Thoughts on Heidegger and Levinas

A few comments from this thread

“The Other is not constituted by the self, as Levinas haves it, but the inverse.”

There is no ‘constitution’ of the self from the Other in Levinas. The self is a historical and/or personal retreat from the absolute alterity of the other. The self is a kind of violence that totalizes the other into a representation (ex., from the self), a plastic cast of the face of the other, and thus, brings the Other into the light of rational (ratio), conceptual relatedness that ‘is’, ontologizes, the Other (the tyranny of the same). Levinas wants to think otherwise than being. Being is the archaic violence that effaces the other. Levinas thinks that ontology imagines that the time of the other and my time are commensurate and therefore, levels the Other off into the same – not as identity but as kind, i.e., differences are certainly allowed but the essence of the difference assumes a prior basis for comparison, the ratio of nous, an archical (originary) temporalizing that I and Other exist and move and have our being in. Levinas thought the Other was anachronous to my time, a time not my time, not commensurate in any way to me. He thought that retreat from the face of the other was history and why metaphysics failed. It failed because it lost the Other, transcendence, it made the other into the said, the idolatry of the image and the word.

“Now it is silly to argue that ethics is ontologically prior to ontology (because then ethics simply becomes ontology by another name). Levinas should have argued for the ethical priority of ethics.”

For Levinas ethics is the interruption of ontology. Ethics cannot be a prior ontology to ontology. Ontology is a sort of prison that can only ‘see’ within itself – the originary narcissus. If the Other is a moment of Being or circumscribed in the light of Being then ethics will always, already be pre-understood as a positive relation among beings, an authentic mode of being-with. This ‘already understood’ levels off beings as equal in an essential way, as ontologically identical, known and understood in essence (arche). What gets lost in this is radical difference, perhaps in the direction of Derrida’s ‘differance’ but with an important exception – leveling off favors the neutral. ‘It’ ‘is’ already understood. Essence as ontologically identical reduces the radical alterity of the ‘he’ or ‘she’ into an ‘it’.

Signs, semiology, as endlessly referential, must essentially, undo the knot they tie as they tie it – thus the trace of ‘differance’. The time of signs as Blanchot (Levinas’ mentor) thought is il ya, the there is, it is dead time – it neutralizes the other as another sign, an it, and therefore, loses radical alterity of him or her – it makes the saying the said. All the while the Dread, from an ontological point of view, that must be retreated from is the non-being of the Other, the other than being.

I do not think that you can ‘arrive at Levinas’ as ‘saying the same thing as Heidegger’ (as ‘without being aware of it’). I think that would be an equivalence that would totally miss the direction of Levinas’ thought. Perhaps you may think he is wrong but his work will not allow a similarity to Heideggerian mitsein or an elevation of Heideggerian ethics (whatever that would be).

“The Other is an eternal Fuhrer.”

The Fuhrer controls within the same, it is the System, light, ontology – it is the reduction of the other to the same. To think the same as identical to the Other is to do exactly what Levinas tells us that ontology does. The violence of the pure race is based on absolute, unquestioned knowing of the kind of being of the ‘pure’ and the ‘impure’. This kind of knowing can never be possible in Levinas’ notion of the Other without totalizing the Other under the tyranny of the same.


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