Levinas and the Trauma of Responsibility: The Ethical Significance of Time

By Cynthia D. Coe | Go to book overview

3
The Method of An-Archeology

LEVINAS’S PROMINENT USE of the concept of trauma provokes the question of how responsibility can be thematized at all, given its status as a trace rather than a phenomenon—an experience that can be unproblematically represented by consciousness. Through its rhetorical peculiarities, his philosophical style reflects his claims about the subject’s encounter with what exceeds, frustrates, or otherwise interrupts conceptualization. This chapter will analyze Levinas ‘s method of “saying and unsaying,” with particular attention to his repudiation of narration in Otherwise than Being. Given that narration is one way to reduce the lapse of time to a unified representation, this methodological stance is intimately linked to Levinas’s understanding of subjectivity. Emphasizing the impact that diachrony has on the subject requires him to examine how narratives—including philosophical narratives—fail, and thus what a more self-critical form of representation would be. Levinas’s attempts to avoid positioning the subject as either the narrator or the object of narration result in his reticence on a number of questions that seem salient to his work. Various scholars have called Levinas to task for his refusal to speak more concretely on matters of justice, or to give a more robust argument about the source of moral authority. But his silence on these issues must be considered in the light of Levinas’s methodological commitments to challenging the ideal of the sovereign subject and the understanding of time bound up with that ideal.


Saying and Unsaying

The first pages of Otherwise than Being introduce a distinction that is woven through the rest of the book: the event of saying and the “immobilized” content of what is said—the ideas, claims, or questions conveyed in language (OB 5). Although we tend to focus on the meaning of written or spoken words in order to comprehend them, Levinas characteristically insists on how language functions first as an address to the other. Anyone who greets another person, in even the most impersonal and superficial way, responds to an obligation to acknowledge the other (EN 88). Levinas argues that a greeting is an exposure of the self that responds to the vulnerability of the other, who faces the possibility of not being greeted— who may be treated as morally or socially insignificant. The other can be framed as an object to be studied or a rival for resources, neither of which challenge the

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Levinas and the Trauma of Responsibility: The Ethical Significance of Time
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Introduction - Intrigues of Time ix
  • Abbreviations xxi
  • 1 - Deformalizing Time 1
  • 2 - The Traumatic Impact of Deformalized Time 19
  • 3 - The Method of an-Archeology 39
  • 4 - Between Theodicy and Despair 73
  • 5 - The Sobering Up of Oedipus 101
  • 6 - Anxieties of Incarnation 129
  • 7 - Rethinking Death on the Basis of Time 159
  • 8 - Animals and Creatures 187
  • Conclusion - Inheriting the Thought of Diachrony 219
  • Bibliography 233
  • Index 245
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