Often to tease me, my best friend, who is also a scholar in his own right, likes to tell me that he doesn’t know another person who is more ethically conscious than I am. He knows that where philosophy is concerned, ethics and morality are two disciplines that interest me the least. But not, however, if they are entangled with other disciplines, especially theology, or if they are formulated by people who don’t mind writing for those who don’t mind following a tough-going thought. So, obviously, apart from Derrida on ethics and morality, I like everything that Vladimir Jankélévitch has to say, and whom I mentioned before, and what Jean-Luc Marion makes out of obligations that impose themselves on us and that are constituted by something other than our own intentionality.

These days I have been making connections between Marion’s idea that distance creates the greatest intimacy (formulated in his book Idol and Distance) and his discussion of the dynamics of the gaze as a form of love’s intentionality (which I have deliberately left out of my cultural & film studies book Between Gazes; those with a penchant for theological studies will understand my less than interdisciplinary and excluding choice, in spite of my desire to be precisely that, interdisciplinary and not excluding). As to my own ethical standard, yes, I have one, which I like to call radial. “I” as a relational self is like a calculation of the length of an intentional thought to the circumference of a circle. While the trajectory of the thought is straight, a lot of bending goes into the perception of what we think of the other. Ethics for me is allowing for the time it takes to think about the other without a sense of entitlement, and not as an object who fulfils our instinctual capacity to worry – as a mother may worry for her son – but rather as a subject, who in his own separateness teaches me not only the distinction between I as another and me as myself, but also the fact that any act of unconditional surrender requires faith.

For those not familiar with Marion’s thought, here’s a sample from his Prolegomena to Charity (from “The Intentionality of Love").

"Of the face offered to my gaze I envisage only what cannot be seen in it – the double void of its pupils, this void that fills the least empty gaze imaginable – because if there is nothing to see there, it is from there that the other takes the initiative to see (me). Gazing on the other as such, my eyes in the black of his own, does not imply encountering another object, but experiencing the other of the object. My gaze, for the first time, sees an invisible gaze that sees it. I do not accede to the other by seeing more, better, or otherwise, but by renouncing mastery over the visible so as to see objects within it and thus by letting myself be glimpsed by a gaze which sees me without my seeing it – a gaze which invisibly and beyond my aims (invisablement), swallows me up and submerges me, whether I know it or not, whether or not I want it to do so" (82).

"To lay oneself open or to expose oneself to the other means first, outside all visible sensibility, to experience ethical responsibility for the other. If I never rejoin him directly, he always enjoins me, indisputably. He makes his invisible gaze felt and weigh upon me by letting the nonsubjective and nonmasterable feeling of respect be born within me. I know and feel, as if in spite of myself, that I am responsible for the fate and death of my brother" (85).

"The moral consciousness contradicts self-consciousness by counter-balancing the intentionality exerted by the I thanks to the injunction summoning me. The injunction constrains and contains intentionality, intentionality objectifies the other on the basis of the I, but all the same, the injunction summons me on the basis and in the name of the invisible other. […] to love would thus be defined as seeing the definitely invisible aim of my gaze nonetheless exposed by the aim of another invisible gaze; the two gazes invisible forever expose themselves each to the other in the crossing of their reciprocal aim. Loving no longer consists trivially in seeing or in being seen, not in desiring or enciting desire, but in experiencing the crossing of the gazes within, first the crossing of aims" (87).


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