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IntriguesFrom Being to the Other$

Gabriel Riera

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780823226719

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: March 2011

DOI: 10.5422/fso/9780823226719.001.0001

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(p.1) Introduction

Gabriel Riera

Fordham University Press

The unnarratable other loses his face as a neighbor in narration. The relationship with him is indescribable in the literal sense of the term, unconvertible into a history, irreducible to the simultaneousness of writing, the eternal present of a writing that records or presents results.

—Emmanuel Levinas, Otherwise than Being

Passive: the un-story (non-récit), that which escapes quotation and which memory does not recall.

—Maurice Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster

Thinking otherwise than he thinks, he thinks in such a way that the Other might come to thought, as approach and response.

—Maurice Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster

The encounter: what comes without advent, what approaches face-on, and nonetheless always by surprise, what requires waiting and what waiting awaits but does not attain. Even at the innermost heart of interiority, it is always irruption of the outside, exteriority shaking everything.

The encounter pierces the world, pierces the self; and this piercing, everything that happens, without happening (coming about with the status of what has not arrived), is the reverse side that cannot be lived of what on the right side cannot be written: a double impossibility that by a supplementary act—a fraud, a kind of falsehood, also a madness—must be transformed in order to adapt it to living and writing “reality.”

Maurice Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation

Writing the Other

Intrigues: From Being to the Other examines the possibility of writing the other. It explores whether an ethical writing that preserves the other as such is possible and discusses what the implications are for an ethically inflected literary criticism. Emmanuel Levinas and Maurice Blanchot, whose works constitute the most thorough contemporary exploration of the question of the other and of its relation to writing, are the main focus of this study. The book's horizon is ethics in the Levinasian sense: the question of the other that, on the hither side of language understood as a system of signs and of representation, must be welcomed by language and preserved in its alterity. However, Martin Heidegger is an unavoidable reference. While it is true that for the German philosopher being is an immanent production, his elucidation of a more essential understanding (p.2) of being entails a deconstruction of onto-theology, of the sign, the grammatical and logical determinations of language, all decisive starting points for both Levinas and Blanchot.

For Heidegger, ethics, as a region of philosophical questioning, comes after metaphysics (knowledge and theory) and is determined by the effect of oblivion that Plato's philosophy institutes. Heidegger's thinking marks a departure from an intellectualist tradition for which theoretical comprehension is the starting point of thinking. According to Heidegger, being is primarily determined in noncognitive ways, by modes of existence that are more basic than the intellectual grasp of the concept. “InLetter on Humanism” Heidegger seeks to define an ethics prior to any ethics, an “original ethics” understood as dwelling or sojourn, as the preserving of the open in its opening and mystery.1 This is what the structure of care or concern (Sorge) means in Being and Time, in which the proximity of being to Dasein (being-there) is already in view.

The world is for Heidegger part of a structure proper to existence (ek-sistence: since the prefix ek- marks the exposition at play in being-in-the-world, throwness and facticity, a form of being that goes beyond the classical opposition inside/outside) called being-in-the-world (In-der-Welt-Sein). Dasein is a being for whom its being is a matter of concern and in which being-in-the-world reveals itself as a unifying structure. It is the structure of care that determines how entities come into presence, but inasmuch as the structure of care presupposes a unique relation to being, it is being that conditions the structure of our making-present. Later on Heidegger will say that being “gives or sends,” but soon after he abandons the schema of the history of being to think what gives being—the Event of Appropriation or Enowning (Ereignis).

In an existential sense the “in” of being-in-the-world means a “being-alongside” (bei), dwelling, a relation of familiarity or proximity that is irreducible to spatial contiguity (BT 80/54).2 But in a more essential way, dwelling names the responsibility that certain forms of existence (the thinker's, the poet's, the founder of a people) contract with being's unconcealing—its preservation. In the conferences and courses on Hölderlin, “The Origin of the Work of Art,” and “Building Dwelling Thinking,” Heidegger defines the fundamental feature of dwelling as the act of (p.3) preserving and spearing, “saving” the world “by setting it free into its own presencing” (PLT).3

If for Heidegger being is an immanent event that originates in itself, its relation must be secured in accordance with its modality of manifestation. Poetry and thinking must be up to the task of preserving the incommensurable advent of being; they must expose themselves to what is without measure and without object; that is, they must become ek-static responses that leap (origin, or Ursprung) into the uncanny or unfamiliar par excellence. This entails a radical redefinition of language, beyond its classical metaphysical determination and beyond its modern determination as the correlation of represented contents and the mind. In order to retrieve both the truth of ontology and the truth of being, Heidegger proposes to take a “step back” beyond the Platonic determination of the being of entities, and to approach what being “was” in its first opening. If being cannot be captured in a single word, but is rather “the word for every word” (GA 55),4 its opening is nonetheless felt throughout language. The enigma of being sustains language; it is the essence of language and can only unfold itself in language as the language of being.

What is decisive then are the modes in which being grants or gives itself and, above all, that there is a forgetting of being, its withdrawal as the privileged mode of granting itself. Heidegger privileges certain forms of unconcealment, like poetic language and thinking, to preserve being from the totalizing hold of the essence of technology and its monotonously dangerous way of manifesting beings. The essence of dwelling or sojourn reveals itself as a relation of sense (Sinn). The there is the open, the site from which things can have a place and a sense. Sense, therefore, is the very structure of the opening. Being is fundamentally what “gives sense” (es gibt), but this giving entails a production (technē) whose essence has been forgotten and endangered by technology, the dominant, albeit partial, way of uncovering beings.

Therefore, Heidegger's project revolves around techn's Janus face, between po îesis understood as the initial opening of being as a whole (phusis) and technology as its partial uncovering. This explains why Heidegger's meditation on the work of art is the site for thinking a more originary ethics and why it unfolds in a context dominated by the question of nihilism and its “abandonment of being” in its double determination as (p.4) Platonism and, in its “final stage,” as technology. The work of art provides Heidegger not only with an occasion to accomplish the “step back,” the “leap,” but also with a schema to think this relation in terms of truth—the schematism of truth as (un)-veiling, or a way of radically rethinking figuration. This entails a redefinition of figuration that prepares the ground for tracing the “topology of being.”

In seeking to establish a more essential dwelling, Heidegger aims to make explicit Dasein's historiality, destiny (Geshicht), inasmuch as Dasein is understood as the site in which the question and meaning of being is put into play and, consequently, the question of the foundation of the destiny of a people. Poetic language understood as the listening and responding to the poem can constitute itself as the true ethos, inasmuch as “what remains is founded by the poets” (EHP).5 The poet thus assumes the figure of a founder of being (des Begründer des Seyns), although this soon changes into a witness of being, someone who responds in accordance with the tenor of being's call. The poet finally becomes the figure of serenity (Gelassenheit), of the essential relation to language as a renunciation of mastery. Inasmuch as Dasein is understood as the guardian of the open or, rather, of the opening, only thinking and poetizing can guard it by bringing being to language.

However, and given the immanent essence of being, questions remains about whether this dialogue between thinking and poetry simply amounts to the surrendering of philosophy's own possibilities, a suture of sorts that deposes the philosophical loógos, making it succumb to the prestige of the poem. Does this dialogue open a path (Weg) to an “anderen denken” (other thinking) that could shield us from the violence of non-aletheiophanic modes of (un)concealment that unfold within the space of beings oblivion (mimesis, representation, technology)? It is a violence to which, it should be remembered, Heidegger himself surrendered by committing himself to the politics of National Socialism. Does the “original ethics” that is at the heart of Heidegger's “step back” think the responsibility of its own exposition to the other sufficiently? These are the questions that Levinas and Blanchot posit to Heidegger. In so doing they breach the immanence of being and thus open the possibility of an ethical writing of the other.

(p.5) Throughout the book ethics bears no relationship to a set of principles or values but, rather, points to a profound mutation of thinking that by subordinating the order of knowledge and representation finds other significations beyond the order of discourse, or what Blanchot will call “discourse.”6 By inflecting the word “discourse” with a discrete hyphen, Blanchot signals a nondiscursive supplement, something that “escapes systems, order, possibility, including the possibility of language, and that writing, perhaps—writing, where totality has let itself be exceeded—puts it in play” (WD 204/134).7 It is writing that brings about this mutation of thinking. At stake for both Levinas and Blanchot then is how to mark a nondiscursive excess within discourse without erasing or reducing it. How should one read and write the other in the same without having the other return to the same?

Critics in recent years have discussed an “ethical moment or turn” characterized by the other's irruption in the order of discourse. The other becomes a true crossroads of disciplines since it affects several aspects of discourse: the constitution of the subject, the status of knowledge, the nature of representation and what (gender, power) that representation represses. However, there has been a tendency to graft the other to paradigms whose main purpose is to reassess questions of identity, fundamentally in terms of representation; the other thus loses some of its most crucial features.8

This does not mean that the sway of the other has had no positive effects.9 Given that the other has made discourses and narratives possible, to claim that the other is “unnarratable” and “unrepresentable” may appear scandalous, if this claim were made by someone who is neither committed to a rational philosophy nor to justice, as Levinas clearly is. There is something else at stake in Levinas's claim: an indication that the proliferation of the other, its recurrence in current debates, is a sign of its exhaustion, or of its final demise. Because of knowledge's drive to make an inventory of its main features and to put them at the service of communicative action and representation, little seems to remain of what the other meant to convey—what escapes the principle of identity and identification. It is as if, paradoxically, the more we speak about the other the more we yield to the same.

(p.6) Discourse regulates the other by anticipating its differences, by reducing its surprising arrival, reinvesting its excessive features and localizing its provenance. It calculates and anticipates the other by transforming it into the measure of possibility. Philosophy fares no better when it comes to the other, refusing, as it has, anything that could put in question the privilege of a self-centered consciousness. Philosophy cannot welcome the other because it is grounded in a conception of the self who constructs itself by subtraction from the other. It is in the subject that questions and answers originate since Descartes. Metaphysics endows the subject with the faculty of questioning itself, a power through which it appropriates anything foreign, transforming the other into the object of its own question. Philosophy, therefore, also transforms the other into an object of knowledge and representation; there is no “question of the other” because philosophical discourse posits a correlation between the question and the answer.

This is the case in Kantian morality, where the other is another reasonable being to whom I do not need to listen in order to know what I owe him. It is the subject's reason that tells me what is his or her due. “I owe something” to the other means that no sharing is constitutive of that relation. The question of responsibility thus consists neither in an exposure to nor in an encounter with the other. Inasmuch as the light of self's consciousness founds Kant's ethics, the self does not need to hear the other's demand. Obligation here concerns the relationship of the subject to itself and the form of its will. The only demand made by practical reason is that the will become universal and without contradiction. Kant's imperative is therefore logical rather than ethical, since I do not need to appeal to the other in order to confirm my judgment.

Classical philosophical inquiry cannot open itself to the question of the other, except by reducing it to the same: an alter ego, subject, man, or even Dasein. In each of these determinations the question takes place in the relationship of consciousness with itself. As a questioning instance, consciousness erases any “before” to itself. The self's freedom to be reasonable a priori rules its relation to the other according to its own measure, and not to that of the other.

A metaphysical position separates consciousness from a number of events (the body, the other human being, language, community) in order (p.7) to guarantee a pure relationship to itself and define the a priori conditions of any possible coexistence among free subjects. The subject's legislative reason ignores the alterity of the other, its singularity, and can only know the universality of the law. It has already decided who the other is—another reasonable autonomous subject about whom it can determine beforehand what it has the right to demand.

In the works of Levinas and Blanchot it is possible to read another experience of the other; a question comes from the “other shore” (Levinas) or outside (Blanchot), a call the subject cannot anticipate, a murmur lurking behind language's propositional structure, or the constitutive duplicity of the image. The “approach and the response” (Blanchot) are “experiences” that force thinking to undergo a radical transformation and to “think otherwise than [it] thinks.” These modalities can be grouped together under the term encounter, which points to a relationship with what is absolutely exterior. In the encounter thinking enters into a relationship with what no longer depends upon it and, in this sense, entails a “writing of the outside.”10

Blanchot characterizes the type of relationship that thinking establishes with the outside as “relationship without relationship,” since the terms involved absolve themselves from any reciprocity. All the features of this nonrelationship must, nevertheless, be thought and written as a “relationship.” To encounter the other cannot be conceived as a form of recognition, but rather as the very “experience” of what is not recognizable and thus short-circuits the mechanism of recognition. By “outside” it is necessary to understand what cannot be represented or remains outside of representation, but also the very density of what cannot be represented. Only in this sense is it possible to speak of the question of the other. This is much different from the self-questioning subject who reduces the question of the other by failing to hear the other's call or by anticipating what the contents of this call will be.

Is it possible to write the other without assimilating it or without reducing it to the same, to an object or a thing, to concepts or categories, to constative (theoretical) or to performative (praxic) statements, to descriptions, and even to narratives? What kind of writing would be up to this challenge, if language unavoidably brings things into presence and reduces singularities to generalities?

(p.8) Intrigues of the Other

The purpose of this book is to interrogate the other's persistence and its insistence as the knot of an intrigue that takes place at the margins of discourse and that can be considered the impossible condition of its possibility. Contemporary thinking is sensible of the other's difference and to the resistance it poses to discourse. It has invented a number of protocols to both welcome its approach and preserve the other in its singularity, which can be summarized according to two dominant modalities.

The first understands the other in terms of difference, of a multiplicity and plurality of intensities or forces. Here the other is an immanent and autonomous field of forces; and in order to be up to its proliferating diversity, a multiple array of forms is demanded from the thinker or writer. The second modality understands the other not as heteros but as alter—the other singular one that overtakes the same by surprise, divesting it of its autonomy and power.11 The other either fascinates the self, occupying it with an unending and infinite demand (Blanchot), or reveals its vulnerability, sensibility, or radical passivity (Levinas).

The focus of this book will be this second modality of thinking the other. However, as we will see, this distinction between heteromorphic and heteronomic approaches does not hold neatly. In spite of their commonality there are decisive differences within the so-called heteronomic thinkers. Blanchot shares with Levinas his understanding of the other as what presents all the features of a nonrelationship (infinite removal, demand of an unending attention and responsiveness, asymmetry, excessive form of its approach), but nevertheless he parts ways with him when it comes to the pious and religious dimension of ethics. No other contemporary writer has been able to sustain an atheistic position in such a rigorous manner and to convey it so thoroughly in writing.

While Levinas does not grant any privilege to Nietzsche, Blanchot's atheism takes root in a reading of Nietzsche that does not simply liberate a proliferation of masks and forms, as in Gilles Deleuze, but produces a dissolution of forms and of their imaginary hold. Blanchot combines a fidelity to multiplicity and heterogeneity with an unending and infinite responsiveness to the other. He also takes Nietzsche's eternal return of the same as a point of departure for a different understanding of temporality, (p.9) whose implications for writing the other are decisive. Therefore, within heteronomic thinking, it is possible to distinguish between a writing of ethics as religo, in which the other is the origin and end of signification, and an ethics of writing that keeps watch on the anarchic and unending absence of meaning.12

In spite of this crucial difference, Levinas and Blanchot share a basic premise—the other escapes both the order of discourse and the framework of narration, but must nevertheless be written. The exigency of the other both allows and disavows a response; this is the paradox that the writers I study confront in their texts, one that will allow them to elaborate a poetics of otherness and to rethink the relations between writing and ethics. Faced with the assimilating grasp of the concept, if the other must be preserved as such, writing has to abandon a series of guarantees and pass tangentially through the scene of knowledge and the order of representation so as to become its welcoming. Writing and ethics are the hinge of an “intrigue of the other,” and the reason why Levinas and Blanchot constitute the focus of this book.

Levinas deploys the question of the other beyond Hegel and any possible dialectical recuperation, beyond even the horizon of fundamental ontology (Heidegger) and of a phenomenology of shame (Sartre). This “beyond” is in reality a movement of retraction towards more primary determinations of subjectivity and language. From the other's face (visage) to psychism (psychisme), from the “straightforwardness of prose” to the saying (le dire) that subtracts itself from the order of discourse (not without leaving the marks of its subtraction in the very texture of discourse), Levinas accomplishes a reduction of philosophical language that makes an ethical writing possible. He moves away from the ontological plot of Totality and Infinity(TI),13 dominated by a metaphysics of the subject, to a “clandestine intrigue” that in Otherwise than Being (OB)14 writes the mode of the approach of the other—its “otherwise than Being.”

Throughout this book the term intrigue denotes a mode of writing, an “invention of the other” against calculation, anticipation, identification and assimilation. Levinas displaces the term intrigue from its literary and narratological contexts. After reinscribing it within the context of “first philosophy,” he refers to a dimension of language not assimilable to fables, narratives and aesthetic representations.15 On the hither side of (p.10) any semiotic or hermeneutic adventure, intrigue names the inextricable preoriginary implication of the other in the same. But Levinas is not the only one who privileges this term.

Maurice Blanchot conjugates the different meanings of intrigue in the sense of intricare, to entangle or perplex and also in the archaic sense of to embarrass.16 He also puts into play the topic of essentiality, a room, or the interval separating two “characters” as a framework from which the encounter with the other can take place. Even though Blanchot deploys the “intrigue of the other” in “the space of literature,” as well as in a reflection that refuses to give philosophy the last word, intrigue here, as well as in Levinas, refers to what subtracts itself from aesthetic representations. In this term it is possible to read the inextricable coimplication of philosophy and literature that takes these two concepts to their very limits. In this sense, both Levinas and Blanchot must be set apart from forms of ethical criticism that privilege narratives as the domain in which to best investigate human conflicts, American moral philosophy being one example.

Blanchot's trajectory can be divided into three periods. The first goes from Faux Pas (FP)17 to The Space of Literature (SL)18 and is dominated by a Hegelo-Kojèvian conceptuality and an understanding of language influenced by Mallarmè. Blanchot brings together the experience of the night that literary writing liberates with an excessive negativity that cannot be put at the service of comprehension. This nothing is, as in Mallarmè constitutive of language and, as in Kojève's reading of Hegel, constitutive of the world. Blanchot is interested in a form of negativity that is at play in literary language and that resists dialectical sublation. Language makes things appear and brings them into presence by naming them, but it can only do so in substituting the thing for its absence (PF 46).19

In The Space of Literature Blanchot grafts Heidegger's schema of ontological difference as well as his understanding of the nothing (das Nichts) to this still-Hegelian negativity. Hegel's negativity thus becomes a concealed origin—the condition of all presence and truth that language is unable to gather, since in literary language the object gives way to its “vibratory disappearing” (PF 46). Things can only come into presence because language presupposes a constitutive absence and dissimulates the nothingness (p.11) that is its very condition. Language bears witness to this absence but forbids access to what it cannot apprehend; therein is its ambiguity. By the same token, language invites a transgression of this limit because the writer desires the absence which makes language possible and that resists nomination. At this stage of Blanchot's work, it is possible to detect a shift from “the night” as object of thinking to what eludes thinking, the absence of meaning, which then becomes his main concern.

The Infinite Conversation(IC)20 marks a second period in which Blanchot, through a radical reduction, evacuates Heidegger's nothing of any trace of presence. Grafting this Heideggerian matrix to excessive negativity, Blanchot elucidates a form of “negativity” he calls the neuter (le neutre), which belongs neither to presence nor to absence. The thinking and writing of the neuter can only take place by presupposing that it does not constitute any form of opening (Heidegger) and that the working of totality has already been accomplished (Hegel). The neuter marks a turning point and opens a third period in which the question of writing is also conceived as the question of the other, in the ethical sense of the term. This period closes with The Step Not Beyond (SNB)21 and The Writing of the Disaster.

Blanchot dispels the reassuring and misleading idea that literary language is simply self-referential. In literature language becomes image, the ghostly glimmer of a dissimulated absence eroding any form of identity. Inasmuch as an opacity lurks in its very center whose pressure is felt as if coming from an outside, language cannot be a transparent medium of idealization. A desire for the impossible nonlinguistic origin of language and an ensuing exigency to respond to this absence of meaning unfolds in literary language. This exigency evinces an ethics of writing that interrupts the homogenizing grasp of narratives. To narration Blanchot's writing thus juxtaposes what he calls “un-narrative supplement,” a “passive relation,” that breaches the circular movement of recognition, representation and comprehension. One of the modalities of this supplement is the récit, where language welcomes the approach of the other and responds to it. However, the temporality of this response is not the belated discursive retelling of a set of incidents making up a story. It is rather the encounter with the other itself: “this event upsets relations in time, and yet affirms time, the particular way time happens… and the time of the metamorphoses (p.12) where the different temporal ecstasies coincide in an imaginary simultaneity.”22

Intrigue thus names a para-discursive and counter-narrative mode of writing. It is para-discursive because, while employing all the resources of the order of discourse and occupying all of its emplacements, it does not aim to fix, represent, synchronize or police the other. And it is a counter-narrative, not in the sense of an alternative story, even if Levinas privileges the subaltern figures of the orphan, the widow and the stranger, but rather as what evades any story. There is no place here for a question such as “can the subaltern speak?” Indeed, the other is the first to speak and by speaking either commands the self and gives direction to meaning (Levinas), or disaffects meaning from any imaginary compromise when encountering the real, thus exposing us to the absence of meaning (Blanchot). No counter-narrative would do justice to the intrigue of the other, even if it is necessary to write against narrative's simultaneity, inasmuch as it reduces the other's diachrony to the plot of a homogenous timeline. If alternative narratives or counter-narratives have a symbolic function of restitution, this comes from the forceful interruption that the “intrigues of the other” weave on the hither side of the order of discourse.

Narratives are instruments of knowledge and comprehension and are underwritten by mimesis and plot. A narrative text represents a sequence of incidents tied together by chronology, causality, and equivalence, some of which create an action structure or plot.23 Within the context of narrative theory, where Aristotelian conceptions prevail, plot not only names this action structure but also becomes an overall organizing principle—an aesthetic structure that turns a random sequence of facts into a significant structure.24 It is the episodic dimension of narrative that draws narrative time in the direction of a linear representation, since chronology accomplishes a synchronization of time sanctioned by a preunderstanding of death and finitude as possibility. In the words of Walter Benjamin, “Death is the sanction of everything that the storyteller can tell,”25 because plots produce a representation of time as a whole bounded by death. This bounding of time's heterogeneity and of the diachrony of the other's approach is the product of the privilege the present tense enjoys in narratives, even if they are told in the past. The repetition at play in (p.13) storytelling, the rephrasing of the story by discourse or narration, secures the bounding of time.

Once death ceases to be a possibility, as in Levinas and Blanchot, and repetition ceases to have a constructive and semiotic role in order to become a disseminating force, the present is no longer the dominant temporal dimension, and the bounding of plots reveals itself as a coercive mechanism. This becomes evident in Levinas's use of Blanchot's The Madness of the Day (La Folie du jour), where the demand for storytelling comes from the figures of the ophthalmologist and the psychiatrist, pillars of the order of discourse and the state. This requisition for narratives already presupposes a given order of telling (beginning, middle and end) that guarantees coherence and intelligibility. For Levinas it is precisely this coercive order that prevents the interruptions of discourse “found again and recounted in the immanence of the said.” These interruptions would reveal the trace of a diachrony “that does not enter into the present, that refuses simultaneity (OB).”

In order to render the inextricable relation to the other, the intrigues I study loosen up “the grip of being” (Levinas) and accomplish a breaching of mimesis and plot. By so doing, these intrigues unfold in a space adjacent to literature, or at least to “literature” as philosophy traditionally defines it. Further, since philosophical writing has produced a homogenizing representation of the other through its emplotment in ontological narratives, the intrigues also unfold in a space adjacent to philosophy. The poetics of otherness I examine throughout this book posit a demand to both philosophy and literature. The former must face the impossible even if it only speaks the language of what is possible; the latter must face the absence of meaning, even if it can never succeed in fully evacuating meaning.

The “intrigues of the other” cannot be made to fit into an “either… or” equation (discourse/narration or nondiscourse/nonnarration), because it is a writing that holds together the interruption of discourse and the marks left by these interruptions, as in Levinas's ethical writing. This holding-together maintains the two series unbounded and relegates plot to a secondary dimension. In Blanchot, it is a writing of the “neither… nor” (neuter) whose discrete markings inflect discourse with the “density” of what precedes it. Intrigue thus provides a syntax for Blanchot to (p.14) think both the difference at play in writing and the question of the other as an ethical demand. It also provides a syntax for Levinas's barbarism of the “otherwise than being,” the manner in which the other approaches and comes into language. The rhythmic scansion of Otherwise than Being is the “passive relation” of a “clandestine intrigue” with the other, and the book's “spiraling movement” also finds its justification in the intrigue's syntax.

Thinking can encounter the “unnarratable other” (Levinas) in the “unnarrative” (Blanchot) modality of the intrigue. It is here that one can read an inextricable co-implication of the other in the same in a time that escapes both memory and the recovery of the past as recollection (past present). The temporality of the intrigue is the future anterior whose scope is best illustrated by Derrida's phrase, “he will have obliged (il aura oblige´),” with which he opens one of his essays on Levinas. The future anterior is a tense that evades the time of the present since it simultaneously points towards a future and a past. Because this tense eludes the present, the subject of the phrase (heit [il]) is not copresent to himself; the subject contracts an obligation that comes from a past, but his response does not assimilate this past to the present of consciousness. The response unfolds in a future that bypasses presence.

“Substitution” (Levinas) and “relation of the third type” (Blanchot) are the two modalities of a heteronomic understanding of the other that have implications for writing and reading. The fact that both Levinas and Blanchot read and write copiously about each other's work makes an elucidation of these modalities even more difficult because this heteronomy also inflects writing and reading. Although they reserve idiosyncratic terms to refer to the form of this relationship, “friendship,” “ingratitude,” the two share features of the relation to the other that require asymmetry and lack of reciprocity. Consequently, their texts have to be understood according to the schema of the intrigue. As a way of responding to this heteronomic configuration of reading, my argument moves back and forth between philosophy and literature in an effort to make explicit why the question of the other (ethics) concerns writing, and why the question of writing concerns ethics.

The book moves back and forth between philosophy and literature and confronts two sets of texts whose scope touches the very core of our (p.15) time. My way of proceeding is philological and situates the main concepts and issues within the context of two philosophical continental traditions: phenomenology and post-Hegelian approaches. Works by Husserl, Heidegger, Fink, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, as well as Koje`ve, Bataille and Nietzsche are therefore made to dialogue with Levinas and Blanchot. Levinas's aesthetic categories belong to a French tradition that, although popularized by Sartre, has its point of origin in Alain and Valéry, while Mallarmé and Kafka shape Blanchot's understanding of literary language. These connections are made explicit in my book. Intrigues: From Being to the Other aims to contribute to contemporary debates on the “ethical turn” of literary criticism, and to bring to the domain of narrative theory what Blanchot calls the un-narrative supplement that is not only crucial for an ethics of writing, but also for an ethically inflected literary criticism.


(1.) Martin Heidegger, “A Letter on Humanism,” in Martin Heidegger: Basic Writings, ed. David F. Krell (New York: Harper & Row: 1982), 232–33. Hereafter, “A Letter on Humanism” will be cited in the text by the abbreviation LH. The Basic Writings will be cited by the abbreviation BW.

(2.) Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (New York: Harper & Row, 1962.) Hereafter, this work is cited in the text by the abbreviation BT.

(3.) Martin Heidegger, Poetry, Language, Thought, trans. Alfred Hofstadter (New York: Harper & Row, 1977). Hereafter, this work is cited in the text by the abbreviation PLT.

(4.) Martin Heidegger, Heraklit 2. Logik: Heraklit Lehre vom Logos. Gesamtausgabe 55. (Frankfurt: Klosterman, 1977). Hereafter, this work is cited in the text by the abbreviation GA 55.

(5.) Martin Heidegger, Elucidations of Hölderlin's Poetry, trans. Keith Hoeller (Amherst, N.Y.: Humanity Books, 2000). Hereafter, this work is cited in the text by the abbreviation EHP.

(6.) Maurice Blanchot, “Le ‘Discourse Philosophique,’” L'Arc 46 (1971): 1–4. Hereafter, this work is cited in the text by the abbreviation DP.

(7.) Maurice Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster, trans. Ann Smock (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986). Hereafter, this work is cited in the text by the abbreviation WD.

(8.) See Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, In Other Worlds: Essays in Cultural Politics (New York: Routledge, 1987); Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture (London: Routledge, 1994); Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (London: Routledge, 1990); and A. Arteaga, ed., An Other Tongue: Nation and Ethnicity in the Linguistic Borderland (Durham: Duke University Press, 1994).

(p.198) (9.) I am thinking here about feminist readings of Levinas in which the question of an ethical subjectivization is at stake. See Catherine Chalier, Figures du féminine: Lecture dEmmanuel Lévinas (Paris: Verdier, 1982); Tina Chanter, ed., Feminist Interpretations of Levinas (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001) and Tina Chanter, Time, Death, and the Feminine: Levinas with Heidegger (Stan-ford: Stanford University Press, 2001).

(10.) I am alluding to an expression found in Michel Foucault, “The Writing of the Outside,” in Foucault/Blanchot (New York: Zone Books, 1987).

(11.) For these contemporary approaches to the other, see Edith Wyschogrod, Saints and Postmoderns (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990); and John D. Caputo, Against Ethics (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1993), 56–68.

(12.) This distinction is authorized by Totality and Infinity, since Otherwise than Being and Of God Who Comes to Mind will unsettle the very structure of onto-theology and of modern conceptions of transcendence. Two excellent essays that focus on the tension between morality and ethical transcendental philosophy are Hent de Vries, “Adieu, à-dieu, à-Dieu,” in Ethics as First Philosophy, ed. Adriaan T. Peperzak (London: Routledge, 1995), 211–20; and Theodore de Boer, “An Ethical Transcendental Philosophy,” in Face to Face with Levinas, ed. Richard A. Cohen (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986), 83–115.

(13.) Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1969). Originally published as Totalité et infini: Essai sur lextériorité (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1961). Hereafter, the English work is cited in the text by the abbreviation TI, and the original French by the abbreviation TeI.

(14.) Emmanuel Levinas, Otherwise than Being: or, Beyond Essence, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1998). Hereafter, this work is cited in the text by the abbreviation OB.

(15.) For a distinction between an inventory of the other and the invention of the other in the sense of invenire or “letting the other come,” see Jacques Derrida, Psychè: Inventions de lautre (Paris: Gallimard, 1987). Hereafter, this work is cited in the text by the abbreviation PSY.

(16.) See Emile Littré, Dictionnaire de la langue française en un volume (Paris: Hachette, 2000); Le Grand Dictionnaire Hachette (Paris: Hachette, 1991); and the Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976). The meanings of “intrigue” and “plot” belong to the same semantic field in French and English to the point that the OED defines intrigue as “the plot of a play, novel or romance.” As we will see in chapter 6, in Otherwise than Being Levinas implicitly distinguishes plot from intrigue, reserving the latter for the un-narrative modality of ethical writing.

(17.) Maurice Blanchot, Faux Pas (Paris: Gallimard, 1943). Hereafter, this work is cited in the text by the abbreviation FP.

(p.199) (18.) Maurice Blanchot, The Space of Literature, trans. Ann Smock (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1992). Hereafter, this work is cited in the text by the abbreviation SL.

(19.) Maurice Blanchot, La Part du feu (Paris: Gallimard, 1949). Hereafter, this work is cited in the text by the abbreviation PF.

(20.) Maurice Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation, trans. Susan Hanson (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993). Hereafter, this work is cited in the text by the abbreviation IC.

(21.) Maurice Blanchot, The Step Not Beyond, trans. Lycette Nelson (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992). Originally published as Le Pas audelà (Paris: Gallimard, 1971). Hereafter, the English work is cited in the text by the abbreviation SNB, and the original French by the abbreviation PAD.

(22.) Maurice Blanchot, “The Song of the Sirens,” in The Station Hill Blanchot Reader, ed. George Quasha (Barrytown, N.Y.: Station Hill Press, 1998), 450. Hereafter, this work is cited in the text by the abbreviation SH.

(23.) The bibliography on narratology is extensive and I will refer only to those books that present an overview of the field: Robert Scholes, Structuralism and Literature (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974); Seymour Chatman, Story and Discourse (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1979); Gerald Prince, Narratology: The Form and Functioning of Narrative (The Hague: Mouton, 1982); and Peter Brooks, Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984).

(24.) Paul Ricoeur, Time and Narrative (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988).

(25.) Walter Benjamin, “The Storyteller,” in Illuminations (New York: Schocken Books, 1969), 83–109.