A Taste for the Other

LEVINAS : FOR THE FEMININE OTHER

Conclusion

If the aim of a scholarly work of quality is to present a problem in its diverse complexities, and, in some situations, to take a position or defend one of the views, it could appear, here, as judicious to use Verter’s demonstration as the last words of this discussion. Indeed, by thinking ‘outside of the box’ through a careful questioning of all the assumptions in place in the feminist debate over Levinas, he showed that absolutely new horizons of interpretation could be opened. Interestingly, this ‘outside of the box’ is located precisely within the thought of Levinas, within his texts, and, more, at the heart of his words, in their etymology. Addressing ‘in passing’ Levinas, by evaluating passages dislocated from their context or their origins, is not doing justice to the mindful and learned reasons that made Levinas choose each of his favourite terms. It is particularly surprising, for instance, to remark that it took nearly fifty years for a commentator like Verter to highlight the semantic association of the feminine, the interior, the home, the second, etc. in the Hebrew term ‘Beth’ mentioned by Levinas himself. The modern readings of de Beauvoir and others appear, from this new perspective, as impatient drives to counter all the potential faces of patriarchy and of the androcentric, but often at the cost of mistaking creative attempts as the actual, accurate roots of these injustices. By accusing Levinas of patriarchy, a generation of feminists has probably lost the extremely useful theoretical support that Levinas’s thought of the ethical could offer, for their own ends. Other commentators, like Jacques Derrida, would apply themselves carefully when critiquing particular aspects of Levinas, but without ever jumping right away into a general rejection of the apparently scandalous words of the philosopher. Through Derrida’s mediation, thankfully, a number of contemporary feminists, like Hélène Cixous, but also Irigaray herself, could more easily recognize the unusual richness of the philosophy of Levinas.

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A taste for the challenge, a taste for the possibility of other possibilities, of alternatives, of differences. Levinas, philosopher of the Other, that is, philosopher of difference, of differences, of all differences. Differences of gender – the masculine, the feminine, but also the queer and the undetermined – but also differences of sexualities, of identities, and, if one expands, differences of cultures, of traditions, of histories, of habits, and, of course, of language.

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What is this situation representing? What is the underlying ‘lesson’ of this status quo? Levinas and the gender debate, or the impatient assessment by the logos – real spinal chord of European philosophy since the Greeks – when confronted to the Other, to alterity, to the enigmatic and the non-understandable. In a way, Levinas’s very prose, his poetic philosophy, his voiced meditations are as many attempts to disrupt the comfort of the reader. To awaken the awareness of the Other’s call: “what does this line mean? I must try harder,” is the reaction that Levinas certainly hoped to engender. There is, clearly, another tradition than the Greek, in the way Levinas understands philosophy. More than a philosopher who happens to be Jewish, Levinas is perhaps, instead, first a major tenant of the ‘Jewish home’, an expert of the Judaic tradition, who, only secondly, attempted to ‘translate’ the insights of his culture into the ambitiously systematizing medium of the Greek logos. Levinas is unusual, and till date, he is still underestimated and not sufficiently read, under the pretext of his ‘complex prose’, of his ‘illogical writing’. But it is consciously, and willingly, that Levinas challenged the metaphysical and logical obsessions of Greek philosophy. A taste for the challenge, a taste for the possibility of other possibilities, of alternatives, of differences. Levinas, philosopher of the Other, that is, philosopher of difference, of differences, of all differences. Differences of gender – the masculine, the feminine, but also the queer and the undetermined – but also differences of sexualities, of identities, and, if one expands, differences of cultures, of traditions, of histories, of habits, and, of course, of language. Levinas, or the undecipherable language of the Other, par excellence – the enigmatic, incomprehensible Other to the Same, feminine to the male and masculine to the female. Why should we transcend the gender debate on Levinas? Well before becoming a grammatical term, gender was, in Latin, nothing but the vast category of the genus, comprising elements such as birth, family, nation, etc. Gender, the genus, only the concept of taxonomic category, an attempt to segment and organize, that is, to reduce, a multiplicity of beings, within a totalitarian system. Thinking in terms of gender, to reduce the infinity and infinities into well-groomed singularities. Certainly not the project of Levinas.

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References

Image courtesy: Levinas.nl

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