Saturday, March 04, 2006

Alterity or Subjectivity

An anti thesis of Kierkegaard’s view that truth is subjectivity is found perhaps in the post modern philosopher Levinas for whom alterity or ‘the Other’ is the ‘nude’ truth which when confronted ruptures the self. Through the face of alterity God is reached. In his Beyond Intentionality Levinas says: ‘The face ‘signifies’ beyond, neither as an index nor as symbol, but precisely and irreducibility as a face that summons me. It signifies to-God (à Dieu), not as sign, but as the questioning of myself, as if I were summoned or called, that is to say, awakened or cited as myself’. Throughout the history of philosophy ‘the Other’ has been reduced to ‘the Same’ in its drive to objectify and universalize. For Levinas, the dominance of ‘the Same’ makes the universal the goal of thought.

So it turns out that Levinas is precisely against the same universalization and objectification that Kierkegaard is standing against. However, while for Kierkegaard the personal subject confers itself its own identity, standing as the primal individual; in Levinas, through language, it is ‘the Other’ that enables me to have an identity. Language is the basis which links us to other people. The signifier then is the opening up to ‘the Other’. It is in confronting the irreducible ‘Other’, seeing time as alterity, existence as alterity, the other person (autrui) as alterity, language as alterity, and God as alterity that we are led away from ontology, epistemology and reason, to the realm of ethics and religion. The shift then is from discourses that compel homogenous levelling to ones that heighten fecund encounters with the different Other.

However, Kierkegaard’s rigid persistence on the priority of the isolated individual per se can be made sense of, by the fact that his reaction is rooted in the context of the widespread, overpowering, overarching structures propagating universality, objectivity, abstractions, absolutism and stereotypes. Strictly speaking, one is just an individual for whom other’s existence occurs as a mere possibility, never a concrete actual. What exists comes first. It is my existence that is truly actual and concrete for me. It is therefore that Kierkegaard, in his solitary confrontation against depersonalization, anonymous public opinion, and mass consciousness, sought to become what he wanted to be known as: that individual”.
(Painting: Edward Munch - Despair 1893-94)

1 comment:

defaulter's blog said...

"Strictly speaking, one is just an individual for whom other’s existence occurs as a mere possibility, never a concrete actual."....can this individual ever be true?