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Conclusion Still Otherwise.? Between Foucault and Levinas

  • Rudi Visker
Chapter
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Part of the Phaenomenologica book series (PHAE, volume 155)

Abstract

Upon rereading the preceding pages, I am struck by the fact that, notwithstanding my effort to ‘take Foucault into phenomenology’ and thus in a sense to dissolve what I learned from him in a new element, there remains an insight that is decidedly Foucaultian which resists this current and, in reversing it, seems to draw phenomenology into Foucault. It can be summarized in one word: dissociation. By ‘dissociation’ I mean something quite simple which nonetheless might explain a great deal of the fascination that Foucault’s early work exercised on my generation: it is the dissociation between understanding in the sense of comprehension and understanding in the sense of sympathy. What Foucault calls “discourse” gives rise to such a dissociation: between different epochs of our culture, but also, between different cultures or within one single culture between, for example, social classes or generations or even - and I will come back to this - between individuals. Discourse works as a kind offilter through which certain things or statements literally can be seen or heard, but not others. Before the truth of a proposition can be decided, for instance, it must first be heard (it must be able to appear, Heidegger would say) and taken seriously. As I have suggested in my introduction, what is at stake here is a different sort of relativism than the one which people usually try to discredit by invoking the ‘self-refuting argument’ which has been used from Plato to Habermas (“performative contradiction”) to supposedly settle the matter.

Keywords

Skin Colour Existentializing Reading Ethical Distance True Freedom Final Vocabulary 
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Notes

  1. 3.
    CPP, p. 96 (as I mentioned before, I prefer “frozen” to “paralyzed” for rendering “transi dans sa nudité”).Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    My translation from the Dutch text of an authorized interview with Levinas published as ‘Wat men van zichzelf eist, eist men van een heilige’, in J. GOUD, God als Raadsel. Peilingen in het spoor van Levinas, Kampen/Kapellen, KokAgora-DNB/Pelckmans, 1992, p. 165.Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    A term I borrow from Lacan; cf. J.-A. MILLER, ‘Extimité’, in M. BRACHER e.a. (eds.), Lacanian Theory of Discourse: Subject, Structure and Society, New York/London, New York U.P., 1994, pp. 74-87 (article in English). In these and the following lines I feel very close to the appropriation of Lacan that one can find in Lyotard’s The Inhuman. Reflections on Time (transi. G. Bennington & R. Bowlby), Cambridge, Polity, 1991.Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    W. Benjamin, ‘Franz Kafka, zur zehnten Wiederkehr seines Todestages’, in H. Schweppenhäuser (ed.), Benjamin über Kafka, Frankfurt a.M., Suhrkamp, 1981, pp. 9ff.Google Scholar
  5. 8.
    On this question, see Darian Leader’s wonderful Why do women write more letters than they post?, London/Boston, Faber and Faber, 1996.Google Scholar
  6. 9.
    I am thinking here of some of the examples that Michael Ignatieff gives in his thoughtful Blood and Belonging: Journeys into the New Nationalism, London, BBC-Books/Chatto & Windus, 1993.Google Scholar
  7. 10.
    Cf. my ‘Levinas, le Multiculturalisme et Nous’, in A.M. Dillens e.a., Questions au libéralisme, Brussels, F.U.S.L., 1998, pp. 47-59, in which I compare Levinas’s views to those of a sophisticated liberal opponent like W. Kymlicka who seems to leave more room for such ‘rigidities’ (an English translation of this article will appear in Ethical Perspectives, Sept. 1999).Google Scholar
  8. 12.
    E. Levinas, Ethics and Infinity. Conversations with Philippe Némo (transi. R.A. Cohen), Pittsburgh, Duquesne U.P., 1985, p. 96.Google Scholar
  9. 13.
    A. Finkielkraut, Comment peut-on être Croate?, Paris, Gallimard, 1992, p. 88.Google Scholar
  10. 14.
  11. 15.
    A. Finkielkraut, L’Humanité perdue. Essai sur le XXe siècle, Pans, Seuil, 1996, p. 128.Google Scholar
  12. 16.
    Levinas in his conversation with J. Goud (cf. note 4), p. 176.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1999

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  • Rudi Visker

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