Erotetology

The way into Being and Time is precisely through the opening of the question, through, as Heidegger here observes, the inquiry or, better, through inquiry as such as a mode of being of Dasein. Already in the second section of the first part of the Introduction an erotetic phenomenology is outlined. The formal structure of the question is said to relate a Gefragtes, a Begragtes and the Erfragte.

Supported by what Heidegger goes on to say, the translators list these respectively as that which is asked about, that which is interrogated, and that which is to be found out by asking. One might well wonder why no place in this formal structure seems to be allowed for who asks or is asked. Admittedly, it is the structure of the specific question of being and hence of Dasein, the who, that is the topic of this analysis. And the analysis owes some of the concreteness Heidegger requires of his analysis to the ontic-existentiell relation he as author bears to his reader. The question Levinas would still ask is whether Heidegger's ontological analysis of that relation can do justice to what he, Levinas, means by the face to face. As ontological in one of the senses Heidegger's Introduction gives to that word, that is to say as 'a theoretical inquiry which is explicitly devoted to the meaning of entities' (SZ 12; emphasis added), the face to face is missed, recycled and metabolized in the hermeneutic intestine.

Another question Levinas would ask, as will become clearer when we go on to consider Otherwise than Being, is whether the question that may or may not be followed by an answer is always preceded by a certain response. Before any question has been put a response has already been given. There has already been the offer of an unrefusable gift. It is true that in his lectures of 1929 and 193010 and elsewhere Heidegger too treats of address and gift that is not the address and gift of the question. But in his treatment of them the address and the gift are the address and the gift of being. Whereas what Levinas is pointing to, for example when he points to Descartes, is address that is gift of the self, as this is given when, as though lifting his pen from the page and envisaging his prospective reader, he says to him or her: 'Philosophy itself constitutes a moment of this temporal accomplishment, a discourse always addressed to another. What we are now exposing is addressed to those who shall wish to read it' (TEI 247, TI 269).

This envisaging of prospective readers is a looking forward to persons not here and now present, perhaps to persons not yet even born. Both looking ahead and looking at are Anschauung. This is the Germanic equivalent of the Latinate Intuition used by Husserl in stating the 'principle of all principles' according to which 'theory itself...could not derive its truth except from primordial data' (Ideas, vol. I, §24). This would be the test then of the Heideggerian ontological inquiry whose theoretical status we emphasized above. Levinas's testing of that theory 'emphasizes' the theo—retical again by proposing an alternative account of what is primordially given in which theoria, Intuition and Anschauung are traced back from what is speculatively or contemplatively looked at to the regard of or beyond the face. The given is in the first place a giving, and first-order presence is the presence of the Other. This may be a presence across time. Indeed, it is one of the aims of the fourth section of Totality and Infinity to persuade its prospective reader that it is generations to come that generate time. Since pupils and prospective readers exemplify what Levinas means by oncoming generations, it is clear that biology functions here as a metaphor or metonym or, more strictly, synecdoche, for although biological generation is not all that is intended, it is not entirely excluded. This is evident from the explanation that 'What we are concerned with is paternity of which biological fecundity is only one form and which, as original effectuation of time, can, with human beings, be supported by biological life but is lived beyond that life' (TEI 225, TI 247). This se vivre au delà of the concept of paternity is itself a metaphor (but more will be said below in chapters 13 and 14 about metaphor) of the survival Levinas mentions a few sentences earlier when he writes that 'The fecundity of subjectivity by which the I survives itself [se survit] is a condition for the truth of subjectivity as clandestine judgement of God.' The juxtaposition of these sentences underlines the 'remarkable "relatedness backward or forward" which what [Levinas is] asking about.. .bears to the inquiry itself as a mode of being of an entity'. The fecundity and begetting under investigation include that of the discourse in which that investigation is being conducted. This discourse, we must not forget, includes what survives all inclusion, namely the infinity of the giving, forgiving and address offered according to Levinas's reading of Descartes by the absolutely Other who is revealed to have already pronounced to the meditating ego what could be called the judgement of God. If the very expressing of that judgement is expressed through the words 'Thou shalt not kill', that judgement owes some of its force to generations to come. For to kill the person facing me is to kill the multiple generations to which he or she might have given birth. This fact immediately engages my will in a depth of responsibility it would not have if the future were that of a historical destiny determined either by the wills only of others or by a general will defined by universal laws which, rational and reasonable though they may be, silence the apology I am still able to make for myself before the face of others up to my death, fino alla morte.

But is my defence finally reduced to silence and absurdity by my death? Not if I remember that more fearful than my death is the risk that I might bring death upon the Other. Not if, since the commandment not to kill is embraced by the commandment to love the other as myself, I myself bury my love of my self in a love for the Other that goes on producing itself in truth in the ambiguous phenomenological-ontological sense attributed to production in the preface of Totality and Infinity as the accomplishment of something's being and appearing, and, in the light of what is said later in the book, as the accomplishment of something's having its say, its se dire (TEI 231,TI 253).

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