Friday, August 3, 2012

Levinasian spill

To love another is at its core to let the other be in their own fullness of being, and if in the fullness of the other, we realize that to love another can only be for a short time, or at most a human lifetime. Love's risk of disclosing the fullness of our being manifests as human frailty. I am disclosed as a wholly other vulnerable 'I' before the other, and if the other loves me as much as I love them, then the other stands in as much vulnerability as I do. In the vernacular, the singular vulnerability of my disclosure to the other cannot be exhausted in their representation of me. However, in so doing, the other has more access to my non-objectifiable personhood than anyone else. As Scheler has said, the person is "the unity of acts" and this unity is only disclosed in the execution of acts. Otherwise, the person stands aloof, barely present even if the person stands there before me. The other is perpetual mystery. In love, I disclose my personhood more so than regular since in the loving relationship, I "let someone into my heart." The perpetual relationality of my self to the other discloses my unique habits and expectant style of quirks, behaviors, and preferences. I "let my guard down" and allow more contact with the unity of acts exhibited in each and every act of mine--this is the phenomenological basis for the growth of intimacy with a partner on the side of the lover, and the source of expectant hope that one's beloved returns in kind. Love's orientation opens the disclosure of the execution of all acts given that in relation to my beloved.

At the same time, the person is a structure that can never be encapsulated, represented and known with any precision. The other may wish to know me in full, and even if they have a better idea as to whom I am, the beloved can never be certain about me, or I any more certain about the beloved. We may even honestly both have let our guards down, yet the hope of knowing the other becomes a point of fixation. The beloved is still inexhaustible in their richness and fullness, and this holds for me in relation to the beloved as well. This inability to represent the other is the phenomenological form of love. If the lover regards the beloved in a way in which the lover thinks that they can encapsulate the excess of the other's spirit, then the lover devalues the inexhaustible richness of the other and turns that inexhaustible richness into some-thing other than spirit. For example, a possessive man may fixate on the sexual beauty of his beloved and jealously guard his lover. In jealously guarding his lover, he is not loving the person, but neurotically guarding what he feels is his, her body. Such a man does not love the person of the woman, but loves possessing her body in the sexual act itself. The woman may be valuing the person of her lover such that she cannot experience her own devaluing in his eyes. Instead, the sexual act is about facilitating the growth of intimacy in which the unity of acts is embodied in the physical union achieved.

Sexual union also reveals the physical frailty and finitude of love. Let us say that both value the personhood of the other. They increasingly disclose themselves not only in the sexual act but in the sphere of intimate relations. Two lovers may live together, share in economic fate and socialize in the same circles. They may even consecrate the Holy value of the other person through the sacrament of marriage. Yet, the time of this love is short. As I have claimed, love's risk comes at the expense of human frailty. Love is all that more special because of our finitude, and for me that finitude expresses the deepest sincerity of whom we are, this vulnerable unique "I" before the beloved. This vulnerability is the source of the risk in love. For the term vulnerability expresses the conditions under which I disclose my person to the beloved. Even I am sick, I can only my person is made manifest before my beloved as in need. I am called in responsibility in this very Levinasian way.

Yet, while vulnerability may condition the disclosure of my person to another person in love, vulnerability only taints the condition of the disclosure of my person. Vulnerability does not limit the perspective of love to the other. Instead, love is infinitizing, and allows us knowledge of a depth beyond the vulnerability of the body. Scheler calls this the person. In Scheler's thought, vulnerability is something that produces anxiety within us, and anxiety only occurs at the realization of the vital sphere's relation to the environment. Instead, love takes on a relation to the other. The other is given in so much excess that no prefigured ontology can encapsulate the other's spontaneity. They are given as inexhaustible, mysteriously present, and above all absolute.

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