An Addressee’s Resolution

DE L’INFINI : A FOREIGNER’S METAPHYSICS

Opening

Figure of the parabola – from the outside all the way back to the outside. We started our exploration with a shy approach, from the outside of what is undeniably a largely unknown history. And we end at the highly abstract and speculative level of metaphysical propositions – but again, a meta physics, if at all, insisting to remain outside the margins. This is so because metaphysics must not be abandoned ; because the human can truly find original and valuable insights on the most fundamental aspects of reality, and that philosophy must, in fact, provide this kind of reflection today. But indeed, a provision for metaphysics is conceivable only inasmuch it resists the reductive frames of its history in western thought, called totalisation or thematisation with Levinas, and logocentrism or metaphysics of presence with Derrida. The indebtedness to Levinas, the heritage carried by Derrida, the continuation of this lineage, are visible through the entirety of this reflection. The anxious, obsessive fear of Levinas, to always be on the edge of falling back into a discourse of totalisation, of the Said, is shared here too. But the risk must be accepted, and the challenge, taken.

This is also perhaps the echo of Derrida’s personal life, and its relation with his oeuvre : no, indeed, philosophy and philosophy readers will not have enough with largely abstract and playful studies ; the implications, ethical or otherwise, must be presented and explored explicitly. With Levinas and Derrida, we have a theoretician of ethics who insisted on not delving into actual matters of concrete morality, and an inter-disciplinary meaning-maker with a reporter-like concern for not drawing the conclusion for his readers. But ethics must indeed be discussed. It must be elaborated. At a general level, perhaps, so not to take over each individual’s choice, unique in every single situation.

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Metaphysics meets ethics. An ethics brought back to its etymology, the ethos, the customs, the attitude, the incessant, yet disseminated and appeased concern of the individual at every single moment. Levinas had moved the ethical from the occasional moment of the decision, to the very fundamental and habitual event of the face-to-face. More confidently, we can bring the ethical further to the all-the-time, to a permanent, yet serene attention to all and everything.

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The situation is analogous here : we had to draw the conclusions to make explicit the necessary implications, in the form of this metaphysics, this old, mocked name. And it is more than analogy, because behind these alternatives to our ways of understanding space, time or knowledge, there are indeed very pragmatic implications, and effects on our approach of ethics. Metaphysics meets ethics. An ethics brought back to its etymology, the ethos, the customs, the attitude, the incessant, yet disseminated and appeased concern of the individual at every single moment. Levinas had moved the ethical from the occasional moment of the decision, to the very fundamental and habitual event of the face-to-face. More confidently, we can bring the ethical further to the all-the-time, to a permanent, yet serene attention to all and everything. Indeed, called mindfulness or attentive presence, new Buddhist echoes to our discussion are again opening. And the phenomenology of ethics is already engaged in this dynamic of diffusion through time. This is certainly so, to stay with Levinas, because our era provides each individual with increased levels of sociality, even in spite of an all-time-high individualism. The Other is and can always be around, therefore ethics must necessarily be spread to a permanent attention. Post-Structuralism had radicalised the Heideggerean claim to posit the human as permanently in language ; our metaphysical elaboration from Levinas posits the human as the being of Ethics, having an incessant preoccupation in its Other as its main characteristic. Ego can never be itself, around or even faraway from the Other. Maybe this would be the last step to the old anxiety of finding what truly distances the human animal from other creatures. And to undertake this step confidently, new perspectives on space, time and knowledge, as we have attempted here, are indeed required.

But who is the ‘message’ of this ‘thesis’ addressed to : the individual or the collective ? The question is central, and not so evident. Would this kind of insight – the political reduction of foreignness, the existential liberation of the foreigner, the reconstruction of foreignness at the foundation of our cultures and values, and especially the foreigner’s metaphysics – be beneficial, be oriented towards the singular individual, perhaps herself a future foreigner, or to the community, the group, perhaps even the political dimension ? Personal development on the one hand, social improvement on the other – a running alternative throughout western thought.

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The heart of this exploration was addressed, clearly, to the individual, defined here as the locus of humanity’s evolution. This choice was already explicit in the transition from the third to the fourth chapter. Such was required to justify a return to metaphysics, as the fruits of an individual’s introspective enquiry, instead of a turn to praxis, social critique or political philosophy, as the elaboration of a collective programme to apply and follow.

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But I took a stance. I did pronounce a set of brief propositions with regards to the political attitude, and certain policies surrounding the treatment of foreigners. A few words were said about politics of language. But the heart of this exploration was addressed, clearly, to the individual, defined here as the locus of humanity’s evolution. This choice was already explicit in the transition from the third to the fourth chapter. Such was required to justify a return to metaphysics, as the fruits of an individual’s introspective enquiry, instead of a turn to praxis, social critique or political philosophy, as the elaboration of a collective programme to apply and follow. Levinas and Derrida both resisted the Marxist waves that reached nearly all the French intellectuals, in the 1940s-1960s. Both, silently, remained critical and wary about the Leftist political metaphysics of a radically collective humanity. They felt, perhaps, that the subtlety of human existence lies in its irresolvable imbalance between the dimensions of the individual and of the collective. Inspired by these two figures in and outside of the philosophical exercise proper, it is without a surprise that I, too, followed their path to make of philosophy a discourse that addresses the individual first. This may ultimately be the critique of this thesis, or its attempt at an extension : what would these arguments become if we opened them to the collective ? How can a collectivity respond to the multiplicity of spaces, to the serenity in a creative avenir, or to the possibility of knowledge-from-the-Other ? May these enter the praxis-oriented realm of the political one day ? This very alternative, this ‘set of antonyms’ as I called this figure earlier, does not seem resolvable to me in the present of this writing. It is, once again, the avenir and its capacity for creative rejoining that shall be the terrain for this organic resolution. And its source, the Other behind my knowledge-from-the-Other, the reader of these lines, eager to enter the patient realm of the written.

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References

Image courtesy: The Bowes Museum

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