Sunday, 4 August 2013

A voice from the desert: reading notes on Levinas's Difficile liberté

Man is not a tree and humankind is not a forest

Emmanuel Levinas dismisses the metaphor of rootedness:

L’homme, après tout, n’est pas un arbre et l’humanité n’est pas une forêt.

For Levinas, the “notion of Israel” is not coextensive with the historical, geografical or geopolitical borders of the state of Israel. His “essays on judaism” actually provide a strong argument against the political misuse of the name of Israel. For judaism, in contrast to what a certain “great contemporary philosopher” teaches about rootedness and the world, it is not the “houses, temples and bridges” that let the world become intelligible, but the face of the other; to put it briefly, being-with-others rather than being-in-the-world.

L’homme commence dans le désert où il habite des tentes, où il adore Dieu dans un temple qui se transporte.

In the Talmud, Levinas maintains, the notion of Israel remains separate from all historical, national, local and racial determinations. This separation implies a freedom with regard to all landscapes and architectural monuments, all “these heavy and sedentary things that one is tempted to prefer to human beings”. With respect to this freedom, rootedness (enracinement) becomes secondary, compared with other forms of fidelity and responsibility; other more vast horizons than the village and a given human society emerge for the vision that presupposes a conscious engagement.

An extreme conscience

Le judaïsme est une extrême conscience.

The extreme nature of this conscience – both consciousness and moral conscience – is, to use words that Derrida might use to counter-sign Levinas, a confrontation with aporia, a desert kind of pathlessness, and the undecidable.

Engagement, disengagement

Même lorsque l’acte est raisonnable, lorsque l’acte est juste, il comporte une violence. […] Voilà aussi pourquoi l’engagement nécessaire est si difficile au juif, voilà pourquoi le juif ne peut pas s’engager sans se désengager aussitôt, voilà pourquoi il lui reste toujours cet arrière-goût de violence, même quand il s’engage pour une cause juste […]

  1.  Emmanuel Levinas, Difficile liberté Essais sur le judaïsme, Troisième édition revue et corrigée (Paris: Albin Michel, cop. 1976, repr. 2012), 45.
  2.  Difficile liberté, 44.
  3.  Difficile liberté, 44-45.
  4.  Difficile liberté, 19.
  5.  Difficile liberté, 125, 126.