Asceticism without end: Stiegler’s call to Philosophy

I just picked up Acting Out by Bernard Stiegler.  In the first of two essays, Stiegler recalls how he was “called” to philosophy while serving a five year prison sentence.  However, while Stiegler continually mentions and discusses an “act” that led to his incarceration and then eventually, his philosophical “acting out,” he never really spends any time discussing his crime.   Though, the blurb on the back of the book tells us that Stiegler was serving a five year sentence for armed robbery (I wonder if that helped sell some copies).   The essay is a wonderfully written account of how he became a philosopher.  Stiegler details his incarceration: when deprived of exteriority (and I suppose one might argue that this means one is possibly deprived of interiority as well), he put together a rigorous schedule of reading (slowly reading Mallarme every morning, working through Plato, Hegel, Husserl, Heidegger and Derrida) and writing in order to produce “signifying practices” that would allow him to (continue to) individuate  while in prison.  Continue reading

Levinas and the Materiality of Language

Fido the Yak has been reading all the yet unread Michel Henry articles sitting on my desk. In a recent post about Michel Henry and the intertwining of self, others, world and language, “Existence Says,” Fido the Yak writes

Nominalization (or reference) hardly begins to describe what language does or is. Reference is petty. Unconcealing is petty. This judgment is the basis of my profound disagreement with Henry. The language of the world is not indifferent: not to the things it names, nor to the world, nor to speakers nor listeners, nor to itself, nor to the operations, feelings, entities, assemblages nor intertwinements it brushes up against. This is of course a crude way of phrasing things. There are languages and there are worlds, and before we can ever come to a question of whether a language is its own world, which may not be to say that it is enclosed or isolated, we stumble across the question of what a language is (or does). We should probably say “does” at this point to give speaking precedence over Speech or Language (*language) though it may raise a question of whether the epoché says anything, whether it is speaking or speech, the saying or the said or an altogether different sort of operation.

I can’t help but note (read into?) a veiled reference to Levinas here and thought of Levinas’s own comments regarding sincerity and Saying. Continue reading

The Skin Turned Out: Levinas and Passivity

Wildly Parenthetical has some interesting musings on the Levinas of Totality and Infinity and the Levinas of Otherwise than Being:

…the characterisation of the relationship with the other changes quite dramatically from TI to OB, and this shift is quite interesting given that I’m reading it with eyes focussed on suffering. In TI, the relationship with the other is astonishing, world-giving, world-devastating, but in a joyous rather than an horrific way. Levinas seems to sing throughout this book, waxing lyrical, writing what is almost a love letter to the other. Heady and excited, it evokes the absolute generosity of those early moments in a relationship, when similarities feel homey and difference offers ecstasy.

But if this is so, in OB, the lover has jilted him, but he’s still bound. The relationship with the other is abruptly not one of possibility and generosity (or at any rate, it is not purely or even mostly that). Rather, one suffers the effect of the other. The other takes from me my self-certainty, and suddenly it seems that Levinas assumes my self-certainty, my self-sufficiency, my introspective enjoyment of myself was the sole source of my joy before the other dispossessed me of it. Whilst in some sense this echoes what he says in TI, there’s more violence here: the other’s violence to me which I have no choice but to accept and continue to respond to. It evokes the slow, weary resignation of the lover neglected, ignored, abused. It evokes a state of being destitute of joyfulness, duty-bound, cautious, limited. The other’s limitations of my power no longer feels like it offers the possibility of recognising, of deploying those powers, but rather, as if the other takes those powers from me. If TI marked the boon of the other, OB marks my loss.

It is certainly true, that in a certain sense, OTB surpasses TI. There are clear differences, as Wildly Parenthetical nicely points out, between the tone of each. Read improperly, TI comes off as a hopelessly Pollyana slogan “Let’s be friends.” Yet, while I see the point WP is getting at, I don’t really understand Levinas as ever presenting the exposure to the other as particularly joyous, perhaps the writing in TI seems that way, but it still seems rather violent to me. Continue reading