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Substitution in Levinas and its resemblance to Christian spirituality

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Substitution in Levinas and its resemblance to Christian spirituality
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Ross, Noreen A
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Includes bibliographical references (leaves 96-97).
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Department of Humanities and Social Sciences
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by Noreen A. Ross.

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r
SUBSTITUTION IN LEVINAS AND ITS RESEMBLANCE
TO CHRISTIAN SPIRITUALITY
by
Noreen A. Ross
B. A., Metropolitan State College of Denver, 2001
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Humanities
2005
i.....
i
i
t


This thesis for the Master of Humanities
degree by
Noreen A. Ross
has been approved
by
Robert Metcalf


Ross, Noreen A. (Master of Humanities)
Substitution in Levinas and its Resemblance to Christian Spirituality
Thesis directed by Myra Bookman, Ph.D., Director, Graduate Interdisciplinary
Studies
ABSTRACT
Levinas asserts that the ethical is not founded upon the ontological but upon
alterity the absolute otherness of the person before me. Whereas consciousness
subsumes the particular beneath a universal in order to understand, the face-to-face,
you and me, is not the province of comprehension but of response. Listening and
speaking to another does not involve reflection but engagement. This is not the
reciprocal give-and-take of consumer relationships but discourse between unique and
irreplaceable subjects.
Levinas defines the self as a subjection-to, a hostage to the other. This means
that I am responsible for each and every human being, friend or foe, neighbor or
stranger, who comes my way. Most regard responsibility as a personal affair and if
one is careful, options remain splayed across the plane of existence like colorful mines
that a little circumspection avoids. This is a self steered by knowledge and empower-
ed by the conviction that if one plays by the rules one is safe from impingement. This
is to be riveted to Being, yet the ethical precedes and surpasses this realm. One is
engaged prior to ones social status, religious beliefs, or chosen values. In short, just
as ones existence is wholly dependent on others, so too, ones true identity is
revealed as responsible one via the face that calls a voice beyond the scrutiny of
self-absorption.
Substitution resembles Christian spirituality in that each describes the self as
Ul


dependent, alienated, unique, irreplaceable, and responsible. These characteristics are
not relative to a graven image such as Being and eternity but elude altogether the
confines of a thematizing consciousness. The self is more than consciousness of, it is
a locus of subjectivity and movement, good and evil. Substitution and Christian
spirituality create a breach between the self and others that only tolerates the
approach of an other open to discourse, the meeting place of strangers ringed by the
subtle goodness of recognition.
This Abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. 1
recommend its publication.
IV


CONTENTS
CHAPTER 1. INTRODUCTION............................................1
Ethics as First Philosophy..............................1
Arrangement of the Thesis...............................9
CHAPTER 2. SUBSTITUTION...........................................12
Being, Truth, and the Idea of the Infinite.............12
The Idea of the Infinite and the Human Face............25
The Said, the Saying, Substitution.....................29
Substitution in Action.................................39
CHAPTER 3. SUBSTITUTION AND ITS RESEMBLANCE TO
CHRISTIAN SPIRITUALITY.................................46
Christ the Revealed....................................46
Paganism......................................49
Christianitys Failure........................54
Hegelianism...................................58

Poverty of Spirit......................................62
Substitution and Suffering.............................68
CHAPTER 4. SUMMATION..............................................80
The Ethical Landscape..................................80
Christ and Otherness...................................84
NOTES...............................................................89
BIBLIOGRAPHY........................................................96
v


CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION
Ethics as First Philosophy
In order to understand Emmanuel Levinas one must turn tradition on its head.
His main assertion is that ethics, not metaphysics, is first philosophy. To being with
ethics is to place the self in a position prior to the capsulization of the whole world
via a consciousness intent on knowledge, i.e., power and control over self and envir-
onment. According to him, ethics is fundamentally disruptive. One is first shaken
and then one sees. Morality introduces an order into the already established order,
the order of Being, without thereby forming a totality of two orders that somehow
manage to coexist in mutual antagonism. (Here Being means both "Ho be, beings,
and the conflation of the two. Being, God, and the Infinite are usually conflated be-
cause God cannot be less than Being; Being incorporates all.) Rather, the ethical
dimension transcends the given, is an event outside of Being, a non-phenomenality, a
happening between two that not even justice can dispel. Ethics is a for-the-other, a
lag in ones conatus essendi (perseverance-in-being), a forgetfulness of self and re-
membrance of the other person. Ethics is the realm of response and sphere of good-
ness; it is concern to the point of uneasiness and pain, the continuum between the
simple courtesy After you, Sir and dying for another. Ethics is unpleasant, a depar-
ture from the enjoyment of luxuriating in the self.
1


Levinas asserts that ethics precedes ontology and a metaphysics conflated
with Being. Ethics is the moral dimension and this, for Levinas, is otherwise than
Being and beyond essence. Ethics is pure gratuity, the good itself. Yet Being the
in-itself and for-itself is the standard of meaning. Thus truth is the decipherment of
Being, not the measurement of goodness. The be-ing (the verbal sense of to be: do-
ing of be, the act of being, being qua being) of the being I is self-preservation
come hell or high water, in spite of everyone else. Even the desire for salvation or
enlightenment is caught up in the conatus: I wish to be saved because I wish to exist
forever, regardless; the desire for enlightenment boils down to the desire for self-ad-
vancement. Nobody questions the fact that most persons place themselves above and
before others, why not behind?
Being designates the totality of all things and times past, present, and future.
The past is concretized in the historical drama and memory; the present tense is the
locus of truth and purview of philosophy; the future is incorporated into Being as dis-
closure, self-consciousness, increased knowledge, and the freedom and rights of man,
i.e., the right of an I.1 The future is bound to the past and the present in a themati-
zation that accounts for all and sundry: man is feted to be free, nothing important is
really lost, mystery is dissolved into knowledge, the forgotten, not worth remember-
ing. Even evil can be reduced to meaninglessness, a negation of Bong, or a rung on
the ladder of self-consciousness, anything rather than the conundrum of loose ends,
unhappy endings, unsolved mysteries, or the refusal to take responsibility for the
other mans freedom. With Being, nothing is gratuitous, everything accounted for.
Being is the realm of reality and truth and nothing escapes its dominion. Truth is the
steady incremental disclosure of Being. Knowledge is Beings counterpart, a recipro-
2


city instantiated by consciousness. Consciousness is intentional, it is consciousness of
objects for consciousness. Thus consciousness is adequate to its objects and the
idea of being is an idea adequate in itself.2 There is nothing under the sun whose
strangeness or differentness exceeds the knowable. Essence, i.e., sheer truth, delinea-
tion, crux of the matter, is the point of departure for philosophy. Essence is interest,
and being interested is the essence of positivity. But essence does not exceed the
boundaries of Being; rather, essence is the bottom line as far as truth is concerned.
Persons are beings within Being, bound together, known and identified against the
backdrop of Being wherein truth is a primordial event of being itself.3
According to Levinas, although Martin Buber distinguished the I and It
relationship from the I and Thou, he did not go far enough. The formula for the I
and Thou I am to the other what the other is to me4 is based on reciprocity. The
Thou is regarded as another I. This is the picture of a relationship grounded in
symmetry akin to economic relations or knowledge. We are equals in the horizon of
commerce, therefore, I scratch your back and you scratch mine; or else the relation is
founded upon mutual recognition, i.e., They recognize themselves as mutually rec-
ognizing one another.3 Neither the economic nor knowledge of the other as a self
questions or challenges an I ever intent on preserving itself from all that could hinder
it. For Levinas, it is necessary but not sufficient that the other person be separate
from the self for here the Thou remains part of the Is economy (an at-homeness
wherein the ego turns the world into an enjoyable place for itself6), a datum on the
outskirts of prominence, a free in a crowd however beautiful or familiar it may be, a
comrade bound by the political/social nexus, or an individual with rights. This rela-
tionship retains what Levinas calls the genus of a person, i.e., one is identifiable
3


through ones ethnicity, citizenship, cultural formation, status in society, personality,
even character. Me talking to you form a society of two Is (a we) each guaran-
teed the freedom to pursue happiness as each sees fit. Here there is multiplicity-in-
one, the one being a totality wherein the individual finds his or her way amidst
nameless faces. Here the other person is a limiting factor. Implicit in this sort of
approach is a self-reflective I who meets an other within the boundaries of an hori-
zon however lofty and well intentioned. Levinas s claim is that the face of the other
is itself transcendent whether or not I know it or intend it. The face is not an object
of intention but a visitation. This visit, this encounter with that which is beyond
this or that, beyond the couplet immanence or transcendence, beyond the critique of a
vociferous ontology that seeks the homeostasis of the re-presentation of the present
tense, is not a means to an end. But neither is life the compilation of historians, i.e.,
resolution and encapsulation.
Yet the mere fact of being alive is the commencement of the right to be.
Most ethical systems proceed from this point, i.e., the recognition of the other as a
self ensures fairness, decency, and the right to a fair trial. That persons are consider-
ed equal is indeed a triumph of the Judaic-Christian/Greek tradition. It is the Western
tradition, starting with Plato, that recognized the abstract man in men7 and from
there the meaningfulness of diverse cultures. It is philosophy that introduced to other
cultures the importance of persons and the culture each expresses. The inherent
meaning of each culture, a light provided by the Occidental, is an imprimatur that
some may find patronizing and burdensome. Levinas considers Europe indispensable.
Although the sense of equality is sufficient for justice (the rules by which a so-
ciety is structured) it is not sufficient for morality. Levinas contends that morality
4


precedes and founds justice. Justice is derivative of an ethics not based upon genus
but of a regard for the other as otherwise than any genus or origin conceivable. Prior
to the totality the domain of justice is the face-to-face, asymmetrical relationship
of you and me. Justice deals with relationships between persons and persons, and
persons and things by prescribing, proscribing, and comparing incomparables: the I,
the other (the first who comes my way), and the third party or other other. If there
were only you and me justice would be both unnecessary and inconceivable. Justice
assures plurality in an otherwise multiplicity of contending Is and it is the third party
that is responsible for everything associated with self-consciousness: reflection,
rationality, judgment, will. (Reflection, for Levinas, is intentionality, everything
under the scrutiny of consciousness also encompasses every possible horizon or
disposition of the object, including self-awareness.) The one-on-one, you and me, is
the basis of the representation or consciousness of the third party as a substitute for
you or me; this other is a human being too, one whom requires our regard. The
question who takes precedence? originates with the third party, the beginning of
contrast and comparison, the commencement of justice, society, and philosophy. If
justice is not founded upon the you and me it degenerates into a tyranny or a univer-
sality based upon laws uninformed by the ethical, i.e., not open to the interruption of
a fresh voice. Since relations smacks of the totality, Levinas prefers the term non-
indifference to describe the ethical. How is this non-indifference towards the other
instantiated? Why should I regard the unknown other, the first stranger who comes
my way, as I regard my loved ones or myself? How is the conatus essendi
dismantled? or is it even necessary that it be?
Levinas addresses and tackles issues first addressed by Judaism. These pre-
5


philosophical ruminations are prior to the ontological, i.e., philosophical speculations
of beings always already enmeshed in Being. Revelation is not representation but
the voice of an other, the words of an interlocutor summoning one to attention. Re-
flective thinking, on the other hand, considers time an horizon utilizable by the self.
Here the past, present, and future are protentions and retentions re-presented in
the present, one that coordinates them into identifiable segments. Synchronous time
is linear or cyclical, a time necessary for both the recoupment of the self in reflection
and the disclosure of Being and this because both knowledge and the knowing ego
are located in the present. Memory of historical time and event are held captive and
appropriated by the self Levinas regards time as concretized in events, namely, the
past as creation, the present as the time of revelation, and the future, of redemption.
This sort of time is irretrievable and non-representable because unknowable (e.g.,
ones true origins, as creature, are as misty as the fog that hovers over an abyss), a
diachrony refractory to reflection, one that transcends the boundaries of an ego
caught in reminiscence, self-presence, and projection onto a future identified by its
own happy outcome. Diachrony is a time other than clock time or the time of the I
think, i.e., the in-itself'for-itself of synchrony. Diachrony is that time when one is
called out of nothingness, a call prior to the existence of the selfj an irrecuperable
time because immemorial, a lapse between the nothingness of non-existence and self-
consciousness. For Levinas, the past would be the time before self-reflection; the
present would be the time of self-reflection and of the other, i.e., discourse, substitu-
tion; the future would be the seeds planted by an I, wholly responsible for the past,
present, and future of itself and of all the others. A formidable responsibility!
Human beings do not, in unison, careen down the river of time, an image that
6


lends itself to the idea that everyone is in this together and, as a matter of course,
progressing towards some Omega Point or shared redemption. This view conceals
the fact that each one, in particular, is accountable. Yet the realm of morality consists
in the fact that the past, present, and future of any soul is modifiable by other persons;
one action by another can change a persons entire life and outlook. (Recall the pow-
er and impact parents have over their children.) This does not amount to a being in
it together but a being-for-the-other. To step out of ones own time is a function
of desire, not need. The province of need revolves about the return of the self to it-
self; needs are exhausted in their consumption. The province of desire revolves about
the other and the essence of desire is insatiability. Desire is a surplus, not for the
one who lacks but the one who is already self-adequate. To step out of ones own
time is to live for the future of the other. One goes beyond the prospect of ones
own mortality by transcending need for security, fame, even salvation in order to
respond to the call of the other in his or her need. To live within the horizon of a
time without mea future beyond my death, is to pass into the time of the other.
Here one is infinitely responsible, a prisoner of time9 and hostage to the other. The
responsible one is the one who cannot evade, elude, or escape. The responsible one
does not exist within the boundaries of a restful self-reflection that rehearses each en-
counter and reaction, the self-mastery of a narcissism intent on self-control, i.e., con-
trol of ones psychic environment. The responsible one is not an individual but an ir-
reducible uniqueness. Individual is a referral and relation to Being whereas unique-
ness is apart from, an of itself not in reference to anything else. Like imprints in a
carpet, the traces left by the self are irretrievable and non-interchangeable: one is re-
sponsible for ones condition and that of the other, responsible for ones intentions
7


and the effects engendered by those intentions. The indelible traces, inadvertent or
otherwise, that one leaves is a lingering witness that one has, for better or worse,
passed by. The universe rests upon ones shoulders, not in the sense of a gnosis that
enables one, avatar-like, to master ones condition or to help, with pitying eye, the ig-
norant, the weak, and the maladjusted, but in the sense of being a substitute for an
other. The encounter with otherness is otherwise than the realization of a personal
goal.
How does the Levinasian responsible one resemble the Christian, that is, a self
who has undergone the self-discipline, faith, perseverance, and solitude required by
Christian spirituality? Poverty of spirit, vulnerability, lack of privacy, humility, a mor-
ality bound to corporeity, a singularity hewn from a scrupulosity birthed from the de-
sire for perfection, an awareness of transcendence (the Trinity) and height (Heaven),
a conatus dashed to pieces in an inability to return to the respite within the economy
of the self are identifiable resemblances. The most important resemblance between
the two is their assertion that one knows oneself not via theology, ontology, or even
belief but through ones activity, and this activity is revealed through ones response
to the other person, whomever he or she may be. In a real sense, one is what one
does or fails to do. This paper explores and defends the notion that both substitution
and Christian spirituality regard the human being as a moral self in the sense that one
cannot know oneself save through the ethical. This is to say that rather than building
ones identity from information, theory, and experience, i.e., knowledge, one uncov-
ers the true identity of the self by responding to the other.
Levinas did not derive his notion of substitution by reading Christian mystics
(in this paper, neither Plato nor Hegel are considered Christian thinkers), rabbinical
8


texts, or the Hebrew Scriptures, but the latter two have served to attest to the com-
petence of the phenomenological method. Levinas does not leave Scripture alone;
that its meaning is literal or clear is not decidable beforehand but that it is worthy of
exegesis, certain. Levinass epoche of the identity of the self is founded upon the
identity of the other which is pure alterity irreducible to an object of intentionality,
that is, the other is not a phenomenon amongst others on the plane of Being. To
approach the face as one approaches objects, that is, by analysis, judgment, and a
knowing that expels all difference by means of incorporation into the boundaries of
ones chosen universe, is to miss the face. To note the beauty or lack thereof to
identify as an acquaintance, friend, ally, or enemy, to dismiss, as inconsequential, the
visage of an unknown being who just happens to breathe the same air by dint of con-
tingencies or determinations left for some other power to sort through, is to miss the
encounter with the other.
Arrangement of the Thesis
Chapter 2 will attempt to explicate Levinass notion of substitution. It can be
argued that his entire philosophy has, at one time or another, encircled, delineated, or
described this one notion. Substitution is not a concept but an event, one closely
allied with transcendence. Indolence, insomnia, fatigue, and a evasion are also con-
sidered by Levinas to be events that become something else under the wheels of re-
flection, e.g., moods or residuals of Original sin. And his philosophy, like all philo-
sophy, is a said that can, however, be disassembled into a saying and this by in-
terpretation and an openness to meaning and truth. The price of manifestation is
9


the subordination of the saying that which regards the particular and unique into a
said, the universal, applicable to all.10 Transcendence, immobilized in the said, God
is in the world but not of the world, is evinced, in the here and now, by the Here I
am, the response of the infinitely responsible, the ethical soul,11 the you and me, dis-
course. Ethics precedes ontology as transcendence precedes time and eternity; each
pierces a world that seeks to contain them beneath the imperturbability of Being -
the ground, focus, and unshakeable destiny of self-enclosed men. But prior to the
concept Being the face is, and before Levinas, substitution was. The human face,
open and vulnerable, speaks. Saying precedes the repeatable said and is the refuge of
breathing, moral, irreplaceable men. For Levinas, substitution is an election and
chosenness, an: event prior to ones asking for it, prior to the coalescence of self-
consciousness and self-interest, preceding essence, an immemorial, non-recollectable
time, and therefore, non-representable in the present.
Chapter 3 will explore Christian spirituality in the light of substitution and its
effects. In order to clarify both substitution and Christian spirituality, a digression in-
to what they are not, paganism and Hegelianism, is explored. That Christ is himself a
substitute, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, is not an imme-
morial, non-representational event, but an historical one, one captured in the said:
dogma, doctrine, theology, tales, and legends. The Bible contains the sayings of a
God, one not carved in stone, but living. The humble approach the scriptures as if
God were speaking to them now, not in order to interpret the words according to the
dictates of convenience, but in order to hear the voice of one distant yet near. Be
that as it may, Christ is more than any words can say. Christ died for me before I
knew of him, in a time prior to my selfhood, and in that sense, an immemorial time. I
10


am not saved by assent, esoteric knowledge, or virtue; rather, someone substituted
himself for me, unbeknownst to me. The emphasis is not on Jesus Christ as historical
personage but as other, i.e., as the embodiment of transcendence, love, and goodness,
a God rejected by men, in, but not of, the world, once upon a time seen and touched,
but now never, as invisible and demanding as Yahweh, as enigmatic as the human face
before me.
According to Levinas, substitution is the condition of all, regardless of ones
personal adjudication in the matter. He suggests that God can be discerned only in
His trace, i.e., in a signification that recalls to mind His absence. This signification is
encountered in the approach of the other, in the face of the one before me, where
knowing does not have the final say, on the hither side of Being. Likewise, according
to Christianity, Christ died for every person, regardless of ones knowledge or ac-
ceptance of this fact. One could say that everyone is redeemed unless and until one
unequivocally rejects God. As far as substitution and Redemption are concerned,
knowledge does not determine the reality of the matter.
Chapter 4 is a summation of Levinas s main points and a final comparison
with Christian spirituality. Whether or not suffering is useful, metaphysically or
otherwise, will be examined.
Beginning with the idea of the infinite, an idea resistant to knowing because
outside of the totality of systems, and ending with suffering, the primacy of alterity
and incarnation will be seen to suffuse the entire notion of substitution. And God in-
carnate can surely slip himself into this.
11


CHAPTER 2
SUBSTITUTION
Being. Truth, and the Idea of the Infinite
Philosophy is the desire for truth and for Levinas, truth is always experiential;
that is, a transcendent, non-conceptual, non-idealistic occurrence of an absolutely
other, beyond the self. But since the scope of truth exceeds the boundaries of the I,
ordeal is Levinass preferred term.12 Here, truth is not reminiscence but wholly
exterior.13 Metaphysics, a word used frequently in Totality and Infinity but later
replaced by ethical, is that which transcends all that can be enclosed in an horizon.
Truth is that which transcends the self; it is other than the self and its nature. Ever
the perennial phenomenologist, he describes ontology as a thinking that remains
within the horizon of Being, i.e., it presupposes that nothing can transcend itself, that
everything is included and encased in Being, and that ultimately nothing is foreign or
unamenable to the totalization that knowledge is. There is no way to fall off the
world or to bypass Being. Western thought consists in understanding being only as
the foundation of beings'14 Everything is phenomenal and all phenomena can be an
object of intentionality, i.e., become a content for consciousness and this includes in-
terior movements such as emotions, desires, ideas, pain, and everything else that
could elude a willed intention. The ideal of philosophy is a monologue wherein the
cogito captures, contains, and universalizes the cogitum. The correlation of noesis
12


and noema is the basis for objective truth (Husserl): there is a reality commensurate
with consciousness of, meaning is constitutive of consciousness. The ideal which
takes place in thought presides over perception and becomes the standard of truth. If
the self is identified with self-consciousness, and self-awareness is considered both
the limit and apogee of the self, then anything that could not be reduced to the Same
(the suspension of the otherness of the world and everything in it; a reduction of
everything into phenomena, which is a given, appropriable, and relative to the self11)
would limit the freedom of thought and thereby, the freedom of the self. Even the
idea of Being the encompassing whole, the field of beings and horizon of all inten-
tionality (Heidegger), substance (Spinoza), etc. can be objectified by consciousness.
Thus all is resolved and incorporated within the horizon of self-consciousness, which
is not considered a technique for gathering truth but an all-encompassing reality, a
universal apperception wherein all that is or can be known is found. It is not neces-
sary that there be but one Absolute Mind seeking its concretization in humanity
(Hegel), but that experience is reduced to conceptualization and theory, i.e., the non-
graspable becomes graspable and somehow achieved. In our days truth is taken to
result from the effacing of the living man behind the mathematical structures that
think themselves out in him, rather than he be thinking them.16 When the ego cogi-
to is representative of the self) ontology and consciousness become reciprocal and
symmetrical: the theory of Being is comprehended by beings who are inescapably
yoked in a dialectic of hidden and exposed, journey and discovery, seeker and sought,
known and unknown, resolvable within the horizon of everything that can be known
will be known (and things unknown are known to be unknown). The renewal of
ontology by contemporary philosophy is unusual in that the knowledge of being in
13


general fundamental ontology presupposes the factual situation of the mind that
knows.17 Here essence is conceived as knowing and subjectivity as absolute es-
sence.11 The journey from the self to knowledge is a circuitous journey back to the
self a return to the homeland with no real surprises. This sojourn is itself an horizon
derived from the perpetual promise of knowledge: a unification of data, a cohesive
itinerary for self-adjustment, a reservoir of pertinence, a freeing from ignorance and
slavery retrievable, utilizable, and propelled by the ever-felicitous rendezvous with
philosophy and science. (Science is the result of philosophy erected according to the
dictates of ontology.)
According to Levinas, the identity of the ego is constituted by the I think.
Thus the ego is the reducer of all otherness into the Same: its world becomes the
world. No experience seems capable of unseating the ego from its continual absorp-
tion of everything not itself into itself. The dialectic of self with the world out there
becomes the story of its freedom to retain itself amidst confusion, ignorance, re-
straint, and all others. This includes all others persons, things, ideas, God, etc. God
can be subsumed by the intellect, no longer an absolute Other but rendered assimila-
ble by the mind via conceptualization. (Lowercase other7 is any thing besides the
human being or God, which are uppercase: Other.) This isolated, self-protective self
derivable from and developed within the context of the enjoyment of bong alive, i.e.,
of living, which is corporeality itself (breathing, eating, drinking, taking a bath, feel-
ing warmth, volition, etc.) is the locus of freedom and autonomy, one that absorbs,
interacts, and impacts the environment. For Levinas, the ego (consciousness) does
not exhaust subjectivity; in fact, the basis for the self is enjoyment. (Later it will be
explained how the Other is a disruptive presence who de-centers the self from its
14


pleasure and self-sufficiency.) Corporeality, i.e., sensibility, when reduced to its
theme, that is, to a consciousness of...warmth, or an experience of...hunger, blurs
sensibility. But sensibility is grist for consciousness, the experience before thematiza-
tion. Consciousness or the in-itself that is also a for-itself discovers itself, not-
withstanding its given environs (parentage, circumstances, etc.), to be completely free
{ala Sartre) in a world of givens, the place of be-ing and knowing in which to re-
volve and expand. If consciousness is the locus of freedom, self-expansion would be
the beginning, middle, and end of the journey. The sole responsibility of the ego
would be a clamor for knowledge and an awareness of its motives. One would be
self-purposed.
An alternative to the freedom that is self-consciousness is participation in the
mythos of a pre-philosophical world wherein one loses oneself in the ecstacy of
fusion (with the god) or in group-think, an absorption in fantasy and opinion where
the absence of separation between perceived and perceiver is palpable. Philosophys
greatest conquest is the separation of the self from his or her environment: percep-
tion, opinion, sensation, memory, magic, prejudice, tyranny, and illusory danger.
Being is the concept par excellence because the truth of Being is objective and ob-
jectivity is indifference, i.e., minus the complications of an affected subject. Knowing
sacrifices subjectivity in its quest for the sense of objectivity. The prerequisite of
freedom is autonomy: the self is capable of determining the truth and reality of this
and that when no longer confused with an other. Freedom is the process of individu-
ation, a separating from totality, a deliverance from heteronomy. (Examples of the
confluence of totality and heteronomy are monism, magical rites, nirvana, and other
mystical fusions achieved via the extinguishment of the awareness of self as an entity
15


separate and separable from all others.) Philosophical speculation is the autonomous
spectator and judge of phenomena that unwittingly imposes a monism of its own: the
reduction of otherness to Being, the Other to the Same. The reason that the dismissal
of otherness is necessary to comprehension is that the other is its own category, i.e.,
precisely not the same as that which is immediately under consideration or examina-
tion whether it be an idea, concept, percept, identified element, a conundrum, or a
known quantity. The Other (God, the infinite, or an other person), refractory to as-
similation to the Same, undermines philosophys project, namely, freedom. The auto-
nomy of thought, transcendent to all it is not, is an immanence that finds the answer
in itself. Truth the goal and end of autonomy is the discloser of existence, the
solver of mystery, and this via the integration of all things, known and unknown, into
its counterpart: Being. To represent the truth of Being via consciousness is the raison
detre of a dutiful custodian of Being. One is manifested along with every other man-
ifestation, nothing and no one left out. As a being within Being, one impacts the
whole by dint of its awareness. Subjectivity, the tender underside of a person, is
effaced by an ego intent on representing to itself and to humankind the truth of Being
systematized into a graspable whole. Cognition is the cogito, i.e., the ego or the
identity of the self as the UI think. Cognition requires the mediation of what Levinas
calls Neuters, e g., generalization, simplification, universalization, categorization,
etc., and thus a particular is subsumed beneath a concept or relativization and thereby
objectified. Otherness is rendered impotent through the destruction of its singular
occurrence. The ego is itself a universalization, i.e., every individual is an ego and
the ego is the great thematizer who reveals the known via structures such as science
and art which in turn provide access to Being. Comprehension implies possession
16


and possession is the reality of the other absent its independence as other. Yet the
imperialism of the Same (all things reduced to their proper perspective, their concep-
tual status and raison detre) dominates thinking in its sheer determination to under-
stand. Since Socrates, freedom is not identified with the will but with cognition, i.e.,
cognition is freedom.19 Thus philosophy is antithetical to revelation.
Levinas, a student of Heidegger, claims that, although his teacher questioned
Being he did not succeed in overturning ontology. According to Heidegger, centur-
ies of objectification and compartmentalization have resulted in a world picture fit
for the spectatorial and intellectualist mode of Being. He longs for a unification of
dichotomies, eg., the duality of body and soul. A listening to and for conscience,
found within the self and independent of a technological society that has all but fash-
ioned man into an adjunct to its requirements, is the remedy for conformity. Techno-
logy was always lurking in the recesses of Being, only now, men have expanded its
territory and this by allowing it to roam at will. The feel of the soil, the sound of the
woods, and poetry the synopsis of a nations soul is the adjustment necessary to
combat an instrumental reason gone amuck. For him, each individual is viewed
against the backdrop of Being; each is possessed by a freedom ensured by Being.
This Being also encompasses non-Being or Nothingness. Nothingness is constructed
out of Being; non-existence is tinged with existence. Freedom entails cutting oneself
off from the everydayness of conformity and mass consciousness in order to see
things as they really are. Science, as the exclusive means of discovery, is an example
of erring, i.e., not the lack of correct knowledge but the wrong kind of knowledge,
e.g., science focuses on that which can be gleaned through its methodologies but this
myopia dismisses mystery, i.e., anything not amenable to observation and experimen-
17


tation.
According to Levinas, this notion of freedom is a Neuter that mediates, com-
mands, and enlightens thought, that is, one thinks through the medium of freedom.
Thus Being (in Heidegger act of being, not a noun but a verb) is not an otherness
that challenges ones autonomy but is the very horizon of freedom, the place where
one projects ones desires, decisions, and designs upon the plane of existence. Per-
sonal identity is not a given but an achievement; my time cannot be substituted by or
for another. For Heidegger the now of time is rendered present via a resolve direct-
ed to the future (the plane of actualization) and the past is the recollection that con-
cretizes the present, that is, I am a result of my past and the proprietor of my future.
Mastery of ones circumstances includes the vigilance to avoid being led astray by the
erring crowd. An authentic person is a locus of decision in the midst of the given
which includes the known and the unknown, including mystery and the sense of
wholeness glimpsed in periods of boredom, fatigue, or when one is preoccupied
with concerns other than the repetitious, everyday problem of survival. This sense of
wholeness descends from nowhere and indicates the presence of some unidentifiable
more. This openness into an otherness is akin to light: it cannot be bottled and sold.
If the being (essence) of mans be-ing (act, Sein) is his relationship with Being, the
scientific method and the commercialization of society are abstractions from the
whole. Is Being friendly? cold? indifferent? Levinas contests Heideggers supposi-
tion that Being transcends the distinction between the personal and the impersonal;
for him, Being is an impersonal force that overwhelms proximity. (Proximity is to
approach or to be approached by, the Other. In approach the structure of intention-
ality is displaced in that one cannot appropriate the Other to itself via knowledge.)
18


Nothingness, the counterpart and shadow of Being, is what Levinas calls the ily a
(ithere is). The ily a is what remains when every animate and inanimate object is
taken away, a palpable something akin to humming, rumbling, the horror of existence
presenting itself as an emptiness whose presence marks the spot. (Stanley Kubricks
2001: A space Odyssey captures the presence of the ily a.) Being and Nothingness
are complementary and relational somethings that challenge the mind without
challenging essence, i.e., interest.
Heidegger asserts that the guarantor of an authentic life is the awareness, ac-
ceptance, and appropriation of ones mortality. To be is an activity that ultimately
dissolves into not-to-be or be-ing no longer. To face ones death is not a constant
fear of an uncertain future but the anxiety of Nothingness, the antidote to the mass
reactions of anonymous man {das Man). Yet this being-towards-death is not an en-
counter with an Other, e.g., the Grim Reaper, God, judgment, but the assurance that
even death cannot shake ones resolve (to face life courageously) nor shatter ones
independence as a self-contained, solitary being who lives not so much for as with
others (Mitsein)70 in a world already-at-hand (the environment) and ready-to-hand
(implements, equipment, all the things laying about ready and willing to be used).
Death is still my possibility, that is, the possibility of the end of possibilities for me.
(Levinas considers death not the possibility of impossibility but the impossibility of
possibility a shuddering end to autonomy.) Moreover, no one can substitute for
another, each dies his own death. Reason becomes the guardian of self-maintenance
and self-projection. To comprehend our situation in reality is not to define it but to
find ourselves in an affective disposition. To comprehend being is to exist.21 Think-
ing is not tantamount to contemplating but to being-in-the-world. Man is the knower
19


and interpreter of Being, his place par excellence. Beings essence is a dissipating
of opacity22 but this essence is itself contentless, that is, essence is not materiality,
act, or occurrence, but illumination, delineation, universalization. Essence is contour
and form, the resonance of light, silence. Obedience to Being is obedience to reality,
clarity, intelligibility, and the project of authenticity. Authenticity is the solitude of an
isolate who has realized that death cuts one off from every relation, a continual meet-
ing with Nothingness.23 Being is the ground and horizon of nature, community, beau-
ty, art, work, vocation, relationships, freedom, meaning, truth, and authenticity, but
not morality. Why not morality? Since Being is not an Other, neither God nor man,
but the impersonal landscape of existing, there is no face-to-face but merely deficien-
cy in the face of freedom. Weakness is due to ignorance, not malice; sin is only
mistake or error, a bad conscience is not the result of transgression against goodness
but against authenticity; finitude is not discovered in relation to infinitude but in be-
ing-towards-death. If all others are subsumed beneath the not-I (via the Neuter Be-
ing), heroism is equivalent to the continual projection and enforcement of oneself
upon the ready-made world but this entails perpetual opposition between the I and all
without. One is answerable only to oneself. Such is the definition of freedom: to
maintain oneself against the other, despite every relation with the other to ensure the
autarchy of an I.24 Authenticity entails an implacable mineness that accedes its
place to neither God, the Other, or man-in-general (das Mari). Heideggers ideal so-
ciety bears a closer resemblance to a tribal hierarchy than to a democracy. Peacefully
dwelling in a forest clearing, listening for the voice of Being, is the attempt at reso-
nance but from the outset this excludes the voice of the Other. Dasein (being there;
Heideggers term for human being, but translated by Levinas as etre ici-bas, being
20


here-below25) can thus be described from two perspectives: within, the immanence of
the unsheathed ego; without, participation in a pantheism deaf to the voice of the
other.26 One is securely wrapped up in the quest for an authenticity identical to an
ego autonomous to the end.
Thus on the one hand is the Platonic contemplation of eternal Ideas27 and on
the other, Heideggers ready involvement and commitment, a circuit of understand-
ing with reality.2* Is there no escaping the imperialism of the solitary ego or partici-
pation in totality? And are these the only alternatives?
The essentiality of the idea of the infinite an otherwise than being and an
Other bypasses both the perils of participation and the habituation of ontological
jurisdiction. Levinas asserts that the idea of the infinite is not just a religious postu-
late but belongs to the commencement of philosophical discourse. Plato defines
philosophy as both the monologue of the soul29 and conversation with the gods.30
Thus from the very beginning truth is aligned with transcendence, the depth and
height of experience,31 the souls commerce with an Other.32
Levinas takes the idea of the infinite, as explicated by Descartes in his Third
Meditation, as the basis for the relationship between the ego (self-sameness) and the
Other (irredudbility to the Same). Descartes is certain that he is a thinking thing and
that the cogito is not a typical object of consciousness but is consciousness itself.
The idea of God that which is infinite, eternal, immutable, independent, omniscient,
omnipotent, and the cause and sustainer of all existence33 is an idea that thinks
more than it thinks,34 i.e., its ideatum surpasses its idea, its content overflows its
container (the ego), its distance from the mental act that summons it fir exceeds that
of any other cogitum. Descartes wonders how a finite being like himself can even
21


think an Infinite. He thinks the idea must be innate, that is, put into him by something
infinite and this because the idea of infinity is not derivable from its negation for the
reason that there is no symmetrical correspondence between finitude and not finitude.
Rather, the idea of infinity contains more reality than the idea of the finite and this not
via 1) negation, 2) extension, or 3) intensification. For example:
(1) Darkness conceived as the negation of light, rest as the negation of move-
ment, are reciprocal movements, correspondences that are symmetrical
whereas the idea of the infinite is not a negation of finitude but its ampli-
tude it is more than and different from finitude not one side of the same
logical coin. Imperfection negates perfection but in no way clarifies
the latter. The negator and the negated are posited together, form a sys-
tem, that is, a totality.35 Being and Nothingness form a conjunction, i.e.,
one cannot be comprehended without the other. Transcendence is not a
negation of immanence, be it Being or Nothingness, but precisely beyond
it.
(2) The idea of infinity is not manufactured by adding one to any thing for-
ever, for this is just an understanding of one, not infinity. Infinite love is
a quality not a quantity, an insuperable degree of distance, not endless-
ness.
(3) Increasing sensation (infinite pain or pleasure) is not a comprehension of
infinity but an exaggeration of sensation. Intensification of intelligence or
love is not indicative of infinity but is a more and more, a becoming and
fulfilling of an aspiration and is itself an apt description of finitude and
lack. The relation with infinity is not an objective experience which
serves as a basis for incremental knowledge but an experience that over-
flows thought.36 Aspirations, desires, needs, and doubts further prove
ones status as finite.
Descartes asserts that if he were the author of his being he would doubt no-
thing and lack no perfection.37 His notion of the infinite precedes his notion of fini-
tude, his notion of God, that of himself, this notion is the very clarification of his fini-
tude. His capacity to think is derived from the illuminating backdrop of infinity; the
22


ego cogito exists within the context (but not content) of infinity.31 Levinas realizes
that in this context, infinity could be interpreted as an adjunct of Being but he ac-
cepts Descartes argument, not as proof of God, but as a formal structure that needs
concretization. (This concretization will be found in the relation with the human
other.) The idea of the infinite is the scaifold upon which to build an ethics based
upon the alterity, the absolute otherness, of each human being. This idea is not
another metaphysical specimen but an experience or event.
All intentionality is aimed at an object. The externality of objects (including
interior movements such as pain and anger) lose their otherness via incorporation into
the Same, and this thanks to reason, intelligence, memory, and habituation. If other-
ness were not digestible and consumable nothing could be assumed and appropriated,
i.e., there would be no knowledge at all, e.g., one knows what an apple is precisely
because it has lost its alterity (strangeness, otherness, difference from) and has been
incorporated into the field of identifiables. Prior to language, which collates particu-
lars into universals, objects are experiences. The ideal of intentional consciousness is
possession and fusion39 but the idea of the infinite cannot be accommodated within
finite thought.40 As far as intentionality is concerned, infinity is not:
(1) A Neuter (as is freedom), a non-I and mediator between the self and
other.
(2) A bit of knowledge that establishes, by contrast, immanence.
(3) The affirmation of Being that henceforth is the bric-a-brac of the souls
journey.
(4) An intention adequate to its object, that is to say, the idea of the infinite -
a formal structure does not exhaust its content.
23


Rather, infinity is what Levinas calls an event that describes the meaning of
what is designated as divine existence.41 And because the infinite cannot be concep-
tualized as can other objects and ideas, Levinas does not consider it intentional. The
idea of the infinite is not a given that can be absorbed into the self and rendered the
Same, i.e., an object of knowledge. The idea of the infinite is not a concept precisely
because the content of the idea (infinitude) does not enter the idea but remains
exterior to it. The idea of the infinite is transcendent to the thinker of it, an event, an
Other that eludes the very idea of it, yet leaves traces of itself in an idea incomprehen-
sible from the start.
The idea of the infinite a thought that thinks more than it thinks is the es-
tablishment of a psyche irreducible to the noetic-noematic correlation that constitutes
knowledge. This idea surpasses the capacity of intentionality and thereby uproots the
sovereignty of the synthesizing ego. This idea is not created within the thinker but
comes from the exterior, yet it neither subsumes the thinker in a participation worthy
of paganism nor does it rest, like knowledge, in the Same. According to Levinas, an
intentionality not adequate to its object is animated by desire; it is not theoretical or
conceptual but experiential. One experiences the Other (God or the infinite and the
other human being) without thereby grasping the Other via thematization. All ideali-
zation of persons or God is theoria apart from alterity and the absolute reality of the
Other. The Infinite, watchful and Other, ensures that one is never alone. The Other -
God and/or the person before me pierces the immanence of an autonomous
freedom.
Desire has for its object the ungraspable: inassimilable alterity, unsolvable
mystery, elusive enigma, pure exteriority, transcendence, otherness. Unlike needs
24


which can be satisfied and put away, desire is insatiable and this because the closer
one gets to the desired, the greater the desire and therefore the greater the insatiabili-
ty. To encounter the Other as an enigma irreducible to knowledge is equivalent to
the experience of alterity. God is distinct and separate from the desire for Him; the
nearer one gets the stranger He is. This holds tme for the human other, as well, in
the sense that complacency is the death of desire. Thus desire does not reconcile the
self and Other as if desire replaced intentional!ty as a means to fusion. Desire is nat-
urally heteronomous because it 1) wants what the self cannot supply and therefore
seeks an Other outside of itself (dependence) and 2) is conscious of an Other who is,
however, endowed with freedom and therefore unpredictable (separation). Desire is
the contrary of narcissism; it is fusion refused, the whiff of transcendence, a summons
from beyond, an otherwise than being, and commencement of the ethical.
The Idea of the Infinite and the Human Face
The presence of a being not entering into, but overflowing, the sphere of the
same determines its status as infinite.42 The concretization of the idea of the infin-
ite43 is the face-to-face, you and me relationship. It is the face of the Other facing me
that resists integration into the imperialism of the Same. The human face, that is, the
person open and exposed, known or unknown, cannot be appropriated by conscious-
ness the way an object or phenomenon can. Why is the alterity of the face-to-face re-
fractory to objectification? Why is not the face facing me merely an abstraction from
the busy content of a filled universe? Objects and phenomena are strange and other -
relative to me. Their content is incorporated into a consciousness that weighs and
25


measures, distinguishing this from that. The alterity of the Other is in him and is not
relative to me; it reveals itself.44 The Other presents himself out of himself and not
according to the contours of my egoism. His difference is not determined through the
qualities that could distinguish him from me. Although the human face is accessed
via vision, touch, and hearing, it is not given in the manner of objects. Objects are
defined by light, that is, light drives away darkness, allowing objects to emerge as if
from the vortex of Being, readied to be consumed and comprehended by a grasping,
enveloping I. Things are positioned as in an horizon of pure immanence, their mean-
ing derivable from the disposition of a self-contained world. They are approached
laterally, not face-to-face. Sight is the sense that keeps things at a distance,
embracing them in a scene, a totality. Sight itself is the perfect image of the intellect
wherein sensible objects, incorporated in knowledge, are dismissed in a flash of
knowing. The meaning of phenomena depend upon the idea of Being an idea ade-
quate to its object. Every phenomenon is sorted through its historicity.41 Symbols,
too, refer to Being or to a beyond that is behind the screen of Being, like a heavenly
Jerusalem waiting in the wings. Symbols both point to, and are inscribed in, Bang.
(Symbols have also become the esoterica of a world that seeks to dispel difference.)
Knowing itself is symbolic, i.e., one passes from the particular (image or thing) to the
totality, via abstraction. For example, the thousand and one particulars that comprise
a city lose their individuality in the totality of the city scene. Only the face of an
Other startles and arrests the gaze of the I, not as a vision of beauty or as a facade or
mask that requires deciphering but as the breach of a separated being. This separate
freedom, this absolute solitude, is not a correlate of the I, nor is it an otherness illu-
minated by the backdrop of a totality that reabsorbs everything in a final, exculpatory
26


consensus. The face emerges from a hither side that is beyond the disclosure of
Being, i.e., truth. Truth is not the primary relevance when it comes to a beyond
inimical to collation and the subduing of the strange via representation. The Other
has an otherness specific to him or her that cannot be captured like hand prints in
plaster of Paris. Each person is absolutely, incomparably unique. Thus the Other
comes from nowhere. Levinas calls the face an epiphany because it is a visitation
from an absolutely foreign sphere.44 The face is outside of every order, every
world.47 Facial expressions are non-referential and non-indicative, they signify no-
thing but themselves, they are what they are, pure and simple; this means they do not
point to anything the ego can examine and appropriate for itself. Opened eyes not
only signify disclosure and openness, but precede and found the meaning of both
discovery and the face of God. The free facing me is my exposure to alterity in
the flesh, the meaning of openness to, e.g., ideas, elements, suffering, pleasure, the
otherness of others. For Levinas, all signification and meaning is beyond horizon or
world, a standing apart from the correlates Being and Nothingness, beyond an
essence that would fixate meaning via ideology or ritual, beyond accession to know-
ledge the immobile sameness and erasure of the strange and foreign looking-at-me-
eyes. The very notion height, the ideal, and transcendence are measured via
the distance that separates me and the Other. This distance is infinite, i.e., non-
traversable. I cannot catch up to and overcome the Other through re-presenting the
Other as I can objects, requisitioning them to the known, manipulating them in the
service of utility, and this because the Other is not finite. That the Other cannot be
contained is the mark of its infinitude. / do not project this surplus onto the Other,
this is not a question of creativity on the part of the self but a being-affected-by. (This
27


passivity will be examined further one.) Approaching the Other or being approached
by the Other is a relationship with uncontainable externality. Now there is something
more than an integrating I, the demarcation of all that is or can be. The vulnerability
and openness of the face, i.e., incarnation and speech, is like pure light illuminating no
thing, only presenting itself. (Surely nakedness is not the absence of clothes but the
absence of guile and subterfuge.)
The face is immediately present, mobile, an expressing of expression without
mediation, a straightforwardness before the certainty of death, the visage of mortality
and a defenselessness that says Thou shalt not kill me. The face (and this includes
the entire body) exceeds its phenomenality, disturbing sameness. Levinas thinks that
the face tempts to murder because alterity stands in the way of ones project to
dominate the world and rather than respond to the demand that one aid and prolong
the life of the Other, one either partially repudiates the existence of the Other by
treating him or her as a problem to be solved or else one seeks to efface the Other by
actual murder; both methods are violent. Examples of the former include avoidance
of persons for all but the most mundane reasons, racial prejudice, and the categoriza-
tion of persons into designated groups, while variations of the latter include rape and
torture. As far as the face is concerned, Levinas does not think absolute indifference
is posable.
Although the Other can be conflated with God, ignored, forgotten, avoided
like an unwelcome intruder, and murdered, he or she cannot be circumscribed, seized,
and defined by means of a thematizing consciousness. The strata and vistas of com-
positional consciousness and the idols that linger along the mantle of the self can be
rattled, not by a God one has never seen, but by the Other whose face is as a voice
28


that commands. Thou shalt not kill me demarcates exteriority, beckons desire,
transcends the distinction I and non-I, and establishes the ethical. The face is both
height and command, vulnerability and destitution. And the commencement of ethics.
The Said, the Saving. Substitution.
Saying is to spontaneity what the said is to reflection. Analogously speaking,
what discourse is to prayer, reflection is to theology. The essence of discourse is
prayer.4* The said is immobilized Being and matter: the historical narrative, the
philosophical record, everything that has been validated by science and experience,
aesthetical works, politics, technology, and the viable languages that determine what
one can say: saying and said are correlative of one another, and the saying is subor-
dinated to its theme.49 The world is built out of the bricks of the said, and Being and
its be-ing said are two sides of the same coin. It is only in the said, in the epos of
saying, that the diachrony of time is synchronized into a time that is recallable, and
becomes a theme.30 It seems as if an idea, emotion, image, or experience outside the
established script is either unthinkable or at the very least incommunicable. The in-
effable and indescribable is but a shadow of thought, an inexpressible ephemerality,
perhaps the datum of which dreams are made. Be that as it may, Levinas does not
consider the unconscious mind the beyond or hither side of consciousness, but a
domain psychoanalysis restores to consciousness, namely, the search for meaning
and truth as the search for the self.31
Levinas does not dispute the fact that things preserved in written form might
as well be etched in stone in the sense that both belong to the said. The said is what
29


is universally applicable. Philosophy is the said par excellence, i.e., every universal
truth is translatable into Greek, the language of the university and of science. Minus
philosophy truth would remain in the realm of folklore, revelation, common sense,
taste, and convention. Philosophy and its famous question why cracks open the
ordinary, exposing new questions and answers, and establishes, via reason, the uni-
versality upon which knowledge rests. Justice is the ethical (the saying) subsumed
beneath a universal (the said) without which law would devolve into might makes
right. But without ethics goodness might be conflated with beauty and the ugly
deemed evil.
The said is both the manifestation of entities and their true essence. The said
commences in the ontological which is the true status of things. Language does con-
vey meaning and tmth. Being, inseparable from its meaning, is spoken.32 The iden-
tity of beings is expressed in a noun. Being and time are encapsulated in the said
wherein interdependent relations, i.e., unity, becomes visible. The said does not con-
ceal essence, rather, as a verb, the said is the essence of essence.53 Essence is
thematization via words. Words do not merely identify things or designate a process
beneath them, rather, words temporalize that which they name, and this by means of
verbs. Yet, symbols (e.g., words) and images point to a knowledge beyond them,
that is, the said is knowing but knowing itself is symbolic of. The symbolic is not a
detour, both symbols and imagination are the veTy opening to Being. The said is
ideality and the ideal reflects Being, is an image of and an image asks to be investiga-
ted. Cognition and intuition are under the dominion of the said. Intuition is sensibili-
ty conceptualized into an experience of. Things are knowable in themselves but
through the said they are desensibilized via thematization, their particularity sub-
30


sumed beneath universal. The essence of Being is the temporalization of time.*4
Temporalizaton is thematization, i.e., knowledge. And knowledge is immanence.
Asking the who or what of things is to inquire both about and within Be-
ing. All questions concerning what are asked within the horizon of Being; each
what is it? concerns the exhibition of Being, i.e., the truth. All questions concern-
ing who are reducible to the generality human being, an extraction from Being
and very self-consciousness of Being. In this way who becomes what the ques-
tion of Being par excellence.
Who is looking at Being? An entity that fulfills this prescription, namely, a
thinking thing. This who withdraws itself into itself and peeps at Being from this
hollow. But this vantage point is steeped in the totality of Being. Consciousness is
part and parcel of Being. If this is so, why are there any questions at all? and who is
being interrogated? Immanence cannot break out of itself for then it would trans-
cend itself. But transcendence is otherwise than immanence.
The structure of consciousness is correlation: intentionality (the Same) and its
object (the other). The objects of intentional consciousness suffuse it. Yet thought is
more than an ego returning to itself amidst its representations; it refers to an Other in
the Same and neither of these internal interlocutors belong to the objecdfiable but
remain outside of it. The condition of reflection is based upon the souls conversation
with itself. To question oneself is the Same questioning an Other. According to
Levinas, inner discourse is not an aspect of consciousness but of a subjectivity that
encompasses consciousness. Consciousness is correlated with a theme or a phenome-
non whereas subjectivity is a restlessness provoked by the Other in the Same. Con-
sciousness is disturbed by pain, suffering, and non-identifiable, non-assumable alterity.
31


Consciousness is aware of a vulnerability, a susceptibility, that is prior to it. What
constitutes this sensibility of which consciousness is aware? First one is hungry and
then one is conscious of hunger. Sensibility is both the sense of enjoyment and the
satisfaction of physical and psychic needs (e g., ambition and affection) and a vulnera-
bility and susceptibility to suffering. In enjoyment one revels in the oneself as if satis-
faction was the superlative. Consciousness of enjoyment mars enjoyment via its re-
presentation, its assemblage in the present, which distances it from subjectivity, i.e.,
subjection-to. Subjectivity is beyond or transcendent to the present the time of con-
sciousness, self-mastery, and domination over others. In the midst of pain one cries
out as if to an Other even when no one else is present. I am not alone. Someone is
there and it is this Other that deposes the self-enclosed ego and renders the self a
me vulnerable to criticism, exposed to accusation. Subjectivity is sensibility and
susceptibility to suffering from the very beginning. Suffering exceeds the boundaries
of consciousness of, spilling over the Same of complacency into an Other. The in-
ability to rest peacefully within the self is an anarchic, pre-original condition; from
the outset one asks Where to be? How to be?55 and this in the form of interro-
gation. Levinas calls this condition persecution. (This is the condition of each and
to deny this is to ignore or repress it.) Sensibility, of itself is significant, i.e., it is not
secondary to conceptualization; it does not need to be intellectualized in order to be
meaningful. Sensibility or subjectivity signifies of itself on the hither side of Being,
the otherwise than ontological. Ontology is founded upon sensibility, not vice-versa.
How so? When called into being, that which is called passively obeys, that is, there
is no I think there to contest or disobey this assignation. The questions what,
where, who, and how come after the diachronous event called creation. Science
32


addresses these, but why? is unknowable. Sensibility is prior to identification, e.g.,
before I am ambitious, bent on success, or that man over there is a communist.
One does not need the illumination of anthropology, sociology, or psychoanalysis to
approach another. Otherness, already discerned within subjectivity, is prior to and
elusive of totality; it is not amenable to assimilation because it is not knowledge. It is
other than thematic consciousness. Is not a conscious subject one that has no
alliance with that of which it is conscious? Does it not feel that any kinship with that
of which it is conscious compromises its truth?16
Since Levinass entire work is dedicated to uniqueness, particularity, the
singular, irreplaceable self his approach seems limited by his chosen medium. He
wishes that his saying, concretized in words, remain a saying. Saying is openness, not
as in receptivity, which is the counterpart of truth, but as in exposure, the expressivity
of a passivity that amounts to a patience imposed, a non-act. Saying is the exposed-
ness of exposure, the unraveling of a self, uninhibited not out of hubris but because
there is no where to hide. Saying unrehearsed discourse does not enucleate Being
but addresses an Other. This is precisely why Levinas asserts that saying is the
ethical.
The self as consciousness, is intentional, a ray of light upon truth and repre-
sentational, constituting reality in which it situates itself. By means of recollection it
retains its place, its self-certainty. The infallibility of self-certainty, like the said that
assembles the world, overcomes or distances itself from passivity and inertia and the
ego resumes its monologue. Levinas asserts that peace among men is established
upon mutual self-interest, according to the dictates of the said. Thus, justice is of the
world, ever imperfect and in need of modification, yet dependent upon saying.
33


For Levinas, consciousness is not the first, and hopefully not, the last word.
Saying is subjectivity and subjectivity is the signifyingness of signification, the locus
of meaning. No said story, narration, anthropology, or theology that is, the re-
quisition of God or man to an otherness dependent upon essence (i.e., interest, no
matter if it be the search for truth, happiness, beauty, etc., is still subordinate to that
which transcends and establishes it) can account for meaning. Being and Nothing-
ness, the dialectic of said and unsaid, is glued to an ontology that expounds but does
not create meaning. A said that disappears for a moment only to return is a game of
Being, the place of play, the theatricality of a stage where the ego continues its circu-
lar flight, triumphant in its self-certainty. The embodiment of the saying in the said is
necessary for truth, society, the making of a world. But just as ethics precedes onto-
logy, so does the saying precede the said. Compared to the subject, the manufactures
of civilization and the mystery of Being is but makeshift.
However, every said is open to interpretation because no said can contain its
saying, i.e., the saying overflows or exceeds its formal dress. Saying breaks apart
the objectifiable, thematized world into pieces not always reclaimable by the said.
Man is not in the service of Being nor is he a monad whose subjectivity is a disclosure
of Being. The standard of meaning is established in the recognition of the other as
Other, i.e., meaning is assessed via the transcendent. Both morality and language are
products, not of culture, indoctrination, or the tag supplied by historical context, but
by my interlocutor, namely, the Other. Although one always finds oneself already
mired in a language, in order to discover the significance or meaning of morality and
language one must extract it from culture and history. For instance, advancement
is viewed as good in itself and to seriously consider curtailing technological progress
34


seems like madness. But advancement is good only if one is heading in the right
direction. Advancement for the sake of advancement is madness. Yet who can know
this save those who have distanced themselves from the cultural/historical matrix?
Analogously, language divorced from the Other, i.e., the said divorced from the say-
ing, is a cultural artifact, imbued in history, the province of scientific research and
district of the Same. But since the Other, i.e., alterity, can never be a specimen under
a microscope (for as soon as the Other is fixated in formulae he vanishes) the Other is
the barometer of meaning and wisdom. The Other is not a fixture in but always prior
to and beyond his or her cultural or social situation. The Other, extracted from the
cultural, is disrobement; the face, as entry into the orbit of my time, nakedness.
How to unravel the said into the before said, that is, into the saying that pre-
cedes, informs, and surpasses every re-presentation? The said is the gathering into
the presence of the present, the time of consciousness, recollectable in words, the
active essence that sustains unification-in-diversity. The said is the present tense,
e.g., history (written and oral), or the past cohered into the present via knowing.
History is just this: a documentation of selective events, an assemblage of data
deemed worthy of remembrance. This disclosure, which becomes the story of man-
kind and standard for institutions, political systems, social convention, and morality,
is established in the present. Because of language everyone is thinking, more-or-less,
along the same lines. As far as Being goes, time is synchronous and whole with no
time left behind. The said is the voice of ontology, saying, the voice of the ethical.
The ethical, or time of saying, is not commensurate with knowledge (the present), but
precisely beyond the parameters of the known. Discourse is the newness in a cyclic
world.
35


Philosophy is the key that unlocks the saying from the said. Platos Form of
the Good a beyond Being and Descartes idea of the Infinite as an idea put into us,
are exceptions to the dominance of ontology. Levinas posits skepticism as an
opening into the paradoxical nature of truth, time, and transcendence. The skeptics
claim that absolute truth cannot be known is contradictory, for this statement cannot
stand in a world where it is not possible for truth to be known, including the truth of
skepticisms creed. In synchronous time this is indeed paradoxical and paradox
brings to mind the sense of diachrony, a time out of phase with itself a queer sensa-
tion of reversal, an otherwise than comprehension. Skepticism challenges the said by
questioning the possibility of truth. This questioning, seemingly out of joint with
ontology, science, theology, all the saids that assemble themselves into the presence
of consciousness, indicates a diachrony, a time outside of Being, a trace of forgotten
otherness.
Speaking differs from thinking, which is reflective. Thinking is the in-itself
while speaking takes the form of one-for-the-other. It is exposure to an Other, an
opening up, a turning inside-out, veracity. Speaking and thinking are not synchro-
nous: one does not think about what one says while one is saying it, although one
may think of how the Other might respond or think about what one has already said.
Is it Being or the meaning of Being that evokes saying (and its response, an-
other saying) or is saying evocative of itself? According to Levinas, saying precedes
and illuminates Being. Saying does not convey meaning but is the signification of
meaning, i.e., gives meaning to the said. The one-for-the-other of speaking does not
depend upon the exchange of information. It is not what is conveyed that is para-
mount but speaking (the speaker) itself. Here I am has no context and conveys no
36


message whatsoever save the signifyingness of the one speaking. Saying is beyond
ontology, beyond Being and Nothingness, true and non-true, freedom and non-free-
dom. Saying, despite the fact that it results in a said, signifies otherwise than as a
springboard for ontology as if ontology, while retaining the last word, had the final
say. Saying is subjectivity and subjectivity is responsibility for another. When did I
agree to be responsible for anyone besides myself and those whom I choose? In an
immemorial, unrecoverable past, prior to freedom (a theme and correlate of Being), I
am hostage to the Other (the first who comes my way), bound to him or her by a
responsibility that exceeds the boundaries of the present-tense, responsible for his
suffering and misdeeds, his own lack of responsibility. Saying is responding to an
Other before me, an exposure of myself, the signifyingness prior to the ascription of
meaning in a said. Thus, the said does not compel one, by clever argumentation or
the consensus of the majority, to assume this infinite responsibility as if it could be
chosen: no one is good voluntarily.37 (According to Levinas, no one would freely
choose substitution.) This non-decision, this lack of freedom is the Good (beyond
Being, synonymous with God) within subjectivity, antecedent and provocative of
freedom. Goodness is always older than choice.31 I do not decide to be subject,
yet henceforth I am free to squelch the voice of the Other. Saying is the condition
proper to subjectivity, that is, unconcealment. Always an Other has been watching,
witness to my thoughts and deeds. Each time I respond to the summons of the Other,
I revel less and less in egocentrism until I realize that the designation entity is a
mask of and for Being. The face I attempt, the presentation I impose on the world,
absconds with my self-project when in the presence of the Other. The response of the
self to the Other is the expelling of the self from itself; Here I am is the self ex-
37


terrorized, a turn towards otherness and then the recurrence or going back to a self
forever impacted by an Other. This is not like peeling an onion in order to get at the
center, a reducing of the self in order to discover its essence; rather, the self is separ-
ated from its own inwardness,59 its self-interest occluded in disinterestedness to the
point of penetration by an Other.
If the Other does not, likewise, return the favor but regards me as an object or
blur, this is to be expected, for this situation is the essence of asymmetry and the
meaning of non-indifference. Here the self does not return to itself in triumph but is
refused without compensation. Here the seifs resting place has been displaced; the
symmetry of the self with itself has been disrupted by the Other. Once the self recog-
nizes the Other, distance, height, and alterity replace the enjoyment of the right to un-
hindered self-preservation. The recognition of the Other as irreplaceable and unique
is both the dimming of my project of self-satisfaction, i.e., of my happiness, and the
establishment of my identity as unique and irreplaceable. My responsibility for the
plight of the Other is my true identity.
Saying is discourse between you and me, the relation of interlocutors, the
face-to-face, substitution. Levinas realizes that ones infinite responsibility for the
Other can be viewed from the perspective of the said, that is, if I am obligated to the
first whom comes my way, is not that same Other likewise obligated to me? Do not
humans share the same essence? And do not all have a face that commands and asks
not to be murdered?
Responsibility for the Other is experienced as an electioa I am chosen to be
the servant of all, a task that cannot be relegated to others since I am irreplaceable,
the only one standing here now.60 This encounter carves out the contours of my un-
38


repeatable singularity. This election is a revelation, not a reflection; reflection comes
after the original asymmetry of the face-to-face has been established. It is reflection
that informs me that every person has the same infinite responsibility and that I, too,
have a face that summons and commands. Reflection bridges the gap between pre-
sence and absence by recognizing the uniqueness of the third, fourth, and fifth party,
as if he were here. Nevertheless, it is up to me to privilege the ethical above reflec-
tion and it is up to the Other to do the same: I cannot do it for him.
Substitution-in-Action
The face-to-face relation is confrontation without violence. Unlike know-
ledge, which is commensurate with Being, the otherness of the Other is neither the
opposite nor the complement of the Same. It is not Being that lights up the Other,
but the Other itself. The Other is beyond the confines of an integrating conscious-
ness, beyond the silhouettes of my private walkway. The face commands, with words
or with silence, my attention. It is because the Other is insuperable and inassimilable
that the ego, intent on knowledge or enjoyment, is de-centered. The I, for Levinas,
is an egoism whose insular sufficiency is accomplished by enjoyment,61 i.e., the joy
of being alive, the pleasures of corporeity eating, sleeping, drinking, walking, etc.
Enjoyment and pleasure do not dissipate the soul, rather, one is finally gathered into
oneself by way of satisfied needs. Fulfillment and pleasure is the basis of the con-
tinuity of the I, the I that returns to itself, sameness. This joy is prior to self-reflec-
tion, reason, and the speculations of a totalizing ego. It is the approach of the Other
that establishes the separation of the I by revealing to it its separation from infinity.
39


Saying is proximity, a gap betwixt fusion, a touch, contact. Minus the Other every-
thing would be a projection of the I, a dissolving into the Same, an inescapable
solipsism. Levinas contends that the Is relation to itself is finite and it is the Other
who establishes, as it were, the seifs identity as me, the accusative who henceforth
lives for an Other the commanding, elevated one. The me is not a product of an
analogy, a putting oneself in the others shoes, or entrapment in the headlights of the
others depreciating gaze. Me is the relationship with the Other, alterity, transcend-
ence. Me and the Other are non-reciprocals in the bond of sociality. Me is looked
upon by an enigma, summoned by an interlocutor. Me is approached by a unique
isolate. Difference is derived from alterity, not vice-versa. Minus the Other, one ful-
fills oneself by way of others, including other persons, incorporating them into the
orbit of ones potentialities. But because the relationship with the Other is asymme-
trical and non-reciprocal, the ego is unable to deploy its powers categorization, uni-
versalization, satisfaction without bypassing the encounter altogether.
As with the idea of the infinite, the separation of the I from the Other is not a
mere abstraction or dialectical dance of opposing factors seen from the promontory
of totality, but the ordeal of pure exteriority, the wellspring of desire. Why desire and
not need? Need is a correlate of enjoyment, something the self appropriates for itself,
by itself, in itself. Desire is not correlative to anything. Desire is awakened and
roused by the Other and is an interruption of the possibility of satisfaction. In this
sense, desire is an ordeal. Because difference is the animator of desire, inspiration is
of and for Another. Desire is insatiable, the very bottom of the self. Satisfaction al-
ways equates to absorption, integration, and a resumption of the other into the Same.
Desire stirs conscience in the direction of freedom to, e.g., freedom to aid ones
40


neighbor and thereby extract oneself from the captivity of self-concern, as opposed to
freedom from others in order to do as one wishes, in a private space apart from all
the others. Conscience is wholly dependent upon the Other.
Alterity is from the outside and thereby, establishes outsideness. The
Others destitution and exposure to death gently and devastatingly contests the com-
placency of an ego assured of its place in Being and its dignity as an entity. Self-
reflection is undermined by the immediacy of an alterity that exceeds its capacity for
containment. The cognition that harbors identifiables is stymied by the unidentifiable
otherness of the Other. Self-reflection does not exhaust subjectivity; rather, subjec-
tivity is exposure and response to the Other, a being-subjected-to that precedes the
assemblage of facts and data constitutive of Being. Subjectivity overflows reflection.
The place of the Other is a null-site or the hollowing-out of the self, a condition
established prior to contentment and query. This plane of sensibility desire, worry,
ambition, pain, pleasure precedes reflective thought. Subjectivity is sensibility, a self
disordered beyond that disorder which manifests itself as the counterpart to order, a
disorder beyond alternatives, unable to pull itself up from its bootstraps, a sense of
anguished accusation, exasperated and exasperating, a nothingness beneath the
cogito, a deficit, a hole in Being. Intentional consciousness is bypassed by way of the
unstoppable approach of the Other, of whom I am obsessed. So much depends upon
the Other, who, from the start, affects us despite ourselves.62 The relationship with
alterity is the first relationship; it precedes freedom, it is prior to a memory or a his-
tory that can be summoned at will. It is beyond the self an initiative of the Good.
This null-site is the ethical dimension, a sphere that precedes and founds the question-
ing of Being. The face speaks, even when silent; alterity bellows out across the
41


sleepy sameness of the workaday world. True authenticity lies in recognition and re-
sponse; the uniqueness of the I is the position of being irreplaceable as far as the
Other is concerned. Whose voice from yonder breaks? Nakedness, destitution, a
face. The locus of the ethical is language and discourse, the undoing of the Same.
The identity of the I is its noninterchangeable responsibility for the Other. I
am responsible for the first one that comes my way. Unable to choose, beforehand,
my burden, I am susceptible to an unfreedom that defies the conatus essendi. Sub-
jectivity is a subjection-to the Other; the I is hostage to the Other, responsible even
for his or her responsibility. This passivity is the underneath of the ego, the pit from
which its seemingly guaranteed spontaneity arose. Is not the ego spontaneity itself?
The contented ego who always returned to its resting place amidst the wreckage of a
world it did not create, finds itself, by the very fact of its be-ing, decimated by the
palpable unpleasantness of a limitless obligation for the sins and sufferings of the
Other. Alterity poses the question, Is it righteous to be? to an I no longer at rest in its
private hermitage, safe in its self-sufficiency, assured of its right to be. The outside-
ness of the Other has entered the steely gates of the Is self-possession and has turned
everything inside-out. One is no longer alone, privacy a thing of the past. Me is out-
side of the hermetic I with nowhere to go but towards the approachable, approaching,
proximate Other, and this straightaway. The true self is a passivity that runs
counter to the conatus.
A subjectivity hollowed-out by responsibility for the Other is goodness itself.
Levinas thinks that the self is not capable of sacrifice; rather, the self is sacrificed,
bound to the Other as one is bound to ones body, tight and uneasy beneath the
skin, an inadequate covering and all-around unpleasantness. Subjectivity is corpore-
42


ality; sacrifice and expiation lodge in embodiment. Minus incarnation there would be
no possibility of giving ones time, the clothes off ones back, the bread from ones
mouth, a pleasant word, a heartfelt prayer or simple good will. Incarnation is sub-
stitution and substitution is the sacrifice of responsibility, the disinterested self non-
indifferent to the Other. Spirituality, on earth, is found in the act of nourishing.63
The subject ages, passive in the passage of time and this, according to him, is itself
adversity. Incapable of collating time into coherence, the sel£ in its passivity, cannot
construct for itself an identity. One is responsible despite oneself in an arrangement
arranged by someone else, namely, the Good. This heteronomy, this indeclinable
election, this noncondition that consciousness cannot conjure up, is the oneself.
Radical difference, alterity, is impervious to synthesization. Yet to reflect
upon the encounter with an Other prior to its commencement, rehearsing, beforehand,
ones deportment and words or to assume a universal standpoint amidst the particu-
larity of an inexorable alterity by asking oneself the purpose or ultimate meaning of
this meeting, i.e., seeking a context, a being within a totality, an escape plan from the
encumberment of the summons of the Other (the voice of morality) is to disengage
oneself from the ethical dimension, an option, Levinas thinks, is, more often than not,
chosen. We are all enchained to ourselves, in the grips of our concern to be, which
Heidegger summarized by saying, at issue for a being Dasein is this being itself.64
To refer oneself to oneself61 (the self as consciousness) is to be ones own origin.
Here the body is an inconvenience, a representational object, a drag to a soul intent
on ec stacy. According to Levinas, recognition of the Other is synonymous and syn-
chronous with responsibility for the Other. Thus it is easier to assess (judge) a face
than to encounter it, easier to resume ones conversation with oneself than to allow
43


the unimpeachable ego to be queried: Is it righteous to be?: Is it righteous to exist
at all as opposed to the familiar question: How can I be righteous?, a question which
assumes that one has a stake in Being, that naturally, one has a place in the sun.66
Prior to conceptualization, that is, before the perspective of Being or self-
consciousness, the subject is a substitute, a one-for-the-other, whose responsibilities
increase as they are assumed, an infinite responsibility one never chose but, thanks to
the Other whose hostage I am, one is a singularity beyond essence, the trace of a non-
present transcendence. Transcendence is neither presence nor present for if it were it
would immediately be assimilated by consciousness into a complement of Being, a
necessary part of the whole, and thus disappear in immanence. (The idea of trans-
cendence is just this immanence.) This is the way things really are in a time incom-
mensurate with the present tense, the time of ethics, the face-to-face, the time pre-
ceding the ontological quest for truth. To squeeze out of ones predicament is to
assume (or resume) the position of objective bystander.
In the time of essence, i.e., consciousness and justice, substitution appears to
be the situation of the neurotic: obsessive dependence, dolorous passivity, persecu-
tion complex, masochistic self-loathing, unenlightened consciousness; proximity
reverts to geometrical measurement; responsibility signifies duty, honor, and
respectability; diachrony becomes the synchronicity of historical narrative; and
when viewed from afar subjectivity is the ego the originator of itself.67
Yet substitution is the extraordinary situation of the otherwise than essence, a
departure from self-interest. Substitution is the absence of a state of mind. A state
of mind renders one incapable of heeding the assignation by the Other for one is too
preoccupied to hear the voice of alterity. States of mind such as intoxication, includ-
44


ing mind-altering drugs such as Prozac, utopian dreams that place one at the center of
things, the quest' for enlightenment that renders one a perpetual seeker (what theo-
logian call spiritual gluttony), or a mind uninspired because of a fear of suffering,
are like a compass whose needle does not operate beyond the cave of self.6* Substitu-
tion is not a state of but an openness to, not neuroticism but starkness. It is a sum-
mons to wakefulness from the peace of the subject-object symbiosis, i.e., conscious-
ness. This is not a higher consciousness that hovers above a still-intact conscious-
ness, the in-itself/for-itself wielding power through knowing. This wakefulness, what
Levinas calls insomnia, is not a correlate of consciousness but an otherwise than
consciousness. Imagine a quality minus substance, e.g., the red reddening, and you
have verb without noun, a transpiring absent context, saying before the said, act pre-
ceding reflection. Substitution is the situation of being one step behind the need of
another, the condition of reaction, response, availability. A substitute is never too
busy for the Other, is always on call, a hostage, and therefore without a resting place.
(Naturally, there remain the everyday pleasures, time constraints, and the fact that
one must choose between alternatives.) Once one sees the face of the Other the
face of appeal and nakedness, the reality of the human one never returns to an
ignorance is bliss attitude, the site of new beginnings and novelty. Substitution is a
description of the Suffering Servant referred to in the Bible. But this suffering, inher-
ent and innate, put in one by the Other, is nothing other than a visitation from God
and trace of His proximity.
45


CHAPTER 3
SUBSTITUTION AND ITS RESEMBLANCE
TO CHRISTIAN SPIRITUALITY
Christ the Revealed
For Christians, Jesus Christ is God incarnate. Osiris, Krishna, and other
deities resemble this incarnation and a glance back at history discovers that they are
prototypes of Christ. But for the Christian, Christ is unique just as each person is
unique and not ideal. Thus Christ, the one and only, is the barometer of the human:
a non-repeatable, irreplaceable life. Nothing reveals a person more than his words
and actions. Christs words, life, death, and resurrection reveal the nature of God and
the nature of man. Henceforth the standard of reality is encounter with a God Who
breaks out of Himself in order to meet one halfway. This meeting is between the self
and an Other, a looking-out and existing for an Other. If one does not love, that is,
greet, accept, and aid ones neighbor, one can be sure that ones love for God is at
least partially illusory. In Matthew 25: 35-45 love of neighbor is described as con-
crete, e.g., visiting the imprisoned, feeding the hungry. Love has little to do with
feelings, much to do with giving. Love dissolves the distinction between interior and
exterior into desire for an Other. Desire is not experienced in the repository of ones
private moments but always as otherwise than the self that is, desire is of and for the
Other and this is reducible to desire is the Other. Desire de-centers the self; one al-
ways wishes the best for the Other and that the Other be better than oneself, but more
46


than this, one is always looking around for the Other. Despite everything, hopes are
high! This dethroning of self is the path to truth, which is transcendence itself.
Levinas is correct: it is the Other who inspires, never the Same.
Christianity is based upon two commands: love of God and love of neighbor.
According to Levinas, Christianity commences with God is love. Beyond and des-
pite this, substitution is a given, the very subjectivity of the self, inherent obligation,
an election, whereas love connotes a kind of promise that, ultimately, all shall be well.
Substitution, i.e., the ethical, signifies ultimate responsibility without assurance of
victory. Nevertheless, they coincide in that each sees the Other as unique. The lover
sees the beloved as unique and irreplaceable and the substitute regards the Other the
first on the scene in the same way. Substitution is subjectivity, i.e., passive and in-
terior whereas love is active and otherwise than the subject; yet both can be squelched
or rejected. Implicit in love is the obligation to return love for love. If Christ orders
one to love then one must be able to fulfill the order. This is not a case of recog-
nizing reality but of accepting an invitation. Thus love feels decisional. However, the
decision is for an Other, God and neighbor. One does not decide to be more loving
(as if one could even accomplish this), rather, one chooses love. Love of neighbor
does not equate to love of 'everyone as this is a universal and love signals out the
particular. Love and substitution concern existence, not essence. It is not that you
are a part of the greater whole and therefore deserve my love and concern; rather,
that you exist means the world to me. Everyone, as opposed to the singular other,
is not the province of love or substitution but of justice. According to Levinas, if one
is not awakened to the fact that one is a substitute, one is completely engaged in
Being and this, in itself is evil. For Christians, the way out of Being is love; for
47


philosophers it is ethical non-indifference. What I say about the face of the neighbor,
the Christian probably says about the face of Christ.69 Levinas regards substitution
as a love without concupiscence. As far as effects are concerned, non-indifference
resembles agape love for both demand that one not leave the Other to die alone.
Christ reveals himself as something more than unique and irreplaceable, name-
ly, a model of substitution. Mark 5: 25-34 describes a woman who had been continu-
ously bleeding, no doubt from her uterus, for twelve years. She touches Jesus gar-
ment and her issue of blood immediately dries. Jesus knows that his power to heal
has been utilized behind his back, so to speak. As this was a large crowd and many
were pushing up against him, his disciples were amazed that he wondered who had
touched him. The woman reveals herself and Christ says that her faith has healed her.
This narrative, one among others, reveals that Jesus Christ is the substitute par excel-
lence. He did not will to heal her, he had not even seen her. She touched him and he
was affected, meaning, she left an indelible trace of herself upon his person as the
Other is wont to do. He is completely open to others and therefore unprotected. His
life is not so much exemplary as it is expiatory; or rather, he is an exemplar of expia-
tion. Christ does not do the things he does under his own authority but that of his
Father. As God, he is divine and irreproachable; as man he is a substitute, a hostage
to the Other.
Christs words are Gods words. He comes, not to abolish, but to fulfill the
Law. Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, a light for all nations, all of which, with
the exception of the Jews, are pagan. The Hebrews are the sole tribe on earth that
did not convert to monotheism; rather, their very existence, as a people, is mono-
theism, i.e., the Jews did not discover God, rather, they are called into being by God.
48


They forsook homeland in order to assemble into the Temple. If therefore you will
hear my voice, and keep my covenant, you shall be my peculiar possession above all
people; for all the earth is mine (Ex 19: 5). All others worship many and diverse
gods, that is to say, mere images. The Jews were called to be a holy nation, i.e.,
segregated. The Lords commandments and injunctions resolve themselves into an
ethic of otherness: Thou shalt not molest a stranger or afflict him: for you yourselves
also were strangers in the land of Egypt (Ex 22:21). Just as the Jews are perennial
strangers, so is each person a stranger, an Other.
Paganism
Paganism, on the other hand, is enrootedness or being-there.70 The land,
the place of belongingness, is designated by its opening to the gods who speak in
mythical tones, whose hues are the colors of a mysterious world wherein art is but the
natural progression of Being, not the invention and creation of the human. Listening
to the forest takes precedence over rational, systematic thinking. Here philosophy is
shunted aside to make way for blood-ties, ritual, and utopian dreams. The Sacred
filtering into the world Judaism is perhaps no more than the negation of all that.71
For Judaism the holy land is symbolized by milk and honey, that is to say, nourish-
ment. Food, drink, and shelter are what one man offers another man. This has no-
thing to do with fairies, familiars, angels, the whirl of the primitive, or impersonal
Being. Henceforth man is the master and not the pawn of nature. Judaism is like
technology in that both demystify the universe, a necessity if one is to see the face,
i.e., recognize the other person as irreplaceable Other, as opposed to adjunct of a
49


mysterious universe.72
The temptation to paganism often leads to its embrace. The Jews are, by
election, outside of this embrace but not immune to its fascinations. Anyone can
succumb to paganism because the world itself is immersed in the ily a, a non-place
filled with the specter of all that is nocturnal: the elemental, the stillness of things
not yet come to light, and the conflation of the paranormal with the spiritual. Pagan-
ism is pure instrumentality, that is, one utilizes the universe, which is the self-con-
tained, encompassing all, for the betterment of self and kin. Technology, too, is in-
strumental but the difference lies in context and motivation. Technology derives its
context from a science subservient to the given, i.e., nature in concert with mans five
senses whose motive is knowledge in the service of the domination of nature for the
betterment of humankind. Paganism is subservient to the given, i.e., nature in concert
with mans quest for spiritual power whose motive is knowledge in the service of
self-enhancement for the betterment of the universe. This is an inhuman world
wherein one can be an animal for a day or an angel in the next incarnation. Here
humanness itself is not a given, but one step on the ladder of spiritual evolution. The
pagan universe is void of transcendence and therefore absent a basis for ethics. The
be-all and end-all of such a universe is the consumption of all that is Other the
stumbling block of narcissism.
As far as the Gentiles are concerned, Christ is the remedy for all their pagan
illusions, the reality that bursts the pagan dream. Christ introduces a rational element
as only the human can. Christ is Other and invites one to look upon each face as one
aspires to look upon his. In Christianity as in Judaism, union with God does not
equate to being a cell of Gods body. Levinas decries the sort of union whereby one
50


loses ones singularity like a drop of water in the sea. When the sacred erupts from
the bowels of mystery, the middle plateau, or the serenity of an unpeopled land-
scape, one posits oneself as subservient to an unnamed height. There lies the awe of
adventure and, paradoxically, the calm of privacy, an anonymity where anything and
everything is possible. The eclipse of transcendence and alterity makes this so.
Philosophy and science emerge from the belief that the world is both knowa-
ble and good. Logic and the scientific method transcend their objects, i.e., create a
space between object and seeker. This is a world wherein the distance necessary for
knowledge, awe, respect, uniqueness, and justice is maintained via reason. Neo-
paganism is the belief that immanence and union is the key to the universe. Every-
thing from food production to enlightenment, to the power to conquer nations, to the
source of creation and the perfecting of unsatisfactory personal relationships is found
within the confines of the World, of which the soul is but a microcosm. Just as the
farmer harvests his crops, so does the seeker find all he needs on the earthy plateau.
Here one does not access knowledge through intentional consciousness but through
experience. Experience is to the soul what air is to the lungs. Although it is true that
the subject is the center of experience and that Levinas considers truth to be both ex-
periential and wholly otherwise than that which the subject constructs out of egoism,
in neo-paganism the spiritual efficacity of experience is based upon its capacity to be
shared and validated via a plenum of like-minded individuals. This is the experience
of the self through others, a circle that begins and ends with self. This leads to an at-
mosphere of spiritual expectation, the feeling that one is part of a monumental quest.
So long as one retains the circular form one remains separate yet secure, a small cir-
cle within a matrix of circularity the image of harmony and company of the Same.
51


Thus on the one hand, human beings share a common destiny, while on the other,
they are dispensable quanta for as soon as one outlives ones usefulness as far as
growth potential is concerned, one is discarded in order to make way for the next
experience. What does it matter when, somehow or other, the universe takes care
of us all? (Staying together for the sake of something as prosaic as the fulfillment of
vows is a plight of the exoteric mind or else it is adherence to a metaphysical order
designed by ecclesiastics.) Neo-paganism is antithetical to the responsible one whose
identity is a result of, and a not a blending with, the Other. Absent an identity one
cannot be singled out for either persecution or condemnation; this is the freedom of
the indolent and the evasive, terms Levinas uses to designate those who refuse to
begin. Life is not a game but a task. In order to commence one must slough off both
indolence and the desire to escape from oneself that is, escape the existence handed
one. Neo-paganism offers not an identity, but a path. Upon this path travels an im-
mortal, eternal soul that is neither the ego nor the subjectivity that founds it, but a
mysterious quantity that absorbs finitude. Sheared of identity and responsibility for
the Other, the soul is the center of everything denoted cosmos. The key to enlight-
enment is the knowledge of the souls' proper alignment with earth and sky. One is
responsible only for oneself meaning, one is both judge and jury of ones progress
and worth.
The enrootedness of paganism is the contrary of the one-for-the-other of sub-
stitution. While saying uproots one from blood, land, custom, and complacency, en-
rootedness keeps one attached to ones special mode, the place of the gods. The
holy sites or wells of divinity from which men once drank have become the vor-
texes of neo-paganism, places spaced across the globe where one discovers oneself
52


in the midst of others, to be a locus of consciousness, that is to say, a divine spark.
This mode or way of being is opposed to substitution, for here, alterity is not that
which denotes the ethical but that which cannot be assimilated into an integrated
whole and this creates disharmony the mortal sin of paganism. The neo-pagan seeks
the knowledge of good and evil, not for the purposes of distinguishment but in order
that they be reconciled. God, for the neo-pagan, is the great reconciler, the energy
incapable of judging, and here, the greatest virtue is homeostasis. Subjectively, this is
an ethics of equilibrium: each person is my equal, none higher or lower; each is rated
against the ego the standard of good and evil. The ego, returning to itself as self-
regulating principle, will not endure the eyes of the Other. The Other becomes
humankind, an assemblage of folks to whom I present my smiling, friendly, tolerant
face, one open to myself but closed to the Other. In one fell swoop both reverence
and horror are extinguished: the refusal to acknowledge the injustice of torture, mur-
der, and the oppression of the poor leads to forgetfulness of the Good, which
amounts to indifference towards others. To declare that everyone is beautiful is to
consign the Other beneath the umbrella of beauty and thereby efface alterity. And to
consider tyranny an unfortunate but necessary step to the spiritual evolution of the
planet is to forget the victims. As soon as one refuses to judge one absents oneself
from accountability. Knowing right from wrong is replaced by letting others be.
This is the dimension of utopia, the horizon of self as transcendent to itself, the place
of departure for megalomania; the illusions of grandeur associated with this can only
occur in a mind that believes itself in concert with the demands of a universe that in
its case, acquiesces.
It is better to question the existence of God than to revert to a tribal mentality
53


that considers human sacrifice a fair price for harmony. To relate to the absolute as
an atheist is to welcome the absolute purified of the violence of the sacred.73 Athe-
ism it itself the chasm that separates a soul from God but this distance is necessary if
one is ever to hear the voice of the Other. Bearing with the absence of God and/or
feeling forsaken by Him is the immolation of the heart and the triumph of passivity.
To persevere in this condition is a kind of purgatory on earth.
Levinas suggests that Christianity conquered humanity because it retained
traces of paganism in the form of shrines, the worship of saints, and pilgrimage
destinations such as Fatima (Portugal) and Lourdes (France), places where the Virgin
Mary has purportedly graced.74 Judaism has not sublimated idols; on the contrary, it
has demanded that they be destroyed.75 Perhaps he forgets that saints, martyrs, and
the Mother of Christ, are persons Others not idols or historical personages who
play their role and then descend the stage. Each must be regarded as one regards the
living, breathing, Other and not as a projection ones ego and fantasies. The recollec-
tion of the dead as still somehow living constitutes what is termed the communion of
saints. That this resembles pagan beliefs does not disprove its validity. In the case
of the dead the chance of idolatry or worship is just as rare as it is in the case of the
living. Still, the living take precedence over the deceased; food and shelter come be-
fore prayers.
Christianitys Failure
There are different notions as to how the man in the street knows and con-
nects with Christ. One way is to think of Christianity as inundating the Occidental,
54


another is to view Christianity as an ebb and flow with periods of drought. The first
way presumes that institutions, laws, mores, and customs are saturated with the
Christian message, that Europe and its tributaries breathe a Christian air, that Christi-
anity is a given. This assumption leads to doubt and despair when one realizes that a
Christianized nation like Germany perpetuated genocide against its own countrymen
and, without provocation, invaded its neighbors. The second way presumes nothing
because Christianity is not a given but an achievement. The history of Christianity
has produced many remarkable and holy persons but cannot, gradually and by osmo-
sis, perfect the collectivity. The Church remains a necessity in two ways, 1) as a bea-
con to the nations and 2) as a repository of sanctifying grace, and of the two, the
second is more important because prior; (1) is dependent on (2). The institutionalized
Church with its prelates and processions is the Church that shows its face to the
world. The Mystical Body of Christ on the other hand, is composed of everyone in a
state of grace, in the Church or out, dead or alive, and all this is hidden from view,
otherwise than the visible facade. If Churchmen lose their faith, the Church survives
through the lives of the faithful. Neither substitution nor faith rely solely on a recog-
nizable philosophy or creed; rather everything depends upon the recognition of the
other person as unique and irreplaceable. In order to enter into a full Christian spirit-
uality, baptism is necessary but insufficient, and this goes for all the sacraments, doc-
trines, dogmas, Gospel preaching, etc. It matters little whether the Vatican or West-
minster Abbey be down the street or a thousand miles away; each person must work
out his or her salvation, not merely breathe-in a sanctified atmosphere. Despite the
community of believers, there is no group salvation; each meets Christ in his or her
personal situation and it is left to the individual to concretize the message of the Lord.
55


It is up to each to utilize what the Church provides in the way of proscription and
prescription. The point where substitution and Christian spirituality touch is this: one
must be engaged with an Other and not merely memorize and observe a list of moral
duties, for it is not knowledge o/but be-ing one-for-the-other that sanctifies, or as
Levinas would put it, constitutes the ethical.
Levinas is all for the promulgation of Christian values. Values come prepack-
aged in tradition, which is, in turn, safeguarded in institutions, however flawed they
be. Every institution amenable to reason is an uprooting.76 Justice signifies the
good in a world where the universality of God is not sufficiently reflected in human
society, where universality becomes an abstraction, a blip on the screen of con-
sciousness. In a world prone to evil, goodness is not tantamount to a purity stripped
of all violence. Corporeal works of mercy, e.g., feeding the hungry, visiting the
homebound, defending allies, punishing the guilty, demand a degree of tough-minded-
ness, i.e., justice. Instead of bouncing back from the ravages of the twentieth cen-
tury, Levinas believes that a fatigue and numbness has crept into Western Civilization
that only dialogue between persons and states can rectify. He thinks that Europes
condition is due, not to the existence of Christianity, but to its failure to fully uproot it
from pagan soil.
Christianity failed to Christianize the world not because of a lack of inherent
efficacity but because of free will. Men preferred tyrants to Christ and his messen-
gers. Levinass entire family, save for his wife and daughter (who were hidden in a
convent), were murdered by the Nazis. Nazism is neo-paganism in its most ruthless
form but this does not diminish the fact that it is a forerunner of New Age Spiritual-
ity, a system that incorporates everything into itself via the experiential, except that
56


which resists, i.e., the Other, and this because the Other is refractory to both inten-
tional consciousness and knowledge. The Other is resistant to incorporation. Jews
had to be annihilated for two reasons: 1) they represent Monotheism and 2) in the
form of Christianity their beliefs inundated the pagan landscapes. In other words, the
eradication of the Jews, though ostensibly racial in origin, was, at bottom, spiritual -
each and every one! The Jews were relegated to an otherness that lay outside the
common experience, i.e., the ground of pagan morality. Unlike Nazism, which was
nationalistic, the New Age Movement is global in nature and therefore difliisive. Any
ideology that eradicates alterity for the sake of unity is detrimental to the human, dan-
gerous for individuals. All New Age wisdom is summarized in six words: the self
creates its own reality.77 To achieve this one must annihilate everything that could
impinge upon this self-appointed project, including nature, natural law, tradition,
religion, social strictures, and transcendence. Because alterity remains inassimilable
the Other does not exist.
Levinas asserts that long ago Christianity decided that truth took precedence
over love. If one did not possess the truth of God, e g., that Christ died for sinners,
one could not possess anything more than the natural love of familial ties. For him,
truth is ascertained not by the in-itself or the for-itself but measured by the one-
for-the-other.7* Truth is determined by goodness, not belief. Helping ones neigh-
bor is more important than worshiping at the altar. This idea concurs with both the
Old and New Testament. To be a Son of God...Jews have always asked this of the
Jew. As Christians, you know this as well, and name it imitatio Christi, the imitation
of Christ.79 The best way to imitate Christ is to embrace ones true condition as in-
finitely responsible for the sins and crimes of the other person. To believe that ones
57


duty as a Christian is to spread the word that Christ died for sinners and that each
must admit and accept this in order to appear before God without the shadow of
damnation, is to prefer the said to the saying, the repeatable mantra to the face-to-
face. The unity of humankind resides in the recognition that none shall be ignored
and as far as God is concerned, each is a substitute, one-for-the-Other. It can be ar-
gued that absent the belief in Christ God remains real but remote, inaccessible to the
common run or mortals who, left to their own devices, resume the old magic, and its
moral counterpart: might makes right. Levinas maintains that monotheism and
logos, the coherent discourse of reason is the best hope for a just society.80
Hegelianism
According to Hegel, Christianity is the summit of religion (religious con-
sciousness) because it has revealed God as Subject, that is, as an instance of self-con-
sciousness. Christs self-consciousness is God-knowing-Himself-in-the-world. That
Christ was seen and heard revolutionized mens conception of the deity. Christ is an
historical figure who lived and died but that he was, i.e., that he is believed to have
been God incarnate is the essential point. Thus to ruminate on the details of his
human form is the province of the religious consciousness. A higher consciousness or
absolute knowledge of God is the philosophy of Christianity, not devotionals tied to
ritual, sacrament, and mediators such as the priesthood or even Christ. The religious
consciousness is what Hegel calls pictorial and the idea is to replace this with philo-
sophical speculation, i.e., the ideal. God is no longer predicates of a subject, e.g., the
supreme good, the just judge, the Prince of Peace, but is self-consciousness, that is,
58


Spirit, and in Spirit thought and Being are one. Concretely, this means Spirit is the
knowledge of oneself in the extemalization of oneself.1 As substance, e g.,
Aristotles Unmoved Mover, God is self-sufficient, a philosopher contemplating the
heights, ever hidden in the recesses of its own thought. As Spirit, God is manifesta-
tion via finitude and in this way God is concretized in the other, e.g., the world,
man, art, creation, religion, the State. This is not merely the relation of finite and
infinite but the infinites relationship with itself.
Western Civilization knows God as self-consciousness. Tor there is some-
thing hidden from consciousness in its object if the object is for consciousness an
other or something 1 alien', and if it does not know it as its own self*2 Human self-
consciousness mirrors the divine self-consciousness, or more precisely, the divine
nature is the same as the human.3 To even think that God is self-consciousness is to
1) possess the mediate knowledge that Christ is the instance and that Christianity is
the exposition of this revelation and 2) possess the immediate knowledge that God is
both in and is the thought of Him. Gods consciousness of Himself and mans con-
sciousness of God culminates in mans self-knowledge. The Infinite and the finite
interrelate in self-consciousness, i.e., God knows Himself in man and man knows him-
self in God. This is not a pantheism where everything from insect to starry sky is
God, nor a Universal Mind of which the human is but a piece of the self-conscious
pie. Rather, God is concretized and known via the cultural, political, aesthetic, reli-
gious, and philosophical development of mankind, that is to say, the historical pro-
cess coalesced in institutions and the State is a result of consciousness and vice-versa.
The purpose of the dialectic of human and divine, finite and infinite, individual and
society, is the promulgation of reason the critical faculty that breaks apart the tried
59


and true of a stagnant understanding.
Reason, therefore, is freedom and the history of mankind is but the develop-
ment of freedom. Because of the Incarnation, Christianity is the absolute religion.
This event must be re-thought and conceptualized in order to gamer its full meaning
and implication, i.e., its complete manifestation in the world of men. As far as con-
sciousness is concerned, Judaism is surpassed by Roman Catholicism and the latter
surpassed by Protestantism. To believe that Christ is actually present body and
blood, soul and divinity in the bread and wine, the Host and the chalice, is a regres-
sion to an outmoded form of consciousness. In Hegel, Christ is reduced to a manage-
able idea, inserted, as is Judaism, into the totality; both derive their meaning from the
whole of history. Christ is no longer a singularity, that is, an Other, but a materiali-
zation of reason, part of the system. Judaism and Christianity (especially the Ortho-
dox brands) exemplify the Unhappy Consciousness of the person who sees him or
herself as hopelessly separated from a God whose transcendence is unimpeachable.
Can Christ bridge the gap between man and God? Is he not himself that bridge?
That Christ is the mediator between God and man does not solve the problem.
Christ remains other. For instance, the Eucharist is both a testament to Gods love
and reminder of ones unworthiness of that love. God is omnipotent and yet assumes
the form of bread, a marvel of humility, littleness, approachability. But all this re-
mains incomprehensible to the one who approaches, like a foreigner, such a strange
table, a table set centuries before by others, not the self. The sacraments are sources
of grace yet one remains miserably unmoved. One relies on the love of Christ and
thus one is dependent and subject-to-an-other. From the perspective of faith, this is
reliance upon the perfect love of God yet the selfs love is a minglement of faith,
60


hope, desire, non-indifference, perplexity, and doubt. Consciously choosing to follow
God as Other (not as concept or ideal) renders one a Subject, that is, a subjectivity
within the purview of the objectivity of someone other than the self. This is precisely
creaturehood. Just as with substitution, one cannot go back to where one formerly
was, i.e., in the rest of an imperialistic, all-knowing I. Here, as in substitution, there
is no privacy. The recognition of the Other, which is at the same time discourse,
irrevocably disrupts and displaces egoism. No longer can I speak to and of myself,
privately and alone, but there is always someone else within the confines of my men-
tal aura. It is not that henceforth I watch what I say and in this way keep myself safe,
but that I am upon the surface of an unyielding ground, uncovered and exposed.
Here one does not assimilate things via knowing but lives in the presence of the
Good. (For Levinas, God is not present via presence but via memory and the con-
dition of substitution, the one-for-the-other, responsibility.) Both saying, i.e., expo-
sure to the Other and choosing the Good create a restlessness, an unceasing alertness,
a sobering up, an insomnia of soul. Contrary to this is self-seeking in all its forms
and the retreat into delusion, the terminus of privacy. The private world is self-pro-
pelled and this is the secret of its self-certainty. Here one chooses what one says or
will say rather than respond, for minus the Other, the ego the creator and suStainer
of itself has an unbridled reign. This sort of self-mastery occludes the reality of
substitution, the fact that one is a subjection-to, a subjectivity.
The Unhappy Consciousness is the lack of self-certainty. Here God is neither
phenomenon nor self-consciousness; rather, God is Other, omnipotent, omniscient, an
enigma, an absence, a non-appearance ungraspable by thought. Because Christ is
irreducible to a concept he retains the unpredictability of an Other. At times he may
61


seem close, approachable, forgiving; at other times distant, absent, uninterested, even
severe. These fluctuations are meaningless in themselves and only serve to remind
that feelings are untrustworthy and deceptive. To remember that Christ is with one
when all evidence points to the contrary, to recite prayers to a Heaven once filled
with promise but now empty sky, is to be lost in a desert. Dependence upon a person
as opposed to an idea or thing becomes incapacity for prescience; abandonment to the
will of another, the lostness of one who no longer directs his own life. Wholehearted-
ly seeking Gods will is more like subtraction than addition: God takes away from the
soul until the self is but a void, a dull knife, a dim bulb. If God is adding something
new and wonderful it is from the hither side of the self the dimension of alterity -
unbeknownst to the self. The Unhappy Consciousness is simply that which cannot
appropriate God to itself through knowledge alone.
Poverty of Spirit
A Christian can be defined as one who believes that Christ is God incarnate
and aspires after him as one aspires after a person, not as an ideal. Giussani asserts
that There is, in fact, no authentic affirmation of the human outside of the Fact of
Christ; there is only the sacrifice of the human to ideology.*4 Compared to the Other
(persons, God) ideals and concepts are like rocks, i.e., they are things. Ideology is
explanatory, programmatic, and comprehensive, nothing and no one escapes its
design, everyone assigned a place. The imitation of Christ does not lie in behaving in
the way one imagines Christ to have behaved, or in the repetition of his words, but in
obeying God in the circumstances one finds oneself. (And normally, ones situation is
62


partly, if not wholly, determined by others.) This obedience is comprised of passivity
and activity; the former is the acceptance of all that befalls one, the latter, the striving
to know, love and serve God with ones entire being. The Gospels are the record of
the unenviable death of a person designated as a criminal whose words, both austere
and kind, are spoken with the authority of a king. Christian spirituality is centered on
the actual person of Jesus, the historical personage who lived, suffered, died, and rose
from the dead. In other words, one follows a human being who has died but yet lives.
Christ is not found in an absolute religion or in a consciousness whose raison detre is
the evolution of mankind, but in the midst of an Other. Desire for Christ, the desire
for goodness, inspired and sustained by an Other, is the impetus for union with him.
Union, subjectively speaking, is the will to union. This union retains that sense of
separation which is the definition and hallmark of be-ing, i.e., one does no lose
oneself in Christ, rather, one finds oneself in him. God is always God, I am ever me.
If one did not consider Christ to be God incarnate, one would think of him, not as the
reality that he is, but at most, in the affectionate way one thinks of great and endear-
ing persons, e.g., Moses, Socrates, George Washington, a favorite entertainer.
(Levinas, himself, regards all persons, dead or alive, as faces as opposed to instances.)
Great persons are shelved in the back drawer of consciousness until further notice.
Christ, on the other hand, is the model par excellence of the unique and irreplaceable,
which always has a newness about it. The effort required to address this reality,
that is, to exist within the purview of the real, resembles Levinas s description of sub-
stitution, i.e., ethical non-indifference.
How blest are the poor in spirit: the reign of God is theirs (Mt. 5: 3). The
reign of God, which is union with Christ in ones present existence, is dependent
63


upon poverty of spirit. No one can long endure the process of union without faith,
for union is nothing other than abandonment to the will of God. Faith is the recog-
nition of the presence among us of Another as the real meaning of our lives.85 Al-
though religion is typically sought as a means to inspiration, salvation, or perfection,
these ends are abandoned as soon as one realizes that goodness, as far as self-will is
concerned, is not achievable. If only God is good, then one knows what goodness is
in the way one knows what alterity and transcendence are, as exceptions to the rule of
Being. Yet unlike the latter which remain ephemeral and elliptic unless one takes
special cognisance, goodness, whether it be a solitary flower along a dusty road or
the lines of concern etched upon the faces of parents, is concretely woven into the
everyday and thus takes one unawares. Obeying God is obeying the Good in the
practical. It matters little that one is baptized, listens to sermons, tithes, and avoids
sexual licentiousness. These are but helps to full compliance with Gods designs.
The efficacity of obedience lies in its object. Obedience to a moral code for the sake
of the Good is the only justification for obedience. Obedience in the service of any-
thing less than the Good is still a self-designed path, a journey of self to sel£ a cul-de-
sac. When one sees that the greatest obstacle to union with God is self-centeredness,
the quest for perfection dissolves into a desire for dependency upon Goodness itself.
Sinfulness, at bottom, is not the habitual commission or omission of designated acts,
but the forgetting of Someone. Henceforth, happiness will be gauged by the feeling
of closeness and/or the degree of faith in the Someone.
Needless to say, the self neither initiates nor controls this situation. Excluding
physical pain, which is both untamable and debilitative to the point of exceeding the
boundaries of the sense or non-sense of God, suffering is exclusively the sense of
64


separation. This is the separation of transcendence and height that distances one from
the Other and the unbridgeable space experienced by long-distance lovers. Worry,
fear, regret, guilt, anticipation, desire, etc., become an interval between self and God
which cannot be traversed by the self. This is the longing which fusion would annul
at the price of ones identity as responsible one. One becomes, for God, an Other.
Many scriptures attest to the resemblance between Christian spirituality and
substitution. For instance: There is no greater love than this: to lay down ones life
for ones friends (Jn 15: 13), and It was not you who chose me, it was I who chose
you (Jn IS: 16). This appointment or assignation is vivid and not only implies a
great responsibility but hearkens back to ones very origin the cusp betwixt creation
(subjection-to) and self-reflection (the in-itself and for-itself). Prior to the self-
identity of the Same, one is an amorphous entity, without origin; it is only after one is
a developed ego, i.e., a self-consciousness, that one realizes one is not self-created,
that Another has priority over the self because prior to and exceeding the self in every
way. The time of realization coincides with the time of sin, that is, by the time one
hears the call of God one has already usurped the whole world in the quest for self-
fulfillment. The only remedy is to begin following Christ: He who will not take up
his cross and come after me is not worthy of me (Mt. 10: 38). To follow an Other
always entails carrying and not being carried along by a quashed conatus. This
subjection-to an Other is the de-centering of the ego. He who seeks only himself
brings himself to ruin, whereas he who brings himself to nought for me discovers who
he is (Mt. 10: 39). Here one is passive, directionless, and placeless, a point not of
action but of patience. Patience is the experience of the limit of our will.16 Facing
the limits of the will is the experiential knowledge of weakness and failure. The defin-
65


ing contours of Christian spirituality is obedience to the Churchs teachings and the
correct interpretation of the scriptures; yet its true signification lies in the remem-
brance, obedience, and subjection-to an Other. Thus it is not the flawless following
of precepts that obliges, but the face of Christ. The morality enjoined by the Church
is above all an event, the recognition of this Divine Presence, and the establishment of
a personal relationship with it. To live out the memory: this is the true morality that
arises from Christian holiness.87 This recognition counters the for-itsel£ which
Levinas aptly describes: The for-itself in consciousness is thus the very power
which a being exercises upon itselfj its will, its sovereignty.88 To consider ones
moral obligations as derivative of ones capacity to fulfill them is to look down, from
the height of self, upon God. I shall do this and that but I cannot do more is to
deafen ones ears to the cry of the Other. The needs of the Other extract from the
self undiscovered capacities. The man who continues in the light is the one who
loves his brother;...But the man who hates his brother is in darkness, he walks in sha-
dows, knowing not where he goes, since the dark has blinded his eyes (1 Jn 2:10-
11). Light signifies the ethical dimension, to which one must wake to. The recogni-
tion of the face as nakedness and defenselessness is the beacon of the ethical, non-
indifference itself. Yet this includes the capacity to main, torture, and kill. The face
tempts to both murder and charity. It is only when one considers others as parts of a
whole, e.g., as entities comprising mankind, that one enters the non-ethical.
Union with Christ is not separate from ethics; rather, they are conjoined. In
this sense, obeying the Ten Commandments is loving ones neighbor. The aspiration
to love everyone is the embracement of an abstraction, not love, for loves object is
always particular, never universal. Stealing, lying, demoting another to the level of
66


sexual object are strictly personal; each concern the you and me. The otherness of
the Other depends upon the otherness of God; as in Levinas, it is alterity and trans-
cendence that delineate the ethical. The other is alterity.89 Ones priorities, ethi-
cally speaking, are the signposts along the path to this union. Barring extenuating
circumstances, the proper order is God, spouse, children, extended family, vocation,
oneself. So long as one maintains this hierarchy one can be sure, though the path be
dark, that one has not abandoned the way. These priorities are not horizontally
placed like beams of concern and attention that radiate from the center of the self to
the regarded party. Rather, these priorities are placed in the context of height, i.e.,
beginning with God there is descent. The self is below these concerns and the rela-
tionship with each is vertical. It is not that these priorities are juggled according to
the constraints of time, effort, and the mood du jour. Ones duty in life is not the
manipulation of events and personalities so as to eke out, when all are adequately
sated, a bit of private pleasure for oneself. To think in this way reduces others to
presences lingering somewhere between self-seeking and closed-off rooms. A hori-
zontal relationship with persons prevents one from ever looking up and absent this
perspective, one keeps to the even road of self-determination.
Can the self ever be coddled? Yes, but by others. In this way, one is tuned
into others rather than oneself; one is grateful rather than spoiled. Are others just
reminders that one really wants God most of all? No, for it is better to love the Other
for herself than to love her for Gods sake, for this would be to turn God into a noble
ideal and the Other into a thing.
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Substitution and Suffering
Levinas asserts that it is suffering and not death (as in Heidegger) that signi-
fies the wills greatest obstacle. This will is both the locus of freedom and part and
parcel of mortality, for although it posits itself as indefatigable in the projects it de-
signs for itself, it remains susceptible to the wiles of propaganda and seduction. The
will, along with the body, crumbles beneath torture, for now there is another mightier,
stronger, and somehow permitted to inflict that which the self would never allow.
Will power in the face of temptation is really just the preferred passion, or else it is
that which exceeds passion. Thus the will is the continuum between inviolability and
degeneration.90
Freedom, for Levinas, is part and parcel of consciousness and consciousness
means having time. The time denoted as future is the distance one places between
oneself and the present: To be free is to have time to forestall ones own abdication
under the threat of violence.91 Physical suffering seals the distance between the pre-
sent and the future. Here one is backed up to being92 meaning, unable to evade or
retreat; to know this is the suffering of suffering.93
Yet even here, thanks to consciousness, one remains witness to ones thing-
ness, that is, at a distance and despite the suffering, distinct from the pain. Patience is
the disengagement within engagement94 and in this extremity the will discovers that
its existence is not primary, for there is patience, a passivity beneath will. Torture
seeks the reduction of the tortured not to mere thingness but to suspension in subjec-
tivity. Hatred wishes that the Other become both subject and object within the simil-
68


taneity of pain, i.e., a witness to its own objectification.
Levinas believes that the emphasis on my own death as the terminus of mean-
ing is the wrong view, for I can die as a result of someone and for someone."95
Death becomes a fear of the Others death, anxiety for ones own. Death is not so
much the end of me, but the end of the Other. It is not my death but the death of the
Other that marks me as an individual. Facing ones own death, in advance, always
remains an exercise in abstraction, but the death of a loved one is experiential. Death
is the cessation and disappearance of the beloved unique. The meaning of death is
not so much the fact that I shall stop breathing forever but that my friend is gone. The
impending death of the Other upsets the conatus and directs the will towards good-
ness and its complement, desire. Unlike the will, these are unamenable to delimita-
tion. Thus the will, transfixed by the power of passivity, undergoes its own kind of
dissolution.
Prior to any initiative on the part of the will, the identity of the I as a hostage
or substitute of the Other is established, that is, the self is a pure passivity from the
start. Substitution is an involuntary condition, a responsibility for something never
willed. The subjectivity of the subject is persecution and martyrdom.96 In this con-
dition the self does not return to itself as in self-consciousness; there, the ego pro-
ducer, director, actor looks out behind a mask at the exteriorized or social self.
While suffering, subjectively speaking, is the self enclosed within itself this is not a
return to a lost interiority. Rather, suffering recalls the time before solitude when the
self sought alterity, a time of calling out for an Other. Concern for the Other is the
hallmark of substitution but this non-indifference is, by nature, a form of suffering.
Dasein's confrontation with its own mortality is replaced by ethical non-indifference.
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My substitution it is as my own that substitution for the neighbor is produced.97
One who substitutes oneself for all and this includes the living, the dead, and the yet
to be bom has already individuated the ego to such a degree that one realizes that
this very ego is the locus of responsibility, for where else could it reside? If I am
aware and standing I am indeed responsible, for what else could I be? If not
responsible than dreaming or sunk in concupiscence or hiding behind theoria. In a
sense, this election of the ego to responsible one par excellence is not willed but
desired, an allegiance to the Good98 which is, subjectively speaking, the patience
above the dichotomy freedom/non-freedom, an otherwise than will.
The essence of self-sufficiency is the concentration on and fulfillment of ones
designated needs. Anything that interferes with ones chosen path becomes at the
very least irritation and annoyance. Extreme pain, physical or mental, results in a loss
of control, and control, for the ego, is as indispensable as food is for the stomach.
Suffering is the condition wherein the self cannot evade, hide, or construct a universe
for itself. Extreme pain which lasts for some time normally results in this state but the
effector and the suffering are distinct. One can persist in a loss of control to the point
of embitterment, resisting to the end that something beyond this loss, namely, the loss
of self. This loss of self is commonly experienced as a lack of inner sanctum coupled
with a loss of direction, a wandering in an empty landscape, a dryness and desolation
without horizon or end, the dark night of the spirit. A soul toppled from the center
and apex of things has lost its place and because of this, can no longer conduct its
affairs. This form of suffering cannot be designated boredom, depression, worry,
hopelessness, shyness, or any other pain that can be tackled one after the other by
a self with means at its disposal, i.e., the world of possibilities in which the self is
70


center. On the one hand, the de-centered self is continuously exposed and any tinge
of boredom, depression, or remorse is unbearable, precisely because there is no place
to hide, while on the other, a strangers friendly glance lifts a burden, and this for the
same reason. In this condition one is easily pleased. Here one cannot wallow in
depression, use remorse as an excuse to avoid relationships, or meditate away sub-
jectivity. This form of suffering, which can be summed up as distress, is the suffer-
ing of the substitute (the one who heeds the call of the Other) or the true Christian
(the one who throws himself upon Gods mercy and will). Neither has a dwelling
place, attribute, situation, or opacity to hide behind and this because they are trans-
parent with the transparency that comes from exposure to alterity. Levinas goes so
far as to say that when one suffers, even if it is on account of ones misdeeds, God
also suffers. God has aligned Himself with the misery of the miserable.99 These
miserable ones have chosen the ethical over the theoretical, goodness over feeling
good, discourse over affirmation. Expiation consists in be-ing hostage to the Other,
responsible for his sins, crimes, and lack of responsibility. Expiation is the unity of
identity and alterity, meaning, the I, in substitution, is, at the same time, an otherwise
than substance or entity, that is to say, an Other.
Substitution marks the oneself as irreducible to familial, cultural, religious,
biological, philosophical, political, or ontological ties. Everything, including cultural
heritage and religion are auxiliaries, contingent and wonderful gifts. Following this
line of reasoning, Being, i.e., everything under the sun, including the ground beneath
ones feet, is reducible to the ily a. Even a vacuum or an eternal night is discovered
to be part of the generalized droning that keeps pace with the incessant struggle to
be. Existence is this ubiquity, or more precisely, thinking ever holds to the there is.
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This is so despite the fact that what is meaningful does not necessarily have to
be'00 The it in it is warm denotes both the anonymity of the ily a and the tena-
city of Being. This anonymity wherein everyone participates in a common horizon or
goal is kept at bay by an interiority confronted with exteriority, i.e., the ethical, you
and me of discourse. Kosky brings up a salient point when he notes that the ily a
resembles substitution in that both are traumatic, de-centering events. He wonders
how one distinguishes the anonymity of the ily a from that of transcendence since
both entail the passivity of exposure to something remote yet there, a third party
watching ones every encounter.101 The impossibility of escaping God lies in the
depths of myself as a self, as an absolute passivity.102 Since transcendence cannot be
incorporated by consciousness and disseminated via the logos, it remains outside the
fund of knowledge. Thus I cannot know whether what I, as subject, undergo, is the
anonymity of being-in-general (the persistence of Being in the absence of objects and
beings) or the absence of a God never present to consciousness. Insomnia or wake-
fulness is effected by God and the ily a, that is, both transcendence and the horrible
hum of an unceasing conatus awaken one. Am I being summoned by God or
pestered by the monotony of an impersonal cosmos? Does the ily a signify the ab-
sence of God from the world-at-large, or is God in the midst of the ily a?
The ily a is not the dark night of the spirit as explained by St. John of the
Cross, nor is it the famous cloud of unknowing penned by an anonymous English
mystic. Here, as in Levinas, God is wholly other and the intellect fails, becoming a
tabula rasa when confronted with His incomprehensibility. The mind is filled with
darkness, not light. Yet in order for things to proceed one must cooperate, e.g.,
renounce sin and its occasions, seek to know God through study and meditation
72


(though, despite all efforts and self-discipline, the power to meditate ultimately fails),
desist in ones preferred method of perfection, and most importantly, trust God com-
pletely. This last is not so difficult since the darkness of this night is composed of
self-contempt and self-distrust and the only light afforded is faith. Since faith is al-
ways trust in someone as opposed to something, the dark night ever retains, however
vague and empty, the presence of a someone. The ily a, on the other hand, is en-
compassing yet detached. The passivity of substitution so resembles the dark night
that one can safely assume that Levinas himself was in the throes of it.
Levinas insists that God is absent from the world, and in fact, was never pre-
sent. In this sense, the ily a, although felt as a presence, serves only to emphasize
and reiterate God's absence. If this is the case, the ily a is an echo of the impersonal,
an otherwise than human, objectivity itself. If, however, God is omnipresent, the
corridors of Being and the emptiness of Nothingness share in divinity. Paradoxically,
if the ily a is impersonal, it summons one, for it is absence that sparks longing. If the
ily a is God there is engulfinent without summons and hence absent desire. One
need just sit and absorb. If the absence of God is exemplified by the ily a and the
ily a is Being devoid of bongs, this absence, to the religiously-minded, is a calling
card; one must look for God on the hither side of Being, that is to say, in the ethical.
The self achieves self-sufficiency and self-satisfaction in the midst of a pecu-
liar, yet familiar, emptiness. This emptiness is the boundless landscape of the ego, an
emptiness that harbors the idea of God as all-encompassing reality absent the solidity
of matter or the heaviness of aloneness. God and thought coincide in the ideal. Here
ones own face encapsulates and corrals the terrain of concern, but this is as reflec-
tion, not as incarnation. So long as one retains ones self-reflection as the standard of
73


the real and true, everything is containable and extremity remains unknown. The
ily a is the weight of alterity upon the shoulders of a subjectivity that neither created
nor assumed this alterity. Thus the ily a is a kind of summons which elicits a re-
sponse, namely, horror at the sight of a limitless objectivity. The restitution of the
subjective lies elsewhere than in an ego awakened to the facelessness of the ily a. It
is the face of the Other that signifies subjectivity, i.e., the fragility of beauty, love, and
life, for it is the Others face that is exposed. One never sees ones own face except
in two-dimensional space, e.g., mirrors, lakes, photographs. The self-scrutiny that
attends each encounter with faceless others gives way, via recognition of the Other as
Subject, to a concern for the face of an Other and a disdain for mere appearances.
Henceforth one desires the solidity of the real, even if it hurts.
Christianity is essentially incamational. Goodness, beauty, wisdom, love, and
grace which is nothing more than the summons of the Other have been delivered to
corporeality. Like the face, God is transcendent: wholly other and something to be
reckoned with. Yet extreme pain is an indictment against all the treasured proposals
construed by curiosity and desire. Pain is the knife edge of the elemental come to
haunt civility, the residuals of a stale gaiety that lingers after the guests have departed
and the party favors put away. Pain is a finger pointing at a weakness witnessed or a
nakedness clothed in the hope that the pointing will stop and strength return. Pain is
a vanquishing of spunk and winsomeness, hallmarks of the human.
The ethical goodness itself occurs in corporeality and in a time not dis-
figured by drugs and utopian dreams. The inner life of man consists in the going-
out-towards-the-other. Levinas suspects a spirituality that is not concretized in the
giving of sustenance from ones own substance, e.g., food, drink, comfort, instruc-
74


tioo, maternity, care in all its forms. He is all for feeding the poor in distant lands and
is grateful for the technology that helps make this possible. Aspirations to know and
serve God (and this includes Christ) must be actualized in the face-to-face encounter
and in institutionalized justice. Even the suffering entailed in substitution, the suffer-
ing of subjectivity, is not to be indulged. Passion mistrusts its pathos, and becomes
and re-becomes consciousness! Belonging to Judaism presupposes a ritual and a
science.. Judaism is an extreme consciousness.103 Although substitution is reducible
to expiation, suffering does not, magically, reduce the evil in the world. Thus one
cannot say that suffering is reducible to beauty, utility, knowledge, or a source of
grace for survivors, sinners, and innocent bystanders. (Only little children and those
who resemble them, e.g., the mentally deficient, are innocent; all others are responsi-
ble.) It is wrong and mistaken to construct meaning out of willful, gratuitous evil.
Examples of this sort of reasoning include the following:
1) The suffering caused by evil is efficacious in that the sins of the fathers
are somehow washed away by the blood of the victims of cruel regimes.
2) Suffering results in knowledge because one chooses, beforehand, while dis-
embodied, the lessons one needs to learn in this life.
3) The material universe, evil included, is a necessary foil for both the unfold-
ing of self-consciousness and the self-realization of Absolute Mind.
4) The value of evil resides in its ability to edify the witnesses of undeserved
suffering, e.g., the tears of little children help one to grow via the exercise
of compassion.
History is the assemblage of the verifiable and important. The calm that fol-
lows grave injustice and brutality is the time for rebuilding. History does not explain
why these bricks seem always to be covered in blood, only that they are.
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Eastern beliefs such as reincarnation have inundated the Western world like a
flood of self-concern. Here the soul is neither ego, body, or subjectivity but the
repository of experience (which is valuable in and of itself) and knowledge, the be-all
and end-all, the pearl of great price worth reincarnating for.
Evil is the antithesis of good, a necessary component in the drive towards new
syntheses. Thus evil is necessary for the evolution of consciousness. It is argued
that if Adam and Eve had not eaten of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of
Good and Evil they would be happy, yet ignorant, running about in a garden void of
mirrors and laws. If disobedience makes men out of monkeys and only the strong
survive, then it is self-consciousness that remains the centerpiece in a history surfeit
with dead heroes and victims galore.
If stature of soul depends upon genocide or the whims of a serial killer, one
would be well advised to have another drink and forget all about soul, self, and Other.
If oppression of the poor keeps one morally healthy, better to be ill. Victims of evil
need help precisely when they are being hunted and persecuted; compassion after the
fact can turn into pity, which is a form of scorn. True compassion is for the self; sub-
stitution, for the Other. The essence of immorality is finding reasons (excuses) for
evil so that one can resume ones project of self-realization in comfort. And for
Levinas, excuse itself is an evasion of responsibility.
Suffering in all its forms is proof that the world is not the most perfect of all
possible worlds but that it is disordered, imperfect, finite. In such a world, sufferers
always feel that they themselves participate in and are part of the sin and evil mani-
fested, as it were, in their afflicted selves. In a world warped by selfishness and sin,
happiness and success become the marks of a pleased Providence; progressivity is
76


judged by a history that always already belongs to winners. Via history even losers
are turned into valued participants inasmuch as they contribute, by default, to the
evolution of the species.
Pain, be it physical or mental, is not a good masquerading as evil; it is an evil
but not hopelessly so. Hatred, arrogance, and indifference towards others are hope-
lessly evil; they are inherently antithetical to love and humility, obstructions in the
way of the good. It is not legitimate to avoid pain at the price of a Stoicism that
denies the body or an Epicureanism that defines happiness as the pleasure of no long-
er fearing a death that is reducible to unconsciousness everlasting. Shifting the atten-
tion to Nothingness placates the bad conscience that refuses the Other. Pain can be
coaxed away by drugs or meditation but pain is not the culprit. Pain and evil are not
synonymous. Pain, left to its own devices, necessarily ends in suffering and the re-
velation that one is a substitute or at the very least, dependent, needy, desperate, an
Other. The suffering involved in substitution is not evil, but expiatory. Substitution
is vulnerability and openness-to. If pain and weakness disappeared, the world, such
as it is, would remain evil for without these, patience and kindness would never be
exercised while rationality, self-control, and arrogance would reign as virtues. So-
ciety would be expedient, cold, and loveless. Death would remain the signifier of the
temporal and incarnate, while the standard for significance-in-general would resolve
upon those with the cleanest suits and the heaviest boots. Power would remain in the
hands of the powerful, and death, because reducible to nothingness," would be the
last word. There is something more to suffering than pain and inanity: its reducibility
to expiation. And expiation and substitution are one.
Christianity places holiness above every earthly good. Holiness is perfect
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union with God and God is love. As far as union goes, the self is desire, God, the
object. But this configuration can be transposed so that self is object, God, desire.
Desire complements but does not coincide with union. Desire is insatiable, never ful-
filled by that which the soul deems indispensable for joy and this because God is in-
finite and the souls prescription for perfection and happiness is finite. Knowledge is
necessarily the assimilation of the particular into the universal; thus one knows neither
self nor God, for as soon as one or the other are incorporated into the whole it
vanishes. To posit that God is the goodness that fills the cosmos is meaningless
soliloquy, a hollow universal that summons no one. And if one knows oneself at all it
is by looking backwards at what one has already done, dwelling in patience, and
looking-out for the Other. One wishes, not for union via knowledge, but union via
love. Here unrequited love, not ignorance, is the greatest fear. Love is folly and all
lovers, fools. There will always be a breach betwixt the finite and the infinite; one
cannot coincide with God. Perfect fusion with the beloved would be the death-knell
of desire, the annihilation of love, and the cessation of suffering. (This applies to
human lovers as well.) The secret of suffering is this: on earth, to love is to suffer;
suffering and love are one. Self-denial and carrying ones cross amount to gracefully
bearing ones imperfections and knowing that one can do no better than this. Know-
ing this is to know that God is perfect, yet perfection itself remains incomprehensible.
Knowing that God is but not what God is becomes either a lucid darkness sustained
by faith and hope or an intolerable blushing up against alterity. This is the matter for
choice, a part the free will can play: Does one wish to exist as a light in the midst of
darkness, i.e., exposed, or does one prefer to exist as a self-enclosed being, i.e., hid-
den-at-will in a universe where knowledge is the surmounting of otherness and the
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accession to All?
Levinas is not looking for union but goodness. Sin is not so much that which
separates from God but that which says no to alterity. The projection of the self
into a manageable future necessarily entails the incorporation of otherness into the
Same for therein lies self-mastery. Here faith and love necessarily resolve into
adjuncts of self-expression and will. Absent transcendence, faith and love have no
object and become mere idols encountered by way of self-worship.
There is an unexpected relief in recognizing that one is a moral agent prior to
self-enclosed being; that one is called into be-ing by Another, found out by the sum-
mons of the Other, created to serve in spite of oneself. The voice that calls on the
hither side of the self is small and timid, while ones own voice is loud and clear with
the authority of Being. Thus there is a slight hesitation when one espies the grandeur
of the Other for one imagines what follows: obligation, fatigue, self-weariness, and
guilt for one is always too late, too ignorant, or too weak to save the Other. Still,
the meaning of life is wrapped up in ones tnie identity that of responsible one.
Suffering devoid of this revelation leads to bitterness or an ambition bom of despair,
namely, the replacement of existence with utopia.
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CHAPTER 4
SUMMATION
The Ethical Landscape
To say that the ethical precedes ontology is to say that the moral realm is the
foundation of the real. The ethical includes both the moral and the immoral, right and
wrong, good and evil. Morality depends upon an Other because morality is com-
prised of good and evil intentions and actions and these are always directed towards
Others. One is moral in the presence of a witness, be it human or divine. Iflama
good wife it is because I am a good wife to my husband, a particular, singular other.
I cannot compose a list of all the characteristics that make up a wife beforehand be-
cause I do not know what being a wife entails; it is up to the Other to direct and mold
me; it is the husband that makes the wife, and vice-versa. To be a wife is to be a
good wife; a wife is an objective, verifiable condition of goodness. To be a good any-
thing takes everything one has to give, with no holding onto self. To script out ones
life beforehand and to visualize a successful outcome to ones preferred venture is to
assume a role. But scripts and roles are for actors, persons paid to become charac-
ters and images. To project oneself onto a landscape void of Others is precisely to be
amoral.
The greatest temptation for citizens of First World countries is to choose the
amoral path. This path promises unlimited freedom in a universe peopled by many
80


others but no particular Other. No one is watching, for no one is there. One plays a
part in a great drama crafted by the self. In this show, presentation and appearance
matter above all; one is not so much concerned with truth, but with image; or to put it
another way, truth is instrumental in the service of image. In wealthy nations, where
mental pain is muffled by ready-made entertainment and physical pain kept at bay by
nutrition and drugs, the only suffering left is that of responsibility for the suffering of
the Other. And this is easily sidestepped. The greatest happiness now consists in
peace, unity, and freedom, bulwarks which enable the self to remain independent,
detached, and self-assured. The decision to reject the moral, i.e., the real, leaves one
intact and solitaire, for even if the whole world should crumble, at least one has not
forfeited the self-certainty of an ego bent upon itself.
Levinas lives in the moral world wherein three popular conceptions that guide
human relations are summarily dispelled: 1) equality, 2) an ethics based upon onto-
logical considerations, and 3) comfort as the impetus and standard of a healthy
relationship:
1) The Other and I are not equals, that is, you and me do not comprise a we
in the service of the promotion of human rights, fairness, freedom, or other
established goals. Rather, I am obligated to the Other and this because I
am chosen, elected, a Jew.104 Not only do I demand more of myself than
I do others, I expect less. I am an out-of-place alter and therefore, open-
ness.
2) Considerations such as I should have regard for other persons because we
are all essentially the same are not reliable for as soon as the other is
deemed not essentially the same, he or she is relegated to the category
dispensable.
3) The more responsibilities I take one, the more responsibility I incur. My
responsibilities exceed my capacity to fulfill them. Therefore I never rest,
content in a job well done. Here striving is not based upon a predeter-
81


mined attainment, goals I choose, but upon the impossibility of knowing
what comes next or how it will be resolved. This is the essence of rest-
lessness.
Levinas is a moral perfectionist not a moral legislator. He does not offer a
judicial system, a blueprint for the modem pagan, or a new philosophy. He brackets
(phenomenological reduction) the identity of the I and finds that the I is the Here I
am, the self, subjectivity, but this amounts to subjection-to, the unreservedness of an
Abraham (the prototype of election, willingness, availability). The self is not ens:
noun, Being, substance, a parcel of the totality, but esse : verb, to be, be-ing, subjec-
tivity. The identity of the self, though discovered via phenomenology, breaks apart
intentional consciousness precisely because the self is not a phenomenon. Just as
Descartes idea of the Infinite is not a cognitive construct, so the self (and this in-
cludes all other selves) is not a construction of consciousness. The Other is absolute-
ly other and must be kept at a respectable distance. To seek fusion by any means is to
eradicate alterity, i.e., to assimilate the Other into the Same. For example, seeing
God in others is a kind of inoculation that disposes others to ones preferred world.
Here God is turned into a concept utilizable by the ego and both God and the other
person are objectified, rendered impersonal, a dissolution into the Same. I see what I
wish to see in order to keep my chosen world sane and safe. But this is to eradicate
the otherness of the Other. And this, according to Levinas, is tantamount to muder.
To objectify the personal is to treat a person as one treats an object an act of
violence against the Other and crime against reality.
For Levinas, it is not God but the other person who is the central focus. It is
not that he lacks faith or thinks the other person is somehow a manifestation or a
placeholder for god. (The face does not refer to God.) Nor is he a pantheist who
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imagines each particular person comprising a totality called God . For him, seeking
mystical experiences and fusion with the All at the expense of dulling ones hearing to
the call of the other person is really a retreat into ones ego, the builder of higher
consciousness but not the locus of ethics. He thinks that God has become more a
matter for ideology than for faith and that goodness, not God, should be emphasized.
He agrees with Kant that it is immoral to treat human beings as a means to an end as
opposed to ends in themselves. The danger lies in treating ethics as a way to God and
not as Gods way. Thus, ethics spring from the human, not the onto-theological.
Religion, for Levinas, does not lack a supernatural element or a God so
remote that one need not bother to pray. One serves God by serving the Other.
Following the Law (Levinas is an Orthodox Jew) and studying the Torah in conjunc-
tion with the Talmud is indispensable to a genuine Judaic spirituality, for without this,
one can easily fall prey to the spirit of the times. Judaism is a spirituality rid of the
cobwebs of self-seeking, a transparency of thought and self-awareness achieved via
obedience and instruction, not psychoanalysis. Phenomenology, as expounded by
Husserl, is an indispensable methodology that clarifies everything including the human
side of religion, the side of response, the rigorous journey through the desert, per-
petual uprootedness. Obeying the Other is the reconciliation of the egos spontaneity
and submission; here, one is geared toward height. The God who spoke said no-
thing, passed incognito, everything in the light of phenomena gives lie to him, refuses,
represses, persecutes him.105 This is Kierkegaards God, the One Who remains
separate from Being, a God who shuns reciprocity in all its forms. This God is not a
deal-maker but the goodness that does not coerce, direct, or manage, but waits.
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Christ and Otherness
The question that precedes and founds justice (the third party) is put nicely by
Hilary Putnam: Imagine you were in a situation in which your obligation to others
did not conflict with focusing entirely on one other human being. What sort of atti-
tude, what sort of relation, should you strive for towards that other?106 A Christian
could, if he wished, take this question and substitute Jesus Christ for other. Since
Christ is true God and true man, he, too, is an Other. As mortal man, he died, as
divine, he arose from death and remains accessible via faith, prayer, the sacraments,
pain, hope, and love, that is, he remains subject-to-creatures. The absence of God is
signified via his real but hidden presence in the sacraments, particularly, the
Eucharist. (Catholics believe that the Host is otherwise than bread, a belief that
defies all appearance to the contrary.) Aesthetic expression, churches, believers,
historical narratives, the oppressed among up, and the face of the Other appeal to a
common origin. Neither invisibility nor absence reduces to abstraction, for if they
did, substitution would signify a concept and not what it does signify, namely, incar-
nated love. Substitution is the basis of ethics, a reality and not a projection. Substi-
tution and conformance to the real are both synonymous and synchronous. Yet this
reality eludes knowledge, i.e., the concurrence of consciousness with the phenomenal.
Ethics, according to Levinas, is not reducible to moral standards, common sense, or
the habit of virtue. In his ethics there is no exact standard or measurement; one is
approached or one approaches. This is not synonymous with a situational ethics that
accords with group or societal values, utility, or the heat of the moment, i.e., what is
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most expedient, convenient, or pleasant. The one-for-the-other of substitution is no
more tenuous a basis than a rule book, the majority opinion, habit, or emotion, for
these can be transformed from one thing into another through the power of propa-
ganda and the vicissitudes of economics. Just as the absence of God calls for faith,
not justification, so does the face call for response, not analysis. And this is far from
convenient.
Levinas and Christian spirituality reject the idea that suffering, in itself, is use-
ful. It is an evil in a world already immersed in the evil men live by. Suffering is the
one factor that the amoral cannot assemble into their self-made world, for suffering is
alterity, it comes from the outside of a self predisposed to enjoyment. In an amoral
universe suffering signifies a lack of knowledge or a failure of will. Science and
technology will one day eradicate pain, while mind-techniques such as visualization
will create new possibilities in a life freed from its final constraint.
Yet the problem of suffering can just as easily veer one toward the Other as
not. Suffering reminds that one is corporeal, after all. The essence of corporeality is
dependence and it is suffering that incorporates one to another. The responsible self
takes on, as a matter of obligation, the sins, crimes, burdens, hardships, and dilemmas
of the Other. The Christian, too, assumes responsibility for a world he neither
created nor willfully sullied. Christ is the model of substitution, the one worth
imitating. That Christ suffered and died for each in particular is a great comfort for
the truly desperate, those far from the glimmer of progress and the aid of bountiful
resources. (The poor are stirred by Good Friday, not Easter.) Suffering, which
appears to be an absurdity, is transformed by God into something that is capable of
uniting one to God. Thus suffering, even when unjust, shares in goodness. With this,
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Christianity turns everything upside down.
Neither the worship of God nor self-knowledge occur in a private space
furnished by the needs of an imperialistic ego, one that can never, through intentional
consciousness alone, transcend its assumed convictions and values. That the self
transcends Being is its true identity but this can only be recognized via recognition of
the other as absolutely unique and irreplaceable. Self-knowledge comes from outside
of the self, via the face and the summons of the Other. It is ones activity towards the
Other that reveals ones true condition as locus of discourse and site of morality as
opposed to manifestation of God or custodian of Being. One is not a self-projection
in an horizon of freedom but a substitute for an Other. This condition of servitude is
itself an undergoing, the ordeal of love. Love is not a force one conjures up in order
to heal the earth; rather, love is regard for another person to the point of discomfort,
annoyance, and pain in order to ease the other's suffering. Ones vocation is to sub-
stitute oneself in the place of the there is (il y a) so that the Other will never be finally
and completely abandoned. Similarly, perfection is not something visualized and
thereby instantiated, but the height that keeps one humble. Love and perfection are
not self-generated but come from the exterior, that which is otherwise than being
and beyond essence. This is why the truly self-centered carry about themselves an
atmosphere of self-enclosure that cannot be breached, an aura of imperturbability
donned as a cloak in the service of self-maintenance.
But it is superior to be opened to the Other. It is not health, power, intelli-
gence, knowledge, spirituality, enlightenment, or iconodasm, but the ethical itself that
becomes the standard of goodness. The ethical is the goodness that exceeds and
exalts everything. Religiously speaking, anything that cannot possibly accord with the
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will of God or the example of Christ must be discarded and replaced by that which
does. One discovers this will and example in Scripture, tradition, and most impor-
tantly, in the face-to-face. This recommendation will appeal to the already religious,
those whom, thanks to faith, are obedient to the Law and remain open to the Other.
For them, the notion of substitution is the philosophical explication of their interior
lives.
Yet, when viewed in technologys light, Catholicism and religion-in-general
are like a broken machine: they no longer work. The edifice upon which morality
assumed its pertinence has been felled by the exigencies of science, modernity, and a
self no longer shamed by modesty. The straight and narrow is overgrown with weeds
and the dusky feel of obsolescence. Today it is not obedience to Church decrees but
overwhelming love for Christ and/or neighbor that inspires the ethical, for without
otherness, the moral dimension collapses. A justice derived from utilitarianism alone
is the consensus of the majority, safe and secure in the quantifiable. This is the dull-
ing of mind and heart in those unwilling to be broken.
Levinas has shown that while one resorts to an autonomy that aligns itself
with ontology in order to philosophize, one does not, thereby, coincide with autono-
mous Being. He has placed the ethical before the ontological and in this configura-
tion the autonomy of the individual is itself illusory. Heteronomy is the real condition
of the self just because 1) one is descendent and ancestor as opposed to goddess
emerging from god or abstraction gleaned from perception, i.e., one is dependent and
responsible from the start, and 2) in a world where truth and falsity vie for attention,
goodness resides in discourse, the you and me, face-to-face encounter.
An aura of commerce surrounds everything, turning the simplest gestures into
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transactions. Knowledge has increased and communication along with it, but dis-
course has been sacrificed to the efficiency gods. The current climate does not con-
duce to humble service or respect but precisely the reverse. Anything that can be
utilized for the general amusement becomes fodder for degradation. On the one hand
there is a search for universal harmony and on the other there is a world-wide threat
from extremists who put ideology before the human; both disregard the singularity of
the subject. In a place such as this, the indigence of the Other exposes the wicked-
ness of that which usurps the whole world: the self-reliant heart that feeds off Being
and hides in Nothingness. Substitution militates against the violence of Being; it is
the goodness in a world forgetful of the human and the divine.
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NOTES
1. Levinas, Emmanuel, Transcendence and Height. Basic Philosophical
Writings, ed. Adriaan T.Peperzak, Simon Critchley, and Robert Bemasconi (Indiana:
Indiana UP, 2001) 14.
2. Ibid., 15
3. Ibid., 13.
4. Levinas, Is It Righteous To Be?: Interviews With Emmanuel Levinas, ed.
Till Robbins (California: Stanford UP, 2001) 213.
5. Hegel, G.W.F., Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller (Oxford: Oxford
UP, 1977) 112. (Emphasis Hegel)
6. Levinas, Meaning and Sense. Basic, endnote 40, 176.
7. Ibid., 58. (Emphasis Levinas)
8. Ibid., 50. (Emphasis Levinas)
9. Levinas prefers to think of time as infinite as opposed to eternal.
10. Levinas, Otherwise Than Being or Bevond Essence, trans. Alphonso Lingis
(Dordrecht: Khuwer Academic P, 1974, 1991, 2004) 6.
11. Ibid., 145.
12. Levinas, Is It Righteous To Be? 97.
13. This is what it is to go aright, or to be led by another, into the mystery of
love: one goes always upwards for the sake of this beauty...Plato. Symposium (24c)
Plato, however, believes that truth is an anamnesis: arent thought and speech the
same, except that what we call thought is speech occurs without the voice, inside the
soul in conversation with itself? Sophist (263e4). Truth is discovered/recalled from
within the depths of the self.
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14. Levinas, God. Death, and Time, trans. Bettina Bergo (California: Stanford
UP, 2000) 122. (Emphasis Levinas)
15. The Same is a formal category that finds its concretization in a monopolistic
ego.
16. Levinas. Otherwise Than Being 58. (Emphasis Levinas)
17. Levinas, Is Ontology Fundamental? Basic 2. (Emphasis Levinas.)
18. Levinas, Otherwise Than Being 17.
19. Levinas, Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority trans. Alphonso Lingis
(Pittsburgh, Pa: Duquesne UP, 2004) 43.
20. The Heideggerian being-with-one-another (das Miteinanderseiri) appears to
me always like marching together, that is not for me; there is no face there. However,
being-toward-the-other is not an anonymous relation. Levinas, Is Righteous to Be?
131.
21. Levinas. Is Ontology Fundamental? Basic 4. Levinass assessment of
Heidegger is that he has not extracted himself from ontologys tentacles.
22. Levinas, Otherwise Than Being 30.
23. This state of self-enclosure could be construed as a form of narcissism.
24. Levinas, Totality and Infinity 46
25. Levinas, Is Ontology Fundamental? Basic 3 n. 3.
26. Pantheism, according to Levinas, is that brand of atheism practiced by pagans;
God is everything, everything God. Every form of monism incorporates the other
into the Same. Here, if an other truly becomes other it is considered viral, as were
the Jews in Hitlers Germany.
27. Levinas considers Platos Idea of the Good otherwise than Being.
28. Levinas, Is Ontology Fundamental? Basic 5.
29. Thinking appeared to be the souls conversation with itself. Plato, Sophist
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(264a).
30. And no one can acquire these abilities without great effort a laborious
effort a sensible man will make not in order to speak and act among human
beings, but so to speak and act in a way that pleases the gods as much as
possible. Plato, Phaedrus (273e-274a).
31. In the knowable realm the form of the good is the last thing to be seen, and
is reached only with great difficulty. Once one has seen it, however, one
must conclude that it is the cause of all that is correct and beautiful in
anything... Plato, Republic (517b).
32. The power to learn is in everyones soul and the brightest thing (is) the one
we call the good... Plato, Republic (518d).
33. Descartes. Rene. Discourse on Method and Meditations, trans.. intro
Laurence J. Lafleur (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Educational Pub., 1960)
101.
34. Levinass oft repeated description of the idea of the infinite.
35. Levinas. Totality and Infinity 41.
36. Ibid., 25.
37. Descartes, Discourse 104.
38. Ibid., 102.
39. Levinas, The Idea of the Infinite in Us, Entre-Nous : on Thinking of the
Other, trans. Michael B. Smith and Barbara Harshav (New York: Columbia UP,
1998) 222.
40. Ibid., 219.
41. Ibid., 220.
42. Levinas. Totality and Infinity 195-96. In Hegel, the infinite is analogous to
the State in that just as the latter incorporates the citizen, so the universal
encompasses particulars.
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43. If the infinite is equivalent to the other, infinity is alterity or otherness
Peperzak, To The Other n. 53 108-09.
44. Levinas. Totality and Infinity 121. (Emphasis Levinas)
45. Levinas, Meaning and Sense. Basic 53.
46. Levinas, Totality and Infinity 53.
47. Ibid., 53.
48. Levinas, Is Ontology Fundamental? Basic 7
49. Levinas, Otherwise Than Being 6
50. Ibid., 37.
51. Levinas. Substitution. Basic 83.
52. Levinas, Otherwise Than Being 45.
53. Ibid., 39.
54. Ibid., 29.
55. Ibid., 75.
56. Ibid., 82
57. Ibid., 11.
58. Ibid., 82.
59. Ibid., 4
60. Justice, which regards the third party, lightens this responsibility yet does not
thereby exonerate one from responsibility.
61. Levinas. Totality and Infinity 216.
62. Levinas, Otherwise Than Being 129.
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63. Levinas, Difficult Freedom. Essays on Judaism, trans. Sean Hand (John
Hopkins UP, 1990) xiv.
64. Levinas. Is It Righteous To Be? 191.
65. Levinas, Otherwise Than Being 78.
66. This is my place in the sun, the usurpation of the whole earth begins here.
Pascal, Pensees no. 295. This is often quoted by Levinas. In this sentence of
Pascal, by the simple claiming of a place in the sun, I have already usurped the earth.
Levinas, Is It Righteous To Be? 53.
67. Levinas. Otherwise Than Being 163.
68. Levinas does not consider philosophy a state of mind but the mind at its best.
It is philosophy that untangles the said into the before said, that is, saying. Substitu-
tion is disclosed by phenomenology, though it is neither created nor sustained by the
same.
69. Levinas, Is It Righteous to Be? 280.
70. This paper is concerned with modem paganism not that of Ancient Rome, etc.
71. Levinas. Difficult Freedom 232. (Emphasis Levinas)
72. Ibid., 233-34
73. Levinas. Totality and Infinity 11.
74. Levinas. Difficult Freedom 233. Levinas does not mention Marian appari-
tions in his description of the instantiation of pious roots in particular locales.
75. Ibid., 234.
76. Ibid., 137.
77. Complementary to this is what I call the boomerang effect, which is a way of
dealing with others. Every glance, word, and action is performed with the know-
ledge that all comes back to the self after passing through the other. The other
becomes a kind of conduit or mirror whereby everything tossed out at the other
returns with the express purpose of making the self feel good, look good, (in the eyes
of self and other) or at the very least, walk away unscathed.
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78. Levinas, Is It Righteous To Be? 263.
79. Ibid., 265.
80. Levinas, Difficult Freedom 176.
81. Hegel, Phenomenology 459.
82. Ibid., 459. (Emphasis Hegel)
83. Ibid., 460. (Emphasis mine)
84. Giussani, Luigi, Morality, Memory, and Desire trans. K.D. Whitehead (San
Francisco: Ignatius P, 1986) 133
85. Ibid., 47.
86. Peperzak, Adriaan Theodoor, To The Other: An Introduction to Emmanuel
Levinas (Indiana: Purdue Research Foundation, 1993) 190.
87. Giussani, Morality, Memory, and Desire 171.
88. Levinas, Otherwise Than Being 102.
89. Levinas, Is It Righteous To Be? 215.
90. Levinas, Totality and Infinity 237.
91. Ibid., 237.
92. Ibid., 238.
93. Perhaps this is the reason behind the belief that animals are incapable of real
suffering.
94. Levinas, Totality and Infinity 238.
95. Ibid., 239. (Emphasis Levinas)
96. Levinas, Otherwise Than Being 146.
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97. Ibid., 126. (Emphasis Levinas)
98. Ibid., 126.
99. Levinas. Is It Righteous To Be? 281.
100. Levinas. God. Death, and Time 125.
101. Kosky, Jeffrey L. Levinas and the Philosophy of Religion (Bloomington and
Indianapolis: Indiana UP, 2001) 193-96.
102. Levinas, Otherwise Than Being 128.
103. Levinas, Difficult Freedom 6.
104. Putnam, Hilary, Levinas and Judaism, Cambridge Companion to
Levinas (Cambridge UP, 2002) 34. For Levinas, that the Jews, as a people, are
chosen, means, for them, surplus obligations. Anyone who considers him or herself
a substitute is, in this sense, chosen.
105. Levinas, Enigma and Phenomenon, Basic 71.
106. Putnam, Cambridge Companion 37.
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