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Contemporary Philosophy

The Originality of Levinas: Pre-Originally Categorizing the Ego

D.G. Leahy
New York University

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ABSTRACT: Levinas depicts a pluralism of subjectivity older than consciousness and self-consciousness. He repudiates Heidegger's notion of solitude in order to explore the implications of the Husserlian pure I outside the subject. A hidden Good constitutes the Other in the self: a diremption not at the expense of the unity of the self. Levinas stands with Nietzsche on the side of life which requires and is capable of no justification whatsoever. But for Levinas the totality is ruptured by the thought that there is a unity of self undiminished by its immemorial responsibility for the Other, a unity of self beyond totality. This self containing the Other is the transcendence of the Ego otherwise immanent in Husserl's pure intentionality. Just here Levinas' thought is most perfectly distinguished from Sartre's notion of the transcendence of the Ego as complete exclusion from the immanence of intentionality. The pure I is otherwise than the Hegelian absolute Elastizität: incarnate and inspirited, the "self tight in its own skin." The transubstantiation of Ego to Other has not yet occurred to thought in Levinas, but what does occur here is the altersubstantiation of the I. The Other in the Same is an alteration of essence. It is precisely through thinking the contraction of [the modern] essence [of consciousness] that Levinas thinks otherwise than being, beyond essence, thinks "a thought profounder and 'older' than the cogito." Humanity signifies a "new image" of the Infinite in the preoriginary freedom by which the Self shows the Other mercy.

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The curve on the hither side of consciousness is 'a concave without a convex': the cuspidal infinity of interiority turned absolutely inside outside the other within: an interiority without walls, infinitely exposed. Then straight is the highway between the cusps of this absolutely inverted consciousness — better than consciousness — transcending the original curvature of consciousness and self-consciousness. This one-way straightaway is the immemorial contact of self and other. It is the absolute proximity which is the approach, without return, from the self to the other . This is the approach — without method — before any notion of reciprocity and reflective or pre-reflective consciousness. This love or non-indifference prior to all conscious differentiation, this possibility of being for-one-another is the responsibility of the self to do for the Other.

The indispensability of the flesh to this turning of the self to the Other signifies the excellence whereby the human transcends the angelic. It is precisely in the proximity impossible without flesh that there exists an openness to "high virtues" and the "most mysterious secrets." Only those who suffer the oppression impossible without the body are, even if "unbeknownst to themselves, on the way that leads from the most inner intimacy to beyond all exteriority," on the way to the most intimate and secret revelation, to the transcendence of the infinitely cuspidal uncentered interiority of the One immemorially obsessed with the Other. Whatever the suffering involved in this breathless proximity, it is better than the angelic, and all too natural, tranquillity of spirits without body. It is only in the proximity to the Other, immemorially contact, non-methodical — not a road along which one secretly returns to oneself — only in this approach without return, in which the Other remains "totally other," that — "beyond the distantiation of rhetoric — the significance of a transcendence is born, going from one person to the other, to which metaphors capable of signifying infinity bear reference." The Other is mystery, the unknowable. The ungraspable in the future and, despite solitude, in death, signifies within solitude the irreducible alterity of the Other, as does eros "strong as death." The turning to the Other — being turned inside out beyond being and nothing and the spatially organized framework of consciousness — is the superiority and excellence of the otherwise than being. The "most mysterious secret" is the secret of this intimacy without genesis: completely unmotivated non-indifference to the Other. What finally is fear for the other is, fear for the death of the Other, is this pure concavity, consciousness absolutely inverted, responsibility, unsolicited, before all initiative, to do for the Other, pure turning to the Other immemorially the inside-outside of consciousness, better than consciousness.

The fear for the death of the Other is the bending before all bending-back, especially and proximately before the bending-back structuring Heidegger's primordial concern. Otherwise than anxiety, in absolute proximity fear about and for the finitude of the Other. Fear for the Other is not to be confused with the Heideggerian relation of Dasein with death, where, in the solitude of being — not being beyond being — not otherwise than being — the ultimate emotion is anxiety, the fear of the self for the self. Fear for the Other, non-erotic love for the Other, precludes anxiety. The fear for the Other not (fear for) the self is not only the absolute inversion of the absolute self-consciousness epitomized in Hegel, not only the fear for the other without beginning and, therefore, without end, not only the turning inside out of the patriarchal womb (which previously was eternally enlarging itself with its own generation) so as to render the solitude of subjectivity immemorially the Other's possession, not only the maternal irrecusable responsibility for the Other within the Same, irreducibly pluralized, but it is such, before all conception of relation, as the priority — to all notions of synthesis, actual or potential — of the non-indifference of the self to the other, the proximity which is the a priori of any coming-upon, hither any considering, before any Dasein, before any presence to Being or to self — before any presence or present. Levinas departs from Hegel by way of a pluralism older than history and the world, older than the dialectic of spirit and nature, older than consciousness and self-consciousness. But Levinas "repudiates" Heidegger's form of non-objectifying thought, specifically, the notion that sees solitude "in the midst of a prior relationship with the other." Solitude is not subsequent to presence or beginning. It is not the privation of an original being-with the Other, in the midst of which "Miteinandersein, reciprocally being with one another," the truth should appear. Levinas rejects precisely Heidegger's worldliness, the ultimate expression of which is the notion that the locus of the sacred is being and nature. He rejects his unhistorical reversion to the sacredness of nature, and, so far, sides with Hegel, for whom spirit and nature are opposites. Although Heidegger prescinds, by way of a 'thinking-less-God' which he contrasts to onto-theo-logic, from the 'God of philosophy' to 'God the divinity', Levinas understands that the requirement in Heidegger of "deriving the meaning of the word God from the understanding of being in which the sacred and the divine announce themselves, continues to agree with the main tendency of traditional philosophy, which is theoretical." The non-objectifying thought of Heidegger is still the thinking of traditional philosophy: thinking-less-God is still thinking being and nothing, still thinking for which thinking otherwise than being would not be thinking.

Thinking the unthinkable is the abandonment of all idolatry. The worship of being is the secret worship of the Same in the circle of knowledge, transformed in Heidegger, at the last, into the riddling presence of the fourfold-onefold of "earth and sky, divinities and mortals." Out of the ringing ring of the world comes the thinging of the thing. Thinking-less-God is yet thinking-the-thing: it is, indeed, the res cogitans, thoroughly purified by Kant and Hegel and Husserl of its naive Cartesian elements, yet being there in the shape of the thing staying the mysteriously presencing mirror-play of the world. In Heidegger thinking is be-worlded. Letting the thing be present in its thinging from out of the worlding world, we, then, are "the be-thinged, the conditioned ones." Heidegger inverts the transcendental phenomenology of Husserl, reverses the world-constituting function of the infinite a priori of the pure ego (which Levinas understands precisely as the unconditioned survivor of the phenomenological reduction), and exposes to Nothing in the midst of what-is-in-totality the secret of inwardness as enthrallment of, and refuge-seeking encounter in, the Other.

But for Levinas, the Husserlian "pure I, the subject of the transcendental consciousness in which the world is constituted," is "itself outside the subject: self without reflection—uniqueness identifying itself as incessant awakening." Indeed, this self outside the subject, occupying "the exceptional status of a transcendent I in the very immanence of intentionality," the pure ego of transcendental Husserlian phenomenology, is precisely the starting point, the "secret of thought" whose ultimacy as such is called into question by Levinas without its being-exposed-to-Nothing. Levinas is by no means indifferent to the exceptional status of the phenomenological Self. For him, as for Husserl, the pure ego is not conditioned by the world. This means to Levinas that self outside the subject is beyond Being and Nothing, and — since nowhere does he transgress the modern notion that the latter are related as genus and species, whether the non-being of what-is nihilates Being (Hegel) or the Being of what-is nihilates Nothing (Heidegger) — that it is therefore beyond the logic of genus and species, and is neither a universal nor an individuality. The I is unconditioned in any logical-worldly or worldly sense, but is, nevertheless, and although unconditioned by the world, found, and finds itself, starting from its being in the world and in the midst of the world. If the exceptional status, the infinite unconditionality of the pure phenomenological Ego, is to be called into question without reverting to the radical unconditionality of the totality of the world in Heidegger, in which in the solitude of being being-there belongs to Being, Levinas has no choice but to go by a way otherwise than being. It must be that the Ego is conditioned from before the world, from before the foundation of the world, hither its own hypostatic unity, from before its unity, as existent, with its own existence. But, then, there must be in existence-without-existents — in existence itself — before the solitude of being, before the secret of thought, before the unconditioned origin of the intentional structures of the world — in existence before existents, and, therefore, immeasurably, pre-originally — a hidden Good, a deformation before form and matter: a diremption not at the expense of the unity of the self.

If the Ego is to be conditioned other than by the world, then it must be conditioned before its relation to the world, conditioned before intentionality, whether that intentionality be inverted (Heidegger) or uninverted (Husserl). If the ultimate root of the absolute self-consciousness of modernity — in its pure or impure (uninverted or inverted) phenomenological modes — from the otherwise incredible doubt of the world's existence in Descartes to its profoundest ultimacy in Hegel's understanding of logic as the mind of God before the creation — is the beginning of thought qua result of the Incarnation, the moment of thought the result of the redemption of the world, the formation of the original secret of thought its absolute dependence on God — then Levinas means to uncover the secret of this secret beginning of thought, to uncover the pre-original diremption of the self, to uncover the dis-redemption, to expose the beginningless and endless fissure, the taking apart infinitely before any redemption: the accusation of the self immemorially before guilt and redemption. The secret Good of the pure transcendental Ego: the anarchic parting of the purchase and the return — beyond all sickness and health — beyond all giving and taking back — beyond all reciprocity and failure of reciprocity — beyond all love comparing itself to justice. Levinas (like Sartre, and the two of them like Hegel) is back before the creation of the world (unlike Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, and Barth, for whom the creation of the world is, for diverse reasons, absolutely unanticipatable), anticipating not the being of the world (so far Levinas agrees with the last named) but the creation thereof, that is, anticipating the secret of modern thought, sustaining its ideal status, as well as the latter's reduction to Nothing in Heidegger, by secreting the secret, before its very own beginning, in the Good. In Levinas thought retrospectively non-anticipates its own retrospective anticipation of the past, i.e., thinks more than it can think. The philosophical power of Levinas is precisely a function of his continuity with Hegel, Husserl, and Sartre, each of whom is intent on founding — in diverse modes — the creation of the world. Levinas knows that the founding of creation is the calling into question of foundation, which calling into question takes for him the form of the thought that what would be the foundation is immemorially fissured. The division within identity radical to modernity is pushed back to a utopia prior to consciousness and self-consciousness, to a no-place where what would be very identity is irreparably fractured, without cause and without justification, and without the possibility of repair. If the redemption of the world by God becomes in modern thought the self-redemption of the world in and through human consciousness (Hegel), or in and through the Dasein belonging to Being through whose vigilance things appear as things and the worlding of the world takes place (Heidegger), then, in Levinas, the self-redemption of the world made divine (in Husserl, implicit to the point of eclipse, and, in Sartre, to the point of the unrealizable ideal of human reality) is divided in its root: the redemption of the world as such is called into question and together with it the divine (absolutely self-sufficient) self. If there is a locus for the divine in Levinas it is not the self but the Other, and if there is such a locus it is no localizable, worldly, locus. It is only insofar as the Other is not an object — which he or she otherwise is (as in Sartre) — insofar as he or she is inside the world outside the world — that there is God. Levinas' thinking-less-being is thinking God beyond presence (and absence), God beyond thing (and nothing), beyond object (and subject): thinking the subject outside the subject, the object outside the object: the Other the object within and without the world. God therefore would not in any way be objectified. God remains the One who is without being present or absent — without being graspable — who can not be meant, who can not be signified, but who can nevertheless mean or signify with a meaning or signification which irreducibly contests itself as the Saying of the said, as the meaning of the meant, as the signified of the sign.

The modernity of Levinas is clear from his starting with Descartes' idea of God as the infinite being, which idea contains more than the finite thinker of the Meditations can account for within himself. Descartes, on behalf of modern consciousness, in the language of Levinas, thinks more than he can think (it is not part of Descartes' project to pursue this path, although it is clear that Hegel in the Phenomenology of Spirit pursues it with a vengeance, and does so precisely without departing from the Cartesian project, indeed, while bringing that project to its perfection). The thought of Levinas is the pluralizing, the de-divinizing of the spirit which inexhaustibly rises above the creation in Hegel, that same spirit — spirit of the Same — which, in the work of Husserl, was purified, in the very depths of its originality, of the naive distinction of God and world. In taking as his point of departure — backwards into an infinite passivity — the spirit of thought in flight beyond the naive reflections of philosophy — in uncovering the unhealable division within the spirit otherwise always beginning with the result, otherwise always resulting in the beginning — in beginning from the beginning his withdrawal from the beginning, in "repudiating" Heidegger, Levinas, back beyond Descartes and Husserl, keeps faith with Hegel following Husserl.

This "keeping faith with Hegel following Husserl" takes on, fundamentally, two divergent shapes in twentieth century thought: one in the thought of Sartre who opts for the beginning without (before) result, and the other in the thought of Levinas, who opts for the result without (before) beginning. Despite the atheism common to Sartre and Nietzsche, which contradicts the piety shared by Levinas and Kierkegaard, in one respect Levinas stands with Nietzsche over against both Sartre and Kierkegaard: he stands on the side of Life, that is, life before all presence, older than all consciousness, life as, in effect, sheer result, altogether before any beginning, before synchronicity, life which requires and is capable of no justification whatsoever. The diachrony which fissures without destroying the monadic self in Levinas is the analogue of the insistence in Nietzsche that there is no unity, that there is unity "neither as sensorium nor as 'spirit'," that while there is totality, the totality, eternally recurring, lacks all unity. But for Levinas, while diachrony is a certain lack of unity, the eternal recurrence in Nietzsche runs too far too quickly ahead. It would supplant, qua totality, the unity. For Levinas the totality, which is the unity of being, is ruptured precisely by the thought that there is a unity of self undiminished by its immemorial responsibility for the Other, a unity of self beyond totality (whether the totality displacing unity, as in Nietzsche, or totality de-totalized, as in Sartre), neither the unreal nor the unrealizable ideal, respectively, of the two atheists, but in fact a real ideal whose formal materialization — perfect or imperfect — possible or impossible — itself points to a yet older categorizing of matter than that undertaken in onto-theological thinking. Nietzsche's denial of the possibility of the judgment of the totality — as far as it goes consistent with the absolute self-enclosedness of the Hegelian Spirit — is denied by Levinas. Contrary to the shared understanding of both Hegel and Nietzsche, beings have an identity before totality and before eternity, in an infinity outside both, but reflected within both. For Hegel, the living, existing on the basis of the totality, are judged by history; for Nietzsche, the living, existing on the basis of the totality, are judged by no one; for Levinas, the living, existing on the basis of themselves — within but also outside of the totality — are the judges of history, judged, but not without their participation: "The idea of infinity delivers the subjectivity from the judgment of history to declare it ready for judgment at every moment and . . . called to participate in this judgment, impossible without it." Totality is submitted to the judgment of persons who, though involved in being, are, themselves, exterior to being. Levinas stands with Nietzsche on the ground of the vivere as opposed to that of the sterile esse. But not with Nietzsche on the ground of the latter's 'full green' vivere, the vivere that would and does exhaust qua totality the whole of the real, the vivere that would and does displace and replace the cogito, as it does explicitly in Nietzsche's succinct summation: vivo ergo cogito. Under Levinas' feet the ground gives way: life is not the full green ground: it does not offer the final support for the cogito. There is in Nietzsche's critique of all philosophy and theology the following proportion: cogito : sum :: vivo : cogito. Here & hence, the circuit of return — yes, eternal return, for the simple reason that in the proof of this proportion the transcendence of the cogito is denominated by the identification of sum, my being, with vivo, my life. For Nietzsche the being of philosophy, being other than life, is no being, is nothing; but being is life and reason is to be seen in reality (the being which is life), although "not in 'reason', still less in morality'." The limitation in Nietzsche's radical rejection of all thinking not anchored in life is precisely that there is a method in his madness! But it is precisely method that the madness of Levinas lacks! Unlike the madness of Nietzsche and Hamlet, the madness of Levinas — otherwise than being — is beyond to be or not to be: the madness in Levinas — the interminable suffering resulting without cause or beginning — the result without beginning — the debt before the loan — is the infinite a priori of the question, to be or not to be, indeed, the infinite a priori of the to be or not to be of the question to be or not to be! the command in the face of the Other, before the question of being or not being, a fortiori before the question whether I should be or not be, should live or not live, the demand to be concerned for the death, the nothingness, of the Other, for the vulnerability witnessed in the infinitely incomparable unicity and rectitude of the face of the Other, the righteousness before all justice which stands up infinitely beyond judgment in the straightaway demand to be loved without reason or justification, the incomparable point of the inverted light of consciousness. That this unaccountable obsession with the Other — this trackless approach — is madness for science is not in doubt for Levinas.

Now this madness without (before) method may be understood in its most fundamental sense, in Levinas, as the Ego categorized before all categories. The Ego categorized before all thinking. The Ego qua category, before the cogito. Levinas, following the indications in Husserl, ultimately, therefore, in Kant, back-treks, tracklessly, to where the Ego recurs to itself in its transcendence of the cogitare of the cogito, to the Ego in its priority to the cogitare. Levinas thinks neither the formal structure of the Self, nor the material structure of the Self, but precisely thinks the structure of the Self before thought's distinction of form and matter: thinks before the difference between formal and material Ego: thinks the deformation of the form of the Self as the materiality of the Self before all matter. This materiality of the self "more material than all matter" bears the weight of an unassumable accusation: the Ego bears the weight of an accusation before being the I of the I-think, before the security of its own transcendence to the categories of the thought, that is, before its participation in the formal unification of all the accusations to be made against matter. It finds itself like matter, but before the matter subject to the forms of its own doing as the unity of thought, subject to an accusation or categorization, before it has had the chance to think. This materiality of the self is "more material than all matter" precisely because the form that it bears is "not its own doing." This is a form not a form of consciousness: this is the form of the self qua creature. This is the form of bearing the burden of the Other through no fault whatsoever of one's own. Indeed, this is the unthematizable state of the Virgin-with-child: the state of a sinless humanity. The type of creaturely subjectivity: a contranatural maternity more maternal than all natural maternity. This is the inspiration, the incarnation of the word of God "pronounced, without letting 'divinity' be said." But precisely because the self qua creature, before all onto-theology, is inevitably atheist, its immemorially unassumable responsibility for the death of the other takes the form of "its own deficiency," the form of a sinless guilt for the other's mortality.

This self containing the Other, the self not for itself, but for the other, is the transcendence of the Ego otherwise immanent in Husserl's pure intentionality. Just here Levinas' thought is most perfectly distinguished from Sartre's notion of the transcendence of the Ego as complete exclusion from the immanence of intentionality. For Sartre, the exclusion of the Ego from immanent intentionality has for its purpose exactly the reduction of consciousness to being purely for-itself. Sartre's analysis of subjectivity concludes with the understanding that to understand consciousness to be non-solipsistic is to understand that a real Other, appearing to a subjectivity originally empty of a subject, must similarly, qua subjectivity, completely transcend objectivity, and that, therefore, pure originary consciousness must be in its very structure the exclusion of the Other, with the result that the plurality of consciousnesses is the primary fact whose form is reciprocal internal negation of each subjectivity by the subjectivity of the Other: "The Other is the one who excludes me by being himself, the one whom I exclude by being myself. Consciousnesses are directly supported by one another in a reciprocal imbrication of their being." The For-itself and the Other in the very immanence of their being mutually exclude each the Other's being. For Sartre, the Ego is transcendent to consciousness (the Ego, the subject, is an object) but the Other (as such, not an object) is immanent to consciousness. The Other — other than my subjectivity — is found in the very immanence of consciousness. Because Sartre begins with being and divides being into being-for-itself and being-in-itself, because being is the existentialist a priori, the transcendence of subjectivity is conceived as objectivity (the subject outside subjectivity: the object) and not as otherwise than being (the subject [not an object] outside the subject [not an object] within the world: the Other [the object outside the object] within the subject). Sartre turns, as does Levinas, from the solitude of being in Heidegger to a pluralistic subjectivity involving its own form of non-objectified being, indeed, to a primary and irreducible intersubjectivity, but now a primary intersubjectivity functioning, in the first instance, as the self asserting priority and a demand for recognition and rights. The wrapping back into an otherwise Hegelian dialectic of Heidegger's non-objectifying thought by way of a critique of Husserl brings Sartre out on the side of Kierkegaard, but only so far as he shares with the latter the notion of the emptiness of the universal apart from its foundation in the being of the concrete individual. He does not share the complete abandonment of the universal in the faith of the Kierkegaardian individual. Nor does he share with Kierkegaard the notion shared by the latter with the other anti-philosophers, Nietzsche and Barth, viz., the recognition that there is no being apart from beings. But although Sartre shares with Hegel and Levinas the acknowledgment of being apart from beings, which requires a recognition in one form or another of the reality of the universal, he, nevertheless, diverges from both: he does not share with Hegel the notion that the being of the individual is beginning and end the universal, nor does he share with Levinas the thought of the infinite particularity of the individual, the thought of the particularity of the individual before the logic of particular and universal. In Sartre the beginning is without (before) result: not the madness without method of Levinas (wherein Levinas shares Barth's transcendence of the method, but not the freedom of choice common to Barth and Sartre), nor the mad methodology of Nietzsche in which every individual is a piece of fate, in which every part is in the whole, but in a totality from which all unity (= the being before beings) has been banished. In Sartre, the methodical madness is the ekstasis of freedom beyond being in the very heart of being! freedom beyond being not beyond being! finally resulting in forever beginning without the result, i.e., in the detotalized totality which is the dialectic subjected to its own rules, the dialectic dialecticized: the forever beginning in the nothingness which is the present, which is, for Levinas, the locus of Sartre's too angelic pluralism!

If, in Barth, there is non-methodological freedom of choice in beings beyond being itself, then, in Levinas, the non-methodological madness is beyond essence the non-methodological lack of freedom of choice: the non-methodological lack of being beyond freedom of choice: the non-methodological lack of being beyond the lack of being: non-methodologically beyond being the lack of the lack of being. For Levinas, straightaway, non-methodologically, the Other is she hurts, and I am responsible. Before all I-thou relations, before all reciprocity, in the face of the Other: he is dying, and I am responsible. Before all seeing the self in the other, with an infinite immediacy the other in the self: the self "stuffed with" the other for whom I am responsible, unaccountably, immemorially, so. Instead of the self going beyond itself, the "inversion" of the self-stuffed-with-itself to the self-stuffed-with-the-other! the "having-the-other-in-one's-skin," the "other in the same without alienating the same." But then non-methodological madness is unaccountably rational non-madness: the overflowing of the capacity of the self "is not insane" in the light of the rationality of obedience to revelation: the imperative of ethics is suffered by the categorical self before all universality and self-complacent rationality.

Indeed, for Levinas spirituality is the responsibility for the Other demanded in the face of the Other, and is, therefore, as such, "probably the foundation of sociality and of love without eros." On the side of the vivere, with Nietzsche against the angelisms of Kierkegaard and Sartre, Levinas understands that spirituality is ineluctably incarnate. Otherwise than nothingness: beyond the nothingness bounding and bounded by being in Sartre; beyond the nothingness of the particular outside the universal in Kierkegaard: otherwise than nothingness the fullness of the punctual: the infinite cuspidal uniqueness of the Same: pure phenomenological intentionality absolutely inverted. The self as creature — before all theology and ontology — recurs to itself beyond the point of its own beginning. It overshoots itself within itself, and in this passivity more passive than the passivity of matter, in this radically immeasurable finitude before all infinite and finite measures, it is thereby exposed within itself to the Other, opened up to the outside of itself within itself as the a priori of its own origination, opened to the infinity it contains within the recess of its inextendedness before all openness in or to the world. This is the anarchic recurrence which is the contraction or incarnation in which the fullness of the punctual is identity broken up, fissured, split open before the openness of nothingness: the secret opening of the secret: the cuspidal pointillism of the absolute inversion of all consciousness and self-consciousness into the One. It is at once the monadology of suffering in which the exposedness of Self to Other is hidden in the dark light of an infinite Goodness, which cannot appear, but, qua trace of infinity, "shows itself enigmatically, like a blinking light" in a space like night which is not a nothingness. This exposedness is a pluralism in subjectivity, which, nevertheless, is not a multiplicity, and does not destroy the unity of the self. Precisely because the self is beyond being, subject to a Goodness before all Good and Evil, to a Goodness beyond all measure, distinct from the One that a subject is, the self bears within the unity of itself, beyond unity and multiplicity, beyond the unity of being, the entire weight of the others without being divided from itself, indeed, in being defined by this infinite accusative — absolutely categorized — it is just so confirmed in its irreplaceable unicity and particularity beyond comparison. In this unicity the self is denucleated, fissured, cored-out, "by a movement coming from outside, but a rupture which, paradoxically, would not alienate [its] rational self-sufficiency." What then is the import of the secret revealed in Levinas? It is the "psyche in the soul." On the one hand, beyond the "full green" vivere of Nietzsche, very life inspirited. On the other hand, beyond the eternal history of Spirit in Hegel, soul inspirited on the basis of body. The pure I, qua self, otherwise than absolute Elastizität, incarnate and inspirited: indeed, the "self tight in its own skin," "subject to the unlimited accusative of persecution." The open secret in Hegel is spirit as absolute subjectivity of substance, spirit as soul or form, essence or concept, "absolute subjectivity" whose nature it is, "in order to be spirit," to determine itself and to traverse the forms of finitude. For Hegel, "Only when this content has traversed these determinations is it spirit. Spirit is essence—but only insofar as it has returned to itself from out of itself, only insofar as it is that actual being which returns and is at home with itself, that being which posits itself from itself as at home with itself." The open secret in Hegel is the ìõóôÞñéïí, i.e., the rational, the speculative or absolute idea. But the secret of the open secret in Levinas is precisely that subjectivity is spirit as non-absolute! indeed, as deformed, demented, qua creature, qua very livingquestionable! The transubstantiation of Ego to Other has not yet occurred to thought, (1) but what does occur is the altersubstantiation of the I: "[t]he psyche is not grafted on to a substance, but alters the substantiality of this substance which supports all things. It alters it with an alteration in which identity is brought out." This altersubstantiation is the inversion of the essence of subjectivity and the "ultimate secret of the incarnation of the subject." The revealed secret of interiority is the contraction of the otherwise absolute elasticity of the Hegelian (modern) self to a point anterior to its own beginning — the result produced without (before) beginning: fission of the self without dividing the self from itself — without diremption and redemption of the One: the explosion of the self wrapped tightly about itself containing more than itself in the form of itself not-for-itself, but for-the-Other, exceeding its-own-capacity, burning in its skin without being consumed, witnessing the lack of the lack of its-own-being, like the bush in Exodus. The self witnesses its own being and nothingness utterly pre-empted by the Other. The self, not internally self-differentiated, not a self-differentiated monad, yet not, on that account, an undifferentiated monad, but rather, the self internally other-differentiated, a non-narcissistic interiority uniquely responsible for the Other, and only as such an hypostasis (an existent bound to its own existence), only as such an incarnate soul, and, as such, not only a soul but the soul of the universe.

For Levinas himself the way in which man signifies a "new image" of the Infinite, the way in which man is the likeness of the divine, is the way in which as creature he images the Creator, viz., in the preoriginary freedom by which, like the hidden Good, he shows the Other mercy. The maternity which is the self for the Other is the new image of the trembling of the divine womb. This is the purest image of the monadology of suffering in which the "subjectivity of sensibility, taken as incarnation, is an abandon without return, maternity, a body suffering for another, the body as passivity and renouncement, a pure undergoing." The purest image — how should "maternity within God" not be virginal — of the disinterestedness of subjectivity above and beyond justice. But then this is the image of the non-appearing preoriginal power of creation. The purest, indeed, non-appearing, image of the creative power of the Infinite is non-phenomenological humanity, which, before all nothingness, like the night, is the immemorial disturbing proximity or contact of the Other in the Same — more immediate than immediacy, more determinate than determinacy — the altersubstantiation of the very substance of self, demanding, without justification, peace, and soliciting, without introduction, mercy, and, just so, capable of realizing the reign of the Messiah over the world, "even if the world resists." If man's obedience to the Most-High is one side of the fact that he is the "irruption of God into being," the opening of the secret of inwardness, then the divine is also the calling of man out from being into the night. This, in turn, is the Good secret of the open secret, the election ahead of time in which this responsibility for the Other is promised a realization infinitely uncontainable in any present.

If the American "death of God" theology is the "furthest possible extension of the essence of modern consciousness," then, in Levinas, the furthest possible contraction of the essence of modern consciousness is the Same containing the Other in the inextendedness of the One, in the infinite exposure and responsibility of One who, just so, body & substance, "waits upon the Lord." At the furthest possible remove from the uttering of the conscientious adieu to God, Levinas thinks, what hitherto had not been thought, the à-Dieu, the prayer of unassumable, unshirkable responsibility. The contraction is the furthest possible, "going to the hither side of its point of departure." It is precisely through this contraction of [the modern] essence [of consciousness] that Levinas thinks otherwise than being, beyond essence, thinks "a thought profounder and 'older' than the cogito."

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(1) Cf. D.G. Leahy, Foundation: Matter the Body Itself (Albany, 1996) and D.G. Leahy, Novitas Mundi: Perception of the History of Being (reprint, Albany; 1994).

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