The rhythm of alterity

The rhythm of alterity

Levinas and aestheticsgary peters

The evocative remarks of Emmanuel Levinas on art and rhythm have received little attention. In opening the question of the aesthetic, indeed the questionable nature of the aesthetic for Levinas, the intention here is to redress the balance at a time when the ethical dimension of his thought is being privileged.

There are three main reasons for doing this. First, in both Levinasʼs early phenomenological writings and his brief excursions into aesthetics he makes a significant (if overlooked) contribution to the understanding of modernist art practice. By challenging the dominant metaphysics of continuity at the level of ʻthe instantʼ, he articulates a radically discontinuous logic of interrogation which matches very effectively the creative strategies of many avant-garde artists. While the following essay is mainly concerned with situating Levinasʼs thoughts on rhythm within the philosophical traditions upon which he draws, it is clear that he offers a very powerful analysis, which, in the case of music, for example, would allow a fruitful investigation of the ʻnew musicʼ. In particular, the compositional discontinuity of Webern, Stockhausen, Cage and Nono, for instance, would be much better understood in the terms outlined below than through the aesthetics of continuity which remains dominant in western musicology. To that extent the following investigation might be seen as a contribution to the development of what might be described as a Levinasian aesthetic.

Second, although given primacy in his thought as a whole, ethics for Levinas depends upon a notion of alterity which is arrived at by way of a prior interrogation of ʻthe instantʼ and the subsequent attempt to articulate the breaching of temporal continuity. One consequence of this is that when considering art Levinas is drawn to the sensation of rhythm within an aesthetic experience, claiming that ʻparticipationʼ within the discontinuous pulse both strips the I of its pre-eminence and instates the Other as primordial. As Otherness is here understood as occupying the fissures upon which rhythm depends, it is of interest to note Levinasʼs subsequent denial of the aesthetic in the name of an ethics which, while purporting to take responsibility for the otherness of the Other, refuses to allow the aesthetic its own alterity or rhythm, its own irresponsibility. In other words, it would seem that the aesthetic origin of some of Levinasʼs grounding ideas ultimately endangers the ethical purpose which they are later made to serve. Accordingly, the following essay concludes by placing a question mark over Levinasʼs own questioning of the aesthetic, the intention being to open up, in turn, a discussion of the questionable nature of ethics.

Third, during a period in which the literary and rhetorical dimensions of philosophical discourse have been particularly emphasized there is some merit in reconsidering not only what might be called the musicology of the text but also the musicality of being. In this regard the following thoughts, while beginning with the metaphorical use of musical terminology within philosophical discourse, are in fact primarily concerned with an investigation into musicality (specifically, rhythm) as a means of approaching the vexed question of alterity understood as the breaching of different totalities – literary, linguistic, poetic, narrative, rhetorical, etc. – of the word. Such an approach, largely ignored since the philosophical musicality of Nietzsche, does not offer any simple solutions to the problem of accessing the ʻoutsideʼ of philosophical discourse. It does nevertheless allow for the scrutinization of aspects of being left ʻunheardʼ (or perhaps heard too easily) by the non-musical. In short, Levinasʼs ʻsensationʼ of rhythm is here privileged as a particular gift or ʻfeelʼ for the phenomenological pulse of being.

Husserl: melody and fringe

Although the whole of Levinasʼs work is implicated in the following reflections, it is writings such as Existence and Existents, [1] Reality and its Shadow, [2] and the somewhat later essay on Maurice Blanchot entitled The Servant and Her Master, [3] which will receive most attention here. Before turning to these texts, however, it will be necessary to discuss the work of Husserl and Bergson upon which Levinas builds.

In Existence and Existents Levinas sets out to interrogate the ʻfringeʼ, and in so doing enters into a dispute with Husserl. For the latter the ʻfringeʼ is that which hovers on the margins of empirical experience. The intentional busying of oneself with the world is here conceived as an awakening both of the transcendental ego and the dormant actuality that envelops it. Degrees of wakefulness are correlated with intensities of light, where absolute illumination shelves off into half-shadow and into darkness. So while the ʻglancing rayʼ of the wakeful ego fixes phenomena, the dim presentations constituting the ʻzone of the marginalʼ or the ʻexperience fringeʼ represent a fugitive obscurity which escapes the absolute exposure of sheer noticeability, yet remains in attendance as a ʻstirringʼ. [4]

Ultimately, for Husserl, the marginal fringe remains available for perception, an availability which, in Levinasʼs terms, drains it of its necessary obscurity. This is particularly apparent if one examines Husserlʼs conception of infinity, conceptualized as being wedded to ʻhorizons of possibilityʼ, [5] thereby allowing the glancing ray of the transcendental ego to illuminate (what Levinas would consider to be) the darkness of the infinite. In spite of the infinite flux of intentional horizons where clarity and indeterminacy ebb and flow, a phenomenological unity is ultimately assumed by Husserl.Contra Husserl, it is precisely the impossibility of grasping the infinite – its unavailability – that concerns Levinas; the absolute break with the world understood as a radical overflowing:

infinity overflows the thought that thinks it. Its very infinition is produced precisely in this overflowing.

The relation with infinity will have to be stated in terms other than those of objective experience…6In later works such as Totality and Infinity the breaching of totality is articulated as the ʻfaceʼ of the other, grounding an ethics; in the earlier Existence and Existents the break is presented as an ʻexoticismʼ (literally an outside-ness) witnessed in the alterity of art. It is here that Levinas introduces the notion of rhythm as the musical dimension of all art, which, he rightly claims, is usually left as a ʻvague suggestive notion and catch-allʼ [7] in art criticism.

Levinas challenges the transparency assumed in Husserlʼs fringe of sheer noticeability in the name of the ʻhardly noticeableʼ, [8] an exteriority accessed in a peculiarly aimless way through the exoticism of art. Aesthetic experience is here seen as opaque, emptying the world of presence. The rhythmic musicality of art is not illuminating; it darkens the world. [9] Images intrude and interfere in our commerce with things and the nascent actualities that surround them, simultaneously obstructing and extracting:

This way of interposing an image of the things between us and the thing has the effect of extracting the thing from the perception of the world. [10]

For Levinas, the thwarting of Husserlian intentionality, the eluding of perception, simultaneously enervates conceptual cognition while intensifying the sensation of ʻthings-in-themselvesʼ, precisely by presenting the exteriority of those things. He sees the dispossession that the exotic inflicts on perception as the mark of an aesthetic sensation which, in slipping between the poles of subjectivity and objectivity, and between consciousness and unconsciousness, [11] confounds intentionality, confronting it with the anarchic. The peculiarity of Levinasʼs aesthetics of rhythm concerns precisely the anarchic character of the exotic pulse and, in particular, the way in which the transcendental ego loses its intentional grasp and is carried away. Having said that, however, it is significant that even in this early work he is careful to avoid the radical amorality of the unconscious and the transgressive potential of anarchic rhythm.

Rhythm represents a unique situation where we cannot speak of consent, assumption, iniative or freedom, because the subject is caught up and carried away… It is a mode of being to which applies neither the form of consciousness, since the I is stripped of its prerogative to assume its power, nor the form of unconsciousness, since the whole situation and all its articulations are in a dark light, present. [12]

It is important, then, to note here that the very privileging of rhythm over melody itself represents a subterranean dispute with Husserl. In his analysis of internal time consciousness Husserl is noticeably reliant on melody as an illustrative device. Throughout much of his investigation of temporality he uses melody as an example of that which remains within the grasp of intentional consciousness – the ʻholdʼ of reten-tion/protention. As he writes in The Phenomenology of Internal Time Consciousness, ʻIn [the] sinking back [of a tone]; I still hold it fast, and have it in a retention.ʼ [13] For Husserl, then, there is an unbroken continuity between the now – the ʻprimal impressionʼ of the tone – and the retention of that tone in internal time consciousness. Both wakeful attention and retention make equally available to the transcendental egoʼs ray of consciousness a possessive illumination resisted by Levinas. Where the latter gives primacy to sensation as an aesthetic preliminary to the breaching of continuity (understood melodically), Husserl holds firm to the ʻbreachless unityʼ [14] of perception. Above all else it is this image of continuity and unity which Levinas aims to shatter.

Bergson: rhythm and duration

Turning to Bergson, the source of Levinasʼs concern with rhythm is immediately apparent. In his discussion of aesthetic feelings in Time and Free Will Bergson relies heavily on rhythm, where it serves as a convenient metaphor for the seamless continuity of duration (durée) perceived in art as ʻgraceʼ. [15] He describes how obedience to the laws of rhythm is capable of lulling the soul into self-forgetfulness through feelings of sympathy, a dream-like rhythmic communion with the other. Within the eternal fixity of sculpture and architecture, Bergson detects an immanent rhythm of symmetry and repetition capable of drawing the self out of its personality and the self-interest of ordinary life. Such reflections often seem to be echoed by Levinas, for example in his statement that ʻin rhythm there is no longer a oneself, but rather a sort of passage from oneself to anonymity. This is the captivation or incantation of poetry and music.ʼ [16] In spite of the surface similarities, however, it is important to remember that within Levinasʼs project as a whole it is the ethical significance of the exotic pulse which is crucial. This underlying ethical concern requires a notion of alterity which, having a temporal dimension, demands the shattering of continuous duration in the name of the time of the other. It is this discontinuous ethic that signals the fundamental difference between Levinas and Bergson.

In Bergsonʼs understanding of rhythm, the fundamental problem is his dualism, grounded in an absolute temporal/spatial distinction and confused by his insistence on seeing both rhythmically. That he understands duration in rhythmic terms is obvious from a host of examples, such as the following from Matter and Memory:The duration lived by our consciousness is a duration with its own determined rhythm, a duration very different from the time of the physicist… In reality there is no one rhythm of duration: it is possible to imagine many different rhythms…17Yet in the discussion of grace Bergson draws attention to the ʻjerky movementsʼ which, with their brutal unpredictability, destroy the dream-like communion. In other words, it is not a question of the presence or absence of rhythm but the irresolvable conflict of two different rhythmic orders: one flowing, the other discontinuous and staccato. The ʻbeats of a drum which break forthʼ from the underlying ʻfluid massʼ; the clapping of a childʼs hand trying to possess the weaving smoke – such are the ways Bergson presents the contradictory pulses of abstract time and concrete duration and the discord caused by this ʻirremediable difference of rhythmʼ. [18]

Before returning to some of the problems with the above, it is worth briefly stating the similarities between the philosophies of Bergson and Levinas. To begin with, the status of the ʻfringeʼ in Bergsonʼs work is closer to Levinas. Where Husserl, in the Cartesian Meditations, sees the relative obscurity of fringe experiences as an ʻinfectednessʼ, [19] Bergson marks this as a domain of purity where duration flows uninfected by the intellect. Like Levinas, Bergson is concerned with the breaching of totality and the intuitive interrogation of the marginal. He writes, ʻif the fringe exists, however delicate and indistinct, it should have more importance for philosophy than the bright nucleus it surrounds.ʼ [20] Second, Bergson understands the fringe in rhythmic rather than melodic terms and is thus more sensitive to the dimension of our experience (duration) which eternally escapes the grasp of intentional consciousness, which is not subject to Husserlian retention/protention. Third, and as a consequence of the above, Bergson designates this particular rhythmic order as a place of creativity and freedom – the ʻopenʼ. [21] To translate this into Levinasian terms: Bergson appears to promote infinity above totality and, indeed, writes of the ʻperspective of an analysis passing away to infinityʼ. [22] And yet it is precisely Bergsonʼs understanding of duration as ʻdetermined rhythmʼ which separates him from Levinas.

For while Levinas is impressed with the Bergson who can write of the ʻceaseless upspringing of something newʼ, [23] he is, nonetheless, suspicious of Bergsonʼs notion of creativity upon which the ʻnewʼ is dependent. In Time and the Other Levinas writes,

The future is not buried in the bowels of a preexistent eternity, where we come to lay hold of it.

It is absolutely other and new… To be sure, the Bergsonian conception of freedom through duration tends toward the same end. But it preserves for the present a power over the future: duration is creation. [24]

Such power is not so much associated with the creation of the future as with the power to intuit futurity within the present. The possibility of this – contested by Levinas – reflects the Bergsonian notion of duration as rhythm. If duration cannot be expressed by the mechanical rhythm of beating clocks or the spatial violence of clapping hands, it can, none-theless, be lived as a counter-rhythm which spontaneously flows into its future. But this life, while the embodiment of flux, remains steadfastly within its rhythm, allowing intuition to drain newness of its radical novelty or alterity. Indeed, it is precisely the underlying predictability of rhythm as flow that Bergson believes provides aesthetic pleasure. In his discussion of grace, there is one particularly significant passage:

as those movements are easy which prepare the way for others, we are led to find a superior ease in the movements which can be foreseen, in the present attitudes in which future attributes are pointed out and, as it were, prefigured. If jerky movements are wanting in grace, the reason is that each of them is self-sufficient and does not announce those which follow. If curves are more graceful than broken lines, the reason is that, while a curved line changes its direction at every moment, every new direction is indicated in the preceding one. Thus the perception of ease in motion passes over into the pleasure of mastering the flow of time and holding the future in the present. [25]

These words, perhaps more than any others, show the extent to which the vague nebulosity of the Bergsonian fringe can, like Husserlʼs, be domesticated by a corresponding ʻvague intuitionʼ [26] which sympathetically shares the same rhythmic impulse. So while the elusiveness of rhythm suggests an alterity – hence Levinasʼs interest – this alterity is ʻpreparedʼ, ʻforeseenʼ, ʻprefiguredʼ and ʻmasteredʼ. Husserlian melodic protention here returns as rhythmic mastery, reducing alterity to the same, and prompting Levinas to ask of Bergson:

Does intuition constitute the modality of thought, within which the alterity of the new would explode immaculate and untouchable as alterity or absolute newness…? [no is the answer, for then] … the alterity of the new is reduced to its being and invested in a noema which is correlative to a noesis and cut to its measure. [27]

Both Husserl and Bergson fail, in Levinasʼs eyes, to pursue their respective phenomenological and intuitive insights to the point where the absolute alterity of marginal experiences escape melodic or rhythmic articulation. It is for this reason that Levinas, in his early work, attempts to break with such melodic and rhythmic orders in the name of the ʻinstantʼ, allowing him to introduce into his philosophy the notion of musicality fundamentally linked to otherness rather than to the same.

The instant

In Existence and Existents Levinas, like Husserl, understands melody as continuity. However, Levinas is concerned with the manner in which the exploding temporality of the instant is sacrificed to such melodic continuity; he writes:

the different instants of a melody only exist to the extent that they immolate themselves in a duration, which in a melody is essentially a continuity. Insofar as a melody is lived through musically … there are no instants in the melody …; the instants of a melody only exist in dying. [28]

The death of the instant is, for Levinas, the death of the event of being itself. The protention and retention, so important to Husserlʼs melodic conception of internal time consciousness, are dependent on a notion of phenomenological continuity which effectively squeezes alterity out of the instant, sucking it into a seamless temporality. As notes in a melody, each instant is sonically penetrated by the others, thereby destroying the very idea of otherness. Levinas suggests that only the ʻwrong noteʼ holds out against melodic extinction by ʻrefusing to dieʼ;29 the resulting instantaneousness is elsewhere described as a ʻdiachrony without protention or retentionʼ. [30]

In his later philosophy Levinas is increasingly concerned with the distinction between what he calls the ʻsayingʼ and the ʻsaidʼ, seeing the former as the very event of ethical openness. Tracing this back to his early aesthetic writings it is apparent that, similarly, it is the aesthetic event, the emergence/explosion of the art-work, which is important and not its status as an artefact available for theoretical analysis and dialogue. The melodic (the ʻsaidʼ) can take up residence within the noise of the world, it is stated and yet its delivery (the ʻsayingʼ) remains silent. The eloquence of this silence is rhythmic, the rhythm upon which the melodic depends, the rhythm that needs no melody.

Rhythm cannot be heard, it can only be sensed; it is the melodic that is heard.

Having said that, however, care must be taken in attempting to determine the nature of this rhythmic sense. Clearly, Levinas does not share Bergsonʼs notion of rhythm as the graceful pulse of duration where the predictable curvature of lived time allows an intuitive mastery of futurity. On the contrary, for Levinas the significance of art is its ability to rupture the curve, the symbol of continuity for Bergson and Husserl. In particular, Levinas understands a certain form of modernist art in such terms:

In the representation of matter by modern painting this deformation, that is, this laying bare, of the world is brought about in a particularly striking way. The break up of continuity even on the surface of things, the preference for broken lines, the scorning of perspective and of the ʻrealʼ proportion between things, indicate a revolt against the continuity of curves. [31]

Sympathetic to such a revolt, Levinas is concerned to retain the alterity suggested (if not achieved) by the notion of duration, and yet it is precisely the ʻjerkyʼ rhythm with its mechanical unpredictability (seen as temporal closure by Bergson) which he seeks to interrogate. This instantaneous rhythm is one of ʻwaiting, forgettingʼ, [32] waiting for nothing, remembering nothing, a ʻtaut dynamismʼ rendering everything contemporary and eternal. Within this event of forgetting, reality is displaced by the aesthetic image, an image which, Levinas insists, eludes perception but is experienced darkly through the imagination and its realization of sensation. Instead of the subjective hold on intentional perception, the ʻmusicalityʼ of the aesthetic image is sensed as a hold over the I: ʻthe hold that an image has over us, a function of rhythmʼ. [33] And yet this is not an objective pulse; it is, rather, a rhythm where ʻparticipationʼ takes the ego both ouside of itself and away from an objective ʻreality to be capturedʼ. [34]

This is far removed from the sympathetic communion sought by Bergson, which, in the tradition of Kantʼs analytic of the beautiful, generates pleasure. Here it is more a question of ʻhorrorʼ, the horror of absolute passivity experienced as ʻparticipationʼ [35] in an alterity ontologically incapable of retention or protention. Sublime incomprehensibilty, yet without the promotion of the self as noumenal to be found in the Kantian sublime.

Franz Rosenzweig, an important influence here, describes the participation in the aesthetic as itself incapable of creating communion: ʻthe silence of oneʼs particularity in the unanimity of the chorus … it does not establish a community but it arouses the assembled ones, each for himself, to the same feelingsʼ. [36] Similarly, for Levinas the rhythm of the other as invested in the work of art separates us from the artist and the artist from the work. This separation is ontologically symptomatic of an existence outstripping duration: ʻduration is not the measure of existenceʼ. [37] Absolute alterity must, by definition, be without duration, an order oblivious to temporality, and yet still sensed as rhythm. Such a rhythm is not the respiration of the instant itself but the explosion of that instant, the ʻaccomplishment of existenceʼ. [38] As with all accomplishment, the result can be forever thrown into doubt; nothing can be ʻprefiguredʼ in instantaneousness. It is understood here as the stopping of time which has then to be resumed anew.

The ethical force of separation, fundamental in Levinasʼs work, is dependent on this prior ontological stasis at the heart of rhythm where it is not a question of intuitive polyrhythmic communion or continuity but the recognition of, indeed reverence for, the inscrutable fissuring of pulsation. The silent stasis of rhythm: not the sounding of the melodic, not the incantation of the word, but the existential edge where everything stops/ starts – this is the source of ethics for Levinas. A keen sense of this impossibly elusive rhythmic discontinuity is also to be found in Maurice Blanchot:

He felt ever closer to an ever more monstrous absence which took an infinite time to meet. He felt it closer to him every instant and kept ahead of it by an infinitely small but irreducible splinter of duration. He saw it, a horrifying being which was already pressing against him in space and, existing outside time, remained infinitely distant. Such unbearable waiting and anguish that they separated him from himself… His eyes tried to look not in space but in duration, and in a point in time which did not yet exist. [39]

For Levinas, however, it is not so much a ʻsplinter of durationʼ but the splintering of duration that is at issue, where each splinter indicates a prior splitting of the face of existence:

In contemporary painting things no longer count as elements of a universal order which the look would give itself, as a perspective. On all sides fissures appear in the continuity of the universe. The particular stands out in the nakedness of its being. [40]

Once again, Levinas speaks here of the breaking of continuity where the emergence of the unforeseen in its existential nakedness initiates a rhythm that has nothing to do with the counting of beats or the mastery of time as measure. Instead, he alludes to a rhythm born of nakedness, the nakedness which is emphatic in its revelation of difference. Just as in our own nakedness we withdraw into the separateness of a physical vulnerability, open to violation and yet absolutely fugitive, so it is the withdrawal of communion – denied by nakedness – which establishes a rhythmic pulse articulating its own absence. It is not a question of polyrhythms or counter-rhythms but of the absolute absence of rhythm within rhythm itself, the ʻexoticʼ silence of alterity which makes rhythm possible as the momentary negation of such silence and the silencing of this negation. Where others emphasize the unifying force of rhythm as flow, Levinas is profoundly sensitive to the manner in which it leaves us exiled, erasing evolutionary identity in an overflowing:

This overflowing of thought naturally makes us think of Bergsonian duration, but Bergsonʼs conception represents this negation of identity as a process of evolution. The primordial status of the notion of erasure affirms the simultaneity of multiplicity, and the irreducibly ambiguous nature of consciousness. [41]

The overflowing of thought is not a flowing; it has no duration, no grace. And yet this wiping-out itself establishes a rhythm – the ʻgame of erasureʼ – where silence ex/implodes without destiny: ʻAll the arts, even those based on sound, create silence.ʼ [42]

The work of Karlheinz Stockhausen might be cited here as a possible illustration of these thoughts. In his radicalization of both Webernʼs pointillism and Stravinskyʼs rhythmic discontinuity Stockhausen challenges the very notion of temporal continuity and durational flow. In particular, Stockhausenʼs intimation of a musical dimension outside space and time, ʻa conception of music as audible moments of transition between states inaccessible to hearingʼ, [43] suggests something approaching the pulse described above. Levinasʼs ʻgame of erasureʼ and Stockhausenʼs following remarks clearly have a great deal in common:

Why must we always imagine music simply as note-structures in empty space, instead of beginning from a homogeneously filled acoustical space and carving out music, revealing musical figures and forms with an eraser?… So I composed negative forms as well, to correspond to the positive forms … holes, pauses, cavities of various shapes…44Within the negative aesthetic of Levinas and Stockhausen the ʻblocksʼ and ʻcubesʼ of the former are equivalent to the ʻholesʼ and ʻcavitiesʼ of the latter; in both cases rhythm is the pulsating remainder simultaneously inscribed and erased.

Ethics and art

This radically non-dialogical concept of art, where silence takes the place of communication and proximity takes the place of communion, is a peculiar place to attempt the creation of an ethics. In particular, the physicality of the rhythmic and its inherent attraction to the body suggest the presence of desire, intoxication and the Dionysian ʻbeyond good and evilʼ. For Levinas, however, rhythm is precisely that which escapes the binary logic of mind/body, inner/outer, consciousness/ unconsciousness, objectivity/subjectivity, and interest/ disinterest. It reveals instead an ʻexteriority of the inward … which is not that of the bodyʼ. [45] One could say, perhaps, a rhythm which is sensed rather than felt, and, following Levinas, a rhythm of ʻinvolvementʼ [46] rather than desire.

If this does not ring true, it is perhaps partly because of the degenerate rhythmic sense which dominates mass music and which appeals directly to the body. To that extent Levinas is correct to avoid this notion of rhythm in favour of the phenomenological interrogation of the more exotic pulse. Even so, it still remains difficult to see why the radical rhythmic discontinuity he describes should necessarily take on a more fundamental ethical significance. This returns us not to the question of the aesthetic but to the questionable nature of the aesthetic as stated at the outset.

In a philosophy such as Levinasʼs, where responsibility for the other is supreme and where the ethical directness of the face-to-face encounter is primary, the ʻirresponsibilityʼ and ʻdimension of evasionʼ he detects in art places a question mark above its legitimacy as ʻthe supreme value of civilizationʼ. [47] It is interesting to note here that, in spite of his claims to break with the dominant tradition of philosophical totality, he shares with Plato, Kant, Hegel and Kierkegaard a deep-seated suspicion of the aesthetic, and, like them, demands that art be overcome as a mode of being:

art is not the supreme value of civilization, and it is not forbidden to conceive a stage in which it will be reduced to a source of pleasure … having its place, but only a place, in manʼs happiness. [48]

This overcoming of art, sensed as the infinite overflowing of thought in the rhythm of this same art, is presented by Levinas as the prior infinition of the ethical:

We will say … that before culture and aesthetics, meaning is situated in the ethical, presupposed by all culture and all meaning. Morality does not belong to culture: it enables one to judge it…49One would wish to counter this extraordinary statement with the genealogy of morals or archaeology of ethical discourses always absent from Levinasʼs writing, but within the confines of this essay it must suffice to say that the ancient dispute between the aesthetic and the ethical cannot be so easily resolved. What is clear, however, is that art will not be judged, and in particular it will not (and should not) be cut to the measure of the ethical, even when, as in the case of Levinas, the ethical plunders artʼs own body for the rhythm of alterity sensed therein and subsequently appropriated for foreign ends.

The silent exteriority of art is brilliantly captured in the writings of Levinas, but, in spite of his claims, it remains an exteriority which has always already forgotten the ethical and, indeed, the philosophical. The inhumanity of the aesthetic will not be externally evaluated or validated, nor can the images of art have the value claimed for them by Levinas.

The value of images for philosophy lies in their position between two times and their ambiguity.

Philosophy discovers, beyond the enchanted rock on which it stands, all its possibles swarming about it. It grasps them by interpretation. This is to say that the artwork can and must be treated as a myth:

the immobile statue has to be put in movement and made to speak. [50]

Very much against the spirit of his infinite ethics, the alterity of the aesthetic is here reduced to the same by being subjected to the violence of a possessive hermeneutics and by being forced to speak the language of an alien morality. Contrary to this, exteriority itself must be differentiated: the exteriority of the mythological, the aesthetic and the ethical are all different; the rhythm of one cannot be reduced to the rhythm of any other – one cannot ʻspeakʼ to another. Levinas is right, then, when he claims that art ʻdoes not give itself out as the beginning of a dialogueʼ, [51] but it is precisely this insight which could have reminded him of the radical silence surrounding ethics, not least because the rhythm of alterity has such a silence as its source.


1. ^ Existence and Existents, trans. A. Lingis, Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, 1978.

2. ^ In Emmanuel Levinas, Collected Philosophical Papers, trans. A. Lingis, Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, 1987.

3. ^ In The Levinas Reader, edited by Sean Hand, Blackwell,

Oxford, 1989.

4. ^ Edmund Husserl, Ideas, trans. W.R. Boyce, Allen & Unwin, London, 1931, pp. 243, 239, 142, 243.

5. ^ Ibid, p. 200.

6. ^ Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity, trans. A. Ling-is, Duquesne University Press, Pittsburgh PA, 1969, p. 25.

7. ^ Collected Philosophical Papers, p. 4.

8. ^ Existence and Existents, p. 52.

9. ^ Collected Philosophical Papers, p. 3.

10. ^ Existence and Existents, p. 52.

11. ^ Collected Philosophial Papers, p. 4.

12. ^ Ibid.

13. ^ Edmund Husserl, The Phenomenology of Internal Time Consciousness, trans. J.S. Churchill, Martinus Nijhoff,

The Hague, 1964, p. 44.

14. ^ Ibid., p. 112.

15. ^ Henri Bergson, Time and Free Will, trans. F.L. Pogson,

Allen & Unwin, London, 1910, pp. 11–12.

16. ^ Philosophical Papers, p. 4.

17. ^ Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory, trans. Nancy Paul and W. Scott Palmer, Allen & Unwin, London, pp. 272, 275.

18. ^ Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution, trans. Arthur Mitchell, Macmillan, London, 1913, pp. 3, 134.

19. ^ Edmund Husserl, Cartesian Meditations, Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, 1960, p. 15.

20. ^ Creative Evolution, p. 49.

21. ^ Ibid., p. 110.

22. ^ Ibid., p. 238.

23. ^ Ibid., p. 49.

24. ^ Emmanuel Levinas, Time and the Other, trans. Richard Cohen, Duquesne University Press, Pittsburgh PA, 1987, p. 80.

25. ^ Time and Free Will, p. 12, emphasis added.

26. ^ Creative Evolution, p. 49.

27. ^ Time and the Other, p. 133.

28. ^ Existence and Existents, pp. 32–3.

29. ^ Ibid.

30. ^ Levinas Reader, p. 155.

31. ^ Existence and Existents, p. 56.

32. ^ Levinas Reader, p. 155.

33. ^ Collected Philosophical Papers, p. 5.

34. ^ Ibid.

35. ^ Existence and Existents, p. 60.

36. ^ Franz Rosenzweig, The Star of Redemption, trans.

William Hallo, Holt, Rinehart & Winston, New York, 1970, p. 362.

37. ^ Existence and Existents, p. 77.

38. ^ Ibid., p. 76.

39. ^ Maurice Blanchot, Thomas the Obscure, trans. Robert Lamberton, Station Hill Press, New York, 1988, p. 27.

40. ^ Existence and Existents, p. 56.

41. ^ Levinas Reader, p. 146.

42. ^ Ibid., p. 147.

43. ^ Quoted in Robin Maconie, The Works of Stockhausen, Marion Boyers, London, 1976, p. 47

44. ^ Ibid., p. 158

45. ^ Collected Philosophical Papers, p. 4.

46. ^ Ibid.

47. ^ Ibid., p. 12.

48. ^ Ibid.

49. ^ Ibid., p. 100.

50. ^ Ibid., p. 13.

51. ^ Ibid., p. 2.