Epistemological Escape

AN ETHICS OF LOVE

Part 1.3

While this question could certainly meet no satisfactory answer in the case of visual arts, our intention here is to speculate a few ideas in the analogous case of the loved Other. To permit this, we must first realize that this spatial model applies to two moments of the relation to the loved Other: the initial relation as external, sense-only perception from a perceiving subject (me) to a perceived object (her); and the later, or underlying, relation as a metaphysical encounter, the cohabiting of the Other in the world that is my spatial dwelling, and in the singular trail of life that is my personal, uninterrupted adventure. Is there a movement of escape in this case? Hegel could respond to this, but only partially. Partially, because there is still a lot of Hegel in Levinas, as Derrida famously argued in his 1964 critique. 1 Levinas would have failed in bypassing the limitations set by Hegelian philosophy. But, we believe that there is also a transcendence of Hegel in Levinas, precisely when he gets to the relation to the loved Other. Love is that which changes the Hegelian reading of Levinas, because it is the radicalization of the ‘project’ of Levinas: the encounter of the Other, in its purest, closest form. And paradoxically, it is its purest form because it departs from the scale of the instant, from the ever-present assumption of the phenomenological method, to enter time and the future. We shall return to that.

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… encountering the loved One could, indeed, be seen as a total involvement of my perceiving self, into one particular, singular, unique object of perception. It is, in this case, properly an instance of escape: escape from myself, from my being, from my existence as an incarnated, embodied being.

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The trace of Hegel can be found easily in the aforementioned, first phase: the visual encounter of the Other. At the level of a perceptive interaction with the loved Other, I, the subject, get completely ‘aspirated’ or ‘ingested’ by her. Curiously, Hegel discusses a similar phenomenon around one of his key concepts: Desire. But in his own Phenomenology, Hegel ascribes this aspiration of the self into the object of perception, precisely as what precedes Desire: Hegel’s Desire is not the popular desire, as sustained attraction to an object, but rather the violent movement that pulls me from my activity and brings me to another object of attention. He famously refers to the image of the philosopher, completely involved in his act of thinking – at this time, her mind has the form of the object under scrutiny. And it is Desire that disrupts this practice, Desire in its simplest form: desire to eat, desire to rest, desire to relieve oneself. These are all, for Hegel, forms of desire. Hegel acknowledges that sexual desire is a distinct type of desire. But it is, for Hegel, not a different category of desire: it is, just like for hunger, tiredness, etc. the satisfaction of a lack. The primordial idea of Hegel, irrespective of what he calls Desire, is still valid in our case: encountering the loved One could, indeed, be seen as a total involvement of my perceiving self, into one particular, singular, unique object of perception. It is, in this case, properly an instance of escape: escape from myself, from my being, from my existence as an incarnated, embodied being. It is just like Hegel’s philosopher who forgets her hunger or her tiredness in her thinking exercise. Encountering the loved Other is an escape of the perceiving subject in his perceived object, at the moment of perception.

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References

Image courtesy: Sargam Mishra

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Footnotes

  1. Jacques Derrida, “Violence and Metaphysics,” in Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass (London, UK: Routledge, 2012).