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Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Metaphysics without neutrality (and animism)

In my dialogues with Adriana Menassé (soon out in Stoa) I sketched a view that brings together some elements of animism with a Levinasian ethical outlook. Involved with the discussion of Derrida's Violence et Métaphysique it strikes me as if in fact a Levinasian take could inform a contemporary form of animism. Levinas stresses the need for a second parricide: the inclusion of alterity and multiplicity in the kernel of things beyond being and non-being in their strive for unity. Levinas insists against the operation of neutralization that, according to Derrida, is the very Greek element common to Parmenides and Plato (and his Stranger), and also echoing in new Greeks like Husserl and Heidegger. Neutralization is to consider the other as, in its arché, not a new command (or a new commencement) but rather more of the same, conceived as a neutral element. There is a common stuff to all beings (seiende), whatever exists is in its ultimate stance something common, call it being (Sein). Neutralization is the abolition of differences (a bit like the operations ascribed to Aristotle, Leibniz and Hegel by Deleuze in Différence et Répétition). What replaces the neutral is the face, the visage which points towards infinity and appears irreducibly in the meeting, in the encounter one has with the other. The face is never neutral for it resists being part of anything, it is an irreducible particular (or singular) that neither is part nor participates. It cannot be summoned by an anamnesis. It cannot be known, it can only be met. It is, as I would say in my Excessos e Exceções (Sâo Paulo: Ideias e Letras, 2008), a purely non-cognitive acquaintance. It inaugurates a metaphysical gaze, as opposed to an ontological one because the call of a face is fully non-theoretical, one doesn´t talk about a face, one talks to a face. The face also resists all forms of formality (one of the criticisms to Buber´s I-Thou that Derrida ascribes to Levinas, in a footnote in page 156 of L´écriture et la difference, Seuil 1967). The face is meant to be the pure countenance of the other.

Now, one can read this in animist terms. According to Viveiros de Castro´s perspectivism, the Amerindian sees the jaguar as the other while aware that she is a human and sees a fellow human as a human as much as a jaguar sees a fellow jaguar as a human. Everything is about meeting the other (and meeting the same). It is about how something appears in a meeting, whether as the other or as the same. According to Descola´s view on animism, the non-human admits of no general knowledge before each meeting - apart from the knowledge of a common agency, a common interiority that is what enables the Amerindian to negotiate with the jaguar from agency to agency. Animism contrasts with naturalism that holds the idea of nature as something that can be known and is common to everything I can meet (and is neutral). Nature can be known before any meeting and in a sense subsumes the meeting - there is something neutral preventing the other to bring genuine (and complete) novelty. It is ontological in this sense, while animism can be constructed as being metaphysical in Levinas sense: the other appears as the other, and the only common element is the face that relates to me, in an ethical relation (that is mediated by the diplomacy of violence). Such a diplomacy contrasts with the empire of violence that ontological (naturalit) views would promote. Derrida (footnote, p. 136, op. cit.) has a description of such diplomacy in terms of an economy of violence: ..."toute philosophie de la non-violence ne peut jamais, dans l´histoire, [...] que choisir le moindre violence en une economie de la violence". The animist negotiates with what is present - it is not about the general plan, it is about who one happens to meet - and meeting is gazing an agency in a world of iletés that somehow are capable to summon.

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