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Adam, as I posted over at Jodi’s this is an immensely interesting discussion and I really appreciate your ongoing comments. You have really helped be with some of the nuances of Levinas’ politics. As someone who comes from a politics background, these discussions are really helpful. As such I was just wondering if you (or someone else) could clarify some questions that I had based on your reply here.

These are largely a levels-of-analysis issues which you have pointed to above. If the ethical responsibility to the Other and all the Thirds relies heavily on the contingent circumstances (and the limits that you outlined) that stem from Levinasian ethics, I am just curious as to where ‘the political’ fits into this understanding. I personally agree with the inescapable consequences that stem from the tedious and banal day-to-day choices, but I wonder what that means when we ignore or reject those consequences. In other words, if I go about my day as a good consumer and remain ethically bound whether or not I choose to do so, what remains of the political? Thus while I agree entirely that the inescapable ethical responsibility cannot be sacrificed by a choice or political calculation, I am less clear about what constitutes a politics.

In a similar vein, while I agree that the ethical call does not need to induce a political paralysis, does the bounding of discourse and politics with a responsibility to a Third not just produce a foreclosure that bears little specific action? I am not trying to be dogmatic and repressive with my conception of the political, because I think those boundaries are really significant, but I can’t help but wonder about their markedly liberal (and I don’t mean this is the pop-culture/right-wing/fox/cnn/newsy way) in the establishment of a space – albeit contingent – where the politics can take place? It might be that your references to Agamben here were your responses to this, and I appreciate your critique of the teleological basis of historical Marxist and religious conflict, but does this solidarity become a politics? I don’t know if this is semantics, and I have similar issues with ‘collectivity’ for attempting to develop out of a coming-togeather that limits its sociality; or tendency to reject the connections to existing practices of resistance (but it does retain a rejection of politics as ‘choice’). I suspect this has to do with the singularity and the event that I am unable to grasp at the moment, and perhaps I am blurring my levels of analysis, but I genuinely think that Levinas is important for these discussions and perhaps it is the lack of a specific moment that is creating my confusion.

In either case, thanks for the great posts,


hi Adam,
Thanks very much for this. It clears up a lot. At the ethical level, I'm in complete agreement. I like this example as it's quite clear (though it carries a bit of a risk of romanticizing in its overblown-ness):
if the Nazis come to your door to take away the family member/neighbor/stranger at the dinner table, the most ethical option may be to throw the pot of boiling soup in their faces. That doesn't mean it's not a gross violation of someone's humanity (and some of these kinds of acts need to be dealt with in the aftermath of activities if they're not to poison the new condition).

I'm not sure what to do with any of this, though. Given the infinite nature of the debt to the other, my sense is that infinities are not comparable but equivalent (in their all being beyond measurability or something), such that it doesn't help calculate directions of activities and so forth. It can be an underlying motivation, and probably should be, but I don't see how it could help one in making decisions or plans beyond a sort of general reminder to try to be in line with one's ethics as best as one is able. I'm willing to have my mind changed, of course, and I may be unfairly asking something that this perspective isn't set up to answer.

Three more short things: First, I didn't mean to say that the kinds of limits I was suggesting may be necessary were necessary for politics, or even for class politics. They strike me as requisite for my politics, the type or mode of class politics I think is a good idea. I don't think politics as such is reducible to my politics. (That said, I do think my ideas are better, which is why I hold them.)

Second, re: Agamben, I'm glad you said that. One of things that I thought of during this is Agamben's description of what he wants, the 'community without conditions of belonging'. That strikes me as uninstantiable, as the community would require the minimal condition that no member of the community would possess both the power and the inclination to impose conditions of belonging, other than that minimal one, on others. To my mind this is an ineliminable political problem.

Third, re: the Internationale, it's "unite the human race" but that doesn't really matter - the idea of the working class as the new humanity is to my mind predicated on the elimination of the owning class (to be clear, of the social relations of owning/employing - and thereby also of employed - class). This can't be accomplished, as you I think implicitly agreed, a minimal violence (at the least, a stern talking to, I suspect stronger activities like, strikes at the least) to anyone who might seek to retain those social relations. Oh wait, now I've confused myself - am I agreeing with you on this point? You're saying this is what happens but the Levinasian ethical perspective can temper that? If so, agreed, but with the caveat that tempering does not tell us the contents of the (decisions made by) tempered perspective.

take care,

ps- I just had a thought, which I'd like to hear your thoughts on. Could this debt to the other be made part of/ground for (mode of convincing someone to make) a declaration of equality like those posited by Badiou and Ranciere, political equality as axiomatic point of departure? If so then I'm more sold on it than I was before.


Hi Adam,
Interesting post--it's becoming clearer to me that I don't know enough about Levinas and Derrida to be a terribly interesting interlocutor on these matter. Yet, what I find absolutely fascinating and helpful is the ways that the more you explain about Levinas, the more divergent appear our approaches to solidarity. So, I've made another longer response over at I Cite.

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