Relating to the other. It sounds like a great idea. We are depersonalized and the concept of the face to face as opposed to human relationships seen through attempts to conceptualize the totality of being has a certain intuitive appeal to assert that the individual in status ans dignity takes precedence over being. Certainly, much of the advertising we are exposed to would confirm this appeal of affirming our distinct nature through the favoring of a given product: the other. So, there is a paradox here. Since choosing this other negates the others.
Levinas held certain ideas for pushing society away from destructive interpersonal actions of war-type behavior into what he felt were channels of peace and justice. Bit maybe they weren’t. Perhaps part of the basis for socialism is deeply flawed with its emphasis on universal responsibility. Or, subjectivity means choices, and those chosen are also hostage and dependent. In other words, loving the other can be a violent gesture after all since it invoke priority and leads to the conclusion that justice and love are structurally incompatible. In the triangle of love, hatred and indifference it may be best to choose indifference.
So, Freedom that oft exalted fetish object of desire may not be a blissfully neutral state of harmony and balance. Instead, a destructive and violent act which disturbs this balance. As Zizek has argued, there is likely something quite fraudulent in the line between Levinas’s responsibility for the other and questioning one’s own right to exist. This type of asymmetry tends to end up prioritizing one group which assumes responsibility for all others which, in the final analysis, embodies in a privileged way what it directly it is opposed to which is a kind of universal value. The problem of hierarchy and status remains intact. This kind of pseudo self-denigration, pseudo-alturism tends to assert its opposite in that this form of self-questioning to widespread in the punditry represents a noxious form of self privilege.
…The face is the most defenseless, naked, and exposed aspect of all of us and it is how we address eachother as manifestations of an infinitely complex being. Prior to making any conclusions, however, Levinas warns “before we speak about the face, ‘the face speaks.’”…
…Levinas formulates his ethic on the epiphany of the Other person. For him, the face of the Other sanctions the moral law even before reason comes into the picture.
So what’s the big deal about having a nose, eyes, forehead, ears, mouth, dimples, and wrinkles? We tend to describe a person’s face by eye color, size and shape of the nose, thin or full lips, protruding or double chin, type of forehead, shaved or bearded, and so on. Such descriptions conceptualize or particularize the face of the Other, but this is not the way Levinas comes at it. His response to the question of why the face is such a big deal can be seen in the following quotations:
There is first the very uprightness of the face, its upright exposure, without defense. The skin of the face is that which stays most naked, most destitute. It is the most naked, though with a decent nudity…. The face is meaning all by itself…it leads you beyond. …
…In other words, the face of the Other, whether masked by make-up, earrings, artificial coloring, scarves, and so forth encounters me directly and profoundly. Face to face encounter with the Other discloses the other’s weakness and mortality. Naked and destitute, t
ace commands: “Do not leave me in solitude.” We ought welcome, be hospitable to, the Other who encounters us, as it were, from beyond, from a transcendent dimension, from “out of the blue.” He or she is the stranger who comes to me in my mundane, self-centered existence demanding from me a “Here I am.” That challenge includes the “Thou shalt welcome the stranger in thy midst,” of Jewish law.
For Levinas, coming face to face with the Other is a non-symmetrical relationship. I am responsible for the Other without knowing that the Other will reciprocate. Whether or not Others reciprocate is their affair not mine. Thus, according to Levinas, I am subject to the Other without knowing how it will come out. In this relationship, Levinas finds the meaning of being human and of being concerned with justice….
…Levinas does not limit encounter with the face of the Other to the sighted. The Other’s face is “seen” in different ways, through tactile sensations, from a sense of presence, indirectly. Helen Keller, though blind and deaf, for example, through feeling her teacher’s lips, tongue, mouth, eyes, nose, and vocal cords encountered the command and authority of the Other. This encounter made communication and learning possible.
The face speaks. It speaks, it is in this that it renders possible and begins all discourse…. The first word of the face is the “Thou shalt not kill.” It is an order. There is a commandment in the appearance of the face, as if a master spoke to me. …
Language takes place, originates, in the transcendence or foreignness of the Other. It is a gift which establishes a universal connection and relatedness among individuals. Through speech we make the world common as we exchange thoughts and create community. Read More:http://www.pietisten.org/summer02/facetoface.html
This issue becomes especially problematic when educators invite online learners into positions that they do not inhabit in their physical world. For example, can white middle-class students really put themselves in the position of an oppressed minority living in a depressed urban area, or of a paralyzed student in a wheelchair? To what extent can students inhabit the perspectives of others in this way? In what ways might this approach be useful, and in what ways might it be destructive? These questions highlight the serious conflict between according respect
to diverse identities while at the same time attending to the concerns and realities of those who are marginalized….
…The danger of romanticizing a Levinasian approach should be clear. As Iris Young, among others, has argued, inviting learners to inhabit Others’ positions is an extremely risky strategy. Individuals may try to empathize with the Other — especially given that information about
other cultures is easily accessible via the Internet— but this empathy often derives not from respect and care for the Other but from indifference and egocentrism. Both positions — indifference and egocentrism — carry the ideological baggage of liberal individualism. Read More:http://vrasidas.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/07/edth_5.pdf
Zizek:One is tempted to say that, far from being reducible to the symmetric domain of equality and distributive justice, politics I the very “impossible” link between this domain and that of (theological) ethics, the way ethics cuts across the symmetry of equal relations, distorting/displacing them. In his Ethics and Infinity, Levinas emphasizes how what appears as the most natural should become the most questionable – like Spinoza’s notion that every entity naturally strives for its self-perseverance, for the full assertion of its being and its immanent powers: do I have (the right) to be? Is it not that by insisting in being, I deprive others of their place, I ultimately kill them? 2 (Although Levinas dismisses Freud as irrelevant for his radical ethical problematic, was Freud also in his own way not aware of it? Is “death drive” at its most elementary not the sabotaging of one’s own striving to be, to actualize one’s powers-potentials? And is not for that very reason death drive the last support of ethics?) What one should fully acknowledge and endorse is that this stance of Levinas is radically anti-biopolitical: the Levinasian ethics is the absolute opposite of today’s biopolitics with its emphasis on regulating life and deploying its potentials – for Levinas, ethics is not about life, but about something MORE than life. It is at this level that Levinas locates the gap that separates Judaism and Christianity – Judaism’s fundamental ethical task is that of how “to be without being a murderer” Read More:http://www.lacan.com/zizsmash.htm
…This brings us to the radical anti-Levinasian conclusion: the true ethical step is the one BEYOND the face of the other, the one of SUSPENDING the hold of the face: the choice AGAINST the face, for the THIRD. This coldness IS justice at its most elementary. Every preempting of the Other in the guise of his face relegates the Third to the faceless background. And the elementary gesture of justice is not to show respect for the face in front of me, to be open for its depth, but to abstract from it and refocus onto the faceless Thirds in the background. It is only such a shift of focus onto the Third that effectively uproots justice, liberating it from the contingent umbilical link that renders her »embedded« in a particular situation.In other words, it is only such a shift onto the Third that grounds justice in the dimension of universality proper. When Levinas endeavors to ground ethics in the Other’s face, is he not still clinging to the ultimate root of the ethical commitment, afraid to accept the abyss of the rootless Law as the only foundation of ethics? Justice as blind thus means that, precisely, it cannot be grounded in the relationship to the Other’s face, i.e., in the relationship to the neighbor: justice is emphatically NOT justice for – with regard to – the neighbor. ( ibid )