Ethics, Self and The Other: A Levinasian Reading of the Postmodern Novel

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The condition and quality of Otherness , the characteristics of the Other, is the state of being different from and alien to the social identity of a person and to the identity of the Self.

Therefore, the condition of Otherness is a person's non-conformity to and with the social norms of society; and Otherness is the condition of disenfranchisement political exclusion , effected either by the State or by the social institutions e. Therefore, the imposition of Otherness alienates the person labelled as "the Other" from the centre of society, and places him or her at the margins of society, for being the Other.

The term Othering describes the reductive action of labelling and defining a person as a subaltern native , as someone who belongs to the socially subordinate category of the Other.

The practice of Othering excludes persons who do not fit the norm of the social group , which is a version of the Self; [7] likewise, in human geography , the practice of othering persons means to exclude and displace them from the social group to the margins of society, where mainstream social norms do not apply to them, for being the Other. The concept of the Self requires the existence of the Other as the counterpart entity required for defining the Self ; in the late 18th century, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel — introduced the concept of the Other as a constituent part of self-consciousness preoccupation with the Self , [9] which complements the propositions about self-awareness capacity for introspection proffered by Johann Gottlieb Fichte — Edmund Husserl — applied the concept of the Other as the basis for intersubjectivity , the psychological relations among people.

In Cartesian Meditations: An Introduction to Phenomenology , Husserl said that the Other is constituted as an alter ego , as an other self. As such, the Other person posed and was an epistemological problem—of being only a perception of the consciousness of the Self. In Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology , Jean-Paul Sartre — applied the dialectic of intersubjectivity to describe how the world is altered by the appearance of the Other, of how the world then appears to be oriented to the Other person, and not to the Self.

The Other appears as a psychological phenomenon in the course of a person's life, and not as a radical threat to the existence of the Self. In that mode, in The Second Sex , Simone de Beauvoir — applied the concept of Otherness to Hegel's dialectic of the " Lord and Bondsman " Herrschaft und Knechtschaft , and found it to be like the dialectic of the Man—Woman relationship, thus a true explanation for society's treatment and mistreatment of women. The psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan — and the philosopher of ethics Emmanuel Levinas — established the contemporary definitions, usages, and applications of the constitutive Other, as the radical counterpart of the Self.

Lacan associated the Other with language and with the symbolic order of things. Levinas associated the Other with the ethical metaphysics of scripture and tradition ; the ethical proposition is that the Other is superior and prior to the Self. In the event, Levinas re-formulated the face-to-face encounter wherein a person is morally responsible to the Other person to include the propositions of Jacques Derrida — about the impossibility of the Other person being an entirely metaphysical pure-presence.

That the Other could be an entity of pure Otherness of alterity personified in a representation created and depicted with language that identifies, describes, and classifies. The conceptual re-formulation of the nature of the Other also included Levinas's analysis of the distinction between " the saying and the said "; nonetheless, the nature of the Other retained the priority of ethics over metaphysics.

In the psychology of the mind e. Laing , the Other identifies and refers to the unconscious mind , to silence , to insanity , and to language "to what is referred and to what is unsaid". Likewise, problems arise from unethical usages of the terms The Other, Otherness, and Othering to reinforce ontological divisions of reality: of being , of becoming , and of existence.

As a challenge to self-assurance, the existence of the Other is a matter of ethics, because the ethical priority of the Other equals the primacy of ethics over ontology in real life. The others that obsess me in the Other do not affect me as examples of the same genus united with my neighbor, by resemblance or common nature, individuations of the human race, or chips off the old block.

The others concern me from the first. Here, fraternity precedes the commonness of a genus. My relationship with the Other as neighbor gives meaning to my relations with all the others. Jacques Derrida said that the absolute alterity of the Other is compromised, because the Other person is other than the Self and the group.

The logic of alterity otherness is especially negative in the realm of human geography , wherein the native Other is denied ethical priority as a person with the right to participate in the geopolitical discourse with an empire who decides the colonial fate of the homeland of the Other.

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Ethics, Self and the Other : A Levinasian Reading of the Postmodern Novel

In that vein, the language of Otherness used in Oriental Studies perpetuates the cultural perspective of the dominantor—dominated relation, which is characteristic of hegemony ; likewise, the sociologic misrepresentation of the feminine as the sexual Other to man reasserts male privilege as the primary voice in social discourse between women and men. Bush — rhetorically asked: "Why do they hate us? To build a conceptual framework around a notion of Us-versus-Them is, in effect, to pretend that the principal consideration is epistemological and natural—our civilization is known and accepted, theirs is different and strange—whereas, in fact, the framework separating us from them is belligerent, constructed, and situational.

The contemporary, post-colonial world system of nation-states with interdependent politics and economies was preceded by the European imperial system of economic and settler colonies in which "the creation and maintenance of an unequal economic, cultural, and territorial relationship, usually between states, and often in the form of an empire, [was] based on domination and subordination. The racialist perspective of 19th-century Europe was invented with the Othering of non-white peoples, which also was supported with the fabrications of scientific racism , such as the pseudo-science of phrenology , which claimed that, in relation to a white-man's head, the head-size of the non-European Other indicated inferior intelligence; e.

Consequent to the Nazi Holocaust of the — period, with the documents such as The Race Question and the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination , the United Nations officially declared that racial differences are relatively insignificant in comparison to anthropological likeness among human beings. Despite the UN's factual dismissal of racialism , in the U.

To the European populations, Western imperialism military conquest of non-white peoples, annexation of their countries, and economic integration to the motherland was intellectually justified by Orientalism, the study and fetishization of the Eastern world.

In effect we find ourselves protesting, "What about me? What, then, does Levinas propose? What I find rather startling is his ability to speak in the name of the absolutely transcendent, the infinitely other, yet to do so by speaking of a very simple concrete relation: that of the face-to-face. Every face says, "I am other to you. I am other.

Levinas and the Other Side of Theology

I am different. I am not you. Rather, this is the naked face that stands before us, completely exposed, completely vulnerable, infinitely other, absolutely singular. Yet you also face me with an "uprightness" - face-to-face. The unique, singular face stands opposed to the indifference of "impersonal anonymous Being". Rather, the face is "expression" - it not just "something" that I look upon, that I hold in my gaze.


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Rather, the face "faces" me, and this "toward me" is both a profound appeal against my indifference to your naked vulnerability, and an accusation that prohibits my violence toward you. The face of the other breaks into my world and calls out to me. The other calls forth my response, commands my attention, refuses to be ignored, makes a claim on my existence, tells me I responsible.

And this always. I will never be freed from the face of the other. So much so, that Levinas says we always held hostage to the other, that we are never released from the other's speaking to us and calling forth our response. What matters is not so much our separation from God and the desire for mystical participation; rather, what matters is disregard for each other, and the desire for sociality, for ethical responsibility.

What matters is not so much the declaration of my existence that says, "Here I am", but the "Here I am" that is the response of my existence to the call of the other.

About the Author

According to Levinas, the "Here I am" is testimony itself to the revelation that comes from outside, from elsewhere, from otherwise than my being. For Levinas, this is Revelation, and this is "how God comes to mind". We said right at the beginning: the subject of our enquiry is the very fact of Revelation, and the relation it establishes with exteriority.

This exteriority The path I am led to follow, in solving the paradox of Revelation, is one that claims we may find a model for this relation in the attitude of non-indifference towards the Other, in the responsibility towards him; and that it is precisely through this relation that a person becomes his "self", designated without any possibility of escape, chosen, unique, not interchangeable, and - in this sense - free.

Ethics provides the model worthy of transcendence and it is as an ethical kerygma that the Bible is Revelation. To turn around, to face the other, this is the conversion required of theology. As David Tracy notes, "surely, on the central question of transcendence, this ethical route to the Absolute Other only by way of the interrelationships of human others is Levinas' most original, and daring, and for Jewish and Christian theology, both promising The initial reception of liberation theology, for example, was dogged by the accusation that it was a "political reduction of the Gospel".

If, for Levinas, "ethics provides the model worthy of transcendence," it is because he is a little nervous about theology providing the "model," particularly when it is a worn-out theology As though we could ever finally "jump the fence" and say to ourselves: "no more is required of me". When all the time we are faced with that most demanding of the Gospel sayings: "The poor you will always have with you" Matt The neighbour will always be there. I cannot escape the Other; I will always be hostage to the height of the Other who asks after me.

Levinas proposes no secular humanism; rather, he protests against the domesticating of the divine.

Toward New Paradigms

The "low fence" of theology is the fence that reduces God to a "theme" for myself, as though God were "there" to be grasped and known by us, present to us an easy jump! Like the sensibilities of liberation theology, Levinas wants to keep the human neighbour between myself and God, such that we cannot too readily approach the invisible God without first encountering the height of our neighbour. It is difficult to talk about the experience of "being faced".

It is more common and familiar to talk about the experience of "facing being". Indeed, we probably can all resonate with this phrase, because we continually find ourselves "facing things". We face life's uncertainty, and we wonder about the future. We face life's pain, and we wonder whether we will ever find a measure of peace. We face life's profound ambiguity, and we wonder whether it will ever become clear to us. Facing being primarily means that our own being is a matter of concern for us.

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We do not engender our being; it is given to us, laid upon us; we are burdened with it and have to bear it. We do not exist, simply; we have to be. We face our lives - and at the same time we face our limitations and that which "outstrips" us. We wonder what life is about and what it all means. We find ourselves facing questions that are of concern to us about the shape of our lives, the shape of the world around us, questions about our future, our hopes for happiness, questions about pain and suffering.

What is Postmodernism?

Facing being, we face the finitude of our existence and the vastness of our questions, and we feel caught-up in life's great mystery or, more darkly, in its stark futility. Either way, we are lost in questions about life, its meaning, its purpose, its reason, its mystery, its elusiveness. Mostly we hold this experience and these questions in secret. Who can ever say to another what I feel when I find myself "facing being"?

Philosophers, theologians and other writers are probably the ones who most "break with secrecy" to talk about this experience. They think deeply about this question and give us all a certain vocabulary to talk about the experience of "facing being". They break with secrecy, such that "facing being" is filled with a multitude of responses.

It "means" this. It is "about this".