“In his Ethics and Infinity, Levinas emphasizes how what appears as the most natural should become the most questionable-like Spinoza’s notion that every entity naturally strives for its self-perseverance, for the full assertion of its being and its immanent powers: Do I have (the right) to be? By insisting on being, do I deprive others of their place, do I ultimately kill them? (Although Levinas dismisses Freud as irrelevant for his radical ethical problematic, was Freud also in his own way not aware of it? Is “death drive” at its most elementary not the sabotaging of one’s own striving to be, to actualize one’s powers and potentials? And for that very reason, is not death drive the last support of ethics?)”
Neighbours and Other Monsters, A Plea for Ethical Violence – Slavoj Zizek
Well, four things:
1) I don’t trust Zizek’s understanding of Levinas. For all his ingenuity, his reading of Levinas is the lousiest.
2) Levinas’s call for non-response should be taken within the context of his Jewish-ness; in other words, Levinas is addressing the possibility of how a Jew can be un-Jew by realizing the ethicality of transcendence within the immanent possibility of freedom. Juxtaposed to Jewish religion under which a Jew acquires an identity, the ethicality of transcendence is not a possibility. A Jew should submit to God–it his the realization of his freedom. Levinas’s ethicality of transcendence demands more than that. It demands reaching out to the im-possible third person, to the person beyond the personalism of the relationship between “You and me,” between “I and the other,” which altogether constitute a second order relationship, a leap from the first-order relationship that the ‘I’ imagines itself capable of realizing, such as the I pluralizing itself into “Is”(many I). The third person is your neighbor, but your neighbor is only an other in a complicated network of others, humanity. To reach out to these others is the demand of justice, justice that represents the impossible third in the relationship between I and Them, between You and They. In other words, this demand of justice is a demand to transcend the empirical accidentalities of persons. Nevertheless, these empirical accidentalities (including one’s Jewishness) are what make persons persons. Phenomenologically put, we need to bracket these empirical accidentalities in order to come face to face with a person in all his or her nakedness, a nakedness that, reduced to its bareness, always demands to be attended to. Another way to put it is that these empirical accidentalities (power, wealth, fame, hence also, un-power, poverty, and obscurity) dress up the person in a way that empowers or falsely denudes him or her, the accidents glossing his or her ontological weakness. But these accidents constitute historical existence. Historical existence therefore demands to be attended to within the context that this existence is at bottom weak, thus, needing the ‘other’, the other who is as naked, as weak as you and me. This weak ex-istence (not existence; ex-istence connotes here a capacity for mindful awareness of the condition of one’s existence and also of others’, which is, need we belabor the point here?-‘weak’) that the individual human person ‘is’ should also be recognized by the other in himself or herself for the other to respond without presuppositions, phenomenologically speaking, to respond without the presupposition that one is doing it for the Good (which is the ultimate bias of self-certainty!) to the other.
3) This is the ultimate context within which we can understand the logicity of ‘non-response’. Non-response is after all a response aimed at the accidentality of a person. It is the other’s accidentality to which non-response responds. We therefore respond to non-accidentality, to the unhistorical, that is to say, to the possibility of justice. But what is justice? In the ultimate sense justice is the condition of the nonreciprocity of the human, which leads me to my last point–
4) In the nakedness of the other justice is confirmed–that persons in their fundamental bareness are nonreciprocal. This fundamental condition of our existence unfortunately is taken up in history as an opportunity to intend power, power to break the nonreciprocal condition of existence by arguing for reciprocity (which is the greatest utopian promise ever conceived by power). As history has shown reciprocity only worsens our condition, but it worsens it more to the extent that by denying our condition of existence in fundamental nonreciprocity our very nature is at stake. Reciprocity threatens to make the human condition extinct and lifeless.
Non-response is a response. A response that is possible only within the margins of historical existence. Does this mean our historical response is futile? NO.
Historical response may be qualified into a response that is silently self-accusatory, for one’s direct or indirect participation in the perpetuation of the problems for which a historical response is called . No one is excused from responsibility; indeed, the more remote one is from the causality of the problem, that is the less one is guilty (such as Zizek interrogating the guiltiness of Levinas dismissing Freud, notwithstanding that it is done with hesistance punctuated by insistent question marks, five all in all [?????]), the more responsibly he should act. By responsibility we mean the responsibility to not excuse oneself, that is, from the possibility of error, moral or epistemological, such as the ones I have claimed so far here.
One will notice that this already constitutes a response, albeit, an impossible one, thus a non-responsal, within historical existence.