What is to be found in Husserl, what Levinas finds there, is a precursion that nevertheless helps to clarify the precursion within the levels of the genealogy Levinas produces from what he finds in Husserl. Already in 1930, in The Theory of Intuition in Husserl's Phenomenology, Husserl is being hailed as the philosopher who overcomes Bergson's opposition of intuition and intellect. But in the works available to him at that date Levinas judges Husserl's philosophy too intellectualist. Although, like Bergson, Husserl attends to the concreteness of life, it is life no longer lived but represented. This means that Husserl fails to do justice to the non-representational historicity and temporality that is of the essence of human being. So Levinas here underlines the importance of the contribution made by Heidegger. The neutralism which Levinas will find to be a shortcoming of Heidegger's ontology is here found to be a weakness of Husserl's phenomenology, indeed a corollary of phenomenological reduction itself. The reduction is an act by which the philosopher reflects on himself and so to speak "neutralizes" in himself the man living in a world, the man posing this world as existent, the man playing his part in this world' (TIPH 221, TIHP 157). The neutralization is a transition from a natural attitude to the world posed by man in a state of 'dogmatic slumber'. Kant's phrase is cited by Levinas in the
1974 essay 'De la conscience a la veille', and in the 1930 book he cites §61 of Ideas, volume I where Husserl characterizes man in the naïve natural attitude as a 'born dogmatist' (DVI 46, TIPH 222, TIHP 157). The natural and human sciences are dogmatic until the actuality they posit for their subject-matter has been suspended by the imagined 'destruction' of the world, phenomenologically reduced to a field of 'consciousness in general' (DVI 55). Note that the Husserlian transcendental consciousness in general not only shares a certain neutrality with the Levinasian there-is. Just as Levinas says of the latter that it is a kind of eternity, so Husserl says that the transcendental consciousness is eternal. In documents dating from 1922-3 published as section 10 of appendix VIII of the Analyses Concerning Passive Synthesis Husserl says of transcendental consciousness what Levinas says of the there-is, that it knows no birth or death. Whatever becomes of the body and soul of the natural human being, the transcendental I is neither created nor destroyed—there is, as German interestingly expresses it, no auf-hôren. No wonder that the vigilance of insomnia, proposed in Existence and Existents as an empirical illustration of the there-is, can seem to become one in Levinas's thinking with the vigilance of reawakening, or that the latter is the emphasis of the former, the soul of the soul, the psyche psyched and sobered up.
The transition from the naïve to the phenomenological attitude, like the Kantian transition from dogmatism to criticism, is a transition from theory to theory. This common denominator may well ease the passage that some of Husserl's commentators have found so difficult to explain in his terms, but it remains difficult to understand how in those terms motivation to adopt the phenomenological attitude can be explained.5 Almost all Husserl says on this difficulty in writings published by the time Levinas publishes his book on them is that we carry out the reduction because we can. Almost but not entirely all. In the final paragraph of his book Levinas reminds his reader that despite the primacy given to theory by Husserl, the latter's phenomenological method requires that the structures and dynamics of concrete life be examined with a view to placing them, as Levinas would say, within the economy of being. Aesthetic and practico-ethical structures are among those whose ontological meaning (Seinsinn) calls to be described. So, Levinas asks in his final sentence apropos of the aforementioned difficulty: 'But is not the possibility even of overcoming this difficulty or fluctuation in Husserl's thought given with the affirmation of the intentional character of practical and axiological life?' (TIPH 223, TIHP 158).
Thus does Husserl set Levinas's agenda. In the execution of that agenda the aesthetic, in the sense of the word traditionally associated with the beautiful, the sublime and the enjoyment of artistic creations, will occupy a place subordinate to that of the ethical. In his placing of the ethical in the economy of being and in his placing of the economy of being in the non-economy of the ethical, Levinas will call into question the primacy of theory, that is to say of theôria, seeing. How can this be so, we may ask, given that in the essays dating from the 1970s, when the Cartesian Meditations, the Crisis and many other volumes embodying Husserl's descriptions of concrete life have been published, not only Levinas's reflections on those descriptions but also his supplementation of them are cast in the language of waking and the opening of eyes: veille, éveil, réveil and so on? To this expression of puzzlement several responses are due. To start with, it should be said that one can be awakened by the sound of an alarm. An alarm clock is a réveil, réveille-matin or Weaker. The members of Levinas's family of French terms are translations of Husserl's wecken and its various cognates which have to do with rousing and calling up; calling up a memory, for instance, as in the last footnote to §41 of the Phenomenological Psychology, though it is what exceeds memory that Levinas is especially concerned to evoke. So his language of bringing to light goes over into the language of calling up, telephony. Witness: 'Vigilance—awakening rising in(to) awakening—awakening reawakening the state into which wakefulness itself falls and freezes—is vocation—and concretely responsibility for the Other'; 'La vigilance—éveil se levant dans l'éveil—l'éveil réveillant'état où tombe et se fige la veille elle-même—est vocation—et concrètement la responsabilité pour Autrui' (DVI 55).
The awakening in question is an awakening either from sleep or from the fixation upon objects presented to the light of consciousness. This fixation, no less than sleep, is a kind of stupor. Both of these ontic anthropological states fall under the meta-category of vigilance or insomnia. This is a meta-category because it transcends the categories under which fall the objects of consciousness. It also transcends the existential ways of being that Heidegger holds consciousness to presuppose; and it transcends the Wachterschaft and Wachsamkeit understood by him as vigilance for the ways in which being comes to pass.6
But there are grounds for thinking that Levinas does not want the metaof this transcendence to be understood as a simple layering, notwithstanding the frequency with which this archaeological image is encountered in the writings of Husserl, though he too sometimes warns against the dangers of being misled by the metaphor of stratification, for example in §124 of Ideas, volume I.The transcendence is an excession that is the already-being-outside-itself of an inside. This would be a reason for mixing the metaphors of seeing (theôrid) and hearing, thereby complicating the meta- of metaphor itself, discovering it to have the structure and destructure of a chiasm, as though the chiasm of the optic nerve were discovered to be hybridized with a chiasm of the aural nerve, and as though ontology were discovered to be in some sense, a sensus communis, already crossed with ethics, phusis with ethos.7 This double crossing is expressed in the thought that although ethical transcendence is not vision or supervision, not viser, so not a purely visual optics (TEI 148, TI 174), it is a 'spiritual optics', that is to say, it is an optics without synoptics.It does not originate in nor does it aim at the representation of an eschatological ideal in which it would be consummated. Rather is it the consummation of the visionary in that eschatological sense, its accomplishment, though Levinas's consomme can also mean to consume or disintegrate(TEI XII, TI 23). It can be a holocaustic end over whose eschatologicality there hovers an inextinguishable 'maybe'. This double crossing is, in the terms of the title of one of Levinas's essays, the ruin of representation due to the face, the visage that offers itself, gives, gives its word(DE 125-35). Defying comprehension, the moment of vision, the Augenblick, is at the same time, but time otherwise construed, a moment of audition, audire, obaudire, obedience. The comprehension of sense is disturbed by the call of exigence (DVI 98, CPP 156, HLR 169). Consciousness, conscience, is discomforted by bad conscience, mauvaise conscience, even menaced by it, as though by an avatar or ancestor of Descartes's evil genius. The transcendence of the meta-katêgoria is the transcendence of evil, Satan, that is to say, taking the Greek word to its Hebrew root, the accuser.8
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