The Sense of Life - Jean-Luc Nancy and Emmanuel Levinase. draft version (original forthcoming in Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology)

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1 The Sense of Life - Jean-Luc Nancy and Emmanuel Levinase draft version (original forthcoming in Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology) Summary. Metaphysics has long been regarded as providing meaning to the world. Subsequent progressive replacement attempts of this narrative by a scientific approach has generally led to a view of life as being void of meaning. However, this has not affected the quest for meaning or for an understanding of this meaning, despite an increasing societal neglect of the importance of its pursuit. This article aims to contribute to a philosophical understanding of the sense of life in the world, drawing on Jean-Luc Nancy s understanding of sense as developed in his Sense of the World. To talk of sense rather than of meaning is an unconventional choice in the field; yet both differ from one another in that sense refers to an opening as the very possibility of meaningfulness generally. This means that, to understand meaning, we must understand sense. Key to Nancy s conception of sense is the transitivity of the verb being; being traverses itself from being as non-being to being as existence. Nancy is concerned with the question of how to interpret the to, since its significance transcends its commonsense understanding as being naturally linked to from. In this context, the notion expressed by to rather refers to the spacing of duration, opening an irreducible distance where the limits touch. In order to further develop this outlook, we recast Nancy s framing as an illogical tension, contrasting and complementing it with Levinas structure of to in his description of representation and enjoyment, developed in Totality and Infinity. The outcome is a preliminary pattern on how to grasp the provenance of sense. Keywords: sense, illogical tension, Jean-Luc Nancy, Emmanuel Levinas, enjoyment, representation 1. Introduction For ages, metaphysics provided human existence with intrinsic values, a predetermined and ultimate purpose and a morality derived from something outside of ourselves. However, in the scientific realm, natural theories increasingly became secularized, gradually challenging the allpervading supremacy of metaphysical views. Fundamental research demonstrated that life is a wonderful yet meaningless accident of nature, having but one matter-of-fact purpose shared by animals and humans alike, namely the survival of the fittest in an ongoing struggle for existence. 1 Or, as more recent and sophisticated research puts it, an individual organism is a throw-away 1 Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species (Paris: Feedbooks, 1872, 6th edition),

2 survival machine whose aim in life it is to pass on the immortal coded information of its genes. 2 The collapse of structural discourses previously maintained by religion and culture as the fabric of society, giving way to a scientific and economic appreciation of existence, has had mixed results for our understanding of sense. While this change proved meaningful and enlightening to some, its associated disenchantment led to a painful sense of meaninglessness in others who found that the traditional metaphysical guidance on how to grasp the essence of their existence and belonging in this world had vanished. Philosophers responded to this wave of disenchantment in a variety of ways, of which the so-called existentialist approaches are of particular interest to our discourse. At the risk over oversimplifying, we might argue that they took the resulting - absurd - situation seriously, in the sense that, according to them, human beings seek meaning in their lives, doing so in a world that is inherently meaningless. Hence, while these philosophers acknowledged the human s quest for meaningfulness in spite of its loss, at the same time they provided an implicit answer to the question of how to understand meaning in life. As Sartre said, meaning in life is not a contemplative theory but a consequence of engagement and commitment. 3 Indeed, to put it in as general terms as possible, existentialists would have us live life with existential nihilism and embrace its absurdity without, however, accepting its terms; they suggest we should believe in our own powers now that God is dead ; or explore the possibility of an ethical attitude in a world deprived of meaning and value. 4 Whereas to atheist existentialists understanding meaning is precisely facing the meaninglessness of existence, to philosophers such as Kierkegaard meaninglessness paradoxically can be the source of faith: God is absurd, finding him is an agony. We live without hope and yet with faith in God. 5 Now that society has lost its overarching understanding of the meaning of life, in today s quest for meaningfulness, answers are being found at the individual level in, amongst others, a renewed understanding of religion, in the technological information society or in the therapeuticpsychological domain, which recognises a loss of sense as a growing issue. 6 In the light of this, it may be worthwhile to breathe new life into the quest for a philosophical understanding of meaning in life, in between religion and meaninglessness. 2 Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (London: Oxford University Press, 1976), J.P Sartre, Existentialism is a Humanism,Translation by Carol Macomber ( New Have: Yale University Press, 2007, orig.1945). 4 Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays. Translated by Justin O Brien ( New York: Vintage International, 1983), or Camus, L étranger (Paris, Gallimard, 2013, orig 1942,1967); Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 2001, orig 1882); Simone de Beauvoir, The ethics of ambiguity (New York: Citadel, 2000, orig 1947 ). 5 Soren Kierkegaard, see Sickness Unto Death; Kierkegaard's Writings volumes 1-XXVI, ed. & trans. H.V. Hong, et.al. (Princeton University Press: ). 6 V.E. Frankl, Man s Search for Meaning (New York/London/Toronto/Sydney/Tokyo: Washington Square Press, 1985) and V.E. Frankl, The Will to Meaning: Foundations and Applications of Logotherapy (New York/Cleveland: The World Publishing Company, 1969), or more recently : Mia Leijssen Existential wellbeing counselling, In Emerging Practice in Focusing- Oriented Psychotherapy. Innovatie Theory, Applications and Practice, ed. Madison, G. (London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2014), and Stinckens, N., Lietaer, G., & Leijssen, M Working with the inner critic: Therapeutic approach, Person-Centered & Experiential Psychotherapies, Vol.12(2), 2013,

3 Few present-day philosophers are concerned with this subject. Analytically oriented philosophers such as Susan Wolf, Thaddeus Metz or E.D. Klemke 7 are interested in the formation of a theory on meaning in life for the sake of theoretical clarification (distinguishing meaning in from meaning of life). Simplifying, we could say that answers to finding meaningfulness are provided on the level of human activity and the way humans engage with or are committed to activities or other people. 8 In the Anglophone world, Charles Taylor is the only one taking a clear-cut existential approach, with the Belgian philosopher Arnold Burms and the French-Canadian Grondin also having made interesting contributions in this field. 9 Taylor s efforts to put the societal relevance of a quest for sense on the agenda, and his contributions to an understanding of how to grasp sense by pointing to its existential orientational particularity, go as far as one possibly could go within a worldview that dismisses the metaphysical as implausible on scientific grounds. Taylor s analysis also deals with the question of why sense can be lost or found, and although there is no doubt that he has a point, Jean-Luc Nancy introduces a perspective that - at least partly - challenges Taylor s. For scholars acquainted with Nancy s works, it may come as a surprise to refer to Nancy in this context. Nancy is primarily an established political philosopher writing on community-related subjects 10, while his literary achievements on art have earned him a reputation in other fields as well. Even so, his decidedly undervalued observations on the very sense of existence can be regarded as quite promising, as we will illustrate. For reasons of clarification, at this stage we need to point out the distinction between the colloquial use and technical philosophical use of meaning in life and meaningfulness on the one hand, and sense of life on the other. In a colloquial use, the three terms refer to a similar domain, and can be employed almost interchangeably. In this article, the distinction made is more rigid in that sense of life is to reveal a differential play of force, being the condition of possibility for meaning of life. Even though both cannot be separated, in the following full attention will be given to sense of life, 7 Susan Wolf, Meaning in Life and Why It Matters (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2010); E.D. Klemke and Steven M. Cahn, The meaning of life. A reader (New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 3rd edition, 2008); Thaddeus Metz, Meaning in life (London: Oxford University Press, 2013). 8 A meaningful relation with the world in terms of nature is somewhat underdeveloped in analytic and existential studies alike, even if psychologists have indicated that it matters, based on empirical research, See Gary R. Reker and Kerry Chamberlain (eds.), Exploring Existential Meaning. Optimizing Human Development Across the Life Span (Thousand Oaks, London, New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2000). 9 Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self. The Making of Modern Identity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), Arnold Burms and Herman Dedijn. De rationaliteit en haar Grenzen. Kritiek en Deconstructie (Leuven: Universitaire Pers, Assen:Van Gorcum, 1986), Jean Grondin, Du sens de la vie (Louisvill:Bellarmin, 2003). 10 Nancy s numerous writings about the political space (some in combination with Lacoue-Labarthe) have revived discussions in political philosophy, broadly spoken. To name a few see: Simon Critley, Retracing the political: politics and community in the work of Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Jean-Luc Nancy. In D. Campel, ed. The political subject of violence (Manchester: Manchester University 1993), 73-93; Ignaas Devisch, Nancian virtual doubts about le formal democracy: or how to deal with contemporary political configuration in an uneasy way. Philosophy and Social Criticism, 37(9): , 2011; Pierre-Philippe Jandin, Jean-Luc Nancy. Retracer le politique (Paris: Michalon Editons, 2012); Sanja Dejanovic ed., Nancy and the political (Edinburgh: University Press 2015) (of interest to us in the aforementioned book is: JP Martinon, Im-Mundus or Nancy s Globalizing-World-Formation ); Pieter Meurs, N. Note, D. Aerts, This world without another. On Jean-Luc Nancy and la mondialisation. Journal of Critical Globalization Studies, 1(1): 31-46,

4 mainly because philosophical studies of meaning of life have not yet recognised its existence, let alone its importance. 11 Moreover, since at this point of the article we are moving to continental philosophy, it seems appropriate to briefly outline the distinction between analytic and continental philosophy. Nancy is, broadly speaking, a continental philosopher, and although the distinction with analytic philosophy remains fuzzy, 12 apart from style, it might be related to the way some main philosophical categories (time, world, subject) are perceived. For example, analytic philosophy performs in a frame of reference where the self-constituted, classical utilitarian subject having fixed properties is still unquestioned. Nancy, as other continental philosophers, thrives on the presupposition that the conceptual repertoire of modern (or even ancient) thought is simply not enough to think profoundly through the being and its being in the world. If a being is not, or at least not only, a self-aware agent detached from the world, a world considered as consisting of neutral objects, how can a being, always in relation to and belonging in the world, then be appreciated? 13 It is from this thinking at the edge of categories that Nancy answers the question of how to understand sense - the coming about of sense. Hence, in his the sense of the world, Nancy considers the idea of a quest of sense, as the possibility of finding or losing sense, a wrong diagnosis. 14 We cannot lose sense, we can only lose the meaning we ascribe to sense, that is, its articulation, coming from religion and philosophy. Sense - the very sense of our existence - is not appropriable as meaning, that is its very sense. What is at stake in Nancy s understanding of sense is the discovery of how world, as space of our existence, is sense and that is (no more than) the tautology that sense is the experience of opening up to sense. Hence, Nancy focusses on the ontological provenance of sense in the world. Preeminent in his approach are the à (to) and the avec (being-with). 15 While it would be preferable for a thorough understanding of sense to decipher both, this article can give full consideration only to the status of to. The to in Nancy s writing decidedly is not to be perceived as a grammatical preposition referring to direction, the to of going from one point to another. Rather, and here we will have to become more abstract, the to of sense happens while being traverses existence, from being as non-being to being as existence. To is about how being traverses existence, traverses itself. The peculiarity of to - at least the way we convey this - is that it has the pattern of an illogical tension Whereas usually analytic philosophy employs the terms meaning in life or meaningfully, and Nancy uses sense, the matter is still more subtle, for there is always sense in signification, between the lines. Thus, at times Nancy writes about sense when (also) referring to signification or meaning-making. Adding to a confusion is the fact that in English the matter becomes more complicated; the English language has three notion: sense, signification and meaning. It is not so clear how they semantically relate, the border is somewhat fuzzy. Depending upon the translator, sense is at times translated as meaning, and at times as sense. 12 The distinction is by some considered uninteresting, since no clear cut criteria can be indicated, see for example Jeffrey Bell, Andrew Cutrofello and Paul Livingston (eds.) Beyond the Analytic-Continental Divide: Pluralist Philosophy in the Twenty-First Century (London: Routledge, 2015). 13 See Jean-Luc Nancy, J.L. The being-with of being-there, Continental Philosophy Review 41: 1-15, 2008 and his Being Singular Plural. tr. Robert D. Richardson and Anne E. O Byrne (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2000). 14 Jean-Luc Nancy, the sense of the world (SW), tr. Jeffrey S. Librett (Minneapolis, London: University of Minnesota Press, 1997, orig.1993). 15 Nancy confirmed this distinction was made on purpose. 16 That I am able to see it as a tension, is due to the stimulating influence by Flemish/Belgian philosopher Arnold Burms, to whom I am much indebted. 4

5 To flesh out this peculiarity, we will recast not only Nancy s resourceful contributions, but also those of Emmanuel Levinas. More exactly, the to in Nancy s sense (in his the sense of the world) will be distinguished from the to of enjoyment and representation developed in Levinas s Totalilty and Infinity. 17 Again, while Nancy is generally not associated with the topic of a quest for sense, it may likewise seem a-typical to Levinas scholars to ponder on some of his observations in this context. Even so, his article entitled Sense and Signification, 18 and the monograph Totality and Infinity can be read as the distinction between Sinngebung (signification) and one sense. To Levinas, one sense and ethics are indissolubly conflated yet distinguishable from one another. 2. Nancy on Sense According to Nancy, being is given to us, only with (and not because of) the fact that we comprehend something. This comprehending is not clear-cut but diffuse. We incorporate tacitly without articulation. In that sense, being is always given to us as an inarticulate comprehension of something. It is always given to us as sense. In yet more accurate wording: being is the actuality of transmitting existence, the act of being there, to itself. There is no outside. This is what makes up différance, or internal difference, or the internal spacing. Nancy explains this step by step, and we will follow his line of thought closely. Being passages through the existent. L être est ou transit l existant, 19 Nancy writes. Being engrains, imbues existence. This is the way being is or ontologically enacts, one could say. In this sense, being is the existent. This definitely sounds like a tautology; transit should be grasped as a transitive verb. What is transmitted from the verb being to its object is precisely the astonishing act of being, the actuality of existence. It follows from this that the very transmission of the actuality that there is, is sense. The internal yet infinitesimal distinction between being and existent refers precisely to an internal difference, or différance. Expressed in another way, Nancy contends that crossing over from being to existence always involves un pas (SM, 107). In the English version of Nancy s Sense of the World un pas is translated in this case as a not instead of as a step (SW, 65). In reading it as (taking) a step, we can understand that nothing is but by virtue of taking a step - taking the step of transmitting existence. 20 Taking the step of traversing, that is, from being as non-being to being as existence and vice versa, or in other words, the step of being crossing over itself [se franchir]. The previous sentence does not only relate to dying and being born; being traverses itself again and again: in 17 Emmanuel Lévinas, Totality and Infinity (TI) (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Duquesne University Press, 2002, orig. 1971). 18 Emmanuel Lévinas, Humanism of the Other, tr. Nidra Poller. (Urbana and Chichago: University of Chicago Press 2006, orig. 1972). 19 Jean-Luc Nancy, Le Sens du monde (SM)(Paris: Editions Galilée, 1993), Nancy confirmed that his pas should be read as step, not as not. In a same vein, in the sentence Pas de pont pour le pas d être par quoi l existence advient, (SM,107), the second pas should be translated as step (and not as not ), I reckon. Nancy, (SW, 65). 5

6 encounters, in frayage (in facilitating, or being a facilitator for the traversing), in taking a leap (in going beyond oneself). If the act that there is (qu il y a) is passed on to itself - considering there is no outside and no passage from potentiality to actuality - then logically speaking there must be an anterior/posterior relation between that there is and itself, or more accurately, a position of anteriority/posteriority in itself. Also, logically speaking, anteriority/posteriority inherently implies time. While both presuppositions are right, in order to appraise sense, Nancy has to introduce an understanding of the notion of prior/before and of time that is distinct from the taken for granted conception of time as known since Kant. Kantian time is considered everlasting, in an immobile way taking place as points of present following each other. In time, substance is coming to be, once and for all, as world. Changes - happening irreversibly in time - are then happening in existing substance. Changes never refer to modifications (birth or annihilation) of substance itself. From this outlook, the Heideggerian being thrown into the world presupposes a kind of bridging from the not of being to a world of existing substantiality and enduring time. Nancy opens this image by claiming that at the moment of taking a step, the present is made - est fait - (SM,10). The English version translates est fait as given; the presence is given by being to being. Yet est fait can be taken almost literally for we could say (at least as a first way of formulating the issue) that Nancy is not referring to chronos-time - the time we appropriate through representation and consider eternal. Rather, each time when a subject or substance is born or dies (but not only then), chronos-time is opened, is stretched out and l espacement du présent a lieu (SM, 107); the spacing of the present is taking place. The notion of stretching out or distension might still keep us in a linear time perspective. However, l espacement du présent taking place is about an interior spacing that which distances from one another the two edges of this line [trace - track], which, however, has no thickness whatsoever (SW, 35). It is about an irreducible distance that is made. Or else, it is this present that est fait. The motion of being transmitting existence can only be grasped, if we open our conception of chronos-time. The above provides an indication of how interwoven time and sense are. To Nancy, Le présent en tant que présent est prae-sens (SM, 107) or, The present as present is always prae-sens (SW, 66). That is, chronos-time (present) in its particularity of interior spacing (present) is always prae-sens; it is always a pre-sense, a sense prior to present (as chronos-time). A sense prior to, in terms of prior, beyond, behind, after. Present as prae-sense precedes and succeeds, and it precedes and succeeds itself. Sense is the verbal action to span, to open up chronos-time. This very act (which, as indicated, is not an act properly speaking), is being transmitting existence, when being transits existence, or else, when being crosses over itself. At this point we can jump to the notion of à (to). To is the act of transmitting, but not towards. That is, it is the notion of toward understood in a different way. To is the interior spacing while the edges still touch. Nancy explores the to up to its limits, that is why to him all the parameters of sense are (already) in a most limited way present when a stone touches the earth. What is at stake is that at that particular moment, when the edge of the pebble touches (on) the edge of the earth, when their limits touch, in this infinitesimal spacing there is transitivity: the pebble defines [définit] itself as compactness but it likewise dé-finit (SM, 103): it literally un-ends (both un and end referring to a restraint); it stops being a pebble at the edge of the pebble, to touch the earth.there is 6

7 a sensibility for sense even at this level for there is contact, impalpable reticulation of contiguities and tangential contact (SW, 61), difference (between the edge of stone and earth) and différance (spacing and touching of définir and dé-finir). And, not unimportantly, in such instances there is neither subject nor object, nor appropriation. The example of the stone is at the limits of what can be experienced as sense. To be clear, it is not that the stone has any sense, rather, in describing it in the above terms, the stone can be part of the circuit of sense. For there to be an opening of sense, the body, corpus, is conditional, sense coming about through the sensitivity of the senses, but not being reduced to it. Définir and dé-finir is then related to the sensitivity of the senses in its most concrete and abstract sense alike. In straightening out what I believe to be the kernel of Nancy s sense - his question on how to envision transir, and his answer in terms of an internal spacing of duration where limits of the terms touch - we can feel a tension. There is an interior spacing while the edges of the terms nonetheless touch. This seems illogical. How can there be an interior spacing - a disjunction - while edges touch? Or else, how can there be likewise disjunction and conjunction? Also, Nancy claims that in to, while touching, there is a defining and an un/ending. Again, how can both contradicting acts take place simultaneously? In recasting to as an illogical tension, we try to come closer to how this works, more particularly by turning to Levinas s descriptions of representation and enjoyment. As mentioned, it may seem very unusual to bring in Levinas s observation here, since he is mainly known for his ethical contributions. Before proceeding, an account will be offered. 3. Levinas - Background In Totality and Infinity, Levinas is concerned with the way people relate to one another, aiming to find a relation that is distinctive from mainstream ones. To Levinas, mainstream relations (including enjoyment and what he calls uprooted representation) are transcendent-analogous (TA), whereas he defines the relation he has in mind as transcendent and ethical. Mainstream or TA relations follow the laws of being. That is, in an Aristotelian sense, they strive for self-enhancement, serving to establish, to develop, to improve, to expand, to blossom, to cherish, to unfold the self. A relation of self-enhancement is analogous to transcendence (TI, 109) because the two inclinations are inherently interlinked. There is a gesture from the subject towards the outside, the subject thus transcending its own interiority, yet the subject is oriented towards something outside only to make it its own, into the same. The second movement is actually a return to the own interiority, that is why it is mi-chemin 21 or mid-way. It is transcendent but only to a certain extent. Levinas s ethical outlook requires a strong subject, that is why he explores TA relations of selfenhancement up to their limits. He draws a personhood that is subdivided into distinctive yet interacting ways of being: enjoyment, labour, dwelling, and what he calls uprooted representation. Through these, a human being establishes itself in the world: it relates to the world in a transcendent-analogous way. Since, however, being as self-enhancement has by its very nature a built-in self-interest, Levinas investigates a dynamic of reality that transcends spontaneous interessement, expressed as epekeina 21 Lévinas, Totalité et infini (TI) (Paris: Brodard et Taupin, 2003, orig. 1971),

8 tes ousia, autrement qu être, or otherwise than being. Otherwise than being is a rupture with being as self-enhancement, which nevertheless takes place in being. Human being has this double condition, it is likewise spontaneous self-development and it is susceptible to a questioning of it; human being is an ambi-guity, a field of tension. This becoming questioned by the Other is ethics, and that is likewise sense. Put differently, the questioning by the Other is provoking a motion : an absolute orientation going freely from the one questioned, to the Other. This orientation is sense; it is a unique sense because it flows from the one questioned to the Other, and not vice versa. Sense is not action but social relation - fundamental movement, pure transport, absolute orientation 22 as l expérience par excellence (TI, 112). Sense (one orientation) is inextricably linked to ethics (the questioning as an interruption), the structure of which is described as relational. In order to indicate how this relation is metaphysical or transcendental - a bond that is both disinterested and disengaged from all participation - it is contrasted with a relation that is analogous to transcendence. Without conceiving the TA relations in objectionable terms, to Levinas there is no (unique) sense involved in the transcendent analogous relation. Levinas has a point, because the nature of the illogical tension is probably most clearly revealed in an ethical relation. And yet, Nancy is also right in deciding to perceive sense in a wider manner. Paradoxically, an analysis of Levinas s TA relations is an excellent starting point to achieve a deeper understanding of Nancy s perception on sense. By combining the observations of both authors, we can explain how the tension varies in different experiences. While this article starts by examining representation and enjoyment, respectively, it concludes by giving some initial hints at how to discern a pattern in this tension. To disclose the changing nature of the illogical tension, we must necessarily take a technical and detailed approach. Representation To Levinas, there is no sense in representation due to the way representation and exteriority behave towards each other, representation closing off the possibility for being to traverse itself, that is, closing off the to. For his analysis he considers the modus of representation on its own, distinct from physical sensation and acting independently of it, in order to consider the object of thought well and truly inside thought. In his reasoning, representation follows the well-known rhythm of Husserl s theoretical intentional structure, to wit, that consciousness is always oriented towards - to - something, that every perception is a perception of the perceived. If Husserlian phenomenology has given us something valuable, it is precisely this insight, Levinas claims. Oriented towards in the previous sentence should be properly understood; as alluded to, in a transcendent-analogue relation, oriented towards is only mid-way, it is oriented towards the outside in order to make the perceived into the same, to appropriate it. Let us take a closer look at this closing off of the space between representation and exteriority, to then indicate how, from a Nancian perspective, we can nonetheless conceive the closing off as an opening, and how, at the very end, a minimal tension is revealed. 22 Lévinas, Humanism of the Other, 30. 8

9 Foundational to Husserl s outlook is that representation and intelligibility are interchangeable - intelligibility is occurrence of representation: what we see (the non-i) is immanently what we understand (the I). In other words, perceiving - noesis - is the act of interpreting what we see - e.g. a transparent something - and because of which it receives meaning - e.g. the transparent something is some thing, a glass, for instance. In this case, noema is the object that is seen and that always already announces itself as a glass (intelligibility). The interaction between the reciprocal terms noesis and noema is as though representation is creative, making meaning. Representation/ intelligibility establishes value in the world as appearance and signification. Through Sinngebung there is a coherent fabric of views - world views - providing us with a sense of coherence. 23 The world becomes meaningful through such an axiological structure. Thus, intelligibility/representation can best be expressed as the spontaneity of projecting forth. Without ever feeling indiscrete or introducing alterity, representation proceeds in absolute freedom. Blind to what is exterior, the opposed dissolves in the same. As a free exercise of the same, the mastering is complete, making disappear that which might disturb or hurt. It cannot be denied that the thinker is determined by the object presented or thought, but the thinker is determined without being touched by the object or without this weighing on him. In a very literal way, even the most ponderous reality becomes an object of thought. Spontaneous thought, in being free and innocent in the sense of not taking into account the exteriority of the object, engenders an object that does not weigh on or touch it. Without any contradiction, thought reconciles two opposing elements: an objectifiable identity and a reality that ought to dismiss reconciliation. Thought s ignorance about its entanglement is not a weakness but its very force. In Levinas s reading of representation, we can note an emphasis on the moment of closing off. Levinas contends that [The same] consists in finding and exhausting in itself the meaning of an exteriority, precisely convertible into noemata (TI, 125, italics are mine). Representation is considered free because it absorbs the being of the existence into noemata. The closing off as an inherent part of representation is central since it implies that we need an external medium to open the closing off, to open the being locked up into a meaning system, called totality by Levinas. (Actually, and as has become commonplace, Levinas does not focus on our relation with the world, but narrows down his attention to human relations. In his reasoning, lacking an internal opening in representation, only the Other (as otherwise than being), in questioning freedom of representation, is able to interrupt this inclination of making somebody the same.) Following Nancy, however, there is always sense because of an internal infinitesimal distinction between being and existence. There is conjunction/disjunction, con-dis-junction, but never one thing or unity and that opens sense. 24 In other words, there is always a spacing. On what grounds then can we consider that representation provides sense? An answer may be buttressed by Levinas insights, probably in spite of his own reasoning. 23 Aaron Antonovsky, Health, Stress and Coping (San Francisco, Oxford: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1991). 24 Personal communication. 9

10 In one paragraph of his discussion of representation, Levinas refers to time, mentioning the void of time. He claims: Representation is a pure present. The positing of a pure present without even tangential ties with time is the marvel of representation. It is the void of time, interpreted as eternity (TI, 125). To him, the very act of representing - not the represented itself - equals opening of time. In a conservative reading, reference to time should be understood in the appropriate context, which is an idealist one. Thinking is a priori, it is elevated to the level of eternity, above time; this is precisely freedom. A void of time is freedom of representation, and again, it is actually the freedom to refuse the exteriority of the object. In other words, Levinas recognises a void of time - a spacing - but to him, a void of time is the point where we absorb and thus close in. To Nancy however, a void of time is the opening to sense. If a matter seems illogical, it is a natural inclination to think in terms of opposition, to think that it has to be this or that possibility. Even so, could it be that perhaps the void or spacing of time can simultaneously be a point where there is both opening and closing off? There is a closing off of the being of the existence as a condition for meaning to come about and yet there is an opening towards it in a Nancian way, as a transir, a touching of limits where we find both définir and définir. To grasp the latter, we will turn back to Levinas s interpretation. 25 Earlier, we referred to his observation that representation is the seat of truth, and that the object represented always determines the thinker. Levinas contends that determination is without touching or weighing on the thinker. Yet he also acknowledges that due to this, the thinker shows goodwill by adjusting ( s y plie de bonne grâce (TI, 130)) to what is thought. In a way, we can understand s y plie de bonne grâce as an acceptance, albeit a very subtle one, of meaning being determined, and thus, of exteriority. In other words, the reduction of exteriority to the same through the act of representing (as the coming about of meaning given) is always already marked by a bending towards exteriority even if this bending is in turn marked by the reduction of the other to the same. That the thinker adjusts in goodwill indicates precisely his wish for truth. So, a tension, a very minimal tension, presents itself. The tension can be regarded as illogical since two opposing movements happen at one and the same moment. There is a définir, a defining or coming about of meaning and yet this touches, in a very minimal way, always a dé-finir, a halting of this meaning. 26 From this approach even in representation there is still sense; which reveals the absolute limit of what can be considered sense. Enjoyment In representation, the tension is minimal; in Levinas analysis enjoyment its illogicality can be observed more distinctively. Important in his reasoning on enjoyment 27 is a shift from physiological need to the surmounting of this need. The jump from-to, as separation, announces the 25 I am grateful to Roger Burggraeve for sharing his thoughts with me on this subject. 26 Decidedly, exteriority is imposing itself on us, for instance in terms of the unrepresentable il y a (as in war). The tension and its illogicality would be much distinct if we compared the representable and the unrepresentable. Yet, not only will this tension (sense as non-sense) be addressed elsewhere; it was a deliberate choice to restrict this part to what Lévinas calls uprooted representation, in order to indicate that even at this very level, there is an - admittedly infinitesimal - opening in totality. 27 We are aware of the existence of Nancy s monograph (conjointly with Adèle Van Reeth) La jouissance, [Enjoyment ] (Paris: Plon, 2014). The relation between both visions will be taken into account in the future. 10

11 commencement of the I. From a Nancian approach, separation is not perceived as away-from; separation is the opening where, illogically, limits touch, revealing a tension. To Levinas, the structure of enjoyment does not equal the structure of physiological need. To live is not to be in a state of bare existence. The contents of life appeal; e.g. a strawberry invites us to pick it by looking tasty, the contents (eating, warming oneself in the sun) fill life. They provide nourishment, not (only) as a physiological need, but as joy. Life is love of life, not mere existence. Enjoyment embraces the contents of life. Thus, shortage is privation in a being that already knows the surplus of happiness. Enjoyment is not about absence of need, it is about satisfaction or fulfillment. Pronounced more firmly, fulfillment thrives on needs. That is, enjoyment is the experience - the pleasure - of a mastery over the needs. In the very act of enjoyment (less accurately but more clearly, we could say because of enjoyment ), determination vanishes. Love of life, contentment, reveals itself as independence, sovereignty. Accordingly, there is bearing in being, physiological, instinctual, given in terms of determination, and there is exceeding of being: a recognition of oneself as open to satisfaction and capable of satisfying these needs. Dependence turns into sovereignty. The body frees itself from all the weight, achieving the atheist separation (TI, 115). Happiness suffices to itself; the I dawns as the contraction of the ego, as a withdrawal into itself, a coiling, an involution as exaltation. Joy is egoism of the I, non-participation in genus, it is interiority as singularity. To have this transition a different relation with exteriority is at stake. Exteriority is not conditioned (contrary to representation); it is precisely understood as not made the same by representation. Enjoyment accepts exteriority and, in doing so, enters into a relationship with it in such a way that exteriority is not ignored but exploited. 28 Enjoyment has power over needs, breaking the very thrust [la pointe même] of the alterity upon which need depends (TI, 116). That separation is absolute is, perhaps not surprisingly, related to time. Separation between need and enjoyment of need is conceived by Levinas as a spacing - an opening - of time, it is a commencement occurring in duration, which nevertheless is continuous (TI, 113). Duration here refers to an animal state in terms of struggle, fear, uncertainty. Enjoyment interrupts time; in the instant it tears itself from erosion of duration, to each time begin anew. 29 Egoism usually has a negative connotation, but Levinas demonstrates that it is the constitution of contentment - the very pulsation of the I - that is at stake. Yet, while shedding light on the sovereignty of enjoyment, he also points to a predicament: in the constitution of the I, there is paradoxically still dependency. We are always enjoying something. Autonomy is embedded in what it is not itself. There is dependence in independence, an abyss opening within enjoyment (TI, 28 Remember that in representation the relation was such that representation (same) and object (other) are in a unilateral relation: there is determination of the other by representation and never determination of representation by the object. Lévinas, Totality and Infinity, Referring here to an animal state of fear and uncertainty and the interruption of it by enjoyment, seems to imply that animals are not acquainted with the experience of enjoyment, a position that is somewhat questionable. For criticism on Lévinas regarding his relation to animals, see Peter Atterton, Facing Animals, in William Edelglass, James Hatley & Christian Diehm,ed., Facing Nature. Lévinas and Environmental Thought (Pittsburg: Pennsylvania: Duquesne University Press, 2012); Lisa Guenther, Le Flair Animal: Lévinas and the Possibility of Animal Friendship, PhaenEx 25, 2007); Christian Diehm, Facing Nature: Lévinas beyond the Human, Philosophy Today 44,

12 141). The abyss introduces insecurity in Levinas s perspective. Since we differ from his line of thought, we will examine this element more closely. To Levinas, the I of enjoyment enjoys through its senses, since sensibility belongs to the order of sentiment. As such, it is not an experience. Its senses do not cling to a substance, it is bathing in it. Also, the elements have no form: the blue of the sky, the warmth of the wind, the liquidity of the water the I is indulging in: the I does not ignore the source but the quality of the elements seem to come from nowhere. They are sensed as qualities without support, for the blue, the warmth and the liquidity announce themselves as resistive to identification. The qualities are apeiron, undefinedness. So whereas, while enjoying, the I is steeped in this carefreeness, its depth and extension are always also the depth of an absence, the elemental giving itself while withdrawing. The withdrawing engenders insecurity. Enjoyment senses its limit: the fullness of its instance cannot be secured against the unknown of the elemental it enjoys. Joy remains a chance. Or else, in independence, the I is, at its deepest, dependence. In this reasoning, a tension becomes apparent, a tension certainly providing for an opening of sense. Nonetheless, we are inclined to believe that Levinas, in linking dependency with insecurity, does not describe the tension that makes up enjoyment properly, due to his notion of time. As we understand it, in Levinas s reasoning, there are two moments of time. There is commencement of an uncharted future, and there is postponement. First, in punctuating duration (of the animal state), enjoyment acts, and this very acting - as commencement - implies time as future. That is, a distinction is introduced between the immediate satiety of physiological need, and enjoyment as uncharted future. We may be able to understand the former better if instead of future, we use its French counterpart, avenir, as in avenir sans jalons, (TI, 121) which is always an à-venir, a to come without there being yet any point of reference lying ahead. Enjoyment properly appears indissolubly happening in this non-instance. Next we see how uncharted future is conditioned, for that the I can have time as uncharted future, is due to time provided by Desire. Regrettably, the coming about of time provided by Desire also erases the security of the instantaneous contentment; the uncertainty of the future installs itself, even if fragility can be postponed, as time in labour. We believe that enjoyment (as being steeped in carefreeness) belongs to à-venir while the moment dependency as insecurity occurs, enjoyment enters another phase. If dependency remains in the very commencement of time, an à-venir, it does not need to receive the flavour of insecurity, nor is a lack of rupture with the elemental unfavourable. Rather, the nonrupture is constitutive of enjoyment as happiness. The I enjoys the non-rupture, its embedding is total without there being either depth of absence or time as chronos time. In this very commencement, we find, as Levinas convincingly depicted, the pulsation of the I, as separation. What Levinas, due to his agenda, was not able to grasp, is that annihilation of separation is each time also conditional for the I of enjoyment. We can again observe here a defining and an un/ ending, a définir and a dé-finir, a touching of edges that cannot close, as an opening of sense. 4. Conclusion To conclude, what did the above analysis bring forward? Reformulating Nancy s observations, we assumed that neither is sense outside nor is the world senseless. Sense is when being traverses itself, 12

13 from being as non-being, to being as existence. To is not to be understood as a preposition as in the pair from - toward. Rather, the à ( to) semantically present in the verb can be grasped as a disjunction or a spacing, or as the action to span while the edges nonetheless touch each other. Here, in the touching of the edges, there is définir and dé-finir. A simultaneity of both disjunction and conjunction, of définir and dé-finir indicates a tension, that is why we estimated that the provenance of sense can best be comprehended as an illogical tension. In representation, the presence of this tension is only very minimal, the définir - the meaning making - outlaws the dé-finir. In enjoyment, however, the defining of separation is as much present as is the dé-finir, the un/ending or annihilation of separation. Both stand firmly side by side. Undoubtedly, many more cases will need to be analysed in order to assess whether a pattern can be revealed. Still, it seems possible to formalise an initial rough estimate about the changing nature of the tension if we introduce the parameter distance, between a being that is always in the world, and world (including other beings). Schematically and simplified, this could show something like the following. In representation, we observe that being, as subject, appropriates world, it continuously makes the same, as a play between noema and noesis. As such, there is no distance anymore between world and subject, since world has been incorporated. Even so, representation, paradoxically and very subtly, adjusts to the independency of world, so there is likewise an infinitesimal distance between both. This illogical tension can be expressed as having a pattern of simultaneous and illogical complete non-distance (or sameness) between world and subject, and yet an - imperceptible - distance between them. It is the minimum level of what theoretically can still be considered sense. In enjoyment, the pattern changes. We notice a distance to the world (the elemental, food) because of the power over needs, considered complete. Even so, there is also and inseparably an immersion in the elemental, in the food, 30 which can be read as the lack of any distance between the I as enjoyment, and world. There is a tension in terms of complete distance and yet complete nondistance. However, we cannot comprehend the complete non-distance in terms of the I making the same as in representation; to the contrary, the I of enjoyment is part of world. The illogical tension cannot be resolved through reconciliation for together, separation and its annihilation form the egoism of the I. As the opening of sense the pair cannot be totalized. As indicated, to sharpen and underpin this view, more examples will have to be fleshed out. However, at this stage, we expect that at least two other patterns can be described. If representation is the first and enjoyment the second, then the ethical experience of Levinas reveals a third pattern. Earlier, we hinted at the ethical moment describing it as the questioning by the Other in terms of an interruption of self-enhancement. We estimate that this tension consists of complete distance on the hand and yet complete nearness on the other. Or else, there is a questioning or interruption of freedom of representation (complete distance) and yet one orientation that goes freely to the Other (complete nearness). ( Nearness is not to be confounded with sameness since the subject cannot make the Other by whom it is questioned into the same). The experience of being touched by visual art as disclosed by Arnold Burms might be subsumed under this pattern as well. 31 If it is agreed on 30 We may wonder how the I can be immersed in food, when in fact the I digests it. This is because while enjoying the food, the food has no boundaries, and in that sense we immerse in the taste of, say, a juicy apple. 31 Arnold Burms, Humanisme en Ervaring van Zin In G. Van Der Wal & F. Jacogs (Eds). Vragen naar zin. Beschouwingen over zingevingsproblematiek. (Baarn:Ambo, 1992). 13

14 that religion is the bond that is established between the same and the other without constituting a totality (TI, 40), then probably religious experiences fall under this pattern too. Lastly, there are experiences of being touched by natural tragedies or calamities. These appear to have a design of complete distance and no nearness between subject and a world of which at that very instant, the subject comprehends it is nevertheless inherently a part. The latter experience provides sense in terms of non-sense. We conjecture non-sense to be part of the realm of sense. Both patterns will have to be examined elsewhere. All four combined might lead to a more adequate understanding of how sense is in the world and why it can never be lost. Sense can only come about, as the opening of sense. Acknowledgement: I am very grateful to Roger Burggraeve for our compelling discussions on Levinas, to Pieter Meurs for our stimulating conversations on Jean-Luc Nancy, and to Jean-Luc Nancy for answering questions swiftly by . The content of this article nonetheless is the full responsibility of the author. 14

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