Genealogy As History Catastrophized

Two years after the appearance of the first edition of Otherwise than Being Levinas read a paper entitled 'The Model of the West' in which the requirement of another genealogy is again formulated as an alternative to contemporary Nietzscheanism.16

The West professes the historical relativity of values and their contestation. But perhaps it takes every moment too seriously, too quickly calling them historical, leaving to this history the right both to judge values and to sink into relativity. Whence the incessant revaluation of values, an incessant collapse of values, an incessant genealogy of morals. A history without permanence or a history without sanctity.

Otherwise said, moments of history are not all moments of narratable history. For instance, the moments when in writing the penultimate chapter of Otherwise than Being Levinas interrupts the flow of what he is saying with references to the very moment of his saying it. A historical context for these moments of history outside history is adumbrated when at that moment at the end of the penultimate subsection of Totality and Infinity to which we have already referred, he speaks of a messianic time in which the perpetuity of death is converted into eternity.

Having asked 'Is this eternity a new structure of time, or an extreme vigilance of messianic consciousness?' he goes on to comment only This problem exceeds the bounds of this book.' No doubt this problem exceeds the bounds of any book, but in the Talmudic reading from which we have just cited his remark that moments in history are not all moments of history he explains why he names them moments of monotheism in spite and because of Zarathustra's proclamation that the old gods laughed themselves to death when one of them pronounced 'the most godless word...'There is one god'", provoking the others to rock in their seats and to cry 'Is not just this godlike that there are gods but no God?'17 One has to say 'in spite of and because of since, it will be recalled, Levinas more than once hails Nietzschean laughter as a disruption of history understood as a totality of events connected causally or logically according to the laws of, for instance, Hegelian or Marxian dialectic. So that to laugh God off the stage comes close to laughing on to it the holy and the eternal. There is an equivocation of theatre and temple (DVI 115, CPP 166, HLR 179).

When the eternal moments of holy separation from history are given a 'historical place' in Israel, one has to remember that in Levinas's thinking Israel stands for what is not the historical time of events narrated in history books, nor the geographical place of Eretz Israel, nor a particular genealogical race. It stands for the concrete accomplishing of transcendence in immanence, the effectuation of an infinite to-transcend, as the concrete accomplishing of what is said in the face to face to-say. It stands for facing. It stands for standing for the other. 'Jewish' sanctity is not sanctimonious spirituality. 'Jewishness' stands for giving the other the bread from one's lips, bread that some non-Jews would describe as a wafer. It stands for a certain universality that transcends Judaism. 'Don't be shocked! The authentically human is everyone's Jewishness and its echo in the singular and the particular' (AHN 192, ITN 8). So while standing for a not merely generic but genealogical universality Jewishness stands at the same time for a certain particularity, the particularity of a historical exemplar that reminds others of what in them exceeds and judges the judgement of universal history.

Levinas dares say that the Passion of Israel, from its captivity in Egypt up to its puberty at Auschwitz in Poland,18 is constitutive of God's existence, as though God was the history of Israel and the history of Israel was the 'divine ontology'. Not that this Passion is a proof of the existence of God. Rather, this 'emphasis' of secular history as the holy history of separation is the unfolding of that existence itself, its drama, its divina comedia (ADV 20-1, BTV 164). So in speaking of the experience or experimental testing of God, God's épreuve (see above, third section of chapter 12), the genitive would be not only objective but subjective too, as in God's testing (nissah) of Israel and of Abraham when Isaac asks 'But where is the lamb?' More precisely, this genitive would be beyond the opposition of the subjective and objective, and outside simultaneity and synchrony. It would therefore escape the oppositions of history as narrated

Historie and history either as ecstatically existed Geschichte or as the genealogy of Absolute Spirit. In the dramatic enigma of the excluded third of diachronic history divine ontology cannot be distinguished from divine meontology. Consistent with his warning that the enigmatic in his meaning has nothing to do with knowledge or certitude, Levinas's identification of the 'being' of God with the history of the sufferings of the innocent means that 'the semiotics of the word God' is such that it would be irrelevant to make the formal objection that, far from entailing his non-existence, the absence of God entails that God exists. Irrelevant also would be the objection that a similar logical entailment holds for the declaration of God's death. The semiotics of the word 'God' does not offer a choice between acceptance and refusal. Is not 'God' the name for what is accepted even in being refused? Although Levinas puts this question in a comment on a Rabbinic text (DL 104, DF 76), it soon becomes clear that the question is rhetorical and that what is accepted in being refused is the Other as both You and the third-personal He of illeity. Levinas is especially concerned in this text with messianism and the politics of Israel. Hence, immediately after putting this question he asks 'Does not freedom in general suppose an engagement prior to the very refusal of this engagement?' In the political sphere, 'Has not he who rejects the state been formed for this rejection by the very state he rejects?' Levinas's answer to this question is again 'Yes', like Hegel's. However, in giving it he appeals not to any Hegelian concrete universality, but to a universal particularism which, while recognizing the historical and political concreteness of the subject, does not subtract from subjectivity my being subject in substitution for the Other. In Levinas's Talmudic readings the words 'in the name of the Father' obviously have a particular Jewish resonance. But in the commentaries included in Difficult Freedom under the title 'Messianic Texts' he reminds his reader of the rule of method of cabbalistic hermeneutics to proceed beyond the obvious or literal sense (peshat) through the allegorical or allusive (remez) and the homiletic or symbolic (drash) to the esoteric or mysterious (sod). If it is permissible to apply this exegetical method here—remembering that Levinas draws on Volozhyn and that Volozhyn draws on the cabbalah—it may be said that once 'Israel' is given the allegorical meaning of the one that is chosen for responsibility, then 'in the name of the Father' may be interpreted in the sense of our chapter on Generations, that is to say, in the sense of Genesis 10 in which all peoples are said to be brothers in that they descend genealogically from the three sons of Noah; and in the sense of the gloss (midrash) telling that these peoples were made when God took from the four corners of the world some yellow dust, some red dust, some black dust and some white, and mixed them in water taken from all the world's seas.

Therefore 'Israel' refers both to the particularity of a people and the particularity of a person, no matter to what people that person does or does not belong. 'I will say to them which were not my people, Thou art my people'

(Hosea 2:23, AHN 11, ITN 4). And the same must be said of Israel's 'Messianic' role. Messianism is the role both of a historic people and my role as bearer of the suffering of all. Not one who arrives at the end of history, the Messiah is everyone who says 'me', 'send me' here and now (DL 120, DF 89).

Is there however a time when one is not sent, not chosen? One is certainly always late on the scene. Levinas finds it incredible that in 1936 Paul Claudel should sign a document denouncing German antisemitism yet refuse permission for his signature to be published; and that in the summer of 1940 he can write 'After sixty years France has been delivered from the yoke of the radical and anti-Catholic party (teachers, lawyers, Jews, freemasons)' after writing merely twelve months earlier that the scribes call Israel a witness and that the Greek term for 'witness' is martyr. Only very late in the day does Claudel proclaim the uniqueness of the martyrdom of Auschwitz. But if Auschwitz, if 'the suffering at the limit of all suffering', if 'the suffering that suffers all sufferings' that goes by the name of Holocaust is unique, is there not a particularity even more particular within the particularity of Israel? Are there not some who from among the chosen are chosen above all: the 'selected', the victims, or they and the 'survivors'? One may think that this is so if one does not think through the difference between responsibility for something, for a state of affairs or a free choice, and responsibility for someone. It is with the latter that Levinas is first of all concerned, for it is by the latter that the former is conditioned. One may well believe that only those who experienced the Holocaust have a right to decide whether Auschwitz was the scene of theocidy—'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' (Psalm 22)—or of theodicy—'My God, my God, why hast thou not forsaken me?'—or whether, as Levinas holds, it exceeded both of these alternatives (EN 114-18).19 But this 'privilege'—which might even be the subject of 'a fearful envy'20—is not to be confused with the responsibility entailed by the fact that 'every survivor of the Hitlerian massacres—whether a Jew or not—is Other in relation to the martyrs' (DL 176, DF 132); every survivor in the sense of everyone who is alive and so able to say 'me', 'send me'. He and she is always sent. Sent at the very least to obey the commandment Emil Fackenheim adds to the 614 of the Torah: remember the victims of Auschwitz.21 The messages those victims deposited in tins and bottles they buried beneath the floors there forbid us to remain silent.

'The coming of the Messiah is accompanied by catastrophes' Levinas writes in 'Messianic Texts', commenting on a Sanhedrin 88b (DL 106, DF 78). And the exergues of Otherwise than Being should have reminded us that Ezekiel refers to the catastrophe of the destruction of Jerusalem and the promise of its restoration. Without in the least reducing the confessional significance of these catastrophes Levinas elicits an ethical interpretation of catastrophe that holds good independently of confessional faith, unless by faith is meant what one does. Levinas reports a story Hannah Arendt told on French radio shortly before her death. When a child in her native Königsberg she announced to the rabbi from whom she was receiving religious instruction that she had lost her faith. To which the rabbi's reaction was to ask 'But who says that you have to have that?' What matters is not faith but good deeds (AHN 192, ITN 164), liturgy in the etymological sense of service without compensation (HAH 43, 53, CPP 92-3, 100).

A katastrophê is a violent turn of events, a cataclastic turning round or trope. Such an event is what is troped catachretically by the words Holocaust, Shoah, Genocide, Ethnic Cleansing, Chelmno, Dachau, Sobibor, Theresienstadt, Treblinka, Mauthausen, Majdanek, Gunskirchen, Rumbuli, Ponar, Kovno Buchenwald, Belzec, Belsen, Babi Yar, Birkenau and (a name that says it names a place where life is sweated out till death) Auschwitz. But the list contains more than six million extraordinary names, the proper names of millions upon millions of human beings of all confessions and all nations, or of none. When the bearers of these names are actively remembered catastrophe names the auto-accusation in suffering that is the turning of the ego into a self, the expropriative event or Enteignis that Levinas calls recurrence.22 Recurrence is the overcoming of the I by the me, accomplishment that is not fulfilling but emptying, the kenosis of messianic metanoia.

'Messianism is nothing other than the apogee in being which is the centralization, concentration or twisting back upon itself of my Self (DL 120, DF 90). Concentration that may be concentration upon l'univers concentrationnaire, recursion that may be the infinite resonance of 'never again', the ewige Wiederkehr of nie wieder, messianic remembrance of the Other is prayer in the root sense of tephillah, from hitpalel which is judging oneself even in judging history. In this responsion the ontological claustrophobia of being bound in the existent ego's exclusive concern with its own survival or in the unpeopled indifference of the existence of the il y a gives way to the ethically agoraphobic dénouement that binds souls in the bundle of the living referred to in 1 Samuel 25:29 and acronymically when Otherwise than Being is dedicated to the memory of the author's parents, parents-in-law and brothers. Their pointless suffering and that of all other victims of hate remains without explanation and without theodicy. As when asked 'Do you discern a meaning in Auschwitz?' a witness at the trial of Eichmann responded 'I hope I never do. To understand Auschwitz would be even worse than not to understand it.' Yet that pointless, absurd and obscene suffering calls for suffering that is not without point when philosophy as the love of theoretical wisdom calls for philosophy as the practical wisdom of compassionate love, and when the genealogy of being, becoming and morals, even from before the time of the gestation of being and becoming and from beyond the power of good and bad will to power, is disturbed by Emmanuel Levinas's genealogy of ethics traced back through phenomenology, thought and question to the Other's indeclinable request.

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