Monday, August 07, 2006

Levinas' Infinite Trauma

(More on the in-breaking of the Infinite from Levinas)

So far my theme from Levinas has been the infinite, not to the neglect of the Other, a persistent theme of L.’s, but rather as a way of understanding how, beyond the phenomenological horizon, the Other break in from a height, from an elevation of transcendence, beyond that of Being (which goes under the guises of Subject, "I", consciouseness, Same, experience, theme, or horizon). The linking of the Other, Being, Infinite, and the Subject are my concerns (especially as they relate to the work of Badiou, who fundamentally disagrees and seeks to subvert all the work of Levinas, more on that later).

So, more on the Infinite from “God and Philosophy.”

The problem guiding Levinas in this essay is the challenge from Derrida that “Not to philosophize is still to philosophize,” drawing attention to Levinas’ hopes of escaping Greek Onto-theo-logy into Judean Ethics of the Other. Levinas’ response is to question whether or not God, the Other, the tout autre, can “be exposed in a rational discourse which would b neither ontology nor faith” (131), a discourse beyond the opposition of the God of philosophers and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (as Pascal likes to say).

Levinas thinks there can be. And after many twists and turns, blind alleys of the phenomenon and “no outlets” of the Same, Levinas returns to the ‘idea of the infinite’ as that which is constitutive of thought while at the same time its ‘beyond’, the condition of subjectivity as totally beyond the subject.

Let me stitch a quote together from page 138.

“The figure of the Infintie-put-in-me, and according to Descartes, contemporaneous with my creation, would mean that the not-being-able-to-comprehend-the Infinite-by-thought is somehow a positive relationship with this thought…The not-being-able-to-comprehend-the Infinite-by-thought would signify the condition—or the unconditionality—of thought…The Infinite affects thought by devastating it and at the same time calls upon it; in a “putting it back in its place” it puts thought in place. It awakens it. The awakening of thought is not a welcoming of the Infinite, is not a recollecting, not an assuming, which are necessary and sufficient for experience. The idea of the Infinite puts these in question….The infinite signifies precisely prior to its manifestation.”
Levinas continues by asking what is the meaning of this “idea of the Infinite” put into me, why is it there at all. The idea of the infinite awakens a desire in the subject (which is the very shattering of the subject) for a Desire beyond all end or utility, beyond all enjoyment or pleasure (all of which is merely a desire for being, and its ‘interests’). The desire for/of the beyond the finite is a dis-interested Desire, for “Affected by the infinite, Desire cannot proceed to and end which it would be equal to” (140), but rather an end totally unequal, non-reciprical, utterly dissymmetrical to the Subject, and is therefore the Desire for the Other.

The Good
In this the idea of the Infinite (which is the condition and devastation of the Subject, of Thought) subjects us to our responsibility to the Other, which is the Good, or goodness. For “to be good is a deficit, waste and foolishness in a being; to be good is excellence and elevation beyond being. Ethics is not a moment of being; it is otherwise and better than being, the very possibility of the beyond” (141).

The Trauma
This idea of the Infinite, which affects a Desire beyond interestedness, soliciting the Other and the Good, is “a trauma that could never be assumed; it consisted in being struck by the “in” of the infinity which devastates presence and awakens subjectivity to the proximity of the other.” “This trauma, which cannot be assumed, inflicted by the Infinite on presence, or this affecting of presence by the Infinite—this affectivity—takes shape as a subjection to the neighbor. It is thought thinking more than it thinks, desire, the reference to the neighbor, the responsibility for another.”


Phew (brush the sweat from your brow, drink a cup of water)…and wonder why you ever read this blog. I have more, put I will stop today.

Questions? (like why do you do this?)

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