heidegger and es gibt, levinas and the semiotic

Hey everyone;

Just a couple questions I had regarding the first few pages of Otherwise than Being. My questions concern Heidegger (and, of course, Levinas), Being (Es Gibt vs. the “there is”), language (the question of/importance of), and semiotics (specifically, signification).

(1) Levinas & Heidegger: There is/Es gibt

Levinas’s “there is” is interesting to me and I made a gut/intuitive connection to Heidegger’s “es gibt (it gives).” From Heidegger’s lecture Time and Being p. 5:

    We say of beings: they are. With regard to the matter “Being” and with regard to the matter “time,” we remain cautious. We do not say: Being is, time is, but rather: there is Being and there is time. For the moment we have only changed the idiom which this expression. Instead of saying “it is,” way say “there is,” “It gives.”

As far as I can tell, this articulation Being is a notion of Being as a gift or allowing of something to sort of “show up.” I don’t know how to make that little interpretation more clear, but to me, it seems like a sort of “good” thing…if not a little cheesy (i.e., “Time is a gift…” ha.)

I really can’t determine what Levinas is getting at by the “there is.” It sounds sort of… bad. From Otherwise than Being, p. 3-4:

    “The void that hollows out is immediately filled with the mute and anonymous rustling of the there is, as the place left vacant by one who died is filled with the murmur of the attendants. Being’s essence dominates not-being itself.”

    “The there is fills the void left by the negation of Being.”

These two passages which illuminate some concept of the “there is” seem as though they share some common threads of Being as articulated by Heidegger. That is, as far as I can tell, Being is “coming out” of “something.” But I also feel that these conceptions of the “there is” are at odds with what Heidegger is getting at by Es Gibt. Is there something else I should be paying attention to here? The footnote wasn’t helpful to me at this very moment:

    “For the notion of the there is, see our book Existence and Existence….”

This seems like an important question to me…I mean, if we’re looking for what is otherwise than being, then it seems like it might be worth a longer footnote? At the very least, it would be interesting to know more about Levinas and the “there is.”

(2) Language? Linguistics? Semiotics? Transcendence?

Here’s what I’m thinking…I’m putting my thought process here because I’m worried that if I misinterpreted something, it might make my question at the end moot.

Levinas sets the stakes high: is transcendence possible?

    “But one immediately wonders if in the formula “otherwise than being” the adverb “otherwise” does not inevitably refer to the verb to be, which simply has been avoided by an artificially elliptical turn of phrase (Otherwise than Being, p. 4).”

In this section, Levinas gives particular attention to language, as he says, the very purple of royalty. The question seems to be not the question in Totality and Infinity “Are we duped by morality?” but “Are we duped by language?”…are we duped by language into thinking that there’s an actual possibility of transcendence?

Levinas goes on to say,

    “Language permits us to utter, be it by betrayal [my italics], this outside of being, this ex-ception to being, as though being’s other were an event of being (OB, 6).”

And so, I am brought back to the question of language (and, as an aside, I realize I am not really doing justice to Levinas’s entire project because I am thinking very specifically and abstractly of language in and of itself) and, with regard to the question at hand, I am beginning to think that we might in fact be duped by language…especially when Levinas talks about the otherwise than being as something that is sayable yet, for the same reason, entirely unsayable.

He asks:

    “Can this saying and this being unsaid be assembled, can they be at the same time? In fact to require this simultaneity is already to reduce being’s other to being and not being…To conceive the otherwise than being requires, perhaps, as much audacity as skepticism shows…(OB, 7)”

Strictly with regard to the question of language, I do not think conceiving of otherwise than being “requires audacity.” And, maybe we aren’t duped by language (entirely) as there might be some possibility inherent in the “said.” I think Levinas might agree:

    “…because in general signification signifies beyond synchrony, beyond essence (7).”

So I think that was a very roundabout way of getting to a very simple question:
with regard to the question of language qua language, what potentiality does signification hold for Levinas?

To me it seems like signification might be the place where the totality of language begins to break down. Signification, in many ways, I think is infinite…and I think Levinas would dig on that. For a short while, I was really obsessed with the idea of signification as some sort of “space” for “liberation” within discourses of patriarchy (how this all played into the general gist of Structuralism, I don’t know–I was going to do a summer independent study in semiotics that never really took off the ground). Anyway, after jumping ahead to the section on Essence and Signification, Levinas says that “signification precedes essence…it is the glory of transcendence…” Is Levinas saying what I think he’s saying? What is really being said here? I think my own theoretical pet-projects and ideas are blinding me to what’s being articulated.

So yup, that’s what I’ve got…. See y’all in class.


~ by Desirée on March 11, 2007.

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