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Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Silvia Benso and Levinas' Buberian hangover

The relation between Levinas and Buber is not straightforward. In an interview to François Poirié Levinas says that the asymmetry between me and the Other - for him I'm more responsible than anyone else for everything - is the big difference, or the small difference that makes a difference. What they do seem to coincide is in the impersonality of things - in fact, of the non-human in general. As Buber distinguished interlocutors in terms of whom can I have a personal relation, Levinas restricts the Other to a realm where no thing can enter. Silvia Benso - in her The face of things with which I'm quite infatuated right now - makes it very clear that Levinas things of the face of the Other not only in terms of a male face that can genuinely be unrelated to the extent as providing an interruption to the supposedly hetero-cis-sexual me, but also as something no thing could possess. He associated things with the paganism that he wants to quickly reject and that he connects with a trickery and a dangerous path. Heidegger's attempts of doing justice to the thing are not criticized, but put aside. It is curious that he wouldn't take his response-based account seriously enough when he rejects that anything could interrupt me and require a response. The restriction of the Other that can affect me slides in the risk of Butler's criticism: the human face is a concept that needs to be recognized before any encounter. Now, it seems to be that a proper Levinasian response would be to appeal to a phenomenology of the encounter with a face, but rather he concedes that the realm of things is deprived of ethics, confining his approach to what is human. Here I can't stop wondering whether this is some kind of Buberian hangover that would downgrade things in order to contrast them with the more elevated Thou that could afford to be taken personally.

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