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Deictic Absolutes 3

Another part - the bit on Proximity.
Proximity is about what is almost the same but not quite. It could be a species of the genre 'almost' if the latter is a genre of the order of the other.

When we depart from sameness, proximity is the sole guide and in that sense it is a projection of sameness into the other. Friendship is often thought as a figure of proximity: Aristotle thought friends were one soul in two bodies and Montaigne thought friends have everything in common and responsibilities between them are no longer felt as such. Bojana Kunst understands friendship as a departure of the sameness of my identity – of the idiocy of my own endeavors. An interruption. It is through those who are in proximity that I find my neighborhood

I can only cease to be an idiot if I find somebody who is like me, who is almost the same. What we have here is a kind of a paradox: I cannot find who I am only with myself, yet I can find who I am with somebody who is almost like me [...]1

Proximity points towards the minimal exterior – towards what is slightly out there. A small variation and, in that sense, what comes in a small distance. The near, in that sense, is the next. Friendship, as Kunst and others notice, is both the actual form of proximity and a consequence of it. Proximity is both a requisite and an expression of friendship. It is as if there were friendship before friendship – as if the actualization of friendship were an act of friendship. Friendship helps making clear that proximity is both a state and an event; it is an event prefigured in a state – or rather, in other events.

Indexicals are about what is near – this, that and the Other are close to me, located around where I am, found from the position I occupy. Proximity contrasts with a view from nowhere. The horizon of an interiority is constituted by an indexical environment from where what is real appears; I am the center of the environment, but a center cannot dispense with what is in my proximity. Proximity, what is nearby, close, in the (indexical) neighborhood, constitutes an interiority.

The notion of proximity (proximité) is central in Levinas' Autrement qu'être. There, it is articulated with the notions of substitution and recurrence. Proximity points at whoever comes after me, the one that will follow me and in that sense will substitute me. The Other is in my proximity because it is the Other that substitutes me, the Other that steps on my shoes. In general, proximity is a condition for substitution: one can replace wine more easily with grape juice than with peach juice, someone close to me can replace me in a decision-making meeting, lilacs can be used to replace purple better than brown. Similarly, the Other in the proximity could be having the piece of bread I'm eating. Substitution is also the starting point of Levinas conception of a subjectivity not as an identity but as recurrence: I am replaced by the Other and then I start a journey back to where I was.2 There is no agenda of mine pushing through a substitution and a recurrence.

The Other is present in me in a proximity that triggers a responsibility: the scope of what I care for is not my own body, but my proximity. A subjectivity is not oriented towards itself, it is rather oriented towards what is close. The position in which it is situated is not structured as a center where there is a self and a periphery where an (indexical) environment circumscribes the center. On the one hand, there is no (substantive) identity in the center closed off from what is in its proximity. On the other, there is always a returning point where the center of the subjectivity is available. More than a governing capital, this center is more like a refuge. The middle point between the two poles is what makes subjectivity a recurrence: it is not a position separated from what there is in the proximity but it is a place to return. In that sense, it is a returning point maybe like a homeland that one returns to with a different mind after the journey, rather than an identity. The movements of a subjectivity within the space in its proximity is that of incomplete return. Proximity is a constitutive part of a subjectivity. Further, subjectivity requires proximity; subjectivity becomes hostage to proximity. The plot of being called by the Other and being substituted – and eventually recurring to me which has now become different from my point of departure – takes place in the proximity. Since indexicalism understands an interiority along the lines Levinas conceives of a subjectivity, the indexical environment is what is in my proximity.

Proximity is alien to descriptions. It is not a family, a tribe, a physical neighborhood that is in the proximity – it cannot be described in substantive terms. Friendship is an approximation. What is nearby is precisely what happens to be the nearby – attempting at a description of proximity dismantles proximity.3 The presence of the Other in my environment is not something that engages with my thinking that would open what is outside to my own sovereignty. Rather, the Other towards whom the question is asked “n'appartient pas à a sphère intelligible à explorer. Il se tient dans la proximité”.4 Proximity doesn't require thematization or any sort of structured thinking, it precedes thinking in the sense that it is the point of departure. The exterior is present in the proximity precisely because it precedes every engagement of a sovereign effort of addressing a theme – it is the environment from where thinking obtains its focus. Levinas writes that the essential of his thesis is that “la proximité n'est précisément pas une conjunction quelconque de thèmes, une structure que formerait leur superposition”.5 What is in the proximity, is not an object but part of the open structure of subjectivity. The subject is not a closed individual, but a point of departure and return from substitutions that take place at her proximity.

Levinas claims subjectivity appears to thinking as a pronoun.6 Proximity – indexical environment – is where subjectivity becomes what it is. The notion of interiority in indexicalism has a similar structure: interiorities have addresses, points of departure and what is in its proximity form an environment from which deictic operations are brought to the fore. Interiorities are situated; they are never hovering everywhere. They are tied to engagements; they are somewhere.

Precisely because proximité is not structured in terms of the substantive description of a position, Levinas understands it as an-archic. Proximity is not family connections, it is not familiarity either – it is an an-archic force that could be tied to anything nearby.7 Proximity has to do with vulnerability to the surroundings as much as it has to do with responsibility – and the scope of my responsibility is not determined by a substantive description. Levinas makes clear that proximity is not like disorder where a different order could be found if the effort of thematization – the engagement in substantive descriptions – is sufficiently pursued. Proximity is indifferent to thematization and, often, it runs against it. My proximal surroundings are not determined by any substantive description of my position, it is composed by what appeals to me, to what has a capacity to be present in an environment that is neither of my making nor alien to my subjectivity.

Here again the ontological argument of Totalité et Infini can be recalled: what is exterior imposes itself as such within my proximity. The exterior inside proximity comes from no determined place. The anarchy of proximité is the unpredictability of contact: spatial contiguity introduces an element that is forcibly exterior to any organized structure. It is this contiguity that is invoked in the notion of proximity, but Levinas considers that substitution – my neighbor is the one who follows me – is behind contiguity, including spacial contiguity. He wonders whether contiguity itself could be intelligible without a sense of substitution and therefore of justice.8 This anarchic sense of justice is one that evokes the responsibility for what is within the reach of my indexicals – for what is close enough to be pointed. It is an-archic because there are many technologies of contact and many spaces of contiguity. Levinas takes this an-archic justice that gives rise to contiguity to be human. That means that no other subjectivity is crossed by proximity. I'll discuss these restrictions placed by Levinas later; what matters now is to be clear that the anarchy of proximity brings in substitution and therefore the responsibility a subjectivity senses for what is around. Indexicalism takes interiorities to be placed in an environment, and to respond to it. The anarchy of proximity, however, makes sure nothing can be predicted concerning the entrenchment of any interiority: they just happen to cling around.

Heidegger opposes proximity (Nähe) to what knows no distance in his Einblick in was das ist. The Bremen conferences exposes the opposition and the gradual replacement of proximity by Ge-Stell, which can be translated as frame, device, as I shall prefer and with Andrew Mitchell's translation, positionality.9 While proximity is related to attending to the pace of events, positionality is rather a state where what is around becomes at one's disposal. Positionality sets apart all distances, while this brings no nearness. Nähe is about a presence that is not forced, it's about not placing something in a map, but rather wait until it makes itself present. It is akin to having something in one's horizon. In contrast, positionality, like a device, exposes and produces objects placing them in standing reserve. The distinction between proximity and positionality lies in the form things make themselves present – in positionality they present themselves of their own accord. Positionality extracts things from proximity and make them available to be viewed like in a showcase. It is as if it placed things outside a neighborhood to expose it in a way that it could be seen from nowhere.

Positionality is indeed similar to thematization: Heidegger described the gradual passage from proximity to Ge-Stell by the difference between physis and thesis. The former is understood as bringing-here-forth, it is the opening of something closed from itself and therefore like letting something presence of its own accord. Thesis, in contrast, arranges a presence in a position. A stone presenced by physis is arregimented into a staircase and its steps by thesis. Here we see how thesis disguises itself trying to present things as if they presence in the physis way; as if they were in view, exposed, out there of their own accord. Hence, the project behind positionality is to place things in fixed addresses, formulated as much in a de dicto form as possible. While positionality is a conscription, proximity guards things by allowing them to conceal, to retreat and to withdraw from exposure. Heidegger also describes the passage from proximity to positionality as the turning of the world into a Ge-Stell. The latter places the world in danger because things in the world become persecuted, followed, objects of pursuit, in order to be exposed, to be presented against their grain. The effort of thematization is therefore a betrayal of proximity, a departure from a state where things are guarded and present themselves of their own accord.10 Thesis conscript them and place them in a state of exposure where they are available to be seen, to be presented from anywhere and are not near to anything in particular.

Heidegger's account of proximity has some similarities with Levinas'. Above all, he also contrasts proximity with what is available to a view from nowhere where distances are abolished and asymmetrical relations vanish. However thematization (or thesis) is not, for Levinas, a betrayal of proximity – it is precisely where proximity shows its presence and its strength. Mostly because Levinas sees in thematization the effort of saying (dire) and therefore of a diaphonía that makes the Other present. For him, to say that there is an indexical structure behind thematization where there is an inescapable dialogue is not to claim that the dit could possibly cease to exist. Thematization is the locus where the Other and its asymmetrical relation to me is present. Surely, thesis doesn't get detached from dire in a way that it could be the truth-bearer of a totality – the said never exhaust the saying. The relation between them, though, is not one of contrast or of passage where thesis is gradually replacing proximity but rather that thesis is always accompanied by an underlying structure of proximities that is not often explicit. In other words, the Other is present in the way thematization takes place; there is no Other and no indexical structure if there is no effort to claim something. The asymmetrical relations between the different indexicals are inseparable of the efforts in language to thematize – rather than a friction between thesis and proximity, there is a complementarity where the latter expresses itself in the former. Proximity, in the form of saying, requires something being said, something that expresses a claim and at the same time is hostage to a structure where there is an exterior element that makes it inescapably corrigible. Language is a realm of vulnerability – everything is ultimately responsive to an interrupting interlocutor. This account of language where indexicality is always implicitly present but doesn't stand without claims about something is one of the cornerstones of how the Other affects a subjectivity from outside. Further, the idea that the Other cannot be present but through claims that implicitly refer to dialogue and diaphonía anticipate some central tenets of Derrida's deconstruction.11 Although not focused on writing, Levinas espouses the idea that there is a plurality of interlocutors in any act involving language, what is thought or said has an underlying structure of dialogue that is typically expressed in claims.12

Levinas agrees with Heidegger that proximity is not an opening to being but rather an exposition to it.13 This is because proximity exposes the Other – and the indexical structure underlying what is thought and said. The exposition to being, however, doesn't dispense with thematization – thesis is not the opposite of proximity but rather it is where proximity is expressed. Further, Levinas understands experience itself, and the sensible in general, in terms of proximity. While the content of the perception – the outcome of an experience – is already in the order of something said, the sensible itself where experience takes place lies in proximity. Proximity is a relation with the Other, a relation that spells vulnerability and can be described in terms of fruition and wound.14 Sensibility is proximity, it is where things are presented to the perceiver – as Wahl once wrote, perceptual experience is not about explanation but about presentation.15 The Other is presented through sensibility – it is the moment where something exterior makes itself present in one's indexical environment.

By connecting sensibility and proximity – and therefore with the presentation of the Other – Levinas hints at a conception of sensibilia as engaged in contact. It is through exercises of sensibility that indexical environments gain their contents. But they cannot do that indifferent to what is said in experience. Here again we cannot strip the saying from the said: we cannot strip the presentation of something in an indexical environment from what is presented. The indexical structure in the sensible doesn't have a content of its own. The sensible presents the Other with a content, with something said – there is no sensible without exercises of sensibility. Chapter 3 will present a somewhat more detailed conception of sensibility as exposition to the Other. The exposition reveals a deictic structure where what is exterior becomes present. The exposition to being is precisely this revelation of a deictic structure; in other words, the exposition to being is, according to indexicalism, nothing less than the exposition to the deictic structure of what there is. This is what the sensible is capable of doing through proximity. There is no such thing as a proximity content separated from what is thematized; the saying comes with the said. But through proximity, the sensible exposes the indexicals that underlie what is said. In any case, considered in terms of proximity, the sensible as contact is not restricted to the organs of sensibility – it expands to wherever contact takes place, even beyond the limits of human sensibilia.


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