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Sunday, 21 January 2018

Remarks on the anarchic in Levinas

The strong commitment to externality and to exorcise the many forms of totality lead Levinas to a rejection of many forms of archai, especially the ones that take some subjectivity to be a founding identity. He writes about the anarchism and the an-archic elements that are related to substitution (one for the other) and infinite responsibility in Autrement qu'être. The very notion of recurrence as a (perhaps transcendental) structure of psychism takes him to the anarchism of substitution where one is taken by any other and (eventually) returns to oneself through exercises of consciousness of that require freedom. There is no system that is not overhauled by substitution, by the infinite responsibility one has with the other, a responsibility that grows when one accepts it and, by that means, comes closer to the other.

I was thinking about this anarchist responsibility in Levinas. Three remarks:

1. The central notion for his an-archism (and in the landscape of the book) is that of proximity. Proximity is associated with sensibility which is taken to be vulnerability: the proximity of those who come after me, the proximity of those that could be me and the proximity of my neighbors in a the space where I sense the others (their appeal). Proximity itself contrasts with an organized structure where some things have priority over others. It is close to contact and contagion, to use words Deleuze and Guattari privilege in Mille Plateaux precisely to introduce an element of disturbance alien to the order of a plan d'organisation. Levinas is adamant that infinite responsibility and substitution comes from an obsession in psychism that is disordered and that cannot be placed in an order unless it is betrayed (by becoming a theme). Proximity (like contact, contagion) introduces an element of disorder in any theme - in any organization. To be driven by proximity is to be driven in a manner that is alien to order and system. The contrast is strangely close to the one Heidegger draws in the Einblick: Nähe versus Ge-Stell. Nähe, for him, introduces an opening of things on their own pace and the Kehre that intends to reject Ge-Stell would reject thematization along with totality. Levinas' path is very different, but even in Heidegger we can see the Kehre as against an order of things (that make them available).

2. Through the idea of proximity and infinite responsibility, one can think of familism as it appears in the Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-Oedipus as a system to invest all concern with the other (together with all erotism) in the mother-father structure. The oedipian operation is one where my obsession with the other is fed by having the family close, by forcing a proximity with those that are structured in the oedipian way. This would be the effort of psychoanalysis, the management of an obsession; obsession that is itself unconscious and that precedes any investment one does in consciousness and freedom. The operation acts on the unconscious to make the wound of the other, the primeval wound, to focus on something centripetal and organized, in a system of society. By doing that, all dreams and desires become translated to a focus on the family - proximity becomes familiarity. Levinas wound and anarchist infinite responsibility gives us elements to understand how the operation is not only one on libido but also one in substitution (on hosting the other and feeling responsible). The family-based structure of capitalism (according to the Anti-Oedipus) makes it predatory because proximity with its anarchic dimension is exorcised in favor of a system, the system of family. One therefore concentrates the subjective effort of being for another to the other members of the family. An-archic proximity would in contrast dissolve that focus.

3. Consider proximity beyond the human limits. We can think of anarchist proximity in contrast with ecological systems - infinite responsibility is not organized in any ecological structure that, like families, precedes the investment of each subjectivity oriented by the recurrent structure of psychism (one leaves oneself and comes back, one is never always oneself). So infinite responsibility makes one focus on different things that come to one's proximity and not to kinship organized in ecological pre-structured orders; perhaps something close to what Haraway calls "making kin" as opposed to being guided by one's (pre-existing) kin. Infinite responsibility leads to the possibility that any ecological system can be revisited by anarchic substitutions - anyone can be for any other. Proximity is what makes the necessary impossibility of infinite responsibility feasible. One does whatever one finds fit to whatever comes one's way. There is no immanent ecological order that is not reinforced by forcing some proximities. But proximity itself is anarchic.

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