The Same

Thoughts of something other as the same thing perceptible at different times imply the thought that those thoughts and this thought are the thoughts of a thinker that remains the same. To distinguish the sameness of the other thing from the sameness of what Descartes calls 'the thinking thing' Levinas refers to the self as 'the Same', le Même, with a capitalized initial.

Representation of the other as same is representation of the representing ego as Same. The representation of the self as the Same is represented by Plato as a dialogue of the soul with itself. But it is as though in this dialogue of the soul with itself the sole self is, Levinas writes, using a word he will use again with an emphasized sense, surprised. It is as though its mastery over itself is shocked to discover itself overhearing its thought, as though the thought were the thought of another. Its particularity is overcome when the distance between itself and its thought is reduced to the zero distance between itself and what it hears itself speak, and the self becomes indistinguishable from universal thought. The singularity of the first-person singular is taken over by the impersonality of an It, an indefinite One and the Same. As when the ego in Kant that asserts its power over things by assuming their form in advance is thereby resumed within an Ego that transcends particularity and could as well be called a transcendental It, like the es of Heidegger's es gibt Sein, or a transcendental She or/and He, like the absolute knowing of Hegel on the French reading of it as Savoir absolu, as the feminine adjective Sa that happens to be also an abbreviation for 'Saussure' and for the signifiant, the signifier that in conjunction with the signifié, the signified concept, makes up the sign.1

This movement from surprise toward the suppression of my mastery is a movement from my domain toward the threshold where my welcome of the other thing is met by my welcome by the Other—by the Mother, perhaps it could be said, but at any rate by a feminine Other or the femininity of the Other that

(on the threshold, we shall see, between accusative 'me' and pronominative 'I') saves me from total absorption in depersonalized and timeless general thought.

The saving is effected through sensibility which saves time. For time is lost in eternity when the erstwhile ego synthesizes under universals the instances of them that it imagines or recalls having perceived. Time is regained when I am sensible to the fragility of my enjoyment of the present moment—enjoyment, it will be recalled, that includes the enjoying of contemplative thought and even the thought of my enjoyment's fragility against which I attempt to secure myself by building or buying a home. The home may be represented either as a collection of objects present at hand or as a 'machine for living in', a functional system of handy furniture and other such possessions of which I can dispossess myself if they cease to perform their job efficiently. But my enjoyment of my house and its environs, of my garden, the town and the country round about is not thus representable. Enjoyment and living-from are the unrepresentable conditions of representation in which I am in my element. The element is the background and earth presupposed by what already in his earlier writings Levinas calls position, the earth not viewed Copernicanly, as though from outer space, but the earth not viewed at all; the earth rather as the Ptolemaic place in which I stand that is for me an unviewed point of view view.2 The earth as element is where I am standing or sit, posited, gesetzt. As described by Husserl, it is the proto-archic earth that does not move when I move the furniture, the meubles, that is to say, the movables in my sitting room or when I move myself when there is a removal from one house to another. For although my domicile may be where I sit, the good life is not the sedentary life.

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