Saturday, September 25, 2010

A little bit about this blog

I've just created this blog as a place to put things that don't seem to fit in my other ones. My original blog, "The Face of the Other," has philosophical (and non-philosophical) musings and reports on personal and family events. It is also fed to my author page on

I have a couple of explicitly political blogs, started in the election season of 2008l.

And I have a blog called "Secret Memo" where I discuss odd or controversial matters, or just things I don't want to put in the other blogs.

So I have plenty of spots to put things. But I felt a need to start this new blog for two reasons. One was that I wanted a generic space that didn't have the suspicious-sounding title or sometimes odd content of "Secret Memo," but also that wasn't being fed to my author page (as "The Face of the Other" is). Also, I like to be careful about what appears at the top of "The Face of the Other," given that it is my prime and original blog.

The second reason is that it occurred to me I needed a space for more pragmatic concerns. "The Face of the Other" is more contemplative--even though (as its subtitle suggests) contemplation ought to lead to action, given that my encounter with others makes me aware of my responsibility ("In front of the face, I always demand more of myself").

But I need to go beyond knowing that I am responsible to act responsibly. And so I've titled the new blog "Welcoming the Other." The subtitle of the current blog comes from an interview with Emmanuel Levinas ("Dialogue with Emmanuel Levinas," Face to Face with Levinas, ed. Richard A. Cohen, somewhere on page 26 or 27). The full passage includes the following:

I am defined as subjectivity, as a singular person, as an "I," precisely because I am exposed to the other. It is my inescapable and incontrovertible answerability to the other that makes me an individual "I." So that I become a responsible or ethical "I" to the extent that I agree to depose or dethrone myself--to abdicate my position of centrality--in favor of the vulnerable other. As the Bible says: "He who loses his soul gains it." . . . It is not that I wish to preserve . . . the idea of a subject who would be a substantial or mastering center of meaning, an idealist, self-sufficient cogito. . . . Ethical subjectivity dispenses with the idealizing subjectivity of ontology, which reduces everything to itself. The ethical "I" is subjectivity precisely insofar as it kneels before the other.

Another passage (this one from Levinas's book Totality and Infinity) illuminates what's involved in welcoming another person:
To approach the Other in conversation is to welcome his expression, in which at each instant he overflows the idea a thought would carry away from it. It is therefore to receive from the Other beyond the capacity of the I, which means exactly: to have the idea of infinity. But this also means: to be taught. The relation with the Other, or Conversation, is a non-allergic relation, an ethical relation; but inasmuch as it is welcomed this conversation is a teaching. Teaching . . . comes from the exterior and brings me more than I contain. (51)
And here's another one, harder to figure out if you don't already know something of Levinas's thought: "The relationship between the same and the other, my welcoming of the other, is the ultimate fact, and in it the things figure not as what one builds but as what one gives" (Totality and Infinity 77).

And another: "[Though the Other calls the I into being, this call] leaves room for a process of being that is deduced from itself, that is, remains separated and capable of shutting itself up against the very appeal that has aroused it, but also capable of welcoming this face of infinity with all the resources of its egoism. . . ." (216).

And a particularly wild one--but crystal clear, pretty much, once you start to get a feel for Levinas:
It is only in approaching the Other that I attend to myself. This does not mean that my existence is constituted in the thought of the others. An existence called objective, such as is reflected in the thought of the others, and by which I count in universality, in the State, in history, in the totality, does not express me, but precisely dissimulates me. The face I welcome makes me pass from phenomenon [i.e., "a reality that lacks reality, still infinitely removed from its being"] to being in another sense: in discourse I expose myself to the questioning of the Other, and this urgency of the response—acuteness of the present—engenders me for responsibility; as responsible I am brought to my final reality. This extreme attention does not actualize what was in potency, for it is not conceivable without the other. Being attentive . . . presupposes the call of the other. To be attentive is to recognize the mastery of the other, to receive his command, or, more exactly, to receive from him the command to command. When I seek my final reality, I find that my existence as a "thing in itself" begins with the presence in me of the idea of Infinity. But this relation already consists in serving the Other. . . .
. . . This [the face to face] is not a play of mirrors but my responsibility, that is, an existence already obligated. It places the center of gravitation of a being outside of that being. The surpassing of phenomenal or inward existence does not consist in receiving the recognition of the Other, but in offering him one's being. To be in oneself is to express oneself, that is, already to serve the Other. The ground of expression is goodness. To be kath'auto ["in or according to oneself," i.e., having reality in onself] is to be good. (178-79, 183)
Well, that's enough Levinas for now, and certainly more than enough of an explanation of why I've started this blog.

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