singular universality


Levinas’s critical rejection of Hegel is best rendered by the very title of his first big work: Totality and Infinity. For Levinas, Hegelian “totality” stands for the harmonious organically hierarchical Order of Things, with each thing in its proper place, while the encounter with the Other’s Face stands for the intrusion of a totally heterogenous infinite Otherness which de-rails this balanced immanent order. Is the Hegelian totality, however, really such an all-encompassing Whole that “mediates” and thereby incorporates all alterity, all transcendence? Is there not something missing in the alternative of totality qua organic Whole and infinity qua the singular intrusion of radical Otherness — namely, the space of egalitarian collectivity which is even more destructive of the organic-hierarchic Whole than any singular Otherness? In other words, what the Levinasian opposition of totality and infinity, of Sameness and Otherness, leaves out is singular universality, the access of a singular to universality which by-passes the hierarchic order of particularity. And, contrary to many interpretations, the whole point of the Hegelian totality is that it is not an organic Whole but an inconsistent/fractured, self-referential non-All consisting of the incessant interplay between the organic Whole and the singular universality undermining it.

This singular universality has nothing whatsoever to do with the universality of the high-ground position of neutrality, elevated above the combatants’ partisan passions (recall the role of international  observers in the Bosnian conflict in the early 1990s, fanatically clinging to “neutrality” in the face of a clear conflict between an aggressor and its victim): such a position is one of the exemplary forms of ethical betrayal in which universality appears in the guise of its opposite, as a high moral stance. The difference here is that between “abstract” and “concrete” universality: neutrality assumes the “abstract-universal” position elevated above the conflict, while “singular universality” achieves universality by way of taking sides and fully identyfying with a singular partisan position — the one which, within the space of the conflict, stands for the universal dimension. This brings us back to Levinas: taking the Third intoi account does not (as Levinas thinks) bring us into the position of pragmatic consideration, of comparing different Others; the task is rather to learn to distinguish between “false” conflicts and the “true” conflict. For example, today’s conflict between Western liberalism and religious fundamentalism is a “false” one, since it is based on the exclusion of the third term which is its “truth”: the Leftist emancipatory position.

slavoj žižek

god in pain: inversions of apocalypse

the animal gaze of the other


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