Ezekiel: Fragmented Subjectivity
  • Martin C. Srajek
Part of the Contributions To Phenomenology book series (CTPH, volume 32)


In summing up the results of the preceding chapter we come to see the following: In Levinas’ thinking divine fragmentation of the finite subject—first visible as my desire for the holy—translates into an altruistic fragmentation, a being hollowed out, of the finite subject—visible as my desire for the other to command me as neighbor. The finite and infinite are woven in with each other, and form a unique structure of agency and obedience vis-à-vis the other. Recognizing God not just as an external force, but as the infinite in ourselves, results in obeying God’s command to love our neighbor. Only a radical monotheism that emphasizes both God’s absolute difference as well as the apodeictic nature of God’s commandment can have this effect of agency and obedience. Hence theology always translates into ethics, In this chapter we will look at the case of the prophet Ezekiel in order to better refine this agency/obedience structure. The study of Ezekiel will show that Levinas’ ethics, despite his rather open-minded approach to the interpretation of the Bible, is predicated on a notion of absolute power that rests with God. It will further show, however, that God’s power only reaches as far as the actual commandment goes. Everything beyond that is up to the agency of the individual.


Preceding Chapter Actual Commandment Spatial Captation Grandiose Narcissism I1Thou Relationship 
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  1. 1.
    Revelation, p. 206.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    God, p. 177.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Only over against such another consciousness is it possible for me to stake my life absolutely while simultaneously the other will think that she has actually succeeded in taking my life. When the other deems herself victorious, then I will know that I have staked my life and thus exist. Her desire to supersede (what I have given deliberately) will eventually give me recognition of myself. At the brink of my own death I gain self-recognition through the other’s assumed victory, which will, in turn, strengthen me to supersede her.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Autrement, p. 64/49.Google Scholar
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    Ibid, p. 157/122.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Ibid, p. 95/75.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    It is a significant turn away from Cohen to emphasize precisely the material givenness of the other rather than my relationship with her/him by way of the spirit. Materiality for Levinas signifies the transcendence of reason and the ideal. Furthermore, as such, as the material that has overcome the ideal, it signifies true ethical transcendence.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Autrement, p. 140/110.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Levinas, in other words, employs implicitly the concept of the asymptote that we already encountered in Cohen. In it the other becomes the upper limit of the function and the self its origin. The graph of the function itself is subjectivity.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    The English “proximity” is the translation of the French “prochain” which literally translated means “neighbor” or “the next”. Bob Gibbs pointed out to me that the theme of proximity is, of course, also expressed in the idea of God’s nearness ” ” as it can be found for example in Ps. 69:19 and Ez. 44:16.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Autrement, p. 107/85.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    The reason why it is important to italicize the word “are” in the preceding sentence is the unusual passive usage of the word “obsess.” This word derives from the Latin “obses”= hostage and “obsessio”= siege. The passive mode of both underlines the notion of the subject’s absolute passivity over against the other I mentioned earlier.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Revelation, p. 199.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    God, p. 175.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Autrement, dedication.Google Scholar
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    André Neher, The Exile of the Word, (henceforth referred to as “The Exile.”) Much of my analysis in this chapter is indebted to Neher’s very thorough and original reading of Ezekiel’s silence which can be found on pp. 18-22, 152-69, 198-209.Google Scholar
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    Neher, “The Exile” Introduction.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Cp., The Exile, chapter 1, pp. 27–29.Google Scholar
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    Tamra Wright, Peter Hughes, Alison Ainley, “The Paradox of Morality: An Interview with Emmanuel Levinas,” p. 169.Google Scholar
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    Cp. chapter 1 of the first part of this dissertation.Google Scholar
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    The root word “” can assume four different meanings depending on the modus and tense that it is in. In the Kal it can mean “tightly bound,” but also “to overwhelm” (cf. Is. 28:22, ISam. 7:50, Ez. 3:14, etc.). In the Piel it can mean “to confirm” but also “to improve.” In the Hiphel it assumes the meaning of “to strengthen.” And in the Hithpael it means “to gather one’s strength.”Google Scholar
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    Ralph W. Klein, Ezekiel: The Prophet and His Message, p. 29.Google Scholar
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    Hermann Cohen, Religion, p. 25/22.Google Scholar
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    Ibid, p. 26/23.Google Scholar
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    My italics.Google Scholar
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    Religion, p. 233/199.Google Scholar
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    Ibid, p. 233/200.Google Scholar
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    Emmanuel Levinas, Ethics and Infinity: Conversations with Philippe Nemo, translated by Richard Cohen p. 99.Google Scholar
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    It remains open though, how exactly Levinas pictures an evolving community from this type of ethics. Cohen, as can be seen from the quotes, is concerned with the viability of a community in which the imbalances between the rich and the poor will be erased for good. Levinas never makes such a statement, which is unfortunate. However, one might try to understand his philosophy as a pre-communal effort in search for the answer to the question what is it that makes communities begin to evolve. That is, Levinas can be understood correctly only, if one surmises that he is attempting to delineate the conditions of communal togetherness which he finds in the pre-original desire for the holy and the good.Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    I would like to acknowledge here that the term “fragmentation” is my own interpretation of what Levinas proposes. He, himself, uses a terminology that emphasizes the same sociological constitutedness within a different metaphoric context. His has a more three-dimensional character as he talks about hollows, the hollowing out of desire, caves, etc. Mine emphasizes the two-dimensional aspect. I continue to use the term “fragmentation,” because it seems to me that Levinas, although he is trying to overcome Hegel, is highly dependent on him. By using the concept of desire to describe the relationship between the individual and the Good (God), he makes a two-dimensional understanding of that relationship almost unavoidable. The clue is, it seems to me, that both the three-dimensional as well as the two-dimensional images are insufficient by themselves and need to be juxtaposed with each other. Levinas tries to do exactly that. The infinite, for example, is outside of me and my desire for it makes me linearily and two-dimensionally bound to it. But simultaneously the infinite is also in me. It creates a hollow within me which can only be understood three-dimensionally.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Conversation with Gibson Winter (Spring ′91) about Alfred Schütz and the latter’s possible influence on Levinas’ thought.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Throughout the writing of this first part of my dissertation I have felt it necessary to write more on the connection between Jacques Lacan and Levinas. I am not aware of any biographical encounters between the two. However, it seems evident to me that the two thinkers share more than just their nationality and hence (from the American view-point) their liking for the obscure. Although Lacan was not Jewish, his thinking seems to have been pertinent to Levinas’ for the simple reason that Lacan had thought through Hegel’s master/slave heuristic and started to apply his interpretation of it to the study of psychoanalysis. His thought is characterized by a determined turn against the old Freudian model that still prevails in psychoanalysis. This model is informed by a reading of Hegel that emphasizes the existence of “Selbsthewußtsein” as the locus of the existence of knowledge. “Selbsthewußtsein” becomes the center for the recognition and ordering of the world. The more incomplete “Selbsthewußtsein” the more incomplete and haphazard are our attempts to master the world. Accordingly, this model requires the therapeutic to help the patient find the lost parts of her self and help her implement them back into her general self in order to release her as a psychologically completed human being. At stake is, in other words, the completion of “Selbsthewußtsein” without which a normal relationship with the rest of the world becomes impossible. Lacan’s contribution to this discussion lies in the effort he makes to hold open exactly that characteristic which Freud tried to close: the fragmented “Selbsthewußtsein, “ In reflecting on the mirror-stage, Lacan formulates that they led “me to recognize in the spatial capitation manifested in the mirror-stage, even before the social dialectic, the effect in man of an organic insufficiency in his natural reality...1 am therefore led to regard the function of the mirror-stage as a particular stage of the function of the image, which is to establish a relation between the organism and its reality-s-or, as they say, between the Inanely and the Umwelt.” (Jacques Lacan, Ecrits: A Selection, trsl. by Alan Sheridan, p. 4).” For Lacan it was a mistake to believe that healing the patient in psychoanalysis must include the completion of her fragmented Selbsthewußtsein. To the contrary, he observes, that it is precisely that fragmentation, or insufficiency that forces the patient to establish relationships with her outside world. Thus, for Lacan fragmentation is a fundamental coordinate of the development of the social. However, one has to understand that the social is nothing but a function of the subject’s desire towards self-completion. What drives the subject is the relentless need to fill the gap of its own fragmentation. Lacan, therefore, rules out the possibility of any kind of altruism altogether. Instead he diagnoses a fundamental aggressively inherent to those activities that we would traditionally call altruistic. The “philanthropist, the idealist, the pedagogue and even the reformer’Yßcrits, p. 7) a11 have nothing else in mind than the goal of self-completion. It is here, obviously, that Levin’s and Lacan go separate ways. In fact, one might speculate that it is precisely this notion of a lack of altruism and its substitute, blatant aggressively, that led Levinas to reformulate the Hegelian master/slave heuristic altogether. For him, as described earlier, the desire for the other, which Lacan explains as the need for self-completion, turns into the desire for the Good. This desire finds itself directed towards the other, but not in an attempt to devour the other and make her part of my self, but really in an attempt to give myself to the other fully. Only indirectly, viz. when I will brave realized my responsibility and am forced to accept or reject it, can I become a subject, Levinas’ allusion to the mirror-stage is the face-to-face encounter. Yet, this encounter does not fuel my aggressively. Rather. it leaves me passive and open to the command Which inevitably issues from the other. Rather than letting desire function as a means to a finite end, viz. the completion of the self Levin’s understands desire to be created by the infinite. It thus becomes an infinite desire for an infinite goal that can never find fulfillment. For Levin’s and Lacan alike, the social is a function of a lack which the “subject” experiences as desire. However, whereas for the former this lack is infinite and interpreted to designate the ethical itself, the latter sees the lack directed towards a finite end (fulfilled consciousness) and interprets it as aggressively. It would be worthwhile to further investigate the relationship between the two thinkers. Especially on the grounds that Lacan, too, indicates that he understands the process of such self-completion asymptotically, i.e. as infinite. If that is indeed the case, it would remain to explain why such a fundamental disagreement could occur between Lacan’s and Levinas’ perspectives. A perfect example for the Freudian tradition of psychology that tries to read fragmentations as psychotic and abnormal is a little offshoot in the Ezekiel discussion that developed in the’ 50s. I refer to Edwin C. Broome’s article “Ezekiel’s Abnormal Personality,” JBL 65, 1965, pp. 277-92. Broome states that the “feeling of something unusual has persisted” in the analysis of the Book of Ezekiel. He refers to the revelatory events at the beginning of the book as “seizures” of “catatonic variety [thus indieating] a fundamental psychic disturbance...a form of schizophrenia, which is true psychosis” (p, 279). The descriptions of Ezekiel being overwhelmed and feeling like fetters were being put on him are possible evidence that the Israelites attempted to eon fine him because he had become dangerous or simply hallucinatory. “In either event he was psyehotic” (p. 280). Furthermore, Ezekiel exhibits, in Broome’s analysis the same “grandiose attitude [and] grandiose narcissism” that most psychics display in order to emphasize their subsequent demise as victims of their environment (p. 283). Also, with reference to the Merkabah, everyone who is familiar with this type of disorder knows that persons who have them love inventing machines that represent the system of influences by which they feet pressured (pp. 285-6). Ezekiel is thus an inherent masochist. In fact, it is a special form of female masochism since the images of pricks briars and scorpions in the beginning of the book all betray the illusion of penetration. And of course the sterol...Who would not think that the eating of the scroll must be some phallic imagery (p. 288)? He is, furthermore, attempting a return to the pre-natal (p. 285). The sharp sword in chapter 5 can only indicate the secret castration wish that Ezekiel was harboring. One can see from this example that people have gone to great lengths in order to characterize fragmentations like the ones Ezekiel exhibits as somehow deficient and thus in need of treatment. Whatever the truth is with respect to Ezekiel, we have to entertain the possibility that the priest was simply upset by the obligation he feet and consequently he had to struggle with it in various ways before he could finally yield to it.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Martin C. Srajek
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignIllinoisUSA

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