Tag Archives: Levinas

Félix Ravaisson’s Of Habit

I just read Ravaisson’s Of Habit. It is really a great little book. There is so much more in this essay than I expected and it really shows just how indebted 19th-20th Century French Metaphysics are to Schelling. Ravaisson of course attended Schelling’s lectures in Munich and was apparently set to translate some of Schelling’s works into French though it never panned out. Bergson sounds so much less “out there” when read in the context of Ravaisson. Not only are the roots of Bergsonism in there (by way of the virtual, the focus on memory and repetition, “secret vital forces” at the heart of the organism, etc.), but also the carnal phenomenology that largely separates the French phenomenologists (Merleau-Ponty, Levinas, Henry, Marion, etc.) from the Heideggerian tradition. There’s also a form of the unconscious, which he calls an “unreflective spontaneity” that “breaks into […] the organism, and increasingly establishes itself there, beyond, beneath the region of will, personality and consciousness” (53). He also speaks of it in terms of “effort,” which the translators use to translate both “effort” and “puissance” [power]. The latter term of course becomes important in Deleuze and his reading of Nietzsche. It also proves important in Foucault’s later writings on the Self. Deleuze distinguishes “puissance” (as power-to, possibility) from “pouvoir” (as power-over, domination) when he discusses Nietzsche’s Will to Power. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Ravaisson talks of “puissance” in relation to an unconscious drive (connected with “instinct” and “tendency”), as the ground of possibility at the centre of the organism, much in the same way that the psychoanalytic and vitalist traditions see it. There must be a connection between this early 19th Century Naturphilosophie and the later French psychology tradition (Janet). Besides that, it shows the biologization of Schellingian speculative metaphysics, grounding Schelling in much the same way that thinkers like Lorenz Oken did. Anyone interested in either the Schellingian or 20th Century French tradition owes it to themselves to read this brief essay.

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The Desire of the Other (Null and Void)

I’ve decided to share another text. This one isn’t as relevant as the last piece I shared, but someone might still find something of value in it. This is a lecture I gave last January on Levinas. Here’s the scenario: I was in a course based on the annual faculty colloquium, where each week a faculty member would present a paper, with all of the papers being variations of a common theme. The theme this past year was “responsibility.” So each Tuesday, a professor would give a public lecture, and two days later, a student would give a response to it. I was responsible for the first response of the year, responding to a paper which basically outlined Levinas’ ethics of the Other, infinite responsibility, etc, etc.

The lecture I gave is titled “The Desire of the Other (Null and Void)” and was written largely immediately following the Tuesday afternoon Levinas lecture, cleaned up a bit the next day, and presented essentially as you see it the day after that. Minor changes have been made since then, a couple of references had to be tracked down, and some of the wording was different, but this is basically the lecture as I delivered it.

As for the substance of the piece, I critique Levinasian ethics from three different perspectives, beginning from my anti-humanist (vitalist) perspective, moving on to a metaphysical critique, followed by an ethical critique. The last of these comes from my background as someone who was at one time much closer to Levinas, having been swallowed up by the whole “theological turn” in phenomenology and hermeneutics for a time, while the other two are perhaps closer to my current views (the first critique, the critique from vitalism, being the one I am most confident in). Feel free to respond to this piece. It is pretty short, as I had to allow for not only the response to my response from the professor of the initial paper, but also for a shared Q&A session on both of our lectures. It is also probably the only piece on Levinas to contain references to Barrack Obama, The Simpsons and The Fly!

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