Archive for the ‘Buber’ Category

“When I become death” according to Levinas

July 3, 2007

Emmanuel Levinas’ La Mort et Le Temps (English translation in God, Death and Time) opens with a reading of Heidegger´s Sein und Zeit, a reading that evolves around the themes of the carnival, the essence of time, the nature of death, the type of questions to which answers are not the right answer, and finally – literature as a masking process (rather than a revealing one).

[But maybe I’m wrong. It could well be that Levinas says nothing of the above themes, and that it is my own philosophical delusions, the consequences of my posts here on Foucault, Lyotard, Barthes, Deleuze, and Burroughs.]

Emmanuel Levinas

The Carnival.

The carnival represents the absolute assimilation of a human being with the role assigned to him/her by the system. Yet by this assimilation the human being ceases to be a human being, for being a human is to continuously question “Being”, i.e. to be a critical being towards Being, constantly reassessing the possibilities of an always changing existence. This is when Levinas uses the term ek-sistence – existing from the outside (and it is also where the two reasons of the first Emmanuel – K. – are fully present).

The critical spectator stands behind the curtain, looking inside the theater, considering her options on stage. This cannot be done while on stage, while wearing the mask of the carnival.

And yet. “Behind the curtain there is nothing to see… nor beneath it”, says Deleuze, following Foucault. The critical being is therefore not to be imagined out of stage; s/he is not to be imagined as a passive spectator. Rather, the critical being is assimilated into the system’s role, while continuously challenging that role. Indeed, says Deleuze, behind the curtain there is nothing to see, “but it was all the more important each time to describe the curtain”. So we are in the carnival, but we don’t play wholeheartedly. We’re aware of the play, and we improvise whenever we see fit.

The Question.

The question of being is a question to which answers are not the right answer, the first trait of Being, being the mark of that Question. Barthes maintains that those questions of Being can only live within Literature, but he also maintains that Literature is a carnivalesque mask. The only way to cope with these contradictions is to follow Foucault’s advise: “We have to move beyond the outside-inside alternative; we have to be at the frontiers. Criticism indeed consists of analyzing and reflecting upon limits.” (What is Enlightenment).

Cain: marked by the Question of Abel’s death – a bookmark on Cain’s Time axis.


Time, explains Levinas, is the Other. The infinite time is the antipode of the finite human, the Other remaining necessarily out of our reach. Time, therefore, represents all possible Otherness.

Time is the Other. What a strange sentence. The Rhizome of the nomadic others is a Rhizome of Time Capsules.

Ich und Du.

The Other, through his facial movements conveys a message to the spectator, who is consequently responsible for processing the message, and of providing an answer. We can therefore say that Communication creates responsibility which, in turn, creates individuality: “I” is responsible for this and that person, because there are communication links between us.

We’ll see next that communication is a mask; like literature it does not reveal [things from behind the curtain], but rather conceals [the true essence of being]. Facial movements are answers. But Being is being a Question.

What does the nomadic Rhizome mask? What does Time mask? Is Time the Curtain?

As for Death.

When I become death

As for Death – death needs time for what it kills to grow in. Death needs the Other, just like “I” needs it. But why does Death need Time?

Think of Death as a bookmark, engraving a point on our time axis. This point, says Levinas, opens a gate to a communication-free world – the end of exchanging answers. Finally, we, the dead, can realize our human potential of being a pure question. The cover story of our life, the Literature told by our face, by our facial movements is finally completed. The End.

When we become death, death is the seed from which we grow – the seed of the pure Question.


The Gaze of the Sign

April 24, 2007

(This post follows Gater’s role in Body/Language: Barthes-Foucault vs. Gater’s Taboo)

“The signs exist insofar as they are recognized, i.e. insofar as they are repeated”.

Through this simple definition Barthes introduces the concept of the other (used as a technique in the philosophical discourses of the past [the Greek friend, see D&G]; used as an existential condition in Buber, Barthes and others).

We’re all signs. Think about concepts. Each concept has a never ending trail of other concepts, and behind each concept there’s a human – that human who gave life to the concept in the first place; that human who revived the concept after it has long been forgotten. With every word we pronounce, and every sign we digest, it’s the history of humanity mashed between our teeth.

We’re all signs, and hence our existence is dependent on recognition and repetition – repeated recognition by other signs.

If God is the first Word and words are signs, then God needs repeated recognition just the same. This can probably explains why we, the other signs, have been originally created, and in his own image.

Sometimes, we like to create our own recognition signs – we can then play and replay them again and again – an endlessly repeating loop of recognition.

“I like to do it with my friends; sometimes we videotape it, then we watch it…”.

This is a cry for meaning – a desperate need for recognition. For whatever reason, a new sign is created for this purpose: a videotape in which the original sign is captured. Then, the original sign plays and replays the secondary sign, the videotape, gaining through this repetition the so wanted existential recognition.

But then, something else happens. While watching the secondary sign affirming our existence, we do it again. This time, the original sign is the one affirming and recognizing the existence of the secondary sign.

This is the potlatch: one affirms our existence and we reaffirm back his/her own existence, in a looped process that can potentially persist for a while. The more this process continues, the more respectful and ‘full of life’ the two signs become.

Only, the inhuman sign not only cannot become ‘more full of life’, but it is found to have very strange effects, when used as an affirming sign: the potlatch is canceled!

Here’s an example: you’re giving your friend a present. Your friend is very happy. She then wants to repay you for making her happy and so she gives you back a present: only, it is the same present you gave her in the first place. Evidently, this will not make you happy, for by that act, your friend has canceled your act. It is a canceling exchange, because it’s an echo.

Whatever echoes, mirrors, cannot be considered as an existential affirmation and recognition. Whatever echoes cannot be used as a potlatch, for the echo cancels the potlatch. Gater’s video should be seen as a cry for a meaningful existence. But the inhuman videotape gives no salvation: it’s a static dancing.

There’s no replacement for the human gaze.

The Gaze of the Sign

I am Data

December 3, 2006

I am Data

Memex – memory extension – is a device conceptualized by Vannevar Bush around 1945. Microsoft has launched My Lifebits project accroding to Bush’ specs. In this recent project, a man records every single event that occurs: audio & video capture of his meetings, images taken by his camera, documents he writes – even his blood pressure and biometric data are constantly gathered and recorded for good inside the personal memex.

This leads to a world where memories never fade out. This leads to a world where human beings are turned into a stream of well-organized and searchable bits.

Martin Buber

“The being of a subject is a unity which cannot be analyzed as an object. When a subject is analyzed as an object, the subject is no longer a subject, but becomes an object. When a subject is analyzed as an object, the subject is no longer a Thou, but becomes an It.”

Citation taken from Martin Buber’s I and Thou