“This pure future without content”

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I was just talking up the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas to my blogger friend N., over at Immolation.org. Levinas isn’t hard to read, but being a lazy sort my favorite way into his thought is through a book of interviews, Ethics and Infinity: Conversations with Philippe Nemo, translated from the French by Richard A. Cohen (Duquesne U.P., 1985).

The following passage is interesting in part because it shows the philosopher reacting to his own words. Ellipses in brackets are original.

Philippe Nemo: Here are several lines from the chapter in Time and the Other devoted to the loving relationship: “The difference of sex is not the duality of two opposing terms. For two complementary terms presuppose a pre-existing whole. Now to say the sexual duality presupposes a whole is to posit in advance love as a fusion. The pathos of love consists, to the contrary, in an insurmountable duality of beings; it is a relationship with what forever slips away. The relationship does not ipso facto neutralize alterity, but conserves it. [ . . . ] The other as other here is not an object which becomes ours or becomes us, to the contrary, it withdraws into its mystery. . . .

“The transcendence of the feminine consists in withdrawing elsewhere, a movement opposed to the movement of consciousness. But this does not make it unconscious or subconscious, and I see no other possibility than to call it mystery. By positing the Other as freedom, by thinking of it in terms of light, we are obliged to admit the failure of communication, that is, we have here only admitted the failure of the movement which tends to grasp or possess a freedom. It is only by showing in what way eros differs from possession and power that we can acknowledge a communication in eros. It is neither a struggle, nor a fusion, nor a knowledge. One must recognize its exceptional place among relations. It is the relationship of alterity, with mystery, that is, with the future, with what in the world where there is everything, is never there.”

Emmanuel Levinas: You see, this last proposition attests to the care of thinking time and the other together. Perhaps, on the other hand, all these allusions to the ontological differences between the masculine and the feminine [I skipped most of them – D.] would appear less archaic if, instead of dividing humanity into two species (or into two genders), they would signify that the participation in the masculine and in the feminine were the attribute of every human being. Could this be the meaning of the enigmatic verse of Genesis 1.27: “male and female created He them”?

Ph.N.: You follow with an analysis of voluptuosity: “What is caressed is not properly speaking touched. It is not the softness or tepidity of this hand given in contact that the caress seeks. It is the seeking of the caress which constitutes its essence, through the fact that the caress does not know what it seeks. This “not knowing,” this fundamental disordering, is the essential. It is like a game with something slipping away, a game absolutely without project or plan, not with what can become ours or us, but with something other, always other, always inaccessible, and always to come. And the caress is the anticipation of this pure future without content.”

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave's writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the "share alike" provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

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