Oblivion and Beyond Being


Jean-Louis Chretien–in his short book The Unforgettable and the Unhoped For –offers an interesting connection between oblivion and the “beyond being:”

This correlation between the beyond being and the non-rememberable is rediscovered, in what may seem an identical manner, in the thought of Emmanuel Levinas. And after all, can there be a thought of beyond being that is not in some way Platonic? The very project owes its title to Plato, who foresees the horizon of everything that one calls “neo-Platonism,” epekeina tes ousias (30).

This is interesting. Ignoring the Plato connection for now, Chretien refers us to the commandment “Thou shall not kill” as the “unforgettable.” This, I think,  is a type of phenomenological source for someone like Levinas, through which he discerns the face of the other. For Levinas, the commandment reminds us of the forgotten and the impossibility to remember the forgotten, which is “exactly what the prohibition of images is meant to do.”  In other words, the transcendence of God, the covenant, or the inability to represent God may all be forgotten, but the commandment implores us to remember the forgetting of the other and calls us to “remember to forget.”

For thinkers like Jabes and Levinas I think we might say the Jew continually perforates oblivion; so “being Jewish” refers to the past of creation carried out through God’s commandments. Horror and oblivion, or rather horror as a result of oblivion, are also a form of our relation to the divine.  The commandment emits a surplus value of “psychic excitation” that bears the burden of the missing foundation of the institutional authority that issued the call rather than to simply forget something.  As I discussed here with regards to messianism, Judaism has conflicting avocations, both a hope for the future and the memory of the past, the not-yet of the messianic, that it be unknown and un-recognizable, is the condition for the coming of what is expected.  Off the cuff, I think this is what a good deal of the philosophical messianisms that opt for the Christian scheme of such things (esp. Agamben) may miss.  And really, Blanchot is missing from this triangulation I’ve hinted at of Jabes, Chretien and Levinas.

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