Shame

Appearances notwithstanding, one is ashamed not simply of an immoral or other misdeed. The sharpness of shame—and the adjective déchirant is used again here —derives from a conjunction of not being able to understand how one could have done such a thing and not being able to deny one's identity with the being of the person who did it. One is ashamed of oneself because one is ashamed of one's self. One has no power to break away from oneself—and the word 'break' (rompre), used here will take on further significance in Levinas's later work. The origin of original shame, and therefore of shame over what one regards as a lapse, is the impossibility of concealing from oneself one's nakedness. Either original shame does not depend on original sin, or the origin of original sin is one's being riveted to oneself, incapable of evasion. Of Evasion. Adam was naked, and he hid himself. But even if he could hide himself from Eve or from

God, he could not hide his nakedness from himself. He could not hide his self from himself. And original shameful self-consciousness does not have to wait for shame in the sight of others. Furthermore, seeing oneself from outside as the unembarrassed striptease artist does is a way of clothing oneself, like Hans Andersen's Emperor, with one's unclothedness. Nakedness is not being unclothed. It is the need of an apologia for one's existence. It is not motivated by a sense of having done something wrong. It is not conditioned by one's being finite. It is the condition of one's being.

If it is not already obvious that Heidegger is one of the philosophers uppermost in the author's mind throughout Of Evasion (one of the others is one sometimes uppermost in the mind of the author of Being and Time, Hegel, on whose vocabulary both authors draw), it must become so when toward the end of the section of the essay in which he has been analysing shame he writes epigrammatically 'Ce que la honte découvre c'est l'être qui se découvre' ('What shame reveals is being's self-revelation') (DE 87). Where being is unconcealed or concealed, there lies the root of all shame.

NAUSEA

In connection with Levinas's response to Heidegger it will have to be asked in due course what is implied for being as such, Sein, by these analyses of human being, by Levinas's Daseinsanalytik, his analysis of being there, d'être là (DE 91). Meanwhile, under that analysis the nakedness of the presence of one's being there reveals itself as the experience of being about to be sick. Not sickness unto death. Being unto death assumes reflection on one's being. In the sickness of nausea there is not knowledge, reflective or pre-reflective, of one's state. One is not in a state. Not yet. As yet there is nothing to constate. There is only the pure there is, the pure being of being oneself. This 'of of one's belonging to one's being is the 'of of the irremissibility of being by which we are asphyxiated. One is stuck with oneself—stuck to oneself as Levinas says (DE 90) and as Sartre will say.9

Nausea reveals more patently than shame that this ontological claustrophobia, this experience of being 'enclosed within a suffocatingly tight circle' (ibid.), does not depend on the fact that one is a member of a society. It does not depend on the thought that one has infringed some social norm. Poverty is not in itself a crime, yet one can be ashamed of the nakedness left uncovered by one's rags. One's being ashamed of one's nakedness does not depend on what one imagines others would say. And, as already noted, it does not depend on what others would see. It does not depend on others at all. The monadic ego of which Husserl writes in the earlier parts of the Cartesian Meditations10 is not immune to this ontological nausea. 'Without a window on anything else' (DE 92): being-there without being-with, a Dasein without Mitsein would experience it too. It has nothing to do with intersubjectivity. On the contrary, the presence of others might seem to offer a temporary escape. For this sense of being mal dans sa peau, the malaise of feeling oneself shut into the subcutaneous substantiality of one's subjectivity, could expect at least intermission through being given the guise of a malady which one might hope a therapist would be able to diagnose and treat.

Levinas is pointing to a powerlessness beyond the power of the self, a Nichtkönnen that adheres to Seinkönnen. But his impower is not a corollary of human finitude. Human being is being at a limit, at the point at which, wretchedly retching ineffectually, one would like to but cannot be sick. At the limit at which inclination (Mögeri) and inability (Unmöglichkeit) meet. So the impower is not that of being unable to accomplish a deed exceeding one's power. Nor, as we have more than once observed, is this impower the impossibility at the horizon of possibility that Heidegger equates with death. Nor again is it the impower over our coming into existence, the already-having-been-thrownness (Geworfenheit) of our birth. It is the impower of the very accomplishment of our existence, of its plerosis, that is to say, its total lack of lack. An accomplishment. Not a negation or privation, but the positivity of the self s self-posing, the affirmation of its being. A sui generis accomplishment, Levinas writes, using a word (in which resounds among others Vollziehung, Husserl's word for 'accomplishment', 'performance' or 'fulfilment') that will recur in later works, a word that may be a key to an understanding of the genealogicality of his ethics and of how a non-generality can emerge from generation or what he will call 'creation', adopting the word from Bergson— though one should not forget the role this word also plays in Nietzsche's genealogy of morals.

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