Sunday, February 13, 2005

Go pay a visit

to mal du siecle (by way of The Young Hegelian, who will very much be missed).

That is an understatement, of course. One might begin by reading, or re-reading, no cause for concern, from which one may extract, and bring again to the light of day, such posts as the following:

no cause for concern
Saturday, May 31
Sangatte Ethics

French feminist philosopher Luce Irigaray was one of headliners at the Independent Radical Bookfair, talking about her latest book 'The Way of Love'. One of Jacques Lacan's former students (their falling-out is infamous in French psychoanalytic history and prompted the writing of the influential 'Speculum of the Other Woman'), she has more recently moved into territory cleared by Jacques Derrida - the 'ethics of hospitality', an ethics which draws on the writings of Immanuel Levinas, and further back, Martin Buber.

One moment in the discussion that followed her talk really struck me. After having talked for a good hour about 'welcoming the other' and 'finding a room in one's house for the other', someone in the audience asked her, "what if the other is unwelcoming to your welcome, what if they are malevolent?"

Irigaray's response: "Let them be."

An interesting answer. What she was doing - following Levinas - was rewriting Heidegger's 'Gelassenheit', an ontological category, as an ethical category, or more precisely, as a moral law (because we must remember that these are exhortations to a way we should act; they are not grounded in a current way of life, or present customs or laws, however flawed).

The question was well put, I thought, and the answer wholly inadequate.

It seemed to me to show up the pious passivity that issues from this morality, and its powerlessness in the face of the violence of the other and the self. Here morality has been divorced from politics and from law and from any action, collective rather than individual, which might make any real 'hospitality' possible.

Furthermore, it is strangely complicit in the kind of colonialism it obliquely protests against. Could one exhort an Iraqi to 'welcome' the American soldier who entered his country? Could one urge a Palestinian to 'welcome' the driver of the bulldozer who demolished her house? What room does she have left to offer this invader? Here morality shows its impotence in the face of what Hegel called 'the course of the world', and the result is little more than a good conscience which leaves the other untouched in the violence which a third is always doing to them. As Gillian Rose once put it, the new moralists are 'waving at the other' whilst the other is drowning. ¶ Saturday, May 31, 2003

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