The new category of fecundity is a category of newness. And although it is a category of a future beyond being, it must be granted the status, Levinas reminds us, of an ontological category (TEI 254, TI 277). It is not an existential, a structure of ecstatic projection. Nor is it just a category of existenziell or otherwise ontic behaviour, whether biological, psychological or sociological. Levinas's reminder is relevant at this stage because it may well seem that what we have been rereading under the heading 'Beyond the Face' is an empirical De generatione et corruptione, a natural history of birth, copulation and death. That ontogenetic story of production, seduction and reproduction is a Leitfaden, a storyline to give flesh to figurations and disfigurations that are ontological—and logical in a disfigured, deformalized and, it might be said, uglified sense of logic. For logic is about 'is', 'the little connecting word', the copula. And so too is the Levinasian meditation on the genealogic of copulation. It concretizes the most abstract conception of being by certifying that at least one of the manifold senses of being owes its parentage precisely to parentage. At least one scion of Sein is lineage, filiation, paternity. But its paternity is not attributable to Father Parmenides. Parricide is inflicted upon him once again. Because fecundity is a doubling and halving of identity. The father is and is not the son.
It is also relevant to take note here of Levinas's statement that the filiation that breaks with Eleatic philosophy is exemplified by the way philosophy itself, including both that which he himself is in the course of expounding and the Eleatic philosophy it would displace, is addressed to future readers. The future is constituted by such dissemination. And it, no less than biological begetting, comes under the philosophical category of juvenescence. Juvenescence is not simply renewal or change, however protean, under the philosophical category of possibility. Such renewal is not radical. The fulfilment of potentialities, the germination of the seed and the ecstatic being ahead of oneself as already having been are but ways in which a being continually and continuously grows old. It is substantial senescence. Trans-substantial juvenescence is the discontinuous creation accomplished when a subject encounters the feminine Other and engenders engendering. The goodness of the face to face engenders goodness beyond the face. This is the infinition of time. Not time as the meaning of being, given time, or time that gives, time that es gibt, but time as the time of giving 'above and beyond the sacrifice that imposes a gift, the gift of the power of giving, the conception of the child' (TEI 247, TI 269).
In the Postscript of 'What is Metaphysics?' Heidegger writes of the sacrifice (Opfer) of the calculative intelligence of beings to an essential thinking beyond 'logic' of what is 'other' than beings. Such sacrifice would appear to be other than a quid pro quo. It is outside the exchange of one thing for another. But is it beyond imposition? Heidegger says 'Sacrifice is rooted in the nature of the event through which being claims man for the truth of being.'16 Is this claim an imposition, despite it's being a claim made by being rather than beings? Should we answer this question in the affirmative because Heidegger, in line with his reading of Parmenides, describes Dasein's response as a response to being's need, Not, as though to a cry for help that being makes? (Heidegger's expression is in den Anspruch nimmt, but one of the editions of the Postscript says braucht, the very word Heidegger uses to translate the first word of Parmenides' fragment chre to legein te noein t'eon emmenai ('Needful: the saying also thinking too:
being: to be').) For Levinas these questions are not urgent. There are at least three reasons why they are not. First, because, as we know well by now, more clamant for him than the call of being is the call of the Other who is more and otherwise 'other' than being. Second, because, as we shall learn from Otherwise than Being, if we have not learned already, the response to the call from the Other is given before that call is heard. Third, because, as Levinas is telling us in the words we have just cited, filiation breaks with the economy of being by breaking with the reciprocity of gift given and the giving of thanks. According to Heidegger, Dasein's sacrifice of calculative thinking to the other thinking that thinks being is a thanking for the gift of being that Dasein receives. This confirms the Parmenidean belonging together of being and the human being's thinking. Utterly different from that belonging together is the proximity in separation of the face to face and filiation beyond the face, after Isaac. The ego does not echo that to which it is a response in the way that, as Heidegger says, original thanking is the response with which man echoes the word of the soundless voice of being.17 Or if the response of the ego is an echo, it is a pre-echo. And if the primary response of responsibility before the obligations of my station and its duties is an expression of gratitude, it is an expression of proto-gratitude:
Men have been able to be thankful for the very fact of finding themselves able to thank; the present gratitude is grafted onto itself as onto an already antecedent gratitude. In a prayer in which the believer asks that his prayer be heard, the prayer as it were precedes or follows itself.
The antecedent gratitude could not be gratitude for the Other's gratitude without entering into system and symmetry. This is why, on pain of returning to return, the giving of thanks or the giving of oneself has to be a response to ingratitude. Antecedent gratitude makes the everyday giving and receiving of thanks possible by saving it from being only possibility or power. This is why sacrifice gives up the gift of the power of giving. And why in a subsection of Totality and Infinity entitled 'The Infinity of Time' Levinas takes up again the subject of the giving of pardon.
In what Levinas describes as its immediate meaning it is a moral wrongdoing that gets pardoned. How then does the gift of forgiveness escape being a systematic relation between terms? By undoing the past. Like in a drama in which one act may be the dénouement of the one that precedes it, forgiveness gives another chance. The psychological phenomenon of the felix culpa points to the ontological truth of time: contrary to the doctrine of Being and Time. It is not the finitude of being that is the essence of time, not Dasein's being toward death. The essence of time is the infinition of being across the dead time between the father and the son and the son's son, and so on. So the future of temporality is not the ecstatic projection of possibility. Nor is it merely the future as measured by clocks, the future of a time rendered timeless by being construed according to the analogy of physical space whose limitations are exposed by both Heidegger and Bergson. But the future is not continuous accretion like the snowball gathering more and more snow that Bergson offers as an analogy of continuous duration. The future is the good infinite. Not the bad infinite of replicative repetition, but the good infinite of resurrection. 'Death and resurrection constitute time' (TEI 261, TI 284). And death is malediction: le mal. Death is suffered, like the corruption of old age. But when Levinas asks 'Why—in order to go towards the good—must there be evil [le mal]?', must he not be asking why in order that there be this ilfaut there must be (il faut) a misdeed (une faute)? For he maintains that forgiveness is the renewing of the reality of a past misdeed and that it is this forgiveness, the son's forgiveness, that interrupts what would otherwise be a continuous accumulative duration. The fissure (faute) of infinite temporality going towards the good is the ethical infinition of goodness expressed in the forgiveness of fault (faute) beyond the face, across dead time, across the death of the person forgiven, therefore beyond the reciprocity of response. Not that absolute pardon is the pardon of a particular misdeed. It is a pardon in default of such fault, the pardon of the absolute responsibility entailed by my occupying a place in the sun. Bearing this in mind, it must be said that the infinition of time entails goodness and goodness entails suffering or evil. Dare it be said, across the fissure between French and German, that the mal of suffering or evil is entailed by the Mal of time?
Whether and how das Mal ('time'), could ever be protected against the revenge of le mal is a question raised by the thought, expressed in the final paragraph of the main part of Totality and Infinity, that although the infinity of time is accomplished in the manner that has just been described, and although with it is accomplished one condition of the possibility of judgement, which is in turn the condition of truth, another condition of truth, in addition to the infinity of time, is a time that is itself finished and fully accomplished, a time on which truth could stamp its seal. As from its very beginning Totality and Infinity has been aiming to show, that completion of truth could not be death, for it is by death that truth is endangered. A time of finished infinity could only be the messianic time in which eternity triumphs over perpetuity. 'Is this eternity a new structure of time, or an extreme vigilance of the messianic consciousness?' (TEI 261, TI 285) Like the infinity that overflows its idea, this question, Levinas comments, overflows the framework of Totality and Infinity. It is a question for another kind of book. Perhaps for a book like the one that has been that book's guiding star, too often present to be cited. Or for Levinas's own Talmudic readings and writings. Something has already been said about the relation of the Talmudic to the philosophical texts. Something more than has been said in passing must now be said about the second of his two philosophical chefs d'oeuvre and about the relationship between them. As relevant a topic as any with which to begin saying something about that relationship is a genealogical relationship that is treated in both books but about which we have so far said nothing.
Was this article helpful?