Bernhard Waldenfels “Levinas on the Saying and the Said”

Waldenfels begins by outlining the basic architecture that constitutes the Saying and the Said as that which is dislocated and belonging to a certain diachrony that confounds any notion of synchronicity. In order to define more clearly the relation of the saying to the said he clarifies three main complexities found within any speech: “the difference between the speech event and the speech content, the distance between the speaker and the listener, and . . . the difference of the demand and response” (86). Throughout the four sections, Waldenfels addresses ideas concerning the true speaker, pure Saying or pure Said, giving, the response, originality and the pre-original, the actuality of what is said through speech, and ones center of gravity.

Waldenfels quotes Levinas from Otherwise Than Being, identifying the Saying as what is subjected to the rules of linguistics and manifested thusly as the Said. This perversion of the Saying comes at the cost of speech and is essential for intercourse. However Levinas also stipulates that the Saying comes before language; a point that Waldenfels stresses in order to point out that the Saying spans beyond a simple speech act, that it takes precedence as an event. He explicates the sentence “I promise you to be here tomorrow” to show the indication within linguistics of certain tenses, personal pronouns, demonstrative pronouns, and space, a system of indications. “The absorption of the Saying by what is said cannot be taken as a failure of linguistics, but it is due to certain practices and techniques of speaking and writing which take “as true being what is only a method” (88). Waldenfels wants, at least partially, to exonerate linguistics from any claims to failure, to equate the exchange of speakers as a sort of forgetfulness.

In section two, Waldenfels makes claims to the lack of pure-Sayings and pure-Saids and advocates for a flux of border-experiences. Speech then tends more towards the Said when one speaks what has already been articulated, “repeating given patterns and applying existing rules”(88-89) and conversely towards Saying when one approaches invention and the transgression of rules. The relative purity of this saying is a means of salutation, a method to initiate or conclude a conversation. These “rituals of accessibility” however inevitably end with the saying of nothing, either in the case of acquiescence or refusal (89). Any incongruity that follows from Levinas’ proposal of speech or the coming from the other is excused in Waldenfels defense that “one cannot jump directly from speaking about the Other to speaking to the Other” (89). Thus, any discourse on the Other and the Saying must be founded in language and any attempt to speak outside of this mode would only presuppose its existence.

Section three concerns de-centering and the true speaker. Levinas’ in Totality as well as in Otherwise reverses the order of subjectivity generally as active, coming from me and moving outward towards the other, into a primordial passivity, “my own birth out of the Other’s demand” (90). Waldenfels, rather than enunciating the complete alterity of the other of Levinas, goes on to champion a self within the Other and an other within the self. A melding of speaking, listening, anterior histories and circumstance, entanglement and connectivity, similarity that is at points syncretic.

In closing Waldenfels takes up the subject of seriousness and play where “ gravity is reserved for the Saying, play turns into what is said and to Being” (95). This returns us to the role of living from . . . from Totality. He brings up this final point to outline Levinas’ goal as trying to denounce the common idea of the center of gravity within the self and any self-gratification through”aesthetics of existence” (95). Waldenfels, while agreeing with Levinas’s concept of speaking and response coming from beyond me, tries to return empowerment to the individual self by emphasizing the creative response in responsibility. His argument seems hinged to a play of words that seem to be both relevant and in-accurate, returning continuously to the point that to speak of is to speak otherwise.


~ by vcasinosmithedu on May 14, 2007.

One Response to “Bernhard Waldenfels “Levinas on the Saying and the Said””

  1. In order to discuss Levinas’s work on the Saying it seems it is necessary to situate this in relationship to heidegger’s work on the saying and the assertion. Levinas’s work with language responds to Heidegger’s, and reformulates it while maintatining a central unity. heidegger’s articulation of the assertion holds much in common with L’s notion of the Said, but situations that assertion within a greater network of relations in the ecology into which the human enters, and goes slightly farther on the implications of human language for the rest of being. Yet Levinas’s saying and said distinction, not surprisingly, places greater emphasis on the human-to-human relationship, and does not go so far in deconstructing the system of ontology. Rather, the saying and the said form a foundation for the identification of ethical tension, and a positioning of that tension as a always present disjunction surrounding embodied speech as embodied relation.

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