de-fection of identity is not extinction? On the page facing the one on which these words 'not extinction' occur, right opposite them, reference is made to la brûlure sans consumation d'une flamme inextinguible (DVI 61). Strange to relate, these words refer in turn to words written nearly thirty years earlier in Existence and Existents and cited above in the fourth section of chapter 2. In the earlier work the il y a is described as 'this impersonal, anonymous but inextinguishable "consumption" ["consumation"] of being..."being in general'". The sound associated with this by Levinas and Blanchot is mentioned in the same breath—the murmur which could easily be heard here as the sputtering of the flames of an earthly or subterranean inferno; scarcely yet as words; at most as the muttering (muttire) from which the mot will eventually emerge as the more from the less (DEE 93-4, EE 57, SMB 17). In the later text the inextinguishable flame that never burns out and does not leave even a trace of ash is a metaphor of the more in the less. And if brûlure carries also its usual meaning of the painful sensation of heat applied to the skin there is a further metaphor at work here, a furthering of the idea of the reawakening in awakening in which the source of illumination, the candle beside the insomniac's bed, becomes a source of ill, evil, lesion. The burden of being is doubled by the burden of responsibility for the other. However 'glorious' the responsibility for the other in the recto-verso of the face to face may be—and according to Levinas it is the wonder of wonders—the wonder remains a wounding, the thauma a trauma. For although the Other dislodges me, I continue to be lodged in my place in the sun. And the rays of the sun grow more searing beneath the Other's gaze. The passive intentionality of that intense gaze, more passive than the passivity opposed to activity in a system of energy exchange, is the intensity of the sun, of the Good beyond being. And the Good beyond being is simultaneously, yet at the same time dia-chronously, an unassimilable Evil beyond the simple opposition of good and evil. In Philippe Nemo's terms, as paraphrased by Levinas, while striking me in its menacing horror, evil 'reveals—or is already—my association with the Good' (DVI 203, CPP 183). In Kantian terms, there is a hidden common root of all evil and good deeper than the common root that the schematism of the time-generative productive imagination is for the passive sensibility and active understanding or reason. This deeper common root is a twofold, ambiguous root. It springs from a level below that from which Kant's second Critique sustains the first, a level at which sustainment is shaken to its root by such evil as that spoken of in Schelling's Essay on the Essence of Human Freedom and Heidegger's reflections on that treatise, but a level deeper even than evil grounded in freedom of will.1 Deeper than transcendental conditions of the possibility of synthesis, deeper even than the ontological difference between beings and being, radical Evil/ Good is a quasi-transcendental condition of the possibility and impossibility of synthesis, as the ethical difference between Evil/Good and particular evils and goods is more original than original sin.

Deeper. The more I respond for the other the deeper the subcutaneous wound. The more I answer, the more the other gets under my skin. The passivity is a subjection to suffering before it becomes an object of cognitive consciousness. Such consciousness of the presence of pain is a way of softening its sting and an opportunity to alleviate it by calculating its efficacy in a teleology consummated in good. Without consuming itself, the inextinguishable flame consumes consummation, contemns totting up, because it is the incessant hotting up of my sensitivity to my occupation of a place in the sun that my neighbour might have occupied. My complacency is ever more disturbed by my never being able to unplace myself. My displacement is always my replacement of another. Any place I would save for myself is one for which I am answerable to the other. That is to say, the irremovable burden of ontological responsibility under which I find myself not through any act or contract I have performed but simply because of the unwilled accomplishment of my self-identity, is my ethical responsibility for the other. That identity can no more be extinguished than the flame, too close for comfort, can be blown out. Rather is it strengthened by the other's breath. How could it be extinguished if ethics is a spiritual optics, if the breath of its life is the breath that is breathed in a call not simply to open my eyes, to sympathize and to universalize in the enjoyment of the still self-sustaining pleasure of good will, but to feed and clothe the Croatian stranger, the Serbian widow, the Somali orphan and the Palestinian or Israelite exile whom no one is willing to shelter from the desert heat or cold? Ethics is an optics only in so far as optics is operation, praxis or, where Levinas's 'fundamental ethics' is concerned, proto-praxis, prior to the opposition between knowledge and action, optics without option. That is to say, and Levinas approves of Marx for saying it, ethics has a base in economics. But Levinas's endorsement of this aspect of Marx's materialism goes along with a more complex conception of materialism and of what constitutes a base.

The basis of materialism is not the economic base or the primacy of the physical as opposed to consciousness or spirit. Where the spiritual is the holy within the bounds of reason and rationality is contrasted with the sacred as irrationality, 'Attachment to the sacred is infinitely more materialist than proclamation of the—incontestable—lue in human life of bread and beefsteak' (DL 20, DF 6). Materialism accords primacy to the neuter even in Hegelian idealism and the late Heidegger's thinking of the belonging of being (phusis) to a saying which lets being lie (logos in the sense of 'saying' is cognate with legein, which can mean 'lay before' or 'let lie'), but which, on Levinas's interpretation of that thinking, does not belong to a face 'as a source from which all meaning appears, the face in its absolute nudity, in its destitution as a head that does not find a place to lay itself (TEI 275, TI 298-9). It does not find a place to lay itself because, in a manner of speaking, that place is always already occupied by me in my self-identity.

Neither my isolated self-identity nor my self-identity as a worker united with others constitutes a base for the ethical, for the ethical also deconstitutes that base. This is what Levinas means by a de-fection of identity, that is, a falling away from and unmaking of identity, which is nevertheless not identity's death. The base is not a firm bedrock at a level deeper than a layer it supports. What is depth and what is height? What is identity? Precisely what it is, the identity of personal identity and with it the identity of the 'is' is what is put on parade and cross-examined when Levinas shuffles syntactic structure in saying that 'the Other [l'Autre], instead of alienating the unicity of the Same whom he disquiets and detains, calls him only to the deeper in him deeper than him' (DVI 48). Here Levinas's use of Autre rather than Autrui is a sign that he is interpreting Husserl rather than 'producing' him, but the depth-grammar of depth exposed here is already what Levinas will need when later in the essay he speaks in the voice, if one may so put it, not of the father but of the son. This very relationship between Husserl and Levinas, like the relationship between the Same and the Other in question in the sentence cited, is deeper than the oppositions between assimilation and alienation, Same and Other, I and you or tu. Deeper, but not geologically. Logically, but according to a logic that queries and queers the pitch for the principiality assumed by the classical principles of inference that prescribe or describe what follows from what. So that the metaphor of depth should not be assumed to be more profound than the metaphors of surfaces. This means that all this talk of hidden roots must be taken with a pinch of salt; which does not mean that whatever is superficial or ficial or facial is something that is easily seen. Something can be so close that it is overlooked or, like the sound in one's ears of the pumping of blood, unheard. The face is no less self-effacing than is being.

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