chapter  14
How Hospitable Can Dwelling Be? The Folds of Spatiality in Levinas
Pages 15

Levinas’s language of the Other has become almost a common topos in the educational discourse on ethics, multiculturalism, and reconciliation after violence (Diprose 2001; Gregoriou 1991, 1995; Libin 2003; Rosmarin 2001; Standish 2001; Todd 2001). More often cited rather than analyzed, picked up rather than translated, his way of articulating our ethical relation to otherness remains singular and overwhelming but also untranslatable. Much more than an ethics, Levinas has given us a new philosophical idiom: a language which bestows emotional intelligibility to sensibility and erotic passion to transcendence, an idiom which recovers difference in the ancestry of philosophy and opens up intimate spatiality and dwelling as places (and as topoi) for philosophical thinking. In trying to understand but also teach Levinas’s philosophical opening to ethical otherness, the face usually becomes a privileged fi gure. In the face-to-face encounter with the other, the face of the Other (le visage d’Autrui) enacts a structure of responsibility more primary than consciousness, more binding than mutuality, more engaging than agency, more stern than the imperative appeal of juridicality, and more immediate than the vulnerability of bare skin. The face inaugurates the proximity of the other not in the nominative (the Other as named by me) but in the vocative. The face addresses me before I name the other. Through the face, the other commands me, personally, uniquely, and inescapably, inaugurating a proximity which is more ancient than consciousness and more foundational than the cultural or existential recognition of the Other.