The Analogy Of Loving

If production is ambiguous, so too is love. Love is one form of production. How does amorous production have its say? Does amorous production have its say in amorous reproduction? Why is the ambiguity of love referred to in the title of a subsection of the fourth section of Totality and Infinity not defined there by the distinction between erôs and agapê— although, as we saw above in section 4 of chapter 8, Levinas speaks about this distinction when asked to do so in an interview that took place in 1982. It is unlikely that Levinas avoids the word agapê in this book because it tends to be used of a Christian concept of love and because he wants to privilege Judaic conceptions. In his philosophical texts, he insists, no especially oriental wisdom is being invoked. He aims to expound their philosophy as far as possible in the concepts of the language from which the word 'philosophy' itself springs. So although the word agapê too belongs to that lexicon and is not uncommon in Plato, the risks of its Greek meanings becoming charged with Christian ones are indeed avoided by avoiding the word. But that avoidance is not a precaution which he takes in order to facilitate his speaking Hebrew in Totality and Infinity. This is a book in which any gesture that might be deemed characteristically Judaic is to be expressed in 'Greek', that is to say, in the language of the West. Not that no risks are run by love's Latinization as amour (or indeed its Germanic Anglicization as 'love'!). At least some of the force of the Christian conception and the Judaic conception that is one of its roots, for instance, Leviticus 19:18, is preserved in Levinas's notion of the welcome of the Other. And 'welcome' is given by Liddell and Scott as one of the senses of agapê. For welcome of the Other Levinas uses the word 'Desire', usually written with a capitalized initial. But in Totality and Infinity at any rate this is not identified with amour. It is, however, connected with it:

The metaphysical event of transcendence—the welcome of the Other, hospitality—Desire and language [langage]—is not accomplished in love. But the transcendence of discourse is tied to love. We shall show how, through love, transcendence goes at the same time further and less far than language.

The true language of love is neither just the serious words of ethical Desire nor just the sweet nothings spoken by Eros, the doux rien of Mallarmé's L'après-midi d'un faune from which Levinas cites. Paradoxical though it may seem, it is in equivocity that the language of love is true to itself. On the one hand, as love for a friend, a child, a brother, the beloved, one's parents, love is transcendence toward discourse with the Other, transcendence toward the transcendence of discourse where this latter genitive is a subjective genitive referring to the transcendence that belongs to discourse. But love is also transcendence toward the transcendence of discourse where the genitive is understood subjectively. That is to say, the transcendence that is Desire, face-to-face presence and direct speech is opened through love to an ever more future future beyond the face, beyond discourse and beyond Desire: the Desire of Desire which is more remote than the remotest possibility. But it is opened to this transcendence of transcendence because, on the other hand, love's transcendence toward the Other, toward Desire, is prone to gravitate toward an immanence in which the intentionality outwardly directed toward the beloved is inverted inward as if to the lover. Levinas cites the myth recounted in Plato's Symposium by Aristophanes according to which the satisfaction of erotic love is the reunion of the separate parts of a single androgynous being. In Aristophanes' version of the myth the parts, once separated, are turned back to back. It is important to note that in the 'judaic' version some commentators see in the story of the creation of Adam and Eve, the partners remain face to face. The two aspects or sides, in French, faces, of the original androgynous being are two faces, visages (DL 56, DF 35). Referring to the same myth earlier in Totality and Infinity Levinas suggests that Plato's rejection of it may be interpreted as a recognition that the account of love as pure nostalgia overlooks its relation to transcendent Desire (TEI 34-5, TI 63). Love of a person remains love for a transcendent Other, hence does not allow satisfaction, yet it gravitates toward need, hence toward what allows satisfaction. Since it is the ego persisting in the enjoyment of its immanent being that has needs, the need for another in enjoyment of the Other is a quasi-need or, as Levinas says, on the hither side of need; and its immanence is not quite immanence, because it is an enjoyment of the Other. From this coalescence of what is on the hither side of immanence and on the thither side of face-to-face transcendence arises what is neither just being nor just not being, but that which is not yet.

Except that this 'that which' is not a this or a that. Light comes, but nothing comes to light. The not yet is essentially secret, essentially without essence and signification. This non-signifying is not simply darkness understood as the absence of light. The non-significance of the secret is not non-appearance. It is the equivocity of non-appearance in appearance, and the simultaneity of appearance and non-appearance is what constitutes profanation and conditions equivocity itself. The equivocal is the erotic, and erotic love is at once immodesty and modesty. The density of the non-significance of the way of being of erotic love—akin to the darkness of the night of the il y a in which the insomniac hears only noises that make no sense, where there is no one to be given a name and nothing with a form to be laid bare or disrupted—is lightened by the tenderness with which love responds to the Other's fragility, so that the epiphany of the Other who is loved is the epiphany of the Other as feminine.

Levinas's phrase l'Aimé qui est Aimée confirms again that his topic here is the feminine, not the female, in contrast to Nietzsche's topic in the section of Ecce Homo entitled 'Why I Write Such Good Books'. But both Nietzsche and Levinas are commenting upon, in Derrida's words, 'the complicity (rather than the unity) between woman, life, seduction, modesty—all the veiled and veiling effects' of truth.11 However, Derrida goes on, spurred by the opening words of Beyond Good and Evil,

Woman (truth) will not be pinned down. In truth woman, truth will not be pinned down.

That which will not be pinned down by truth is, in truth—feminine. This should not, however, be hastily mistaken for a woman's femininity, for female sexuality, or for any other of those essentializing fetishes which might still tantalize the dogmatic philosopher, the impotent artist or the inexperienced seducer who has not yet escaped his foolish hopes of capture.

Essentially fetishized truth may be the truth of what is said or left unsaid. It may be the dis-closive truth of a-lêtheia which according to Heidegger lies under the truth of what is said or left unsaid. Levinas's complication of the Aimé and the Aimée and his statement that the essence of the non-essence of the 'not yet' is exhausted by clandestinity are in their turn challenges to the essentialist fetishization of the feminine and truth. One of the remarkable aspects of his challenge, however, is that as well as emphasizing the equivocity of the said, the dit, it emphasizes the equivocity of the to-say, the 'dire'—though the appealing-disappearing effect of the inverted commas here must not be overlooked. They signal the appearance—disappearance of the frank face-to-face dire of which more will be said in the book whose title announces that it treats of what is Otherwise than Being. Whereas dire is frank saying, the saying of 'dire' plays hide and seek with the truth; the presence of its truth is the presence in absence of the feminine whose indiscrete and wanton immodesty presupposes discrete modesty and the tenderness of her welcoming presence in the house.

In the intimacy of the house the care of the lover's response addresses the vulnerability of femininity in the indulgent compassion of the caress. The caress is hungry to express its love but its hunger feeds on its failure. Once more, the desire that moves it, desire written with a lower-case initial, is to be distinguished from the Desire that Levinas writes with an uppercase initial. For it is a desire that can be satisfied, whereas Desire cannot. The distinction does not however exclude a connection. This is exhibited in the way that the desire animating the caress is reborn even in its satisfaction, fed by what is not yet, which is not an anticipated possibility nor pure Desire of Desire, but the to-come of a future to come beyond every future: ever violable yet inviolate virginity. The flesh the caress explores is not that of the lived body of possibility, of power, of the 'I can'. Nor is it that of the physiological body. Nor again is it, in Merleau-Ponty's words, that of the body as expression or speech,12 or, as Levinas says, the body as face—for, as Levinas also says, it is not only to the physiognomy that the face corresponds; it may be, for example, a hand or the stooping shoulders of the person in front of you in the queue for water or bread (TEI 240, TI 262); or a rib (SS 134, NTR 169). The flesh of the beloved feminine presence—absence over which the caress roves is the flesh of the body whose erotic nudity is denuded of form in a swooning evanescence foreshadowing the stroke of death. It is not an entity, then, not a being, that these searching hands stroke. They are without object, like the enjoyment of pure elemental quality, and the apeiron of the there-is. No thing and no person is grasped. But these same hands are the hands that offer and receive the handshake of welcome—the handshake, incidentally, to which a poem may be compared, not least The Poem of Poems, The Song of Songs, in which the liaison between divine and erotic love is explored. And the welcome expressed in the grasp of a hand infinitely exceeds any grasp and calls to be expressed again and again. Between that ethical infinity with its never present, never representable or recollectable past and the ever more future future of erotic aesthesis there is a family connection whose genealogical ramifications are slightly simplified if we say, as we have said on the basis of what is said in Totality and Infinity, that they can be marked by the transition from lowercase desire to upper-case Desire and Desire of Desire.

That there is a transition to mark is apt to escape one's notice, for reasons on which Levinas elaborates in the essay entitled 'God and Philosophy' published a year after the year (1974) in which Otherwise than Being was published, though based on lectures delivered in the same and preceding years. It is not through lack of vigilance that Levinas there uses both a lower-case and an upper-case initial when referring to the desirability and the Desirability of the eminently Desirable (DVI 113, CPP 165, HLR 178). Nor may it be through lack of vigilance that Levinas's translator uses lower-case initials throughout. The eminently Desirable is in that essay identified with the Infinite and the Infinite is there identified with God. But the eminent Desirability of God in which God is the telos of an attraction becomes the eminently Non-desirable (or Non-Desirable) when instead of being the infinitely remote being in which the finite being would make a direct approach to its ultimate well-being, as though one could be face to face with God, that directness is converted into indirectness. This conversion is the interruption of the teleology of the attraction of goods by the superior goodness of response to the other human being, beyond the usual opposition of teleology and deontology. The Good (Bien) of God as the eminently Desirable can be approached only via the goodness or kindness (bonté) of disinterested love of one's neighbour: 'dés-inter-essement' of the nakedness of the face to face in which being undoes itself from its beingness, as in sexual love nakedness is undoneness of form, not only undoneness of clothes. Desire as ekstasis toward the entitive objectivity of divinity conceived as a final Being and a final good, and the idea of God as one with whom I may have direct speech, give way to desire as the unattractive burden of responsibility toward the other human being. I respond in direct speech to this Thou, having been commanded to love the Other from beyond the Other by another other, a third personality, the Il of Illeity, not to be confused with the impersonality of universal law, be it the moral law itself.

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