Long Live

But, to return to our point of departure, why does his ethics within the bounds of ratification alone not also say Amen, Finis, End of History, to the word 'God'? Why does his critique of pure religion say only À-Dieu, Goodbye, God-be-with-you, notwithstanding that the extraordinary word 'God' will be a scandal to many potential readers of Otherwise than Being? One reason perhaps is that the God you don't know is better than the God you think you do. If 'God' is a word in the life of those to whom one is addressing in 'Greek' the claim that ethics is protê-philosophia, then it is a word from which it would be dangerous to avert one's eyes. Ignored, it could hardly fail to be a stumbling-block. This is a lesson Levinas teaches more insistently than do Heidegger and Derrida, the lesson that the old words cannot be simply abandoned in creating the new, that one cannot take leave without ceremony, the lesson, embalmed in the phrase faire son deuil, that to take one's leave may be to take on the difficulty of mourning. If, with some risk of oversimplification, it can be said that Totality and Infinity rises beyond being and fundamental ontology by demonstrating how being and ontology rise emphatically above their selves to what is 'more ontological than ontology' (DVI 143), it can perhaps be said that Otherwise than Being performs a similar feat for the word 'God'. 'I pronounce the word God', Levinas writes in that book, 'without suppressing the intermediaries that lead me to this word, and, if I may say so, the anarchy of its entry into discourse, just as phenomenology states concepts without ever destroying the scaffoldings that permit one to climb up to them' (AE 165, OB 128). Indeed, maybe this hyperbolization of the word 'God' leans on the hyperbolization of 'being'—and of another word whose power Totality and Infinity would interrupt: the word 'power' itself, or pouvoir, to be able. For the de- and re-construal without destruction of the word 'God' that Otherwise than Being would effect is modified by the adverb peut-être ('couldbe'). The essay entitled 'The Name of God according to certain Talmudic Texts' is collected in the volume entitled L'au-delà du verset. Although the subtitle of this volume is Lectures et discours talmudiques, that does not make them purely confessional texts. For when Levinas seeks to get beyond the verse it is in order to teach a philosophical lesson, and to do so in 'Greek' (TRI 47). The essay in question is grouped with other readings Levinas calls 'Theologies' in the plural, meaning by this not that any dogmatic theology is propounded in them, but that they seek to speak in a rational way about God. And it is in a subsection entitled 'Philosophy' of the essay on the name of God that he writes: 'But the language of thematisation that we are using at this very same moment has maybe been rendered only possible [a peut-être été rendu seulement possible] by this

Relation and is only ancillary' (ADV 157, BTV 128). The Relation here referred to is that of the animating responsibility of which he has said a moment before that, 'before discourse bearing on the said', it is 'probably the essence of language'. Here, meeting the difficulty for our 'correlation' of Rosenzweig and Levinas presented by the fact that the latter wishes to pronounce the word 'God' without letting divinity be said (AE 206, OB 162), the word 'essence' should be heard with scare-quotes, the shudder—or Schaudernquotes (as we shall shortly find reason to say) with which Rosenzweig might have invested the word in the sentence I cited earlier which declares that 'The first Yes in God establishes the divine essence for all infinity.' It could be that the same should be said about the 'could-be' or 'maybe' in the sentence just cited from Levinas, even though he says in it that at that very same moment he is using the language of thematization. Does not the very same word in the moment of its thematization resound with the diachronically re-, pro—but not in-tended moment of the echoing Amen? And must not the same be said of those other modal words here encountered, 'possible', 'probably', and of the 'maybe' as it is said once again in Levinas's statement that the word 'illeity'—a nominalized pronoun, marking the excluded third beyond being and non-being, beyond the modalities that are Seinsweisen, manières d'être, beyond scepticism and its self-refutation—marks maybe what is said also by the name or pronoun 'God'?

This 'maybe' must be distinguished from the 'maybe' that is opposed to epistemological certitude which, Levinas would say, is not the only 'maybe'of Descartes's Meditations on First Philosophy, but is one that is provoked by the repeated return of epistemological scepticism despite the vulnerability of scepticism to self-refutation (AE 210ff., OB 165ff.). This other enigmatic 'maybe' must be distinguished too from the 'maybe' of the temptation of temptation. The temptation of temptation is the distancing of philosophical dilettantism. It is the ego's distancing itself in knowledge that gives itself the illusion that it can remain free to flirt with the object of desire without the engagement of Desire (QLT 74-5, NTR 34). The moment, of which Kierkegaard learned that it could be no more than a moment. It is the temporary fancy that I can, with clean and empty hands, separate myself from the separation across which I am responsible for the Other. As though the philosopher were not called to reduce thematization. As though there were not another 'maybe', the 'maybe' of the Other whose saying exceeds what is said.

This latter 'maybe' is said, but still very unstraightforwardly, when Levinas refers to 'The Revelation of the beyond being which is certainly not maybe only a word [sic: qui certes n'est peut-être qu'un mot [!]],' adding 'but this "maybe" belongs to an ambiguity where the anarchy of the Infinite resists the univocity of an origin or principle; to an ambiguity or ambivalence and an inversion that is enunciated precisely in the word God' (AE 199, OB 156). This 'maybe' does not belong to Heideggerian belonging. It is not simply from the meaning of being that the meaning of maybeing is engendered. Nor does it belong to the epistemological range of certitude and doubt. It belongs to the enigmatic unplace of unbelonging between the epistemologico-ontological and the proto-ethical. This peutêtre draws its breath, or finds itself out of breath, in a climate other than that of the capacity to know or of the enabling of being, Seinkonnen. However, Levinas's claim that ethics is proto-philosophy is not a simple inversion of the claim Heidegger made at Zurich in 1951 that 'the experience of God and his revelation (so far as this comes man's way) takes place in the dimension of being'.9 But we should have to try to speak of the shudder-producing things the 'experience' or experimental testing (épreuve) of God means for Levinas—schauderhaft things, we might say, following his citation from Goethe's Faust by way of epigraph to the final chapter of Otherwise than Being (this epigraph has a key line in common with the epigraph of Otto's The Idea of the Holy)10 where the last thing that that citation invokes is sacramental fear and trembling—if we are to test the worry which has motivated this chapter and which will return like an itch beneath the skin in the last. That worry is a disquietude in the sense of the Besorgnis which Heidegger distinguishes from and subordinates to Sorge, existential care or concern, and its existential modes (SZ 192). It is the worry over what more might be said except 'illeity' and that anagram of 'name', 'Amen', by the exceptional name or pro-name 'God'. We should have to try to speak of the tests, trials or ordeals (épreuves) Levinas is remembering when he says that phenomenology must be concrete, among them the events that took place between 1933 and 1945 of which he says that they contributed to his break with the later phenomenology of Husserl (EN 142), events which overflowed any idea of concrete experience Rosenzweig and Schelling could have invoked to explain what they meant when they described their philosophy or theology as 'positive'.11 If Levinas is not caricaturing his teaching when he writes in Entre nous that human being is not only being-in-the-world, hence not only being toward one's own death, but being toward the Book (zum-Buch-sein) (EN 127), it may well be that the lay reader of that Book will have to make an effort to learn the ancient languages in which it was written, for 'One cannot reject the Scriptures without knowing how to read them' (DL 77, DF 53). That is a responsibility and risk to which the reader may be called. However, if the cri de coeur of that reader after the death of God is to receive a response— and how, consistently with Levinas's doctrine, could the responsibility to give a response be denied?—it is important that that Book should be able to untie one's tongue from a shibboleth. It is important to see therefore that notwithstanding the oblique references on so many of Levinas's pages to the unpronounceable Name of God, notwithstanding his reference to the word 'God' as a hapax legomenon (AE 199, OB 156), he insists that the relation to God is presented non-metaphorically in the relation to the transcendence of the face of the other human being.

It so happens that the transcendence of the face is traced through the transcendence of a word in an exegesis recorded by Levinas of an incident commented upon in the Talmud (Sôta 53b). According to Numbers 5 a woman suspected by her husband of adultery must be taken to the Temple where the pontiff exclaims 'If a man had intercourse with you, may you be cursed by the Eternal (written as Tetragram)'. And the woman responds 'Amen, amen.'12 The pontiff's words containing the Tetragram are then written in ink on a parchment from which they are effaced by being immersed in the bitter water. In this way, Levinas notes, the ancient prohibition against the effacement of the Name is superseded for the sake of the reconciliation of human beings (ADV 152-3, BTV123-4).

Another, though inevitably still not unenigmatic clue to the way an entry into the Book may be an entry into a humanism that is neither specifically Jewish nor specifically Christian is provided by Levinas's citation of the New Testament in support of his claim that although the Other is not to be identified with God, the Word of God is heard in the Other's face (visage), that is to say in his or her looking to me (EN 128). According to Matthew 25, when those on the Lord's right hand and on his left protest that they have neither given nor refused food, drink or shelter to Him, they are told 'Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of my brethren ye have done it unto me.'

So in this humanism of the other human being in which atheism is defined as the restriction of thinking to intentional representation where the thinking and what is represented may in principle be mutually adequate (EN 145, 246), and, precisely by being so defined, allows of subversion by the non-intentionality of ethical 'experience' that accompanies every intentional experience (EN 146) as the pre-original responsio Amen accompanies (begleitet) every word, maybe that experience, although expressed by the word God, is not dependent on that word for its expression; maybe that word does not have to be said when one says Amen. "'Me voici, au nom de Dieu".. "Me voici" tout court!' (AE 190, OB 149).

Or, reminding ourselves that hidden stumbling-blocks are more dangerous than unhidden ones, lest the silent return of the God of a reality behind the scenes be facilitated by the obliteration of His name, should perhaps the iterated effacement of that name be effaced in turn by the eternal return of the name, forever coming and forever going, enigmatically on the hither side and on the thither side of the opposition between Yes and No, like the winking of a star? If so, although we may begin by reminding ourselves, as Léon Brunschvicg reminds us, of the danger of worshipping the shadow of concepts we believe we have slain (DL 71, DF 48), and that a concept cannot be redefined without keeping the concept's old name, readers of Levinas must keep on reminding themselves that he is seeking neither to reinstate an old concept nor to introduce a new one like an astronomer scanning the heavens until his telescope comes to rest on a heavenly body so far overlooked. His writing is disastrous, a patient écriture du dés-astre. The frequentative trace in it of Rosenzweig's Stern means precisely that the thinking beyond thinking that endures in it, its consideration beyond consideration, is not the tracking of a star, not auf einen Stern zugehen, even when that star is not a being but being, uniquely this, nur dieses (DMT 164).13 On the hither and thither side of any star fixed in the firmament, susception before and after perception and conception, is the Amen, the pre-original Yes in which experience originates, affirmed by the Other in me (TEI 66, TI 93), thanks to whom this me is never a me and no more, never a me tout court. If You, Autrui, the pronoun of the pronoun Me, has as its pronoun He, and He is the pronoun of God, otherwise other than Autrui, then, Yes, Amen, like Jonah, I cannot escape from God. But if (hereby to repeat Levinas's constation of contestation), voicing, the en gage of langage, is the fact (sic. fait) that 'God' is the only word that always proffers itself as Opfer and is the very word that verily paroles transcendence, thereby suffering from an equivocity of which one moment is the contestation voiced by 'It is maybe only a word' (AE 199, OB 157, NP 137), then it is maybe the only word that voices the worry with that word from which I cannot escape. De l'évasion? Plus d'évasion!

I can no other, God help me!


Thus spoke the wandering shadow of Zarathustra.14

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment