One Must Imagine the Genie Happy: Constructing a postmodern theory of intersubjective ethical-subject formation from Levinas and Foucault through Butler

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One Must Imagine the Genie Happy:

Constructing a postmodern theory of intersubjective ethical-subject formation from Levinas and Foucault through Butler

Alec Westgarth-Taylor Thesis MA Philosophy University of Amsterdam Supervisor: Dr D. Loick

Second Reader: Dr K.D. Hay Rodgers

Word Count: 28814 (excluding notes and bibliography) 15 July 2021



Writing a thesis, especially in times of online-only education and lockdown such as prevailed during much of this one, can sometimes feel like staring into an abyss. You are

overwhelmed by everything that there is, and sure that no matter how much you throw down there, it will disappear into the black. But fortunately, you have company in lobbing

things! These people have all helped immensely along this (perhaps too) long journey.

To Dr. Daniel Loick, for your patience and guidance in navigating this process. To Karen Vintges for introducing me to Foucault and helping to get this off the ground. To Mike, fellow traveller on this journey, for the many inspiring conversations along the way. To everyone who gave comments on chapters or earlier versions– Liza, Maeve, Danique and Santi – you all helped me overcome (some of) my hesitation at the chopping block. And to

Anna, for all your support, listening, and gentle (though sometimes not so gentle) encouragement.

I have learned in this thesis, both theoretically and through experience, that we do not only make ourselves but are shaped by those around us. Many thanks to you all.


Table of Contents

Acknowledgements ... 2

Introduction ... 4

Background and Definitions ...6

Outline ...8

1. The Genie Called-Forth: Subject Formation in Levinas ...11

1.1. An Independent Subject ... 14

1.1.1. Separation of the ‘I’ from background reality ... 14

1.2. Not So Independent ... 17

1.2.1. Embeddedness and embodiment in the world ... 18

1.2.2. An Incomplete, Independent Subject ... 19

1.3. The Formation of the Subject through the Other ... 21

1.3.1. The Formation of the Subject in Totality and Infinity ... 22

1.3.2. Developments in Otherwise than Being ... 27

1.4. Chapter Conclusion... 29

2. The Genie Subjected and Aestheticizing: Subject Formation in Foucault ...32

2.1. Drilling not Grilling – Subjection in Foucault’s Mid-Works ... 36

2.1.1. Disciplinary Power... 36

2.1.2. Disciplinary Subjection ... 39

2.1.3. Disciplinary Society ... 41

2.2. Aesthetic Self-Constitution ... 43

2.2.1Care of the Self in The Hermeneutics of the Subject... 44

2.2.2. Distinguishing Care of the Self from Self-Absorption ... 47

2.3. The Supposed Return of the Subject ... 49

2.3.1. Denying the charge of Individualism ... 50

2.3.2. Methodological individualism? ... 51

2.3.3. Re-reading Discipline through Hermeneutics ... 54

2.4. Chapter Conclusion... 57

3. The Genie Speaks for Themself: Subject Formation in Butler ...61

3.1. The Standard Reading ... 62

3.1.1. The Standard Reading - Similarities ... 63

3.1.2. The Standard Reading - Differences ... 65

3.1.3. The Standard Reading - Problems ... 67

3.2. An Alternative Reading – Giving an Accont of Oneself ... 68

3.2.1. Giving an Account of Oneself ... 69

3.2.2. Locating Levinas and Foucault in Giving an Account of Oneself ... 71

3.2.3. Comparing Levinas and Foucault in Giving an Account of Oneself ... 75

3.3. Problems for a Butlerian Reading ... 76

3.4. Chapter Conclusion... 80

Conclusion and Discussion ...82

Bibliography ...86



“But to be my own master, such a thing would be greater than all the magic and all the treasures in all the world.”1

Thus speaks the Genie in Disney’s Aladin. He dreams of freedom from being tied to the magic lamp, and enslaved in the service of its owners. His sentiment is understandable – he is imprisoned in an inanimate object and forced to do the bidding of others who often show little concern for him. It seems only rational for the genie to dream of self-mastery. Despite his magical powers, I wager few of us would like to be in his position. In thinking of ourselves as ethical agents – individuals able to freely act and pursue a notion of good in the world – we do not want to think of ourselves as genies. Rather, we think of ourselves as the masters, placing our self “at the core of the moral world”, with our rationality, autonomy and agency.2 However, what if we are more like the genie than we think? What would that entail for our notions of ourselves as rational, autonomous agents?

We may fear becoming the kind of agent we see in the genie. While he may have great powers, he has limits also. For one, he is called-into the world by the lamp’s possessor.

Without this call, he remains entrapped in some isolated corner of reality. To escape this, he needs another. However, once out in the world there are also limits. He is immediately tied to the one that brought him forth. The spell that binds them together also sets the boundaries of their relationship. More broadly, there are limitations on how genies work in this world.

There are certain rules that say what a genie can do. In these ways the genie may be viewed as a representative of “the postmodern self”.3 Unlike the autonomous self of the master, his being as an individual-in-the-world is almost defined by his heterogeneity. At the core of himself there is the tie to the holder of the lamp and the limitations of genie-hood.

If we take the genie as such a representative, our aversion to being like him also expresses an aversion to being the postmodern self. This fear is commonly expressed in the belief that postmodernism undermines the subject. In Étienne Balibar’s terms, we see

1 Aladin, Directors R. Clements and J. Musker, Burbank, CA, Walt Disney Pictures, 1992.

2 E. Imafida (ed.), The Ethics of Subjectivity: Perspectives Since the Dawn of Modernity, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, p. 5.

3 L. Lawler, ‘The Postmodern Self: An Essay on Anachronism and Powerlessness’, in S.

Gallagher, The Oxford Handbook of the Self, Oxfor University Press, 2011, pp. 696-714.


theories emphasising the limits of our independent subjectivity as a “destitution of the subject”.4 One worry about this destitution is about the capacity of such subjects to be effective ethical-political agents. Without their assumed unity, rationality, and autonomy surely the subject will turn out to be categorically unfree? Like the genie, they will ultimately be determined by another. Indeed, views that emphasise the reliance of our subjectivity on others have been described as tantamount to an “eradication of individual agency”, undermining “long-standing traditions of moral responsibility.”5 This is not simply an ethical question, but also a political one. Political claims are often staked on identity. If the unity of subjective identity is questioned by acknowledging its fundamental limits, this may pose a problem for its use to mobilise, and justify political action. This problem has been recognised.6 For example, in 1992 Amnesty International invited a range of contributors to “consider the consequences of the destruction of the self” - whether the self (in a certain construal) still exists, and if not, “whose rights are we [Amnesty] defending?”7 It is therefore not purely a theoretical matter how the ethical-subject is conceived.

It is in this light that I propose to examine the formation of ethical-subjectivity in this thesis. Taking the work of two authors who give accounts of a limited subjectivity – Emmanuel Levinas and Michel Foucault – and filtering this through a framework from Judith Butler, I seek to offer an account of how the ethical-subject is formed. My contention is that by reading across the accounts of these authors, we can construct a broader theory on intersubjective ethical-subject formation. Such a theory would strike a middle-ground, between what I term a ‘second-personal’ and ‘third-personal’ level of interaction.8 This takes on the ways in which

4 E. Balibar, ‘Structuralism: A Destitution of the Subject?”, Differences, vol. 14, no. 1, 2003, pp. 1-21.

5 K.J. Gergen, ‘The Social Construction of the Self’, in S. Gallagher (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of the Self, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2011, p. 649.

6 Indeed much of the previous work of this thesis’ third main author, Judith Butler, is directly addressed at how to have an emancipatory politics without tying it to fixed identity claims.

7 B. Johnson, Freedom and Interpretation: The Oxford Amnesty Lectures, 1992, New York, Basic Books, 1993, cited in L. Code, ‘Self, Subjectivity, and the Instituted Social Imaginary’, in S. Gallagher (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of the Self, 2011, p. 726.

8 I use this point of view terminology to denote a distinction between these relation levels (second and third personal) and an independent one (first-personal). The first-personal perspective of subject formation we could equate with the traditional liberal-humanist vision of an independent, autonomous subject that forms itself in contrast to others, in a

‘bottom-up’ manner. The second-personal level would a subject rather formed in a direct,


we are formed in relations with others at both the direct, interpersonal (‘second-personal), and the broader socio-cultural and historical (‘third-personal’) levels. At the same time, I will suggest that such theorising does not destitute us of independence, or ethical-agency. Quite the opposite. Whilst it may suggest that we are more like the genie in our limitations than we think, it will also suggest that such limitats can be used to rethink our conceptions of being ethical-subjects. The genie may not be quite so restricted, and embracing these limits may be freeing, suggesting new ethical concepts. As has been alluded to above, such rethinking may also have broader ethical and political implications.

Background and Definitions

Before outlining how this will be attempted I provide here some background and definitions of key terms that will be used throughout. To begin with, this thesis takes as its starting point a certain postmodern reconceptualization of the self. Postmodernism is a very broad term, first introduced into philosophical discourse in 1979 by Jean-François Lyotard.9 Since then it has grown to mean numerous things across different disciplines. Furthermore, the coinage of postmodernism lands firmly after the publication of the majority of works that this thesis will concern itself with.10 Why then adopt this terminology here? Firstly, I take the term postmodernism because it is a broad term. Postmodernism has come to be (mis)interpreted in many ways. As this thesis seeks to construct a broad theory on intersubjective ethical- subject formation, we will look across a range of theoretical positions that are sometimes grouped in the more general category of postmodernism.

More fundamentally, the term postmodernism indicate the opposition to its predecessors. Since the second-world war at least there has been increasing deconstruction of the previous tradition of grand-narrative theories. This is especially true in the case of subjectivity. Here there has been animated debate around the “humanist” notion of the subject. Humanism was a view about the nature of the human person as fundamentally autonomous that was dominant from the Enlightenment until into the previous century.

Exactly what was meant by autonomy and how it is related to humanity has varied among thinkers from different schools of thought, yet we can distil several key features of humanist dialogical relation with another. The third-personal suggests a more top-down production of the subject by factors external to it.

9 L. Lawler, ‘The Postmodern Self’, in The Oxford Handbook of the Self, 2011, p. 696.

10 These are mostly published in France in the 60s and 70s, though Foucault’s Hermeneutics of the Subject was given as a lecture course in 1981-82.


thinking. Scholar D.R. Fryer provides a useful framework, as he identifies eight points as

“summarizing the tenets of the humanist landscape of modern thought.”11 Roughly put, the human person is an independent, autonomous agent, that acts rationally in terms of both attempting to satisfy his desires, and being able to critically reflect on them. He can determine the ethical status of his actions, and has his own relation to morality. The human person is an

“individual first, member of a community second”, although the traits assigned to him are also ones that are universal to all people.12 Another way to further clarify the humanist conception is what it is contrasted against. Humanist thinking often defines the human in opposition to what it is not, establishing a dichotomy between human and other. According to post-humanist philosopher Rosi Braidotti, central to the universalist picture of humanism is a pejorative sense of difference, where “subjectivity is equated with consciousness, universal rationality, and self-regulating ethical behaviour, whereas Otherness is defined as its negative and specular counterpart.”13

It is against this traditional liberal-humanist subject that the notion of intersubjective, ethical-subject formation is developed in this thesis. There has been substantial critique of this traditional notion from across variously ‘postmodern’ perspectives, especially in feminist theory. As K.J. Gergen puts it, such critique has recognised the “substantial dark side to constructing a world of individual and agentic selves”, namely over-exaggerating autonomy and difference, whilst underplaying dependency.14 Against this there have been attempts to construct a more bounded self that is firmly embedded in relational and social processes. For instance, Fryer suggests using specific terminology of the subject to demarcate a more relational view of the self. In this thesis, I follow Fryer in using the term ‘ethical-subject’ when talking about the individual human person. As he notes, not only can this term “signify a phenomenologically based understanding that the human subject is, in a very real sense, the centre of the human [ethical] universe”, but at the same time acknowledge that this subject is “subjectified.”15 It thus serves to indicate the middle-ground position that this thesis takes

11 D.R. Fryer, The Intervention of the Other, 2004, p.10. For his full list, see p. 10-11.

12 Ibid., p. 11.

13 R. Braidotti, The Posthuman, Cambridge, Polity Press, 2013, p. 15.

14 K.J. Gergen, ‘The Social Construction of the Self’, in The Oxford Handbook of the Self, 2011, p. 644.

15 D.R. Fryer, The Intervention of the Other, 2004, p. 16. Balibar points out how one could read “the whole history of the philosophical category of the ‘subject’ in Western thought”


between the ethical agency of the subject on the one hand, and its relationality and dependence on the other. We see an agency that although located between the second and third-personal relation levels suggested above, does not amount to a destitution of the subject.


To these ends I rely on three authors, across three chapters. In the first chapter I present a reading of the subject in Emmanuel Levinas. Levinas is often taken as providing an account of the subject as totally given over to the Other (as infinite alterity) through a certain relation with it. I will suggest we can find in Levinas a more middle-ground position, between second and first-personal, on ethical-subject formation. We have in Levinas a figure who engages in a critique of subjectivity in a phenomenological tradition that was already critical of a ‘Cartesian’ liberal-humanism. This will be brought out by looking at his two-major works, Totality and Infinity, and Otherwise than Being.

In chapter 2 I offer a similar reconstruction of a middle-ground position on intersubjective ethical-subject formation, though now bringing in more of third-personal context, in Michel Foucault. Like Levinas, although with a different emphasis on determination by broader structural forces, Foucault has often been seen as a thinker arguing for a dependent subject.

For instance, Foucault described his early methodology as archaeology. This archaeology

“aims at history without the individual subject”, while still being a human history.16

Such analysis of historical structures of thought continues in Discipline and Punish, which I take as one of two primary texts to explore Foucault’s thought. Extending his early work on how we conceive of subjectivity in a certain way due to structural, historical and discursive factors, Foucault now turned to show how the subject is produced reflecting these

as governed by this “play on words” between subject as subjectivity and subjection. (see E.

Balibar, ‘Subjection and Subjectivation’, in J. Copjec (ed.), Supposing the Subject, London, Verso, 1994, p. 8)

16 G. Gutting, Foucault: A Very Short Introduction, 2005, p. 34. This is taken further with Foucault’s idea of ‘epistemes’ – the notion that particular periods are defined by given systems of thought and knowledge that are incompatible with one another that he introduces in The Order of Things (M. Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of Human Sciences, London, Tavistock Publications, 1970.) For Foucault, the modern humanist conception of ‘Man’ was a product of the modern episteme. It was only able to be thought under the particular constraints that define our thinking after secularization and the Enlightenment.


influences. It is not only the case that we come to think about the subject in a certain way, but that contextual influences ensure that the subject is in fact constituted in such a way.

There is a change in the later Foucault however, often referred to as a ‘return of the subject’

in his work. Taking The Hermeneutics of the Subject as a key text here, I show that while it does emphasise more of the first-personal, self-creative power of the subject, we should reject this view of a ‘return of the self’ in Foucault. As will become clear in chapter 2, this tension is over-blown, and throughout Foucault’s work we find a middle-ground position on ethical-subject formation, that considers structural influences of subjection whilst allowing for self-creative subjectivity.

The accounts of these two chapters may appear distant from each other. Levinas seems to strike a balance between first and second-personal views of subjectivity, with his account of the subject experiencing absolute alterity. Foucault, on the other hand, seems to sit between first and third-personal subjectivity, with his concepts of subjection and self- creation. In chapter 3, I show that this apparent divergence is only apparent. This standard reading is based on one-sided interpretations of these authors, and if they are intepretted more on the lines suggested here, we can see how they can be fruitfully combined.

True, in their individual treatments, Levinas and Foucault often look at intersubjective ethical-subject formation at different levels. Levinas is more concerned with the direct relation with alterity in forming the subject, whilst Foucault provides a more structural framework to such relation.17 It is therefore unclear how their accounts can be combined. To this end I employ the theory that Judith Butler provides in their work Giving an Account of Oneself. Although often taken as a feminist philosopher, political or cultural theorist, this work is often suggested as marking an “ethical turn” in Butler’s thought.18 Butler provides us with an innovative framework around the notion of giving an account that can encompass both sides of intersubjective ethical-subject formation alluded to above. For on the one hand, an account is always given to another, as a response to some demand in a way reminiscent of Levinas. At the same time, this occurs within a broader normative structure of address that will also limit the type of account one can give of oneself. The result for Butler is a subject

17 As we will see, this is somewhat of a simplification.

18 Moya Lloyd for instance describes the explicitly ethical nature of the book as “something of a departure from her [Butler’s] previous work insofar as it takes moral philosophy as its starting point”. (Butler and Ethics, Edinburgh University Press, 2015, p. 3.)


that is thus essentially opaque to itself in these two ways, as the external impinges inwards on it. Not only does this thus provide us with a means of constructing a broad theory on intersubjective ethical-subject formation, encompassing both Levinas and Foucault, but Butler also takes such thought in a very important direction in re-thinking moral responsibility.

They thus suggest not only how we can construct a postmodern theory on intersubjective ethical-subject formation, but how this certainly does not weaken the subject as a foundation for ethics. In fact, this more relational subject has productive ethical-theoretical consequences.


1. The Genie Called-Forth: Subject Formation in Levinas

In the preface to his first major work, Totality and Infinity (TI), Emmanuel Levinas declares that his book “does present itself as a defence of subjectivity.”19. There are two questions that spring from this: firstly, why is the concept of subjectivity something worth defending, and relatedly, exactly what is Levinas’ idea of it? In this chapter I will propose that by answering the latter question, through developing an account of Levinas’ notion of the subject, we can not only see why it is worth defending, but also a concept useful in establishing a broader theory of intersubjective, ethical-subject formation. It provides us with an intial balance between first and second-personal levels of subjectivity , that highlight how acknowledging the indebtedness of the subject to another may in fact serve as a stable starting-point.

Using Levinas in such a way may be surprising, given that he is more commonly understood to be concerned with questions of ethics rather than the nature of the subject.

Indeed, he has been interpreted as having one big idea - “his thesis that ethics is first philosophy”.20 There is an element of truth here – in both TI and his other major work, Otherwise than Being (OtB), Levinas contends that we have to look behind ontology to ethics in our analysis of reality.21 There are two points here though.

Firstly, Levinas’ relationship with ethics is not straightforward. Although he may primarily be an ethical thinker, his approach to ethics is markedly different from standard conceptions. Levinas is less concerned with building a system of moral rules than with thinking about the nature of the ethical. As Diane Perpich notes, Levinas’ work can be read as “not an ethics per se, but rather a radical rethinking of the question of the meaning of the ethical.”22

19 E. Levinas, Totality and Infinity: an Essay on Exteriority, trans. A. Lingis, Pittsburgh, Duquesne University Press, 1969, p. 26.

20 S. Critchley, ‘Introduction’, in S. Critchley and R. Bernasconi (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Levinas, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2002, p. 6.

21 This is made explicit in Totality and Infinity where Levinas states that “morality is not a branch of philosophy, but first philosophy” (p. 304), as it is ethics that structures the relation between infinity and being. This ethical relation is expanded in Otherwise than Being (E.

Levinas, Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence, trans. A. Lingis, The Hague, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1981.), with the subject themselves being fundamentally “animated by responsibilities.” (p. 19) These notions may appear vague at this point, but will be explicated further as we proceed.

22 D. Perpich, The Ethics of Emmanuel Levinas, Stanford, Stanford University Press, 2008, p.



Secondly, even if his philosophy is only ethical, questions of subjectivity are still essential to it. If Levinas is read as explicating that which underlies ethics as opposed to developing specific moral principles, the notion of the ethical-subject is essential to this. If we take ethics as ‘first philosophy’, as Levinas proposes, then it cannot be grounded in anything conceptually prior. According to Levinas, ethics comes about as a relation between the self and the Other – a relation that is itself necessarily ethical in nature.23 In a way, ethics becomes the immanent source of its own production. The necessity of the ethical nature of this relation is founded on the nature of the two terms – self and Other – and therefore the nature of the self becomes important for Levinas’ account. It is somewhat determinate of the ethical relation (something further developed by Levinas in his account of subjectivity in OtB).24 In the words Simon Critchley, “the condition of possibility for the ethical relation to the other”, that makes up much of Levinas’ account, amounts to “a conception of the subject.”25 As the ethical is grounded in the response of the subject to the Other, even in his examination of ethics we will be able to see an idea of subjectivity.

Another influential reading of Levinas’ work sees him as a radical philosopher of

‘otherness’, pitted against traditional systems of philosophy. Levinas criticises past thinkers, claiming that in theorizing previous “ontology reduces the other to the same” through comparison between the two concepts. 26 In doing so, it is fundamentally “an egology”.27 In

23 This is of course a major simplification, but these terms will be further developed in the following sections that outline Levinas’ account. For now, suffice it to say that Levinas sees the ‘ethical relation’ that develops between the self and Other as necessarily ethical, as any relation between the self and Other that doesn’t reduce either of the two terms must be ethical in nature. For his explication, see TI, Section III, B – ‘Ethics and the Face’. (pp. 194- 219.)

24 See for instance the translator, Alphonso Lingis’s, introduction to the 1981 edition, where he states that ethical responsibility “is once again set forth as the determinative structure of subjectivity.” (p. xi). It is through its responsibility that the subject is related to the Other.

25 S. Critchley, Ethics, Politics, Subjectivity: essays on Derrida, Levinas and contemporary French thought, London, Verso, 1999, p. 183.

26 E. Levinas, TI, 1969, p. 42. For example, the liberal-humanist treatment of otherness as the negative opposite set against the subject is essentially a reduction of the Other for Levinas.

27 Ibid., p. 44. It is worth noting that this criticism for Levinas is not simply of traditional, liberal-humanist systems of thought, but also systems that styled themselves as radical. For instance, he was particularly critical of Heidegger’s philosophy of Dasein as reducing the world to Dasein. In a Levinasian reading, under Heidegger’s ontology of Being “all beings, including every particular human being, the self as well as the other, are reduced to the


contrast, Levinas’ thinking suggests that we must respect the otherness of the Other, and not attempt to assimilate it into our own theoretical systems. He is wary of grand narratives that

“incorporate all reality in a systemic whole”, and takes a critical attitude to such

“totalization”.28 Considering this, we may see Levinas as defending the subject against conceptual assimilation.

Against this background, in this chapter I will suggest that a sophisticated account of intersubjective ethical-subject formation can be found in Levinas. Along with other scholars, I believe that “from his earliest thematic work On Escape to his latter magnum opus Otherwise than Being, Levinas has engaged with questions relating to subjectivity and identity.”29 By looking across his work, I contend that we can develop a concept of how the subject is formed through an ethical, intersubjective, second-personal relation. Roughly, the subject is formed through its encounter with the other, in what Levinas terms a “face to face” relation with alterity.30 Saying this does not totally deny the autonomy of the subject. Although dependent for realization as a subject on the other, under Levinas’ account the subject isn’t fully subordinated to something external. In his words, “the relationship between me and the Other does not have the structure formal logic finds in all relations. The terms remain absolute despite the relation in which they find themselves.”31 The subject remains separate from the other, and vice versa.

This chapter develops this account as presented across Levinas’ work. In the first section, I examine Levinas’ establishment of the subject as independent from totalisation and

‘raw being’. This may seem counter-intuitive given my claim that Levinas provides an intersubjective account of subject formation, but the establishment of an independent subject is important to this end. As will become clear in the second section, there are several caveats to Levinas’ quasi-independent subject. It is distinguished from the traditional liberal- humanist one in this regard. In the third section, I then look at the accounts that Levinas

status of a concept, an object of knowledge”, in a theoretical move that is ethically unacceptable (see A. Topolski, Arendt, Levinas and a Politics of Relationality, London, Rowman & Littlefield International, 2015, p. 113.)

28 M.L. Morgan, Oxford Handbook, 2019, p. 4.

29 A.D. Capili, ‘The Created Ego in Levinas’ Totality and Infinity’, Sophia, vol. 50, no. 4, 2011, p. 677.

30 E. Levinas, TI, 1969, p. 39.

31 Ibid., p. 180.


provides of the relation between the subject and the Other in his two major works, Totality and Infinity (TI) and Otherwise than Being (OtB). Having previously established the more independent aspects of subjectivity, this section will focus on the ways the subject is constituted in its relationship with alterity. By combining these different aspects of his thinking, we will then be able to see an intersubjective account of ethical-subject formation that takes a middle-ground between describing a subject that is independent, and one that is relational. Striking such a balance between first and second-personal levels of subjectivity immediately allays some of the fears of the postmodern subject as destituted. Although the genie may be called forth by another, they still retain their power on this picture. Though the picture we get from Levinas is also incomplete – as well will see below there is little mention of the structures of the world outside of the lamp and the relation between genie and the one who calls him forth. While Levinas provides a starting point in responding to the call of alterity, we will need to look elsewhere to fill out our account of subject formation.

1.1. An Independent Subject

Although subjectivity is shaped through a relation with alterity in his account, Levinas is clear in establishing the need for a quasi-independent subject. In this section, we will look at this subject prior to its encounter with the other. We will see the emergence of an ego or self out of mere being, and why this is necessary for the kind of ethical relation that Levinas seeks to establish. Furthermore, I will propose that this can be read not only as a response to the anti- humanist intellectual movements at the time of writing, but also that we can see in Levinas’

more independent subject a critique of the phenomenological tradition in which he takes part.

1.1.1. Separation of the ‘I’ from background reality

If we remember Levinas’ scepticism of totalisation, we can see a motivation for him to establish a subject distinct from other aspects of reality. Indeed, this sort of rescue of the human subject from being absorbed into the background can be seen in Levinas’ thought.

Especially in his work up to and including Totality and Infinity (TI), there is an “articulation of a view of the self that ensures its ipseity, independence, and distinction from Being.”32 This can be seen clearly in TI, where Levinas speaks of the separation of an ‘I’, and its relations in

32 A.D. Capili, ‘The Created Ego in Levinas’ Totality and Infinity’, 2011, p. 679.


the Same.33 These terms require some unpacking. Recall that Levinas is often read as a philosopher of alterity. This alterity is an “absolute exteriority” – it is the “radical heterogeneity of the other” that is so other from everything else that it is separated from it by an “absolute distance”.34 Seen from another perspective, this absolute alterity is transcendent in its absolute otherness from the rest of reality. It is the infinite, “a surplus always exterior to the totality” of existence.35 The Same is what makes up existence apart from Otherness. It is the totality in contrast to the infinite, though it is worth noting that Levinas claims that the “separation of same and other cannot be one of thesis and antithesis”.36 Where the separation between the same and other can be seen, in a way that respects both terms, is through the emergence of the ‘I’.

The ‘I’ withdraws from the rest of the Same, establishing itself as independent. For Levinas, the ‘I’ is “the primal identity”, “the being whose existing consists in identifying itself”.37 As an ‘I’, I identify with myself. Separation is produced as a movement in this process of identification. It is through this process that the ‘I’ develops an inner life. This inner life, or

“psychism” for Levinas, is “an event of being”.38 In identifying with itself across time, the ‘I’

draws a distinction between its internal time and external, objective time. This establishes it as separate from the rest of the Same, although it importantly still takes part in it. The I is still

“living from”, and in, a world that nourishes it.39 The I thus exists in the world, but also has its own interiority. It is this unique position that grounds the ‘I’ character of the ‘I’. As Levinas says, “the ipseity of the I consists in remaining outside the distinction between the individual and the general.”40 In this refusal of the distinction there is room for the infinite to enter.

There is a breakup of the totality in this ipseity of the ‘I’, and the infinite signifies such a breakup.

33 This is most clearly developed in Section II of TI, ‘Interiority and Economy’, which Levinas describes as outlining “the relations produces within the same.” (p. 110)

34 Levinas, TI, 1969, p. 35.

35 Ibid., p. 22.

36 Ibid., p. 53. According to Levinas, to suppose the Same and the Other in such a dialectical relationship is already to reduce otherness to the simple negative of sameness. This does not account for its character as absolutely other, which must remain “infinitely

transcendent, infinitely foreign”. (p. 194.)

37 Ibid., p. 35

38 Ibid., p. 54

39 Ibid., p. 110.

40 Ibid., p. 118.


Here there is fruitful comparison with the idea of the infinite in Descartes. For Levinas,

“it is necessary to have the idea of infinity, the idea of the perfect, as Descartes would say, in order to know one’s own imperfection.”41 For Descartes, having a concept of perfection as an imperfect being must mean that there is a perfect being (God) from where we get this idea.

Similarly for Levinas, seeing the separation between the ‘I’ and the Same mirrors a larger separation of which the interiority of the ‘I’ is an imperfect copy. This is the absolute distance between the Same and the Other. We are therefore able to move from the independent ‘I’ to a notion of infinity. In this way, Descartes provides Levinas with an example of a relation in being that maintains the total exteriority of the terms of that relation (what Levinas will call in TI the “metaphysical relation).42 Both the I and the Other are in this sense established as independent of one another, yet connected. In Levinas’ words, “infinity comes from the separate turning inwards to itself and surpassing itself.”43

With the preceding in mind, we understand why it is so important for Levinas to establish a quasi-independent subject, as doing so allows him to introduce the notions of infinity and the Other. Furthermore, the subject must be somewhat independent for Levinas to further ground his account of the relationship between the subject and Other. As A.D. Capili states, “the recognition of alterity and the fulfilment of responsibility necessitate an adult, separated, and autonomous I. Only such an I can enter into a genuine relation with the Other.”44 For the relation to be the kind of absolute relation that Levinas describes, the integrity of the subject as well as the Other must be respected. If not, we would end up reducing the terms in a totalizing fashion for Levinas. Thus, Levinas insists on the autonomy of the ‘I’. Whilst not suggesting that the ‘I’ is the cause of itself, Levinas does claim that the ‘I’

is independent of reality in its identity. In his words, “it is the psychism and not matter that provides a principle of individuation”.45 This interiority of the ‘I’ produces a will within it that is then a cause of its further actions. The ‘I’ is still an agent in this picture.

As this section has attempted to show, prior to describing a relational aspect, we can see a quasi-independent subject in Levinas’ work. A separate self, or ‘I’, is assumed as existent

41 Ibid., p. 84.

42 Ibid., p. 50.

43 Ibid., p. 102.

44 A.D. Capili, ‘The Created Ego in Levinas’ Totality and Infinity’, 2011, p. 680.

45 E. Levinas, TI, 1969, p. 59.


before its later encounter with alterity, and this ‘I’ is a distinct agent with a certain degree of autonomy. For Levinas it is in fact necessary that the subject has this independence to ground the account that we will see developed later.46 This quasi-independent subject is not independent for its own sake; sovereign in the traditional humanist sense. It is in important ways distinct from liberal-humanism, and it is here that we will first see how it is constituted intersubjectively.

1.2. Not So Independent

Up until now we have focussed on the quasi-independent subject in Levinas. While it is important that a degree of independence must be maintained in giving an account of its intersubjective constitution, this must also be distinguished from other interpretations of subjectivity. Specifically, Levinas’ account must be differentiated from a traditional, liberal- humanist first-personal account. This section will attempt this in two ways. Firstly, we will see that the specifics of Levinas’ account separate it from liberal-humanism, particularly concerning its notions of embodiment and relation to the world. Secondly, we will see that unlike the traditionally independent subject, Levinas’ is in several ways incomplete prior to an encounter with the other. In assessing these distinctions, we will begin to see a more intersubjective picture of the subject emerging alongside its more independent aspects.

To separate Levinas’ conception from it, it is worth briefly recalling what is meant by the traditional, liberal-humanist idea of subjectivity.47 Here we may already remember that Levinas is against the definition of otherness in terms that establish it purely as the negative of the same. His notion of otherness sees it as an incomparable alterity. Not just his notion of otherness, but his concept of an independent subject must be distinguished from the liberal- humanist notion however. To do this, we must look more closely at the specifics of what Levinas outlines in giving an account of the subject, especially prior to its encounter with the Other. This can be seen in the second section of TI, ‘Interiority and Economy’, which Levinas describes as dedicated to an analysis of “the relations produced within the same.”48 These relations are prior to the encounter with the Other, and so the descriptions of the subject here serve to specify Levinas’ account of a qasi-independent subject, suggesting a middle- ground. This subject is crucially different from the liberal-humanist one.

46 “Desire for the other requires autonomy”, as Levinas puts it. (TI, p. 62)

47 See introduction – ‘Background and Definitions’.

48 E. Levinas, TI, 1969, p. 110.


1.2.1. Embeddedness and embodiment in the world

The subject established here is one that is fundamentally involved in the world. Unlike under the liberal-humanist picture, that emphasises the independence of the conscious subject from the world, the subject in Levinas is from the start present in it. As mentioned previously, the ‘I’ is living from the world in being nourished by it. I receive food, water, and shelter from the world, which helps me to exist as independent subject. In Levinas’ words, this nourishment is “the transmutation of the other into the same”, whereby I assimilate these aspects of the world into myself in “making other energy my own”.49 This is not a bare existence. For Levinas, this relation with the world is enjoyment or the “love of life, a relation with contents that are not my being but more dear than my being; thinking, eating, sleeping, reading, working, warming oneself in the sun.”50 The ‘I’ then is clearly in a close relationship with the world, and not divorced from it.

This does not necessarily separate Levinas from a traditional account however. The liberal-humanist may concede that subjects are necessarily in relation with the world.51 In fact, in Levinas’ descriptions of living from the world, we may even see a narrative of the domination of nature by man that coincides with humanist beliefs.52 This is not the full picture however. For Levinas, the subject in fact gains this degree of sovereignty and independence through its relation with the world. Paradoxically, it achieves independence through its dependence. Most basically, this is true simply from the fact that the subject is reliant on its nourishment to exist. As Levinas says of that absorbed by the ‘I’, “distinct from my substance but constituting it, these contents make up the worth of my life.”53 Furthermore, the subject owes its emergences as an individual to its being sustained by the world. It is through enjoyment that the ‘I’ is first able to identify with itself and thus comes to be formed as an individual. In Levinas’ words “in the happiness of enjoyment is enacted the individuation, the auto-personification, the substantializtion and the independence of the self.”54 As this

49 Ibid., p. 111.

50 Ibid., p. 112.

51 Indeed, as scholar Simon Critchley points it, it is worth being critical of whether there has ever been “a watertight Cartesian ego” of the kind entirely divorced from the physical world (S. Critchley, Ethics, Politics, Subjectivity, 1999, p. 59.)

52 For instance, Levinas speaks of a “primordial grasp” of the world by the ‘I’, wherein nature is seized as a possession for it (TI, 1969, p. 158.)

53 Ibid., p. 112.

54 Ibid., p. 147.


enjoyment is reliant on the elements of nourishment from the world, the subject for Levinas is therefore essentially dependent on the world for its very formation as independent.

Here we can see another aspect wherein the subject proposed by Levinas is distinct to the liberal-humanist one. This is in its embodiment as opposed to the emphasis on cognitive features of subjectivity under liberal-humanism. For Levinas, considering the ‘I’ as already involved in the world means necessarily positing a corporeal self.55 Existing in the physical world, there must be an aspect of the ‘I’ with its own physicality for there to be an interaction between the ‘I’ and the world. For example, in the need for nourishment there is a “fundamental aspect of our experience of ourselves as embodied and incarnated”

subjects.56 The dependency of the subject on the world discussed above already emphasises the materiality of the subject over a more humanist focus on cognition and mental life. As Søren Overgaard puts it, “to be a world-involved subject is to be embodied, to be a bodily subject.”57 And the character that Levinas gives to a bodily subject distinguishes it clearly from the independent subject of liberal-humanism.

1.2.2. An Incomplete, Independent Subject

So far, we have seen that Levinas’ quasi-independent subject is distinct from the liberal-humanist one in two ways: in its relationship with the world and embodiment. On these points, the Levinasian subject is more inclined to being relational, second-personal, than its first-personal, individual liberal-humanist counterpart. This points to the second way in which the Levinasian account of the subject is distinguished, specifically, that the subject under this conception is incomplete prior to an encounter with something other. The details of this encounter will be examined in the following section, however for now it is worth pointing out the ways in which the subject is reliant on it to become fully realized. Here I will focus on two aspects: how the encounter with the other gives both meaning and freedom to the subject.

In terms of acquiring meaning, this can be seen in the relationship between the ‘I’ and the world. Above, we have seen how Levinas outlines a quasi-independent subject, who even excerpts some domination over the natural world. However, Levinas is quick to point out that this dominion over nature is only made meaningful in relation to an other. For example, we

55 Ibid., p. 127.

56 S. Overgaard, Wittgenstein and Other Minds, 2007, p. 53.

57 Ibid., p. 62.


can only meaningfully speak of possession if there is the possibility of this possession being contested by others.58 The other is an absolute exteriority, and therefore outside of my claim to possession within the Same. As another person, they may also stake their own claim on my possession. As such, the other challenges my ownership, and in overcoming this challenge, my possession is in effect sanctioned by the other. It becomes a gift from them. For Levinas, one needs to know how to give possessions to own them. As he later puts it in OtB, to be able to enjoy it one must be willing to give the “bread from one’s own mouth.”59

Levinas goes even further however, and claims that it is not only my right to possession that makes sense only once it has been challenged by the other, but furthermore I acquire meaning only in relation with alterity. For Levinas, meaning is fundamentally discursive. It is produced as something outside of the ‘I’, through the ‘I’ entering into dialogue with the other.

Meaningful, objective reality is thereby produced in having this relationship with the other -

“in speaking the world to the Other.”60 Only through this generalization of speech is the universal nature of an objective reality producible. In this sense, the ‘I’ is essentially reliant on the other for it to have a meaningful existence outside of itself.

Such a dependency can also be seen in Levinas’ discussion of the freedom of the ‘I’.

Levinas was committed to preserving a subject with some agency. Its having agency was in fact necessary for his project. The Levinasian subject is therefore to some degree necessarily free. However, the type of freedom here must be specified. The freedom that can be seen in the Levinasian subject is not ‘negative liberty’ classically understood as lack of restraints, but closer to ‘positive liberty’ or being able to realise certain capacities.61 This is crucially linked to the notion of responsibility for Levinas. The subject is free to the extent that it can exercise its responsibility. As Levinas puts it, “the freedom of the subject that posits itself is not like the freedom of a being free as the wind. It implies responsibility”.62 To be free is to gain the ability to be responsible. Because it is only free insofar as it can be held responsible, the subject is therefore reliant on the other for its freedom.

58 E. Levinas, TI, 1969, p. 162.

59 E. Levinas, OtB, 1981, p. 74.

60 E. Levinas, TI, 1969, p. 173.

61 This is a very rough explication of the distinction developed by Isaiah Berlin in the 1950s and 60s. See I. Berlin, ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’, in I. Berlin, Four Essays on Liberty, London, Oxford University Press, 1969.

62 E. Levinas, TI, 1969, p. 270.


We can see this in Levinas’ concepts of investiture and the election of the subject.

According to Levinas, “the presence of the Other, a privileged heteronomy, does not clash with freedom but invests it.”63 Although the presence of another puts my freedom into question - as another being challenges my ability to act unreservedly in the world - this challenge is not a reduction but an election of freedom for the subject. It receives freedom, as it is elected by the other to be able to act as a responsible agent. The freedom of the ‘I’ is therefore crucially dependent on the other. In this sense, it is only through the relation with the other that the I is actualised as a free agent. As Levinas puts it, “I expose myself to the questioning of the other, and this urgency of response…engenders me for responsibility; as responsible I am brought to my final reality.”64

This points us further than merely how the subject is reliant on the other for freedom, but is in certain aspects crucially dependent on its relation with alterity for its very constitution as a subject. This will be examined in the next section through Levinas’

description of the face-to-face encounter and the notion of substitution. For now, it bears remarking how we have travelled in this section. The subject in Levinas has gone from one of quasi-independence, distinguished first from the liberal-humanist tradition in terms of its location in the world and embodiment, to one that is incomplete in terms of meaning and freedom without the other. We are therefore moving away from a first-personal subject formed independently towards an intersubjective theory of ethical-subject formation.

1.3. The Formation of the Subject through the Other

At the centre of Levinas’ work is his account of the encounter with alterity. Although the terms in which this is described change between the phenomenological descriptions contained in TI and the more linguistically oriented OtB, throughout both works Levinas is concerned with detailing how the subject is in relation with the other. In this section, we will examine how

“the self finds itself as subject always and only in/through the eyes of the other.”65 By examining the relation with alterity central to Levinas’ two major works, we will then be able to see how he provides an intersubjective account of ethical-subject formation.

It is important to note that my aim here is not straightforwardly exegetical. Although the developments between TI and OtB will be considered, my concern is not the extent to

63 Ibid., p. 88.

64 Ibid., p. 178.

65 D. Fryer, The Intervention of the Other, 2004, p. 32.


which the two works are compatible or different. Rather, it is how we can see different aspects of Levinas’ idea of subject formation throughout. Both works are dense, with more aspects than could be covered here, so I will limit my examination mainly to how the subject is constituted intersubjectively in them. Having established the more independent aspects (with caveats) in the preceding two sections, I hope that this should suffice to show how, in sum, Levinas provides a middle-ground position between first-personal independence and a second-personal relationality in his account of subject formation. Such a position starts our theory of intersubjective ethical-subject formation as properly acknowledging alterity whilst maintaining some subjective agency.

1.3.1. The Formation of the Subject in Totality and Infinity

Turning first to the account given in TI, here Levinas provides a description of a transcendental experience that is constitutive of subjectivity – the face-to-face. It is in the face-to-face that the subject comes to be realised. It overcomes mere existence and is established as complete. For Levinas, this realisation is tied inherently to the relation between the infinite and the finite (what Levinas terms a totality). Indeed, as Adriaan Peperzak notes,

“The composition of Totality and Infinity can be understood as the unfolding of its twofold title.”66 For Levinas, both terms have distinctive meanings. Recall from the discussion in section 1, that “the infinite is the absolutely other” for Levinas.67 As such absolutely alterity, it is that which escapes containment within the confines of the sum of existing reality. This sum of reality is what Levinas refers to as ‘totality’, in which relations play out in the Same.68

Another way of seeing the difference between the terms is the framing of exteriority as opposed to interiority. As outlined in the first section, the interiority of a subject – the ‘I’

for Levinas – is produced in being the same, in “identifying oneself from within”.69 In its relations within the Same (existence without alterity), this ‘I’ then proceeds to assimilate elements of the world into itself. However, there is that which the ‘I’ cannot assimilate, and this is exteriority. It remains fundamentally outside of the ‘I’. We must be careful in so defining exteriority however. As Levinas points out, “exteriority is not yet maintained if we affirm a

66 A. Peperzak, To the Other: an introduction to the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas, West Lafayette, Purdue University Press, 1993, p. 120.

67 E. Levinas, TI, 1969, p. 49.

68 For discussion of the Same, see section 1.

69 E. Levinas, TI, 1969, p. 289.


subject insoluble into objectivity and to which exteriority would be opposed”.70 This establishes exteriority simply as relation to the subject, thus converting it into the Same.

Rather, in establishing exteriority in any relationship with interiority, it must be one in which both terms remain separated. For Levinas, this is the face-to-face interaction, where the interiority of the ‘I’ encounters an exteriority that cannot be assimilated into the totality of the world. As it cannot be contained within the totality, this exteriority is therefore an infinity.

It is in this relationship between the self and infinity that the subject is constituted. In encountering something absolutely exterior to itself, the self is challenged so fundamentally that it comes to realise itself differently. This challenge of the absolutely other forces the ‘I’

to turn inwards, and question the way it is expressed in the world. In Levinas’ words, “it is only in approaching the Other that I attend to myself.”71 This is not to say that the subject is absorbed by the infinite in its encounter. Levinas consistently stresses that the two remain independent. A “separation opens up between terms that are absolute and yet in relation, that absolve themselves from the relation they maintain, that do not abdicate it in favour of a totality this relation would sketch out.”72 The relation between them is pluralist, where both the subject and alterity are maintained, while altered.73 The maintenance of another in reality, puts into question my relation with it. The subject then comes to see its very nature as ethical, becoming a being that is not only responsible, but entirely altruistic in its orientation towards the other. As Levinas puts it, “when I seek my final reality, I find that my existence as a ‘thing in itself’ begins with the presence of the idea of infinity. But this relation already consists in serving the Other.”74

Here we see that Levinas is moving away from the abstract relation between the self and absolute otherness, towards a direct relation between a subject and an Other. If we recall Levinas’ scepticism around totalising theoretical systems, then we can understand why Levinas seeks to ground the ethical-subject not in the abstract metaphysical structure between totality and infinity, but in a localised interaction between the two. This is the face-

70 Ibid., p. 290.

71 Ibid., p. 178.

72 Ibid., p. 220.

73 Levinas even goes so far to say that infinity itself is produced in the relation of the same with the other, and it is from this idea of infinity that the subject should be understood (TI, p. 26.)

74 Ibid., p. 179.


to-face. In the face-to-face encounter, the ‘I’ encounters the face of another human being, with this influencing the ‘I’ in the manner outlined above as the relation between the subject and exteriority. As Peperzak puts it, “the otherness of the Other is concretized in the face of another human” in the face-to-face encounter.75

It is worth unpacking what this encounter entails. Levinas interpreter Diane Perpich provides a summary of the ‘plot’ of TI as:

“an ego absorbed in its needs and living in conditions of relative domestic security is confronted by a stranger who disrupts and calls in question its manner of being at home in the world. The result of this face-to-face encounter is that the ego finds itself in an ethical relationship in which it is divested of its egoism and invited to do the serious work of goodness and responsibility.”76

The central question here is how the face-to-face leads to the ego being in an ethical relationship. Firstly, Levinas is clear to distinguish the encounter with the face from other sensible experience. Unlike other objects, which present themselves in profiles to our sense perception, the face “cuts across forms”.77 It cannot be grasped by our vision in the same way, and for this reason it is encountered differently than as a mere appearance. Here we see the importance of the absolute alterity of the other, as Levinas contends that it is only in language that we may thus encounter the face of another without reducing it. As Levinas says, “Speech proceeds from absolute difference”.78 The relation entered in the face-to-face encounter with the other is one of discourse – the Other and the ‘I’ enter a dialogue that respects the separation of the two terms. In its appearance in the face, the Other is both the interlocutor and the theme of discussion - both an entity maintained as independent from reduction into totality, and at the same time an object able to be discussed within it. The “formal structure

75 A. Peperzak, To the Other, 1993, p. 19.

76 D. Perpich, The Ethics of Emmanuel Levinas, 2008, p. 79.

77 E. Levinas, TI, 1969, p. 193. Here Levinas seems to follow Husserl’s analysis of

intersubjectivity, as Husserl also contrasts the appearance of material objects in profiles with the subject that has an aspect essentially escaping my grasp. For a discussion of Husserlian intersubjectivity, and its criticism by Sartre and Levinas, see chapter 6, ‘The transcendence of the other in Husserl, Sartre, and Levinas’, in S. Overgaard, Wittgenstein and Other Minds, 2007, pp 103-120.

78 Ibid., p. 194.


of language”, between speakers and objects of discussion, “thereby announces the ethical inviolability of the Other”, as it cannot be reduced to either role.79

It is this irreducibility of the Other in the face-to-face that marks the encounter as ethical. In its irreducibility, “the face resists possession, resists my powers.”80 This resistance is not violent however. As well as being able to forcefully resist assimilation into the Same, the face “rises in nudity and destitution”.81 It is utterly defenceless and needs the same elements of the world that are appropriated by the ‘I’: food, water, shelter, warmth, nourishment. The combination of these two elements challenges the ‘I’ to be ethical. The other needs help, and cannot be absorbed into relations within the Same. As Levinas puts it,

“the being that expresses itself imposes itself, but does so precisely by appealing to me with its destitution and its nudity – its hunger – without my being able to be deaf to the appeal.”82 This imposition challenges me to respond ethically. I must be responsible for the other, and acting responsibly entails sharing the nourishment of the world -“the presence of the Other is equivalent to calling into question my joyous possession of the world” in Levinas’ words.83

The ethical relation goes even further however. The other is not simply another subject who I must treat altruistically. To posit it as such in the face-to-face would be to reduce it to the Same. As absolutely other, the Other in the face-to-face represents the infinite, and this establishes it in a position above me. It is transcendent, calling the ‘I’ “above and beyond the given” world.84 The relation between the self and other in the face-to-face is therefore not one between two equal terms, but essentially asymmetrical. The Other

“dominates me in his transcendence”.85 The ethical response that is demanded therefore goes further than simply sharing with another subject. The very nature of the subject itself is called into question from the height of the other. The entire orientation of the subject is

79 Ibid., p. 195.

80 Ibid., p. 197.

81 Ibid., p. 200.

82 Ibid., p. 200.

83 Ibid., p. 75.

84 E. Levinas, TI, 1969, p 212

85 Ibid., p. 215. It is also worth noting the full quote: “The other who dominates me in his transcendence is thus the stranger, the widow, and the orphan, to whom I am obliged.”

Here we see that even in its position of absolute domination the other is not a violent hegemonic force, but ‘destitute’ and ‘naked’.


changed into “being towards the Other.”86 Thus, in its very being, the subject emerges in an ethical relationship through the face-to-face.

The question then becomes how being in this ethical relationship is constitutive of the subjectivity of the subject. As alluded to above, the answer can be seen in terms of the altered orientation of the self. Subjectivity is “the state of being what are not purely self-determining selves, but rather highly constructed and over determined agents of external as well as internal identifactory practices”.87 In the face-to-face encounter we can see the ‘I’ going from being a self to a subject under this schema. If we consider the notion of the subject to be the better rounded of the two concepts (and with anti-humanist critiques of the liberal-humanist subject, we might), then in becoming a subject the self becomes more fully realized. D.R. Fryer suggests such a reading, claiming that “before the call to responsibility, there is no I proper”

and that “what creates the subject qua individual subject is the subjection to the other person”.88

We find support for such a reading in Levinas. The subject is created as such through the face-to-face, or in Levinas’ terms “subjectivity is fixed as a separated being in relation with an other absolutely other”.89 If we recall that for Levinas, freedom is conceived of positively, and linked to responsibility, the reason for this becomes apparent. The freedom of the subject is only realised insofar as it can act responsibly, and its very nature as responsible is generated in the face-to-face. It is no longer simply an ego that has an appropriative relationship with the world, but a free agent. In Levinas’ words, “the coinciding of freedom with responsibility constitutes the I, doubled with itself, encumbered with itself.”90 Its responsibility is infinite, as it is inherently linked to its freedom and subjectivity. Indeed, Levinas wonders whether

“perhaps the possibility of a point of the universe where such an overflow of responsibility is

86 Ibid., p. 215.

87 D.R. Fryer, The Intervention of the Other, 2004, p. 17.

88 Ibid., p. 62. It is important to point out here that it is not clear whether Levinas himself would adhere to such a distinction between self and subject. Fryer particularly ties the notion of the subject to a post-humanist philosophy, founded in an acceptance of the anti- humanist critiques of subjectivity. As outlined in the discussion of Levinas’ relation with humanism in section 1, it is not immediately clear if Levinas would so readily abandon the humanist position. Leaving this broader discussion aside, for present purposes I only use this self/subject distinction in order to highlight different aspects of subjectivity that may be realised in Levinas’ account.

89 E. Levinas, TI, 1969, p. 218.

90 Ibid., p. 271.




Related subjects :