WITNESSING OTHERS: ETHICAL RESPONSIBILITY IN RELATIONAL LIFE WRITING by Bettina Marie Stumm B.A., Brock University, 2002 M.A., McMaster University, 2003 A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY in The Faculty of Graduate Studies (English) THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA (Vancouver) September 2010 © Bettina Marie Stumm, 2010 ii ABSTRACT In this dissertation I examine the nature and significance of ethical responsibility for witnessing others in life writing, especially vulnerable subjects who have suffered racial oppression and/or personal crises. Drawing on the philosophical ethics of Emmanuel Levinas and Paul Ricoeur, I argue that witnessing others is not simply a matter of testifying to truths about their lives but of responding to them as people beyond what can be seen or known about them. For Levinas and Ricoeur, the most ethical witness of others comes in responding, “here I am” to their humanity and alterity. This response begins in one’s reception to infinite alterity experienced as a trace in the faces of others or as a sense of otherness within oneself. Facing alterity, witnesses cannot remain self-directed in their responses, constitute themselves and others solely in terms of their identity markers, or narrate a monologue of another’s life. Instead, ethical witnessing is a responsive way of being with and for others that challenges one’s being for oneself and informs how one sees and tells the lives of others: in openness, existential generosity, and mutual responsibility. With this framework in mind, I explore the life narratives of three twentieth-century writers who bear witness to alterity and attempt, in their own ways, a “here I am” response to the suffering of others. In An Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbork, Etty Hillesum witnesses her life and responds to her Jewish community in Nazi-occupied Holland by encouraging a vision beyond victimization. In Black Like Me, John Howard Griffin struggles to witness his own otherness in passing for black as a response to racial oppression in the Deep South. And in Stolen Life, Rudy Wiebe witnesses Yvonne Johnson’s story of abuse and incarceration in Canada in the vexed space of narrative collaboration. In life writing, a “here I am” response takes on various forms and proves a complicated practice: these writers must constantly negotiate their self-interest, guilt, and positions of power with vulnerability and generosity. I trace how they grapple with the necessity and difficulty of witnessing others in such an existentially ethical way. iii TABLE OF CONTENTS Abstract .......................................................................................................................................... ii Table of Contents ......................................................................................................................... iii Acknowledgements ....................................................................................................................... v Dedication ..................................................................................................................................... vi Introduction ................................................................................................................................... 1 Relational Selves, Dialogic Subjects ........................................................................................ 5 Ethical Responsibility in Autobiography Studies ................................................................... 10 Witnessing Others: Ethical Response and Responsibility ...................................................... 18 Witnessing Vulnerable Subjects in Relational Life Writing................................................... 27 Ethical Bearing: Tracing an Ethics of Responsibility through the Philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas and Paul Ricoeur ......................................... 35 Social Bearing and Intersubjectivity ....................................................................................... 38 Intersubjectivity in Phenomenology .................................................................................. 42 Religious Intersubjectivity ................................................................................................ 47 Alterity and Intersubjectivity ............................................................................................. 50 Intrinsic Alterity and Relational Intersubjectivity ............................................................ 56 Ethical Bearing: The Subjective Orientation, “Here I am!” ................................................... 64 The Subject’s Ethical Bearing Toward Others ................................................................. 66 Levinas and the Passive “Here I am” .............................................................................. 70 Ricoeur and the Active “Here I am” ................................................................................ 77 Active Passivity: The Difficult Motion of Ethical Bearing .................................................... 86 The Divided Subject: The Complications of Ethical Bearing ................................................ 89 The Beyond In: A Hyperethical Bearing ................................................................................ 92 “Here I am”: Defining Ethical Responsibility for Autobiography Studies............................. 98 Bearing the Other: Witnessing Alterity in Etty Hillesum’s An Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbork ................................................................... 105 Bearing the Other in Mind: Witnessing as Re-cognition ...................................................... 111 Bearing the Other in Language: Discursive and Narrative Witnessing ................................ 122 A Double Vision of Otherness ......................................................................................... 126 A Double Signification of Selfhood ................................................................................. 130 iv The Practice of Witnessing Otherwise in Narrative ....................................................... 134 Bearing the Other in Person: Witnessing as Existential Generosity ..................................... 142 Negotiating Generosity ......................................................................................................... 153 Witnessing Oneself as Another: Reconciliation as Responsibility in John Howard Griffin’s Black Like Me ................................................................................ 166 Bridging the Racial Gap: Understanding and Existential Identification .............................. 172 Witnessing Oneself as Another: A Transformative Vision of Subjectivity .......................... 179 Intrinsic Alterity: Oneself as Another ............................................................................. 179 Inherent Responsibility: Witnessing ............................................................................... 184 Witnessing Oneself as Another: A Posture and Practice of Reconciliation ................... 189 Immersing Oneself in an Experience of Otherness: A Complicated Reconciliation ............ 193 The Complications of Subjectivity in Immersion: Alienation and Absorption ............... 196 Immersion and the Dangers of Self-Reflection ............................................................... 202 Immersion and the Shortcomings of Social Integration ................................................. 206 Expressions of Reconciliation: Griffin’s Spirituality Between Ethics and Politics .............. 210 Witnessing Between Unilateral and Reciprocal Generosity: Ethical Collaboration in Rudy Wiebe and Yvonne Johnson’s Stolen Life .......................... 225 The Problems of Speaking With and For Others .................................................................. 229 The Limitations of Unilateral Giving for Collaboration ....................................................... 236 The Nature of Giving a Gift ............................................................................................ 237 The Relational Nature of Narrative Collaboration ........................................................ 242 Phenomenological Witnessing: Reorienting the Giver and the Gift ..................................... 245 Mutually Responsible Dialogue: The Basis for Ethical Collaboration ................................. 256 Responsible Giving Without Receiving................................................................................ 259 The Secret: What Johnson Gives .......................................................................................... 269 Conclusion ................................................................................................................................. 281 Ownership and Self-Possession ............................................................................................ 284 Unilateral Generosity ............................................................................................................ 288 Guilt and Martyrdom ............................................................................................................ 291 Works Cited ............................................................................................................................... 297 v ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I am deeply grateful to my supervisor, Dr. Susanna Egan, who has provided me with continuous direction on my dissertation, editorial revisions, academic advice, and personal encouragement. I am also indebted to my supervisory committee: Dr. Marlene Briggs, Dr. Travis Kroeker, and Dr. Mark Vessey. A special thanks to Dr. Kroeker and pro-tem advisor, Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan, who, as academics outside the faculty at UBC, generously volunteered to instruct me in the areas of continental and ethical philosophy and agreed to sit on my committee. I thank the faculty and graduate students in the English Department at UBC. I specifically benefited from the classes I took during my first year, my participation in the Auto/biography Reading Group, and my discussions with fellow graduates and friends, especially Alyssa MacLean, Steve Ney, Simon Rolston, Emel Tastekin, and Terri Tomsky. I am also grateful for faculty support and teaching advice of Dr. Dennis Danielson, Dr. Alex Dick, Dr. Susanna Egan, Dr. Elizabeth Hodgson, Dr. Deanna Kreisel, and Dr. Tiffany Potter. I also thank UBC’s affiliated colleges and graduate groups, including Regent College, Green College, and the GCU, for providing academic forums for deeper thought and facilitating intellectual discussion. I thank the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre and Ronsdale Press for giving me the opportunity to collaborate with Rhodea Shandler on her Holocaust memoir. I am particularly grateful to Mrs. Shandler for her hospitality and friendship during and after this project. Working together with her inspired the main questions and direction of my dissertation. I thank Tom Reynolds for our invaluable discussions on the intersections between philosophy, theology, and ethics and Michael Paradiso-Michau for his helpful suggestions for work on Levinas and Hillesum. I also thank Mary Besemeres, Maureen Perkins, David Parker, Julie Rak, and Gillian Whitlock, as well as the many other scholars in autobiography studies at IABA Conferences and at Life Writing with whom I have had the benefit of stimulating dialogue and helpful directions for this work. I am deeply grateful to the scholars at the undergrad and masters levels who encouraged me to think more deeply about literature and philosophy and to pursue my doctorate, especially Dr. Brian Crick, Dr. Marilyn Rose, and Dr. Elizabeth Sauer at Brock University, and Dr. Joe Adamson, Dr. Louis Greenspan, and Dr. Travis Kroeker at McMaster University. I thank Grace Vancouver Church for their spiritual support and community, their space for intellectual discussion and theological study, and their encouragement of the arts and social justice. I have embraced my own faith more fully as a result. I am very thankful for the dedicated interlocutors and friends who have come alongside me over the last six years: Graham Anderson, Jessica Bell, Heather Craig, Susan Kennedy Carter, Leslie Chappell, James Dahl, Danielle Davey, Clair and Carol Davis, Ron and Lauris Fuller, Bill Huizer, April Janzen, Rob Lockey, Stewart McIntosh, Bronwyn Ott, Paul and Margie Powers, Joash and Matthea Schumpelt, Mark Swanson, Ryan Thom, and Sarah Walker. Special thanks to my parents, who have supported me in more ways than can be named. I am so grateful for their continual availability, care, and encouragement that have made it possible for me to embark on and complete this project. And finally, I thank God for a road less travelled. vi DEDICATION To my Oma, Frieda Haemel, whose story inspired me to pursue a degree in English literature, whose faith and prayers have informed the direction of my studies, whose enthusiasm has encouraged me to keep to the task, and whose financial support has helped me to complete this project. Thank you for these gifts. 1 Introduction When I entered my doctoral studies at the University of British Columbia in 2004, I was interested in the intersections between religion, trauma, and life writing, and more specifically, in the ways that God has come to be understood and represented in Holocaust memoirs. My main question was one of theodicy—Where is God in the midst of suffering?—and my subsequent inquiry centred on the following issues: How do survivors of trauma signify the presence or absence of God in their stories? How do scholars of trauma understand “the sacred” and its role in witnessing one’s own or another person’s suffering? And how might one’s position of faith shape the way one interprets and represents that suffering? After my first year, I had a particular experience that caused me to rethink the direction of my study. I spent the summer working together with an elderly Holocaust survivor, Rhodea Shandler, in order to prepare her memoir for publication. The Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre and Ronsdale Press were interested in publishing her story of motherhood and hiding during the Nazi occupation in Holland, but what they had in hand was a short manuscript that needed to be organized, developed, and doubled in size. My role was to collaborate with Mrs. Shandler to bring her story from manuscript to print. She and I met for a series of interviews in her home so that I could gain a better sense of her broader story as well as gather more detailed narrative material to fill the gaps we found in the manuscript. I asked her many questions: some she answered at length and in detail; others she could not answer or did not want to. I had to learn which questions were helpful to her and which questions diverted her story because they contained my own assumptions and directives. I also had to learn how to develop a dialogue between us, being mindful of our significant differences in age, life experience, background, and profession as well as our specific relationship over her story. 2 The memoir that emerged was christened, A Long Labour (2007), a fitting title given the arduous process of our collaboration and the many dilemmas it raised for me: What precisely were my assumptions and directives in our partnership? How did they shape my questions and her story? How did my knowledge of Holocaust history and my emotional responses to that suffering challenge my ability to listen to her narrative? How was I to bear witness to her memories when they did not conform to historical fact? At which points did I subsume or appropriate her voice in my writing of it? Indeed, whose story was it anyway, her own or my mediated version of it? These questions showed me that we somehow needed to navigate the narrative relationship between us. We had to sort out how to work together to tell her story and how to relate to each other as people and as collaborators on this project. This navigation of relational space, the question of how I “relate” to this person in order to bear witness to her suffering and story is, to my mind, an ethical question. For me, determining how to relate ethically was heightened by my tenuous subject position in relation to Mrs. Shandler: How was I to bear witness to her suffering when her experiences fell wholly outside my own frames of reference? And further, how was I to respond to her story as a German woman, one who struggled deeply with a sense of guilt for being associated with the Nazism that had oppressed Mrs. Shandler and exterminated her family? In light of this experience of collaboration, I set aside my original question of theodicy— Where is God in the face of suffering?—as one that I did not have the resources to answer. What I had instead was a personal and practical glimpse into the related ethical question: Where am I when someone else suffers? That is, what would it mean to be present in my relationships with others and respond ethically to their suffering? What would motivate me to respond to them in the first place? And how might my religious faith affect my understanding and practice of ethics? 3 For my study here, I want to reframe these personal questions for the context of life writing more generally to ask: how does one witness another person’s life and story in an ethically responsible way, especially when that story is one of suffering? Exploring these questions has led me to the ethical philosophies of Emmanuel Levinas and Paul Ricoeur. Both of these continental philosophers address what it means to be ethically responsible toward others (whether suffering strangers, neighbours, or enemies) in their respective works. And although they formulate this responsibility differently, they both rely on the biblical expression, “Here I am” to describe the orientation and response of an ethical subject who witnesses the alterity (otherness) of other people. I draw on their work for this dissertation in order to formulate an ethics of responsibility for witnessing others. My questions have also led me to life narratives where witnesses hold positions of faith in a divine alterity, positions which arguably inform their ability to witness the alterity of other people. These narratives enable me to analyze the possibilities and complications of a “here I am” witnessing posture: Etty Hillesum’s witness of her Jewish community under Nazism in An Interrupted Life (1941-1943) is influenced by her Jewish mysticism. John Howard Griffin is motivated by his liberal Catholic views to witness the racial oppression and segregation of the Deep South in writing Black Like Me (1961). And Rudy Wiebe’s witness of Yvonne Johnson in their collaboration, Stolen Life: The Journey of a Cree Woman (1998), bears marks of his Protestant Mennonite roots as well as Johnson’s Cree spirituality. This dissertation, then, is a personal and philosophical study about ethics and witnessing in contemporary life writing. It examines the ethical responsibilities inherent in one’s relationships with “vulnerable subjects”—those people who are subject to the abuse, exploitation, or oppression of others (Couser, Vulnerable Subjects x). It centres on the condition 4 of prolonged or ongoing suffering, what Susanna Egan and Miriam Fuchs describe as “crisis” situations, concurrent with the witnessing process (Egan, Mirror Talk 4; Fuchs, Text is Myself 81).1 While I situate myself as a scholar and co-author of life writing and write from within this context, I am specifically interested in expanding the dialogue between life writing and philosophical ethics. Consequently I attempt two things in this work: first, to offer a philosophical framework from which to delineate an ethics of responsibility for autobiography studies, examining the inherent connection of ethics to relational identity and social interaction in life narratives. And second, to see how life writing makes concrete and thereby complicates the theoretical and hyperbolic ethics of responsibility posed by Levinas and Ricoeur. My hope is to find a fruitful space between these two discourses to discuss the practical potential of ethical responsibility and to discern what kind of person is able to witness others and convey their stories of suffering in ethically responsible ways. It asks how one should bear witness to the lives and suffering of these subjects in narrative form. It considers what motivates and challenges one’s abilities to do so. And it concentrates specifically on the question: what does it mean to be present in proximate, interpersonal relationships and dialogues with those who are suffering in order to witness their lives responsibly? 1 The sites of suffering I have chosen for this study focus on situations of continuous or prolonged suffering, such as incarceration, oppression, and abuse at the hands of others, rather than on those traumas of memory suffered belatedly by a survivor of a catastrophic event. Certainly the lines between past and present suffering, memory and current experience, overlap in the practice of witnessing. However, my sites for analysis centre on crisis rather than catastrophe. Miriam Fuchs expresses the difference as follows: “Crises extend continuously over time, but catastrophes are sudden and inconsistent. They, too, may be prolonged, but when this occurs the catastrophes stop at some point and begin again in unpredictable and erratic ways without stabilizing into a discernable pattern” (Text is Myself 81). With this distinction in mind, I use G. Thomas Couser’s term “vulnerable subject” rather than “survivor” to describe the sufferer. In my usage, I assume with the word “subject” that such persons have not fully lost their subjectivity (their ability to address and respond to others) but find it diminished or undermined due to the ongoing suffering they experience. 5 Relational Selves, Dialogic Subjects Let me begin with a presupposition: The way we witness our lives and the lives of others in narrative form depends on the way we conceive of ourselves in the world.2 By definition, “all autobiographies presuppose a model of identity” (Eakin, Touching the World 77), and we draw these models—our ways of conceiving of and representing who we are—from the specific “cultures we inhabit” (Eakin, Lives Become Stories 46).3 In autobiography scholarship these models, drawn from European and American cultural contexts, have shifted significantly in the last fifty years. In 1956, Georges Gusdorf determined a model of identity that he traced from Augustine to Rousseau, that of the autonomous individual, a “separate and unique” self who is distinct from others (Friedman 34). While this model continues to reflect such Western ideals of “independence and protecting the ‘natural rights’ of each individual,” it has largely been reframed through a relational conception of selfhood in academic scholarship (Markus, Mullally, and Kitayama 16). In autobiography studies this shift began in 1980 with feminist scholar Mary Mason, who argued that while autonomy may well fit the lives of Augustine and Rousseau, it did not reflect the nature of women’s lives, who establish their identity “through relation to [a] chosen other” (210).4 2 The assumption on which autobiography turns is this direct correlation between human lives socially and historically located in the world and literary lives in a text. The lives we write reflect and reference the lives we live or the lives we understand ourselves living: the literary text refers (however problematically and mediatedly) to a world and human lives outside the text. And the lives we tell inform the lives we live. For a careful exploration of referentiality in autobiography see Paul John Eakin’s Touching the World (1992). Susan Stanford Friedman concurred, arguing that women writers not only locate themselves in relation to a singular chosen other, “but also—and simultaneously—to the collective experience of . . . gendered subjects in various social contexts” (Miller, Representing 3 In The Conceptual Self in Context (1997), cognitive psychologist Ulrich Neisser elaborates: “Each of us lives—and has grown up in—some specific cultural setting. That setting was the context in which we developed our ideas about human nature in general and about ourselves in particular” (4). 4 In fact, Nancy K. Miller makes a case that St. Augustine’s Confessions could also be read as relational, recognizing Monica’s importance to Augustine’s life story. See “Representing Others: Gender and the Subjects of Autobiography” (1994) for her discussion of that relationship, especially as it is mirrored in Jacques Derrida’s Circumfession, notably another “male” text. 6 Others 4).5 In his seminal book, How Our Lives Become Stories (1999), Paul John Eakin reframes both models of identity to suggest that “all selfhood . . . is relational,” a statement he admits will appear self-evident in other fields of inquiry, and has, in the past decade, become equally established in autobiography studies as a way of conceiving narrative lives (43). Mason and Friedman, among others, proposed that relational and collective identities, at least as they were revealed in women’s life narratives, were not only culturally informed but also gender specific: autonomy appeared to define male accounts of selfhood where relationality defined female ones. 6 Eakin draws on Jessica Benjamin’s work on childhood development to argue that while identity is certainly “inflected by gender” (48), a relational model of selfhood cannot be drawn down gender lines or polarized from the individual and independent characteristics of selfhood. Identity is “intersubjective” according to Benjamin, formed in the spaces where subjects meet, not only where they secede.7 5 Friedman proposes the term “relational autobiography” in 1985 “to characterize the model of selfhood in women’s autobiographical writing, against the autonomous individual posited by [Georges] Gusdorf, as interdependent identified with a community” (Smith and Watson, Reading Autobiography 201). Friedman draws on Sheila Rowbotham’s historical model in Woman’s Consciousness, Man’s World and Carol Gilligan’s psychoanalytic model in In a Different Voice to argue that women’s narratives affirm a “sense of shared identity with other women, an aspect of identification that exists in tension with a sense of their own uniqueness” (“Women’s Autobiographical Selves” 44). In common human experience, one person is formed “in relation to another” 6 In their article, “Selfways: Diversity in Modes of Cultural Participation,” H.R. Markus, P.R. Mullally, and S. Kitayama indicate that “theorists, psychologists, anthropologists, and sociologists alike generally acknowledge that the self is a social phenomenon. Cultural anthropologists and social psychologists, for example, have always held that one cannot be a self by oneself. Current research in cultural psychology reveals that even extreme individualism is a form of cultural participation and requires interdependence among a set of participants who share a system of consensual meaning and behavioral practices” (14-15). For further discussion on culturally shaped conceptions of selfhood, see Jessica Benjamin’s The Conceptual Self in Context: Culture, Experience, Self-Understanding (1997). See also the influential sociological text, Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life (1985) by Robert Bellah et al. on the problems of radical individualism and the necessity of interdependence in the formation of selfhood. 7 According to Eakin, psychoanalyst Jessica Benjamin proposes in Bonds of Love (1988) “an attractively balanced approach to the relation between gender and identity formation” (Lives 52). By highlighting the necessity of relatedness rather than the goal of autonomy in an infant’s complex process of individuation, she argues for an “intersubjective dimension” in identity formation (Benjamin 49). She finds problematic that most theories of [infant] development accept Margaret Mahler’s “unilinear trajectory that leads from oneness [with the mother] to separateness,” “leaving unexplored the territory in which subjects meet” (25). For her, identity formation is rooted 7 by genetic inheritance and/or proximity of being (Egan, Mirror Talk 7). Countering our Western cultural tendency toward “possessive individualism,” as Eakin terms it (Living Autobiographically 92), we exist in interdependent relationships with other people: We find ourselves not independently of other people and institutions but through them. We never get to the bottom of our selves on our own. We discover who we are face to face and side by side with others in work, love, and learning. All of our activity goes on in relationships, groups, associations, and communities ordered by institutional structures and interpreted by cultural patterns of meaning. Our individualism is itself one such pattern. (Bellah et al., Habits 84) If “the self is defined by—and lives in terms of—its relations with others,” then these “others” with whom one relates are both part of oneself and simultaneously not oneself (Eakin, Lives 50). The lives of others, accordingly, cannot be understood in opposition to or independent from the self but rather, as both different from and interconnected with the self in various ways. If “intersubjective” describes identity formed relationally in kinship (through genetic inheritance and/or social proximity), it also includes a discursive element: identity formed relationally through the social processes of dialogue. Turning to the psychology of John Shotter, Eakin asserts that identity formation “is socially and (more specifically) discursively transacted”: one’s capacity to say “I” depends on one’s being “addressed as a ‘you’ by others” (Eakin, Lives 63; Shotter 143). One’s ability to say “I” also expects and depends on a “you” to respond. Indeed, it appears that one cannot say “I” into a void without an address or response. Holocaust survivor, Primo Levi, illustrates how this phenomenon is accentuated by trauma in The Drowned and the Saved (1988). He writes about the nightmare that Holocaust survivors share about returning home to their families and finding that no one listens to their story (12). In that silence, Levi relates, the survivor loses the sense of himself that he has held together for that very moment of communication. In that collapse of dialogic interaction, the survivor’s subjectivity instead in a paradox: “at the very moment of realizing our own independence we are dependent upon another to recognize it,” a dynamic that is inherently relational (33). 8 also breaks down. Levi’s statement implies that selfhood is not only formed relationally, it is also maintained dialogically through conversation with others, especially those others with whom one is intimately connected. As Ian Burkitt posits in Social Selves: Theories of the Social Formation of Personality (1991), the “fundamental human reality is conversation” (67). Subjectivity, which I define as one’s relational sense of self, is “generated in conversation,” and conscious thinking functions, effectively, as private talking to oneself as if oneself were another (Eakin, Lives 64). Elaborating on the work of L.S. Vygotsky and A.N. Leontyev, Burkitt clarifies, “the self is a dialogue which reflects and refracts concrete social interactions in which it plays a part” (Social 143). Without dialogue, one’s ability to think oneself and to speak oneself to others is profoundly diminished or even lost.8 Dialogue also characterizes the kinds of discursive interaction that occur in everyday social encounters. Mikhail Bahktin illuminates this sense of relationality in dialogue. In living conversation speakers anticipate a response, taking a listener into account and accounting for themselves before a listener. That is, a speaker is always oriented toward a listener and the listener’s system of understanding: “It is precisely such an understanding that the speaker counts on” (282). Between the speaker and the listener and their particular social context, the words are assigned meaning. Words themselves, then, are always “half someone else’s” and above all are socially and contextually constituted. They become one’s own only when the self imbues them with particular intentions (293). Neither language nor one’s selfhood determined through language can be for oneself alone. 8 Eakin addresses precisely this state in Living Autobiographically when he asks whether we are diminished as people if our abilities to speak ourselves or call our identities into being through the stories we tell about ourselves are lost, as with Alzheimer’s, dementia, or other forms of cognitive disfunction (2). He proposes that selfhood is not, in fact, lost in such cases but that our narrative norms of identity and our social interactions are seriously challenged by them. Such “de-storied” selves still exist in the lives and stories of others even if they are unable to recognize or speak themselves as subjects in these relationships (8). They may be lost to/as “themselves,” but they still have a body, a “will” of their own, and a role in the stories of other people, particularly their family members (57-8). 9 By this token, the respondent (or listener) in dialogical and relational interactions must always be oriented to hear the words of the speaker. Dialogue, Egan writes, “is one mode of ‘realizing’ identities to which ‘attention must be paid,’” precisely those identities and voices of vulnerable subjects whose lives have not been attended to (Mirror Talk 8). In the process of dialogue, the respondent “posits the self as both respectful of and distinct from other selves” (8). In this way, dialogue has what could be called an ethical component: it reflects an understanding of oneself in relation to others, in which other people are both distinct from and interconnected with oneself (8). In order to be in dialogue, one must first negotiate this relational space of difference and likeness or risk turning conversation into a monologue, a misappropriation, or a problematic silence. Conversations are reciprocal interactions and can only function when both parties are mutually involved in “co-respondence,” constantly exchanging roles of speaker and respondent in the encounter, addressing and responding to each other in turn (3). This dialogic encounter between two lives impacts both. The boundaries between “I” and “other” are flexible, permeable, and must shift to accommodate each other (Egan, Mirror Talk 2; Smith and Watson, Reading Autobiography 64). The spaces between selves are thus social and interactive. The nature of these interpersonal encounters, conversations, and relationships shapes the way we create and narrate our life stories. If we conceive ourselves as relational and dialogic and write ourselves accordingly, then we inevitably write the lives of others in writing ourselves. By the same token, we implicate our own lives (whether hidden or apparent in the narrative itself) in the writing or telling of other lives. In either case, “one’s story is bound up with that of another” (Smith and Watson 64). Our lives are interdependent; our stories are never simply our “own.” These authorial interrelations implicit and explicit in life narratives have come to be represented by a backslash in the term auto/biography. This mark signals a “fluid boundary” 10 between autobiography (telling one’s own life) and biography (telling another’s life) traditionally separated as two distinct genres of life writing (184).9 My exploration, then, centres on the complexities of the relationships that this genre has come to define, particularly as these are emphasized in contexts of narrating another person’s ongoing suffering and oppression. Taking a relational and dialogic model of selfhood as a given in these contexts, I ask: how are respondents to relate to vulnerable subjects in the creation of life narratives? How do such relationships function on the ground, so to speak, in actual interpersonal encounters and dialogues where the respondent is up close and personal, face-to-face with the vulnerable subject and directly implicated in his or her suffering? More fundamentally, what kind of subject is able to respond to the suffering of others in the first place? And what might those responses look like? For me, these questions are ethical in nature. How one relates with others in order to narrate their lives is a complicated ethical matter that arises from our conceptions of relational selfhood and the dialogic, interactive spaces that make up our human relationships. Given the intersubjective identities and overlapping lives that the backslash in auto/biography implies, we might more aptly call this genre relational life writing. Ethical Responsibility in Autobiography Studies In his article, “Breaking Rules: The Consequences of Self-Narration,” Eakin claims that “ethics is the deep subject of autobiographical discourse” (123). Not only do life writers have ethical obligations in telling their stories, but “all [life] stories invite an ethical response from listeners 9 Averse to drawing boundaries between genres where relational spaces exist in narrative practices, scholars of autobiography have tended to favour terms like life writing or memoir in order to avoid the connotations of an autonomous “I” that a term like autobiography invokes, even with its backslash. Memoir suggests a dialogic self situated in a social environment who directs attention “more to the lives and actions of others than to the narrator,” thus defying the boundaries between personal and public spheres. Life writing functions as an inclusive term for all varieties of “nonfictional modes of writing” (Smith and Watson 198, 197). 11 and readers,” Kay Schaffer and Sidonie Smith suggest, particularly those stories of vulnerable subjects who collectively or personally suffer ongoing oppression (4). What then does it mean to respond ethically to others? And what might the responsibilities of the respondent in a narrative dialogue look like? Life writing differs from other forms of literary narrative in that it depicts an actual person in the world behind the text. Beyond its literary form, life narrative is a category of human experience (Eakin, Living Autobiographically 49). Its studies are thus principally concerned with the ways that this written and writing self functions within a particular historical, political, and social context. Consequently, ethical responsibility in autobiography studies is defined almost exclusively as the “important work” that narrative lives perform in the world (Eakin, “Breaking Rules” 124). In keeping with this idea, scholars of life writing tend to frame their questions of ethical subjectivity (who am I and how am I to respond to others?) in terms of socio-political practices (what is it good to do and how does personal narrative stimulate human affect and moral action in the world?). Indeed, if a recent double issue of Life Writing, “Trauma in the Twenty-First Century” (2008), reflects the ongoing trends of the discipline, we are particularly interested in which ethical behaviours are imperative for responding to the stories of others in the context of oppression and abuse, and which vulnerable subjects currently demand our attention. The question of “right action” covers a wide range of practices in response to a growing number of vulnerable subjects and their stories. For instance, the practices of listening to and telling the truth about others are upheld as paradigmatic ethical activities. Thinkers such as Dori Laub and Shoshana Felman in trauma theory and Eakin and Egan in autobiography studies have pointed to the ethical necessity of such actions while raising the relational, dialogical, and 12 narrative complications that arise in their practices.10 Other scholars, such as Marianne Hirsch and Susannah Radstone, conceive of ethical responsibility in affective terms. They assert that those who respond to vulnerable subjects should practice empathic identification, a way of seeing “through [their] eyes” as it were, without over-identifying with the other person’s trauma (Hirsch, “Surviving Images” 12).11 Arguably, these practices of listening, truth telling, and empathy can be seen as expressions of a more fundamental practice of ethical response, that of recognition. Recognition is a way of seeing and attending to the identity and subjectivity of the sufferers themselves, rather than simply responding to their stories of suffering. With this in mind, autobiography scholars formulate ethical responsibility principally as a politics of recognition—a response to This responsibility proves especially critical in our “culture of trauma,” as Miller and Jason Tougaw point out, a culture overly fascinated with the stories of shocking events, horrific abuse, and severe pain experienced by others (2). These stories are potentially read for the “thrill of borrowed emotion”—the negative underbelly of empathic identification—and result in a “pornographic seeing” that perpetuates the vulnerability of the sufferer in merely another form (Williams qtd. in Oliver, Witnessing 156). 10 Dori Laub, for instance, highlights the practice of listening to others as a responsible response to their suffering, a practice that includes an awareness of the hazards of listening and the importance of silences (57-73). Listening in an oral, dialogic relationship is meant to draw out the narrative, help the testifier make meaning of the suffering, and allow for the possibility of healing. Egan, Paul Lauritzen, and Stefan Maechler have also addressed dialogical encounters but in terms of the truth-telling imperative in trauma and crisis autobiographies. The ethical responsibility in a dialogue between speaker and listener is a mutual interaction: the speaker is responsible to tell the “truth”—fully aware of the slipperiness of the term—without over-telling it, while the listener is responsible to trust in the narrator’s testimony as well as critically consider the text and the context in the event of possible fabrication (Eakin, Lives 2-3). The “autobiographical pact” in which I actually am who I say I am in my narrative, in this sense, is an ethical one. 11 In “Projected Memory” Hirsch describes this as heteropathic identification with others: “identification that does not interiorize the other within the self but that goes out of one’s self and out of one’s own cultural norms in order to align oneself, through displacement, with another” (9). She borrows the terms heteropathic and identification from Max Scheler’s The Nature of Sympathy (1923) and Kaja Silverman’s Threshold of the Visible World (1996). Such identification has the potential to respond, “it could have been me” and at the same time, “but it was not me” (9). Historian and trauma theorist, Dominick LaCapra, calls this negotiation of space empathic “unsettlement,” an affective response that does not fuse or confuse oneself with others but unsettles identity with difference and tempers effusive connection with distance (History and Memory 40). Indeed, he cautions that empathy, without difference, easily slides into “intrusively arrogating to oneself the victim’s experience” or “undergoing surrogate victimage” (182). 13 gender, class, or racial oppression that seeks to recover the voices of marginalized or disempowered subjects and affirms their agency and subjectivity in the world (Parker, “Turn to Ethics” 3, 5). As Smith and Watson articulate it: “Narratives produced and circulating within the regime of human rights confront readers with emotional, even overwhelming, episodes of dehumanization, brutal violent victimization, and exploitation. They call the reader to an ethical response through their affective appeals for recognition” (“Trouble with Autobiography” 364). Like much of contemporary theory “dominated by conceptions of identity and subjectivity,” autobiography scholarship relies on a Hegelian notion of recognition in making its claims (Oliver, Witnessing 4). Kelly Oliver suggests that in work relying on a notion of recognition, “there is the sense that individual identity is constituted intersubjectively; that we come to recognize ourselves as subjects or active agents (in likeness or in opposition to others) through the recognition from others” (4). From this perspective, recognition actualizes subjectivity: what makes subjects subjects is precisely the ability they have (or are given) to say “I,” to constitute themselves through the recognition of others as distinct agents who are able to act in the world and address others in reciprocal dialogue.12 In situations of marginalization, oppression, or abuse, this ability to say “I” and to conceive of oneself as a subject or agent of action is threatened, damaged, or destroyed (Gilmore 6). One is subjected to the domination of other people or systems of governance and reduced to an object or silenced as an “other” (Oliver, Witnessing 7). Such suffering often resists representation and challenges the sufferer’s ability to address it to others. To regain or repair 12 Naturally autobiography theory has engaged in the complexities of agency in ways that I do not attend to here. For example, in Reading Autobiography, Smith and Watson argue that despite the fact that “we tend to read autobiographical narratives as proofs of human agency, relating actions in which people exercise free choice over the interpretation of their lives,” humans are never “free agents” but always subject to the discursive systems, social structures, cultural norms, and ideologies in which they are located (44). Agents are changeable even as they have the ability to change their world (45). 14 subjectivity necessitates a reassertion of agency by bearing witness to the oppression, a space to “[take up] a position as a speaking subject” (7). To speak oneself and be spoken to in exchanges authenticates one’s presence and subjectivity to oneself and to others (Egan, Mirror Talk 8). Since the voices of vulnerable subjects are often left unattended by the dominant power structures, their stories summon listeners and readers to recognize their value as human beings and their claims as true (Schaffer and Smith 5). Functioning specifically within the rhetoric of human rights and social justice (Whitlock, “Second Person” 117), recognition challenges respondents to be actively and ethically involved in a process “that might bring about justice by acknowledging the loss and harm that [have] been done,” and in doing so, restore damaged, vulnerable subjects to fully functioning ones (Schaffer and Smith 107). These conceptions of ethical responsibility have been significant for bringing together the fields of ethics and politics on the grounds of personal experience. They have made our scholarship in autobiography attentive to the political character of personal lives, and continue to create forums for new voices and stories of marginalized, oppressed, or abused subjects to be acknowledged and affirmed. They have also caused us to examine the many ways that ethical response is made manifest socially or politically and how it has proven deficient in various life writing contexts. Despite these gains, however, I find our formulations of ethical responsibility fall short in at least three ways. First, the general question of “right action” or ethical behaviour, as David Parker has recently suggested, “occupies only part of the broader ethical domain” (Moral Space 3). In The Self in Moral Space (2007), Parker draws together the various ethically responsible practices upheld in autobiography studies under a more fundamental question at the heart of all life narratives: “What is it good to be?” With this question he distinguishes ethical subjectivity from moral activity—being good from doing right—and suggests that the former 15 infuses the latter with its ethical potency. While the good and the right overlap and intersect in numerous ways in human life, Parker argues, our judgments about what it is right to do are embedded in our beliefs about what it is good to be (5). In short, ethical responsibility is an orientation of subjectivity, and ethical subjectivity (or being) determines moral action.13 Second, the assumption that ethical responsibility functions as a politics of recognition proves reductive for engaging with vulnerable subjects in actual, interpersonal relationships and contending with the complexities of subjectivity that arise within this context. While recognition is an ethical response that seeks to acknowledge those vulnerable subjects who are marginalized within or oppressed by dominant power structures of class, race, or gender, it tends to conflate the subjectivity of the person with his or her victimized subject position. This conflation may well prove a fruitful response for reading stories of collective trauma or oppression in macro- social and political contexts, where the reader must relate and respond to vulnerable subjects and From this perspective, practices like recognition or empathy are only as ethical as the subjects doing them. These responses are not somehow intrinsically responsible, but rather possible outworkings of a responsible subject. Parker’s position has compelled me to consider, then, what does it mean to be ethically responsible beyond simply responding ethically to others? And what kind of respondent engages in responsible practices with and for others, particularly vulnerable subjects? 13 For Parker, subjectivity (who I am in relation to others) is bound up in “how you are oriented” in moral space (Moral Space 16). He draws his vision of the self in moral space from the work of Charles Taylor, as expressed in Sources of the Self (1989). Both suggest that humans are oriented according to those things that they value as good. These are both personally and communally derived “strongly valued goods” that we use to decide between right and wrong, better and worse (Parker, Moral Space 15). These values are reflected in our language and used when we discern or judge what is good: dignity, courage, brutality, honesty, etc. See Parker’s first chapter in The Self in Moral Space for further discussion. In my work, I hope it will become clear to those familiar with Parker and Taylor that while I hold to the view that the question of being informs my doing and that the self is oriented in moral space, I stray from their perspectives to suggest that ethics is not only determined through one’s language, relationships, and systems of value, but must also be conceived metaphysically, as that which escapes my reasons and judgements about how to be good. 16 their experiences of suffering at a considerable remove, mediated by the text. I find, however, that it falters on the micro-social level when I consider my own narrative relationship and personal interactions with Mrs. Shandler. In our unmediated, face-to-face relationship my responses had to exceed Mrs. Shandler’s subject position as a Dutch Jew, a Holocaust survivor, a middle-class elderly woman, a wife and a mother of eight children, and a Canadian immigrant in order to be ethical. While these aspects of her identity had initially drawn us together to work on her story, they were not what ultimately constituted our relationship. In fact, defining our relationship by them, as I was apt to do, proved unethical in numerous ways. Over the course of our collaboration it became clear to me that while Mrs. Shandler wanted me to listen to and acknowledge her stories of suffering, she also wanted me to interact with her as a person regardless of her suffering—what we might call “beyond recognition” (Oliver 16). I recall her exclaiming in a moment of frustration that she was tired of my difficult questions in our interview process and would prefer if I just came to visit for tea. Her outburst suggested to me that what she desired, perhaps as much as voicing her story, was a relationship with me for its own sake. Responding to her ethically thus required me to communicate her value as a person apart from her story of suffering and her vulnerable subject position, not simply because of it. Indeed, responding to her suffering rather than her personhood could potentially keep her defined by and confined to her pain or feelings of victimization. Because her subjectivity exceeded her subject position in our narrative relationship, my ethical response also had to exceed her subject position and could not be reduced to a politics of recognition. I find Oliver’s distinction between subjectivity and subject position helpful in considering ethical responsibility in such face-to-face narrative relationships as my own. While the two are 17 profoundly interconnected in experiencing ourselves as subjects, she writes, “Subject positions are constituted in our social interactions and our positions within our culture and context. They are determined by history and circumstance . . . what we might call politics” (Witnessing 17). Subjectivity, in contrast, “is experienced as [a] sense of agency and response-ability,” a way of being relationally and dialogically constituted that is “fundamentally ethical” (17). Subjectivity is thus “logically prior to any possible subject position” (17). Insofar as we exist relationally and dialogically with other people, our ethical responsibilities are inherent in subjectivity itself, informing our socio-political interactions as ethical respondents and as vulnerable subjects. Third, framing ethical responsibility purely in the political terms of recognition is philosophically suspect. Not only does it collapse ethics into a politics, it also reduces the philosophically nuanced conceptions of responsibility, as I will come to show them in the work of Levinas and Ricoeur, to a matter of recognition—of seeing, identifying, or acknowledging others in socio-political relation to oneself. The term, as Hegel uses it, formulates subjectivity as a struggle for recognition by which one gains a sense or grasp of oneself in likeness or in opposition to others (Ricoeur, Recognition 173). Oliver suggests that such a struggle, in which one defines oneself against others, indicates a fundamental antagonism at the heart of subjectivity that at least complicates, if not entirely contradicts, responsible relationships. This antagonism is reinforced when we consider that recognition is a response bestowed on vulnerable subjects by a more powerful group. Insofar as vulnerable subjects demand recognition from those who are powerful enough to confer it, the dynamic of domination and opposition is perpetuated: the vulnerable subject inevitably reinforces the power of the oppressor by needing him to “see” her or verify her worth. She remains subject to him. It is difficult to imagine, Oliver writes, “how these struggles can lead to compassionate personal relations, ethical social 18 relations, and democratic political relations” (Witnessing 4). To deal with this dilemma, we need an alternative conception of subjectivity that makes responsible relationships possible, a vision of relational subjectivity that is not fundamentally or inherently hierarchical or hostile toward others, one that does not require abjecting others or assimilating their differences in order to conceive of oneself or others as subjects (11). Such an alternative notion of subjectivity would have to take into account the uneasy relationship between recognition and ethical responsibility that Oliver points out by clearly defining this relationship and analyzing its complications in light of its roots in philosophical discourse. In light of these complications, then, I want to consider how ethical responsibility is conceived philosophically as a question of subjectivity (how to be with others) informing and potentially transforming political action and social interaction (what to do for others), and see how it relates to the practice of witnessing the lives and stories of vulnerable others up close, in proximate relationships and interpersonal dialogues. I am convinced that a philosophical examination of this ethical posture and practice will prove fruitful for nuancing our terms of ethical responsibility and complicating their usage in autobiography scholarship. More than that, though, I hope that reconstituting subjectivity in ethical terms will offer a compelling framework from which to re-examine the pragmatic possibilities of responsibility, its political potential, and its significant dilemmas in the context of relational life writing. Indeed, it may open a space for further dialogue about the intersections between ethics and politics in witnessing the lives of others. Witnessing Others: Ethical Response and Responsibility In Witnessing: Beyond Recognition (2001), Oliver proposes a model of subjectivity that is inherently responsible to and for others by nature of its relational and dialogic constitution. She 19 suggests that “while theorists of recognition like [Charles] Taylor, [Axel] Honneth, and [Judith] Butler discuss subjectivity or identity in terms of recognition that comes through dialogue or discourse, they don’t realize the full import of thinking of subjectivity as response-ability, or response to address” (5).14 Witnessing is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as the fact of being present, observing something, and testifying to it. Working with this definition, I propose that witnessing is a practice of seeing and speaking (responding) informed by one’s “being present” in relation to Implicit in a subjectivity conceived as response-able is a subject’s obligation to respond to and be responsible for others. The possibility of subjectivity relies on both the condition of being able to respond to others (response-ability) and the ethical obligation “to respond and enable response-ability from others” (responsibility) (15). Oliver calls this double sense of response, witnessing. Whenever one bears witness to oppression, either in response to one’s own or another person’s suffering, one is put in a position of vulnerability and responsibility for others. Indeed, being addressed to respond always implies a vulnerable subject—either one who has already been made vulnerable by oppression and responds as a witness of that suffering, or one who chooses to be vulnerable in bearing witness and being responsible to the suffering of others. One cannot help but suffer vulnerability in a posture and practice of response-ability. I take Oliver’s framework as an entry point for exploring the inherent relationship between subjectivity and ethical response in terms of witnessing and launch my analysis by asking: What is the nature of such witnessing? And what kind of respondent is ethically responsible to witness the suffering and vulnerability of others? 14 Judith Butler, for instance, describes the dialogic formation of the subject in Bodies that Matter (1993) as follows: “the discursive condition of social recognition precedes and conditions the formation of the subject. . . . I can only say ‘I’ to the extent that I have first been addressed” (225). From this perspective, the “respondent” in a dialogue is made into a subject because someone else has first addressed him. This “subject” then turns to address himself to others, who become respondents to his words, his life, or his story. It is this secondary responding—responding as a subject to the lives and stories of others—that takes central place in my study. 20 what or whom is being witnessed. Let me address these two aspects in turn as they relate particularly to the respondent witness—the witness of a vulnerable subject. Witnessing is first a practice of seeing that shapes one’s response, and second, a way of being present in response- able relationship and dialogue with vulnerable subjects that informs how one sees them and responds to their stories. The practice of seeing is particularly critical for formulating a description of witnessing, since the way one sees determines what and how one responds. Witnessing carries two connotations of seeing: “the juridical connotations of seeing with one’s own eyes and the religious connotations of testifying to that which cannot be seen, in other words, bearing witness” (Oliver, Witnessing 16). In the former sense, witnessing refers to an eyewitness testimony “based on first-hand knowledge” (16). In the latter sense, it refers to bearing witness to “something beyond recognition” that Oliver calls, “an infinite encounter with otherness” (16, 17). From a Western religious perspective, the infinite Other(ness) that cannot be seen but is encountered through mystical or spiritual “insight” is named God. In strains of psychoanalysis, such alterity has been used to describe the unconscious, the truth of an event or person’s story beyond historical fact (Laub 60), or the “infinite otherness” of a traumatic experience that cannot be comprehended or articulated (Agamben, Remnants 151; Caruth, Trauma 156; LaCapra, Writing History 93).15 15 In Writing History, Writing Trauma (2001), LaCapra warns that formulating trauma in terms of infinite otherness conflates it with elements of the “sublime” or “sacred” (93). He writes, “I have speculated that the sublime may itself be construed as a secular displacement of the sacred in the form of a radically transcendent, inaccessible, unrepresentable other (including the alterity of radical evil). The typical response it evokes is silent awe. I have also argued that one important tendency in modern thought and practice has been the attempt to link the traumatic to—or even convert it into—the sublime by transvaluing it and making it the basis for an elevating, supraethical, even elated or quasi-transcendental test of the self for the group” (93). For further discussion on the language of the sacred or sublime, particularly in the context of Holocaust suffering, see Thomas Trezise’s article “Unspeakable” (2001), and Michael Bernand-Donals and Richard Glejzer’s chapters, “Sublimity, Redemption, Witness” and It has also been taken up in the phenomenological ethics of Emmanuel 21 Levinas, which interprets “infinite otherness” as that which cannot be seen, grasped, appropriated, or totalized in another person, as I will come to show. Oliver illustrates this double vision of witnessing (the seen and the unseen) as follows: “An eyewitness to the Jewish uprising at Auschwitz . . . testifies (incorrectly) to the events of [a] particular day when prisoners blew up a chimney. However, she bears witness to something that in itself cannot be seen, the conditions of possibility of Jewish resistance and survival” (7). Oliver’s illustration suggests that the act of bearing witness to “infinite otherness” shapes the way an eyewitness comes to see a historical event and testify to it. By extension, I contend that the way respondent witnesses bear witness to the “infinite otherness” in this woman’s life will shape how they see her and respond to her story within its historical and political context. Those who witness the eyewitness as respondents to her account, Laub asserts, may fixate on the empirical evidence of her testimony and dismiss her account as inaccurate. Or they may witness in her account that which is beyond comprehension—her “strength to make what seemed impossible possible: surviving the Holocaust” (62). While both elements—empirical evidence and infinite otherness—are crucial for witnessing vulnerable subjects, I argue that bearing witness to that which cannot be seen, grasped, or comprehended in another’s life is the basis for ethical response. Fundamental to an ethical practice of bearing witness, response-ability to the infinite otherness of others determines how respondent witnesses engage in dialogue with vulnerable subjects, how they open themselves in responsibility or close down response for the sake of what can be seen, told, comprehended, and verified. I am convinced that both the eyewitness and the respondent witness need to bear witness to alterity in their dialogic relationships, encountering infinite otherness in themselves, in their “Museums and the Imperative of Memory: History, Sublimity, and the Divine” in their co-authored book, Between Witness and Testimony: The Holocaust and the Limits of Representation (2001). 22 experiences, and most critically, in other people for the sake of subjectivity and ethical response. Only in bearing witness to alterity, Oliver argues, can witnesses undermine oppositional relationships, power struggles, and cycles of suffering and conceive instead of peaceful or transformative interactions. As she writes: We have a responsibility to response-ability, to the ability to respond. We have an obligation not only to respond but also to respond in a way that opens up rather than closes off the possibility of response by others. . . . To serve subjectivity, and therefore humanity, we must be vigilant in our attempts to continually open and reopen the possibility of response. (Witnessing 18-19) I take Oliver to mean two things by this assertion: First, that one’s own response-ability should facilitate the response-ability of others. In taking account of subjects principally in terms of their suffering positions, our responses focus on restoring or maintaining their agency, but neglect summoning their corresponding responsibility. Vulnerable subjects must feel that they have something “to give” others (obligations to fulfil) and that the respondent witness is open to receiving their agency and not only to “giving” it. The question of how to witness vulnerable subjects, then, is principally an issue of how to respond to their address in a posture of openness toward their alterity (beyond what I can recognize about them) that facilitates their ability to respond in kind. Beyond a single address and response, dialogic subjectivity requires the perpetuation of agency and response-ability in one’s relationships with others. Second, the possibility of peace does not begin in recognizing the position of the vulnerable subject in a political context. If we simply respond to the position of subjects from within a politics of power, then our responses will be limited to power structures: even in challenging these power structures or inverting them, responsibility will still be constituted by that power and bound up in it. For the sake of peace, ethical responsibility must originally be located beyond power structures as a response to alterity (the otherness of the subject) in order to 23 transform subjects and their relationships. Responding to the other person’s alterity means opening up the possibility of conversation across political boundaries, power hierarchies, or oppositional relationships, as well as “seeing” vulnerable subjects beyond their contexts of trauma as human subjects engaging other human subjects. Beyond the response-able practice of seeing the alterity of vulnerable subjects in historical contexts and personal accounts, I argue that witnessing is a responsible way of being present with and for these subjects in one’s proximate relationships and dialogues. In order to describe this responsible way of being more precisely, I turn to the ethical philosophies of Levinas and Ricoeur. The phenomenological ethics of Levinas has come to the fore in the last few decades as a key way of thinking about ethical responsibility in continental philosophy, and less explicitly, in literary studies through the work of Jacques Derrida.16 16 Simon Critchley, in his Introduction to The Cambridge Companion to Levinas, traces this movement from Levinas’s relative obscurity until the 1980s when ethics, phenomenology, and the religious gained renewed interest in intellectual discussion (2-3). Critchley writes, “It is fair to say that in the English-speaking world many people came to Levinas through the astonishing popularity of the work of Derrida. The turn to Levinas was motivated by the question of whether deconstruction, in its Derridian or DeManian versions, had any ethical status, which in its turn was linked to a widespread renewal of interest in the place of ethics in literary studies. . . . As the theme of ethics has occupied an increasingly central place in the humanities and the social sciences, so Levinas’s work has assumed an imposing profile” (4, 5). Bettina Bergo and Richard Cohen also clearly endorse his significance in their respective works Levinas Between Ethics and Politics (1999) and Ethics, Exegesis and Philosophy: Interpretation after Levinas (2001). In the last two decades particularly, Levinas has been taken up as a way of rethinking the moral imperative in humanist discourse, and has even been read as offering a “new humanism” that privileges ethics to ontology, the alterity of others to the totalities of selfhood (Moran, Phenomenology 321). Indeed Oliver, with her background in phenomenology and her concerns about the nature and ethical possibilities of witnessing in the context of trauma, draws on the work of Levinas to describe the nature of ethical responsibility in one’s face-to-face encounters with vulnerable subjects. As she writes: 24 We could say that for Levinas the face-to-face encounter brings us into contact with the otherness that constitutes humanity—the infinite within the finite, the transcendent within the embodied, the meaning of being. This contact is not a knowing or grasping, because this otherness cannot be controlled by a subject. Yet it is this otherness through which the subject comes to be and is sustained. The face-to-face encounter . . . both grounds and presupposes discourse. As the very foundation of human life and language, the face-to- face encounter brings with it an ethical obligation and responsibility. . . . Insofar as we are constituted as subjects in our relations with others and otherness, we have an obligation to and for the other. (Witnessing 207) In his analysis of the face-to-face relationship between one person and another, Levinas introduces this specific discourse of response and responsibility as a philosophical reaction to the totalizing program of Nazism and the human suffering (including his own as a Jew) that occurred under that regime. He uses “responsibility” to describe a metaphysical or originary ethical posture toward alterity before the self can posit itself as a subject of thought or action toward others. Responsibility is first and foremost an “ethical bearing”—a particular orientation, posture, and disposition toward others prior to and enabling one’s ability to deliberate the good of certain acts or responses in a given relationship. This posture of response-ability must first of all be open and receptive to the other’s address before doing anything. Describing the ethical bearing of a responsible self before action, Levinas does not determine ethics as a particular politics or a practical guide for social interactions, but rather as an inherent human obligation toward others that underpins what we normally define as ethics—those codes, norms, and regulations for valuing certain behaviours and condemning others. Beyond any “account of general rules, principles and procedures that would allow us to assess the acceptability of specific maxims or judgments relating to social action [or] civic duty,” Levinas argues that selves have “an existential commitment” to respond to the suffering of others (Critchley, “Introduction” 27, 28). Responsibility is fundamentally a way of being oriented in regard to others. 25 Not surprisingly, in an academic milieu where the subject is defined principally in terms of politics and power, Levinas’s vision of responsibility as an ethical category of being beyond one’s subject position has perplexed if not dissuaded numerous thinkers from his ethics. However, I am convinced that while selfhood is determined and defined by one’s subject positions, ethical responsibility must ensure that selves are not reduced to the sum of their identifiable characteristics: aspects of our being always transcend our roles, capabilities, and positions in a politics of power and exceed the norms, distinctions, and regulations meant to inaugurate what it means to be human in social systems. With this in mind, my first chapter combines Levinas’s view of ethical responsibility with those of his contemporary, Ricoeur, to theorize between them this bearing or posture of an ethically responsible subject, response-able to witness the alterity of other people. Levinas and Ricoeur both explore the “ethical character of selfhood and its intimate relation to the alterity of [others],” but they formulate this intimate relation differently (Cohen, “Ricoeur” 283). Where Levinas figures this relation in terms of infinity (encountering the other person’s alterity beyond oneself), Ricoeur describes it in terms of identity (encountering alterity within oneself). For Levinas, to be ethically responsible means to respond to the sheer otherness one encounters in the faces or voices of vulnerable subjects before one attempts to grasp or represent their suffering, their lives, or their stories. To which Ricoeur adds, such a response to another’s alterity stems from the otherness one already experiences in oneself, particularly in the summons of one’s own conscience (experienced as above and beyond oneself) when encountering other people. Despite locating alterity differently in relation to the self, Levinas and Ricoeur both describe ethical responsibility as a matter of bearing witness to alterity in one’s encounter with 26 other people. From their perspectives, the ethical self is first and foremost a witness of alterity, a witness whose primary and immediate response to the other person is “here I am!” (Levinas, Otherwise than Being 145; Ricoeur, Oneself as Other 167). The expression “here I am” comes from the Jewish and Christian religious traditions, where it is used by the biblical prophets as a response to the call of the infinite Other (God). Borrowing the phrase from its religious context, Levinas describes “here I am” as the response par excellence to the alterity or infinite otherness of another person in the face of his or her suffering. As I develop it in Chapter One, “here I am” is a radical re-signification of selfhood expressed in ethical rather than ontological or political terms. Under most circumstances, I establish my being in relation to others ontologically or politically and identify myself accordingly: I am a middle-class woman; I am Canadian; I am an academic. But to determine myself ethically is to be oriented otherwise, in light of the other person, privileging his or her alterity above my own agency and redefining myself in reception and response to it: “here I am.” In this way, “here I am” is also an orientation of generosity toward the other person. I am positioned in submission, self-sacrifice, and mutual vulnerability, giving myself over in response to the summons and needs of that person. Furthermore, as Ricoeur points out, “here I am” is a response that requires conviction and commitment to sustain its posture of openness to alterity. In the best case, “here I am” is a reciprocal stance; we are responsible for one another. We are both “here” for each other, oriented toward one another in generosity, being present for one another, exchanging the roles of addressee and respondent as we go. As a signification of subjectivity otherwise than being for oneself and an orientation of generosity toward others in response to their alterity, I find “here I am” a particularly compelling concept for witnessing the alterity of another person and his or her suffering ethically. For my 27 discussion, then, I define witnessing as a “here I am” orientation, a way of being otherwise in generous response to alterity, which informs how one perceives, relates to, and narrates the lives of others. If witnessing has both the juridical connotations of testifying to that which can be seen, known, and told, and the religious connotations of bearing witness to that which cannot be seen (infinite and transcendent Otherness), then the responsible witness arguably witnesses that which is wholly other in what can be seen, known, and told of another person (Oliver 16). To be a responsible subject is to be an ethical witness of others. Witnessing Vulnerable Subjects in Relational Life Writing Redefining an ethics of responsibility in terms of witnessing “here I am” to the alterity of others, my study examines how such witnessing is borne out in narrative practices. As I see it, relational life writing is a narrative mode of witnessing particularly fruitful for seeing how ethical responsibilities function in relationships that bear witness to suffering. It emphasizes the overlapping spaces of interaction and identity between oneself and others and highlights the dialogic relationships that come to determine how one witnesses others. For this reason, I look at such narratives through the lens of a “here I am” witnessing stance and consider its nuances and complications in the actual practices of relating to and narrating the lives of vulnerable subjects. I consider, specifically, the narratives of three witnesses that emerge from different sites of oppression and suffering in the last century: the Jewish genocide in Nazi-occupied Holland, Black oppression in the United States, and Aboriginal marginalization in Canada. To what extent is a “here I am” posture of witnessing translatable in their personal, political, and narrative relationships? And further, since life writing scholars address such sites of suffering in strictly political terms, what might this alternative ethics of responsibility bring to the politics of recognition that govern our reading practices? 28 As I have already indicated, my focus in this discussion will be the position of the respondent witness as a writer of vulnerable subjects—one who bears witness to the lives and suffering of those whom they write, and one who is responsible to the particular relationship that ensues between them. Unlike a reader or listener responding to vulnerable subjects from a distance, removed from their personhood and suffering by the text, a respondent who bears witness as a narrator engages in a proximate, face-to-face relationship with them, both separated from and immersed in their ongoing suffering in the process. Scholars concerned with narrative witnessing practices in contexts of suffering have addressed this witness position of the writer in various ways. For instance, Holocaust scholarship has examined the position of the “secondary witness,” the child of trauma survivors who bears witness to his or her parents’ suffering in a familial context (Apel, Memory Effects 93). These witnesses are at a spatial and temporal remove from the event of trauma (the Holocaust) but intimately connected with their parents both in terms of identity and proximity, inheriting the memory of the event as it is transmitted to them directly in language and indirectly in kinship.17 17 Marianne Hirsch calls this “inherited memory” postmemory. Postmemory is “meant to convey its temporal and qualitative difference from survivor memory, its secondary, or second-generation memory quality, its basis in displacement, its vicariousness and belatedness. Postmemory is a powerful form of memory precisely because its connection to its object or source is mediated not through recollection but through representation, projection, and creation—often based on silence rather than speech, on the invisible rather than the visible (9). As Smith and Watson concur in “The Trouble with Autobiography” (2005), “postmemory . . . is witnessing by those who cannot offer direct witness; . . . it is the witnessing of [the] witness by children whose lives were haunted by the specter of the traumatic past and parental struggle of traumatic remembering” (369). Hirsch adds that this form of remembrance is not restricted to familial relationships or even ethnic or national community ties, but “through particular forms of identification, adoption, and projection, it can be more broadly available” (9-10). See her articles “Projected Memory: Holocaust Photographs in Personal and Public Fantasy” (1999) and “Surviving Images: Holocaust Photographs and the Work of Postmemory” (2001). Such issues as time and space—not being there then but being here now—create gaps of experience, mediations of memory, cross-generational inheritance, and processes of identification that challenge in various ways the space of the witnessing relationship, as such narratives as Lisa Appignanesi’s Losing the Dead (1999) and Anne Karpf’s The War After (1996) reveal. 29 In autobiography studies, scholars have focused on the position of the “representative subject,” a witness who stands for and speaks on behalf of his or her own community or a collective group (Gilmore, Limits of Autobiography 130). Perhaps most well known is Rigoberta Menchu’s witness account of the Quiche people in Guatemala, I Rigoberta Menchu (1984), winning her the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992. Notably, “standing for” others requires respondent witnesses to “stand apart” from their personal or extended communities in order to interpret the group and themselves within it. From this stance, witnesses may critically assess the very groups with which they associate and to which they are deeply committed in their writing. Along similar lines is the witness position of the ethnographer, who speaks on behalf of others in marginalized communities, often writing conjunctively with its members. Native or Aboriginal narratives in North America are often written in this way; the witness attempts to bring together the two disparate cultures in dialogue through his or her own mediating process. Two of the most well known in Western Canada are the ethnographies, My Stories are My Wealth (1997) and Life Lived Like a Story: Life stories of three Yukon Native Elders as told to Julie Cruikshank (1990). Scholars in autobiography have also focused directly on the role of the “narrative collaborator” as a witness writing directly with and/or for vulnerable subjects (Couser, Vulnerable Subjects 36; Eakin, Lives 58). Collaboration refers to a partnership between two people in the process of telling one life story. Overtly relational and dialogic, collaboration sometimes takes the form of “one member [supplying] the ‘life’ while the other provides the ‘writing’,” as in The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965) written by Alex Haley (Couser 36). In more recent collaborations, the narrative attention has centred on the relationship itself as it is seen and told from the perspective of the writer. Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie (1997) and Art Spiegelman’s Maus (1986, 1991) are cases in point. These respondent witnesses telling 30 “the story of the story” must negotiate between the equality of both members in the collaborative relationship and the authority that inevitably attends their role as writers (Eakin, Lives 176). Such a relational space, as Couser, Eakin, and Egan have observed, is fraught with the dilemmas of power, over-identification, and misappropriation in the narrative process and production, particularly with vulnerable subjects. Witnessing the lives of others in narrative form, as these various respondent positions all affirm, is a practice of writing with, for, on behalf of, or by means of proximate vulnerable subjects through the process of relating and dialoguing with them. If witnessing is a dialogic act that occurs in the relational space between two people, then in its most basic terms the ethics of responsibility for the respondent witness refers to an ability to attend to and respond to others on the basis of their shared relationship and a practice of navigating the relational space between them in narrative form as an outworking of that ability. In these processes, however, the respondent witness is placed in a situation of hazard and struggle, Gillian Whitlock observes, “at the same time a witness to the trauma witness and a witness to himself” (“Second Person” 199). In their dialogue, he or she is located in the position of being respondent and narrator, listener and speaker at the same time. In their relationship, he or she is obligated to negotiate the proximity and intimacy between them with the difference of their respective experiences, between what can be seen, known, and told, and what cannot (Oliver, Witnessing 16). Witnessing vulnerable subjects thus emphasizes the ethical dilemmas that attend these spaces of relation and narration: How is the witness to navigate the relationship in order to respond ethically to the other person in representing and narrating his or her life? What kind of interaction and identification is ethically responsible? How is the witness to negotiate between a proximate relationship with the other person and the distance between their disparate 31 experiences? What can be told about others and how should their lives be represented? And how do the witness’s responsibilities shift depending on his or her respondant position, the type of the witnessing relationship, and the nature of the other person’s suffering? In order to approach these practical problems of relating in bearing witness to vulnerable subjects, I limit my examination to those narratives in which respondent witnesses relate the other’s story at close range, what Dominick LaCapra calls “the microsocial and interpersonal level” (History and Memory 9). The practices of ethical witnessing are most demanded and demanding in the proximate and immediate relationships between family members, within communities, and across communities. The ethical challenge as I see it is less in the witnessing of “past injustices” or “human crimes” in other places than in “[taking] responsibility for what’s [actually] before our eyes,” as Nancy Miller and Jason Tougaw so fittingly put it (5). Each of the three respondent-witnesses whose narratives I examine in this study—Etty Hillesum, John Howard Griffin, and Rudy Wiebe—are deeply connected to the vulnerable subjects they witness by proximity, identification, and relationship, but they are also located at various removes from these subjects. Their works reveal that the practice of witnessing “others” responsibly is a complicated navigation of relational and narrative space. I argue that each narrative exhibits the ethical possibilities of a “here I am” orientation toward these others. Indeed, Hillesum, Griffin, and Wiebe seem especially attuned to alterity on account of their positions of faith in a divine Other: witnessing what “cannot be seen” in faith deeply motivates them to respond ethically to the alterity of other people. And yet, even as they attempt a “here I am” orientation, their abilities to respond to and address the vulnerable subjects they witness are fraught with dilemmas of identity, relationship, and representation that challenge their dialogue and encumber their responsible interactions. 32 In Chapter Two, I address this practice of witnessing from within the context of the Holocaust, examining Etty Hillesum’s 1941-1943 journals and letters collected and published posthumously as An Interrupted Life (1983) and Letters from Westerbork (1986). Looking at the specific site of trauma that inspired Levinas’s ethical postulation of “here I am” in the first place, I determine three particular ways in which a “here I am” subjectivity bears out in verb form as a practice of witnessing: responsible witnessing is a cognitive matter of bearing the other in mind, a representational issue of bearing the other in language, and an embodied practice of bearing the other in person. Deeply informed by her Jewish mysticism and determined to help her fellow Jews as a member of the Jewish council in Amsterdam, Hillesum bears witness to personal and collective suffering under Nazism from within her own Jewish community in radically response- able ways. Her journal can be seen as embodying a Levinasian ethic, fleshing out an orientation of generosity in thinking otherwise about her fellow Jews and Nazi oppressors alike. She comes to “stand for” a small intellectual and mystical community within the larger community of Dutch Jews in Amsterdam and Westerbork, critically addressing what she sees as Jewish complicity in their own oppression. At the same time, she attempts to invert the power hierarchies implicit in standing for others by sacrificing herself to share in the suffering of her Jewish community, engaging generously in her personal and proximate relationships, and re-envisioning her experiences of suffering in her writing. I explore both the possibilities and complications of her “here I am” witnessing stance as she reveals it in her narrative. In Chapters Three and Four, I examine two other witnessing positions in response to vulnerable subjects: witnessing for others as revealed in John Howard Griffin’s ethnographic journal, Black Like Me (1961), and witnessing with others as seen in Rudy Wiebe and Yvonne Johnson’s collaborative narrative, Stolen Life: The Journey of a Cree Woman (1998). In these 33 two chapters, I consider what kind of reciprocal dialogue and responsibility might ensue in such relational stories “told of and by someone else” (Eakin, Lives 58). Griffin and Wiebe are both positioned at a greater experiential remove from the suffering lives they witness than Hillesum is. Indeed, not only do they belong to non-oppressed communities, they belong to the very communities that have oppressed and marginalized the subjects they witness. By this fact, both writers do not merely have to deal with the ordinary difficulties of negotiating a relational and narrative space between themselves and the subjects they witness, they must also contend with the problems of power and guilt that attend their dominant subject positions. These two chapters consider how these issues complicate their respective witnessing practices. To this end, I focus expressly on the fact that both Griffin and Wiebe count themselves as perpetrators (by proxy) of the oppression they witness. They are “secondary witnesses” of a sort—those who have inherited the perpetration of their ancestors or their communities and implicitly bear the prevailing attitudes of racism (against Blacks and against the Cree respectively) maintained by these communities in the US and Canada at the time of their publication. Driven in part by their religious sensibilities, they both assume the burden of guilt for their complicit role in belonging to a culture of oppression. As I experienced a similar sense of guilt for my German heritage in bearing witness to Rhodea Shandler, I am particularly interested in the ways one’s association with collective perpetration and guilt affect one’s ability to witness another’s story and suffering, and explore this question most explicitly in Wiebe’s collaborative relationship with Johnson. For Griffin and Wiebe the assumption of guilt motivates responsible witnessing: they are both opened by it and respond by embodying generosity to those whom they witness (collectively and interpersonally) in their respective narrative processes and by moving toward 34 dialogue and racial reconciliation through their specific relationships with “the other.” However, both narratives reveal that an assumption of guilt also heightens the challenge of negotiating the relational and narrative space between the respondent witness and vulnerable subject. It can turn the witness inward causing him to identify himself too closely with the other’s suffering or assume too much responsibility for the other’s life and story. In Chapter Three I analyze Griffin’s struggle with over-identification in his attempt to negotiate between himself and “the other” in his temporary passing for Black. And in Chapter Four I examine Wiebe’s struggle with over-responsibility in taking on Johnson’s case as an advocate for her social and juridical justice. In both cases, the possibilities for reciprocal dialogue between witness and vulnerable subject are impeded by the witness’s eagerness to right the collective wrongs of his community and cultivate justice and equality for the oppressed. Between the life narratives of these three respondent witnesses, my hope is to glean a better sense of the transformative possibilities of ethical responsibility in sites of political and personal oppression, as well as the relational and dialogic dilemmas that emerge for witnessing vulnerable subjects in narrative form. To set the stage, however, I begin with a chapter examining the philosophical work of Levinas and Ricoeur on the subject of ethical responsibility and witnessing alterity. 35 Ethical Bearing: Tracing an Ethics of Responsibility through the Philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas and Paul Ricoeur My principle objective in this chapter is to formulate a nuanced conception of ethical responsibility to bring to bear on life narratives that witness vulnerable subjects. Through the philosophies of Emmanuel Levinas and Paul Ricoeur, I argue that ethical responsibility is an “existential commitment” to others that underpins and informs our politics of recognition, theories of justice, moral imperatives, and activities of response in our relationships with others (Critchley 28). As Levinas depicts it, responsibility is an intersubjective obligation to others preceding that which we normally define as ethics: those rules, principles, and procedures of judgment that determine what kinds of social interaction and action are good to do. Levinas postulates responsibility as the ethical bearing or orientation of a relational subject toward others that determines our responses to them and witness of them. Indeed, both Levinas and Ricoeur are concerned with what kind of being and ethical bearing informs how we live, what we do, and how we interact with other people in the world. Drawing from their work, I contend that neither political action nor social interaction is in and of itself ethical and that constituting ethics purely in these terms results in an impoverished understanding of it. Any specific altruistic activity involved in witnessing others, such as recognition, empathy, identification, social justice, listening, or giving agency, can only be judged “on the grounds of the intentionality at work in them” (Davies 18).18 18 By intentionality, I do not here mean one’s “will,” that pre-meditated, objective, cognizant decision toward doing good, but rather, that which motivates one to move outside oneself toward others, such as divine or human alterity. While this motivation may include one’s own ethical intent toward others, it does so in the sense of intentionally opening oneself toward others. Oliver Davies in his ambitious and broad-ranging book, A Theology of Compassion (2001), describes ethical bearing as “other-centred intentionality,” arguing that any altruistic actions are only virtuous as they are directed outward toward others and function outside calculated (or uncalculated) self-interest. Direction and intention of the self, rather than practicing a particular action or interaction, determines whether one is ethical or not. Notably, this description of intention is different from Levinas’s view of it. He regards intentionality in the form of Husserl’s intentional consciousness, in which the intentions of a perceiving consciousness are rooted That is to say, 36 bearing witness is first and foremost an ethically responsible “bearing” toward others—a particular orientation and disposition of the self toward alterity prior to and enabling one’s deliberation on the good of certain responses toward others. One’s bearing toward others essentially shapes the space between oneself and others and motivates ethically responsible action with and for others. My goal, then, is to draw on the perspectives of Levinas and Ricoeur in order to theorize this bearing of an ethically responsible subject and to consider what it might mean for autobiography scholars to take this conception of ethical subjectivity into account in their analyses of responsible witnessing relationships. Levinas and Ricoeur both explore the ethical character of subjectivity in its intimate relation to the alterity of other people and formulate an other-centred ethics of responsibility in the process (Cohen, “Ricoeur” 283). However, they give alternative and even opposing accounts of this responsibility. Levinas constitutes the responsible subject as passive and subjected to the alterity of others in order to challenge what he sees as the human tendency to grasp, appropriate, or totalize others from a position of power and agency. Ricoeur reveals a different impulse and direction of responsibility. He suggests that the self is inherently constituted by alterity (oneself as another) and thereby insists that the responsible subject is an agent of responsibility, free to decide the good and capable of ethical activity toward others. Their differing viewpoints highlight the philosophical variations that underpin contemporary notions of ethical responsibility and reveal the difficulty in pinning down a definition of this term, as it depends on how one first constitutes selfhood, subjectivity, alterity, human nature, and the good. At the same time, however, Levinas’s phenomenology of otherness and Ricoeur’s phenomenology of selfhood reveal what I see as the two sides of ethical bearing involved in witnessing others: in “accumulated knowledge of experience” (Smith, Introduction xvii). For Levinas, intentional consciousness is insufficient for describing the intersubjective relation between oneself and others. 37 passive subjection and active agency. Both are necessary for responsible human relationships and cannot be separated as mutually exclusive. Alterity and agency must inform each other. My primary task, then, is to examine this ethical bearing between Levinas and Ricoeur and how it functions as a constitution of subjectivity. Toward this end I examine two things in turn. First, I address ethical bearing in its social sense: the dialogic, relational, and intersubjective constitution of selfhood in relation to other selves. Only when one perceives oneself as intrinsically relational (because of one’s social situatedness in the world) and extrinsically relational (in one’s dialogues with other people) can ethical responsibility occur. As long as one functions as a self-referential rather than relational self, one attempts an identity outside ethical responsibility. While ethical bearing is presupposed in a conception of self as relational, a relational self is not automatically an ethical self who functions responsibly in social relationships. Because a relational and dialogic self provides the space but not the impetus for ethical response, I move from social bearing (one’s position with others) to responsible bearing (one’s disposition toward others). In the philosophies of Levinas and Ricoeur, responsible bearing is drawn from Jewish and Christian theology as one’s orientation and response to the divine Other. The formation of an ethical subject is constituted in relation to God. The ethical response par excellence that emerges from this bearing is “here I am,” a response which testifies or witnesses to that which is wholly other, outside and beyond oneself, and exceeding the regulating norms, ethical formulas, and value-laden constructions of what it means to be human and engage with other people. How does this witness, contingent on the divine Other and the place of the self in that relationship, translate to one’s relationships with other people? What might it mean to have an ethical bearing in 38 relation to others beyond the identity markers and behaviours habitually used to describe an ethics of responsibility? With its focus on the constitution of the subject rather than the virtues he or she practices, continental philosophy relies on biblical law and religious illustrations to establish their positions of the Other, otherness, and the self’s responsible relation to others, positions that have been adopted in and for secular contexts and socio-political agendas.19 Social Bearing and Intersubjectivity Assuming that an ethical bearing toward the divine Other can be translated as responsibility toward other people, I ask how a “here I am” bearing and response is relevant for the social interaction and political action addressed in autobiography studies, particularly in witnessing a suffering, vulnerable subject. Specifically, how does “here I am” function as both a universal response that can be taken to any context and a particular act of bearing witness to each individual person, which I propose as the complicated but necessary practical response to the lives (both lived and narrated) of others? Rather than offer a prescriptive ethics for witnessing others, this chapter will focus on the possibilities of an ethics of responsibility in light of the complexities of ethical bearing and the intricacies involved in navigating the relational space between oneself and another. In my introduction, I indicated that all life writing presupposes a model of selfhood, a way of conceiving and representing the self in narrative form (Eakin, Touching the World 77). In the last two decades of autobiography scholarship, the pronoun “I” has ceased to mean the “first” person or the singular, and instead refers to a self who is interconnected with others through language, whose being is constituted relationally with and by means of other people. All selves, as we 19 For a discussion of Levinas’s origins of “the Other” in Jewish and Christian theology of the early twentieth- century, see Samuel Moyn’s Origins of the Other: Emmanuel Levinas between Revelation and Ethics (2005). Moyn traces Levinas’s ethical philosophy and language of otherness through to its theological underpinnings. From his perspective, a secular or humanist ethics in Western philosophy cannot be constituted without recourse to theology. 39 understand them, are relational (Eakin, Lives; Miller, “Representing Others”), dialogic (Egan, Mirror Talk), and intersubjective (Smith and Watson, Reading Autobiography). With this in mind, I have come to wonder what, precisely, the link is between a self constituted as relational and the ways in which that self functions ethically in actual relationships with other people. We have carefully examined the self as intersubjective and dialogic, grappling with the questions, “Who am I?” and “What is an autobiographical identity?” in relation to other people and their stories, but such inquiries have not adequately approached the questions, “How should I be with others?” and “How do I determine this ‘should be’ in ways that may exceed the values and norms dictated within a given society?” In order to gain a fuller understanding of ethical being, it is not enough simply to determine the self in relation to others; we must also inquire how selves are oriented toward others within these relationships. As David Parker has persuasively argued, the self is not located in relational space without also being located in moral space with some set of ethical bearings: an orientation toward one’s own life and the lives of others directed by the question, “What is it good to be?” (Moral Space 2). How should a relational self relate to others? How should one negotiate the relational space between oneself and another? The question of selves in relationship both necessitates and determines the question of ethics. One’s ethical bearing or orientation toward others is directly influenced by one’s intersubjectivity in the world. I do not use “intersubjectivity” here in the Foucauldian sense, where subjects are always necessarily subjected to discourse, to other people, and to regulating norms and disciplinary regimes (both external and internalized) for self-constitution and orientation (Butler, Psychic Life 32).20 20 While being very aware of the pervasive role power plays in the formation of subjects, I do not describe intersubjectivity principally as a discursive category or a site for analyzing power relations between human subjects and institutional powers. Rather than use power as the dominating discourse for examining the relational and dialogic space between people and the way selves constitute themselves in and through those relationships, I want to Rather, I define intersubjectivity in its broadest sense, as 40 the intrinsic relationships between one person and another or the space shared by two or more people, in which a question of ethical orientation is shaped by but not reduced to questions of power. The connection between intersubjectivity and ethics posed in autobiography studies is rooted in philosophical discussions that far predate our recent concerns about relational identity and power dynamics. Intersubjectivity enjoyed huge philosophical and theological debate in Germany during the interwar period (1930s), and has implicitly informed much of our contemporary thinking on relationality and ethics. Backtracking to these early discussions of intersubjectivity as encountered by Levinas and re-interpreted by Ricoeur, I want to contextualize intersubjectivity philosophically as well as examine how these two thinkers envision the relationship between self and other (and with others in community) as that which shapes ethical responsibility toward others. With theologian Karl Lowith, I believe that intersubjectivity determines one’s individual interactions with others, whether ethical or unethical. As he writes in The Individual and the Role of Fellow Man (1928): The structure of relationships in human life stems from the fact that men relate to one another, and this relation implies a foundational human way of being, i.e., an ‘Ethos,’ which is the original theme of ethics. . . . The ethos of man defines the meaning and attitude of relationships in human life, whether it is obligating or liberating and whether it is moral or immoral. (qtd. in Moyn 76) Intersubjectivity (one’s self with and by means of others) opens the space for ethical bearing (one’s orientation toward others). If I already am in relationship with others by the fact that I exist, then how am I to be relational? Being relational is thus defined by these two interconnected elements: a social, intersubjective element answering the question, “What am I?” and an ethical element, answering the question, “How am I?” Together, social and ethical suggest that ethics is an equally viable and potentially less oppressive starting point from which to examine human relationality. 41 bearing informs our interactions with others, functioning as a necessary precursor to responsible human relationships. While this may be true, a relational subject does not naturally or necessarily relate ethically to other people, despite being relationally and ethically constituted to do so. I can be responsible for something or someone without acting responsibly. In the words of Robert Gibbs, my relational and ethical bearing is “independent of whether I act [or interact] ethically or not” (Why Ethics? 3). In making such a statement, Gibbs distinguishes between the ethical capability of bearing a responsibility (in being relationally constituted) and the “corresponding responsive performance” (3). This distinction is critical for nuancing the concept of responsibility for life writing. Particularly in examining the narratives of suffering and vulnerable subjects where the language of ethics comes to the fore, we tend to focus on the responsive performances of relational subjects as the basis for ethical responsibility, asking: What is it right to do? (Parker, Moral Space 2). The questions of truth-telling, representing others, judging others, invading privacy, exerting power over others, listening, helping others tell their stories, and encouraging counter-stories all deal with responsive performances. However, as I have just suggested, we have not attended to the ethical bearing undergirding these responsive performances: How is it good to be? (3). How one answers this question of orientation will determine one’s actions or lack of them. While a self constituted as relational may not necessarily engage with others ethically, a self conceived relationally with others arguably has more potential for ethical interaction and action than a self conceived of as autonomous or opposed to others. Kelly Oliver has argued that how we conceive of others in relation to us directly influences how we treat them (Witnessing 3). I would add further, that how we are intrinsically positioned (intersubjectively) with others and how we are oriented in relation toward them (subjectively) also determines our 42 interactions and our actions. How then, according to Levinas and Ricoeur, are we positioned intersubjectively from an ethical perspective? How is one to be oriented with and toward others? Intersubjectivity in Phenomenology Philosophical historian Samuel Moyn observes two competing views of intersubjectivity in the 1930s when Levinas enters the philosophical dialogue in Germany: a fully secular but not clearly moral theory of intersubjectivity as reflected in the thought of Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger, and a version of intersubjectivity “that vindicated morality only by reverting to theology” (57). Both Levinas and Ricoeur lean toward the latter, closely aligning intersubjectivity with an ethics rooted in theology. Because our current paradigms of intersubjectivity grow out of and challenge the views of Husserl and Heidegger, it is worth briefly looking at them before turning to the ways they have been taken up by Levinas and Ricoeur. Husserl poses the question of intersubjectivity in Cartesian Meditations as the problem of experiencing another person: How does one understand, constitute, or experience others?21 To answer his own question, Husserl describes the way others appear to one’s consciousness as phenomena and represents intersubjectivity as those relationships with others rooted in analogy and empathy.22 21 In his words, “What about other egos, who surely are not a merely intending and intended in me, merely synthetic unities of possible verification in me, but, according to their sense, precisely others?” (89). In order to engage with others at all, he determines, I must constitute them as “alter-egos,” analogous to me or just like me (Cartestian Meditations 94). At the same time, the 22 Phenomenology, at least as it is articulated by Husserl, refers to the way the mind perceives and makes meaning of the concrete world (phenomena) or how the world and my experiences of it appear in consciousness: “It aims at describing man’s being or existing—not his nature” (Levinas, Ethics and Infinity 40). Ricoeur calls it Husserl’s “phenomenology of perception” (Recognition 154). Husserl argues that we cannot get to “things in themselves” (nature) but we can describe how things appear to us (subjectively) and how we create meaning out of our perceptions according to our bearing in the world. If philosophy can be defined as “the knowledge of what is,” phenomenology is concerned with the questions, “how is what is?” or “what does it mean that it is” (Levinas, Ethics and Infinity 31)? 43 other is not my ego, but “other than me, in the exclusive sense of the term” (Ricoeur, Recognition 156). While I apprehend another person with a body similar to my own, the original, primordial aspects of that person cannot be grasped: their actual lived experiences remain other to me, a gap in my experience. I may understand others in terms of association by relating them to myself through living in the same world, but I always recognize an alien aspect to others presented in this similarity. Empathy, for Husserl, reveals this tension. Empathy is an experience of that which is foreign but not unrecognizable. We cannot directly experience the pain of another person; we can only intuit it by our own experiences of pain. Through analogy (like me) and empathy (different from me), Husserl grounds intersubjectivity in the subject’s consciousness, examining how the other is constituted and experienced by me or for me (Moran 178). He situates this conscious, perceiving subject in an intersubjective world, suggesting a similar paradigm of interactive analogy and empathy on a communal scale. To those others in my community (we), I am oriented in terms of reciprocal analogy: I experience them for myself just as they experience me for themselves. At the same time, we are not just “for ourselves,” we also exist as mutual beings for one another (Husserl 129). To those others in the world (them), I am oriented in terms of empathy: we hold the same “life-world” and their community is imaginable to me, but they exist in an alien cultural community (135). My understanding of myself becomes the position from which to understand my relationship with others, as we are situated in the same world. This positioning (from self to other) becomes Husserl’s paradigm for understanding myself in relation to all others and my community in relation to other communities. 44 Martin Heidegger is critical of this vision of intersubjectivity. One of the main problems he finds in Husserl’s thinking is that the ego does not exceed consciousness: what exists is only what my consciousness perceives, constitutes, and intuits of the world outside. The ego represents a solitary existence of self-consciousness, existing with other egos, but principally located in itself: “Nothing comes from outside into the ego; rather everything outside is what it is already within the inside” (Moran 178).23 Despite his understanding of being as “co-being” (or relational being) and in foregrounding the social bonds of being in the world, Heidegger’s intersubjectivity remains In contrast, Heidegger posits the ego (Dasein) as a concrete and finite being in the world who is with others (Mitsein) in its very constitution. For him, the subject is always first located immanently, finitely, and concretely with other people in the world before it is conscious of itself as a thinking, perceiving, and intuiting ego. “The world,” he writes, “is always already what I share with others” (Being and Time 118). Frustrated with a metaphysical phenomenology that he sees as solipsistic (being that can only be experienced through my consciousness), Heidegger argues that the intersubjective world is prior to a subjective one: I am in the world before I can consciously constitute myself and others in that world (Moyn 63). If the self exists and is constituted by means of others before being conscious of it, then “others are not encountered by grasping and previously discriminating one’s own subject . . . [or] by first looking at oneself and then ascertaining the opposite pole of distinction” (Heidegger 119). Rather than grasping others by reflecting on the self, being with others is precisely what it means to be a self. In Heidegger’s words, “being-with existentially determines Da-sein even when an other is not factically present and perceived” (120). Whether I am alone or not, my finite being is by means of others. 23 Levinas, in his short article, “On Intersubjectivity: Notes on Merleau-Ponty,” claims that in the phenomenological theory of subjectivity, “it is always the knowledge of the alter ego that breaks egological isolation,” which suggests that other people are accessible to the ego only through the ego’s prior knowledge of others and itself (101). 45 conceptual and non-ethical. He does not seriously address intersubjectivity in actual, concrete situations of being with others fraught with the problem, “How should one be in relationship?” Nor does he explain why some social positions, such as being-against or being-indifferent, are more deficient than other forms of being with others (121). Being-with is a location of self prior to consciousness, and consequently, prior to thinking about how one should be in terms of moral attitude, positioning, and behaviour. His point is to show that to think most accurately about Being is to consider beings as they actually exist in the world in relation to others not as it should be nor how it could be constituted otherwise.24 In autobiography studies, we tend to think about intersubjectivity and ethics somewhere between Heidegger’s being-with others in the world and Michel Foucault’s discourses of power. In both cases ethics is secondary to being, and defined as the norms that regulate beings or the behaviours valued as good in Western society. Ethics becomes a derivative “issue” to the questions of power or economics, simply a problem that occurs “where there is a substantial differential between partners in power or wealth” (Couser, Vulnerable Subjects 41). This view of Ethics, then, is not an intrinsic aspect of being before thinking about it, but is determined by beings after thinking about it. Dasein may ponder ethics but is not determined by ethics. In this way, Heidegger does not frame being-with others as an ethical category but as an ontological one. Being-with others is significant only as it refers to being itself, “an answer to the question concerning the who of everyday Dasein” (Theunissen 172). While such beings may be constituted by means of others, Dasein is nonetheless concerned with itself for its own sake. 24 From this perspective, Heidegger offers a kind of “ethics of interpretation” in terms of thinking and questioning, opening up ourselves, our presuppositions, and our representations of Being in order to listen to how Being reveals itself. Such thinking is meant to destabilize the totalities of philosophical knowledge and onto-theology and foreground the need to listen to the being given and to open up the same to the “other” by means of questioning. For a discussion on Heidegger’s “genuine thinking” as a form of ethical questioning and debunking of metaphysical and onto-theological traditions in philosophy, see Richard Cohen’s introduction to Levinas’s Ethics and Infinity (1-15), henceforth referred to as EI. 46 ethics is evident in Eakin’s collection of essays, The Ethics of Life Writing (2004), wherein ethics refers to a set of imperatives for right action in writing the stories of selves and others: telling the truth, representing oneself and others responsibly, and respecting the rights and privacies of others. For Eakin, ethics also refers to the necessity of telling counter-stories and listening to others who resist master-narratives, stories that challenge our formulations of power and identity. Because we tend to constitute intersubjectivity in terms of ontology (systems of thinking about being) and power, we relegate ethics to a derivative position in our discourses about relationality. What might it mean instead to position ethics as the root of intersubjectivity, and determine ontology and power from this alternative starting point? Levinas suggests such a move in posing ethics as a “first philosophy” (“Ethics as First Philosophy” 76). He turns the presupposition “ontology determines ethics” on its head by suggesting instead that “ethics conditions ontology” and by extension, complicates systems of power (Cohen, “Introduction” 9). Shifting the focus from ontology to ethics, he argues that the question of how to be with others is not principally a question of Being at all but a question of otherness or alterity. Levinas sees his work primarily as a response to the centrality of being in Heidegger’s phenomenology and to his conception of “being-with” as solely an ontological category. While Levinas upholds Heidegger’s phenomenological method in his concern with concrete situations and the questions, “How is what is?” or “What does it mean that it is?” (EI 31), Levinas argues that the problem with Heidegger’s philosophy is that his conception of being for its own sake (being-for-itself) constantly takes centre stage.25 25 While Heidegger criticizes Husserl for his conception of being as solipsistic, Levinas criticizes Heidegger for his conception of being as equally solipsistic in its focus on being for its own sake in being with others. “In Heidegger,” Levinas observes, “the ethical relation, Miteinandersein, being-with-another, is only one moment of our presence in the world. It does not have the central place. Mit is always being next to. . . . It is not 47 in the first instance the face,” that is, the alterity revealed in the faces of other people (“Philosophy, Justice, and Love” 177). Levinas’ goal in response to Heidegger, then, is to destabilize the primacy and totality of Being in his study of human intersubjectivity and to posit ethics as the originary impulse of intersubjective bearing. In the process, he radically reconstitutes relationality outside established categories of what it means to be a self, codes of conduct, and institutional laws, focusing instead on that which is other than these systems. He finds the substance for these views not in phenomenology, however, but in biblical metaphors, Jewish mysticism, and Christian theology. Religious Intersubjectivity Levinas relies on a theological conception of alterity to propose an ethics centred on “the other” that exists prior to prescriptions of how to act in relationships (“Proximity” 213). He is particularly inspired by the biblical text as words that reveal a non-totalizing relationship with alterity (God) before its imposition within a religious system or translated into doctrine.26 One of Levinas’ main influences in this area is the Jewish religious thinker, Martin Buber.27 26 Notably, Levinas does not promote religious institutions in his support of biblical ethics. Religious doctrines or institutions, Levinas argues, totalize the bible. Instead he sees the biblical as belonging to a founding experience, before philosophy (EI 23-4). In signalling the biblical influence on Levinas, I have not begun to do justice to the complexity of their relationship. For further analysis see Jeffrey Bloechl’s edited collection of essays in The Face of the Other and The Trace of God (2000) and Oona Ajzenstat’s Driven Back to the Text: The Premodern Sources of Levinas’s Postmodernism (2001). Ajzenstat also traces the Kabbalah mystic tradition in Levinas’s thought, a direction that I do not consider in this chapter. Buber, in his rendering of the “I-Thou” relationship, shows an “original sociality” invoked by God (the 27 Other religious thinkers have also explicitly influenced Levinas’s thought, including Franz Rosenzweig and Gabriel Marcel. The current religious thought of the day, including the Protestant views of Karl Barth and Karl Lowith, introduce the concept of “otherness” as well as the other as transcendent. According to Moyn, otherness does not emerge from a secular ethical discourse, but “from the thoroughgoing revolution in Weimar-era theology” (12). He further observes, “Levinas’s conception of ethics as interpersonal encounter . . . is quite simply unthinkable except against the modern recasting of revelation as subjective experience and the Weimar-era understanding of revelation as interpersonal encounter” (12). It is critical to our understanding of Levinas’s ethics that we see the theological origins of “alterity” as describing the transcendent and infinite Other. These terms, most often used in the secular cultural context of conflict, marginalization, and domination are conceptually borrowed from religious thought, and we would do well to keep these origins in mind so as to interpret intersubjectivity according to its full range of meaning and consider what theology brings to secular intersubjectivity in the realm of ethics. 48 Eternal Thou), whose invocation or call opens up a dimension of relationality that preconditions “the meeting of a human Thou” (Levinas, “Martin Buber” 21). Using divine intersubjectivity as a conceptual starting point, Levinas describes human relationships in which the other is positioned as first and above oneself (Smith, “Introduction” xxi). Aspects of the Eternal Thou, particularly transcendence and infinity (outside and beyond a knowing self) who gives himself to be encountered and who initiates an encounter through his call in language, are all aspects that Levinas extends to human intersubjectivity.28 Of particular importance to Levinas is Buber’s concrete mode through which this relation is accomplished: that is, through language and dialogue (Buber, I and Thou 103, 104). The space between oneself and another is negotiated through language. The words that take place between us make a relational encounter possible. Through language, Levinas argues, the alterity of the other person (his complete otherness) remains intact and initiates ethical relations. Other thinkers like Gabriel Marcel disagree with Buber’s position, arguing instead that the bodily encounter between oneself and another is deeper and prior to any word. While quite aware of this perspective, Levinas opts for the word of the other person as the originary relation that requires Rather than see another person as an “it” rooted in one’s own knowledge and construed as an object, Levinas asserts that interhuman relations reflect the theological encounter: the approach of one person to another addressed as Thou (“Proximity” 213). Thou is “absolutely other” and thus requires a relation with me beyond the way I experience, perceive, or know him or her for myself (“Martin Buber” 29). 28 Levinas’s intersubjectivity is directly shaped by the discourse of “the Other” and a conception of “ethics as an interpersonal encounter” emerging from Weimar-era theology. Thinkers like Karl Barth envisioned God as a transcendent Other who reveals himself through revelation as an interpersonal encounter, a language that Levinas comes to adopt and adapt for addressing one’s social encounters with others (Moyn 12). 49 ethical response and brings the possibility of peace to human relations, despite the problems that language—itself a system of thought and power—may pose for ethical intersubjectivity.29 While he relies on Buber’s I-Thou intersubjectivity and dialogue as the originary social relation, Levinas nonetheless argues that Buber does not take his I-Thou relationship far enough to be truly ethical. I and Thou are in a reciprocal relationship, equal within an economy of exchange: “Buber says that when I say ‘Thou,’ I know that I am saying ‘Thou’ to someone who is an I, and that he says ‘Thou’ to me. Consequently . . . I am to the other what the other is to me” (“Proximity” 213). Buber’s vision is not ethical enough for Levinas in that it does not give Thou (the other) centre stage, but suggests a reciprocal sharing of the stage between oneself and others. Reciprocity is a problem for Levinas because he sees it as undermining the essence of human generosity: “Relation no longer arises from generosity but from the commercial relation, from the exchange of proper procedures” (213). From this perspective, Levinas proposes an intersubjectivity that is intrinsically asymmetrical and non-reciprocal, completely other-focused. The other cannot both be equal to me in reciprocity and above and beyond me, as wholly and infinitely other. Thou must be “absolutely other” in every respect. 29 Levinas suggests the possibility of peace through language. Peace begins in my word, “hello” (shalom), in which I involve myself in another’s life (“Humanity is Biblical” 80). Speech consists in welcoming another person, who is not reduced to objective thought, but overflows the limits of knowledge and representation. In contrast to this description of language as peace, Marcel views language or dialogue as that which objectifies others: “A principle of alienation, language petrifies living communication: it is precisely in speaking that we pass most easily from ‘Thou’ to ‘He’ and to ‘It’—objectifying others” (“Martin Buber” 27). In Marcel’s view, there must be a kind of incarnational (bodily) participation between oneself and others before language, what Levinas describes as “an intersubjective nexus deeper than language” (27). My body is situated between my inner self and others. In bodily form, I participate with others even before I speak, or despite the fact that I speak. Dialogue thus appears to have ethical potential or relational detriment depending on how one construes the possibility of language. Dialogue invites peace but may provoke war if it functions to objectify others (hence Louis Althusser’s view of intersubjective power and control through language). Indeed, bodily participation with others before language or despite language can be constituted in much the same way—as ethically potent or relationally detrimental. Judith Butler, in Precarious Life, suggests that the body is vulnerable, exposed to the gaze and touch of others. Touch has as much potential as language to be violent or to be loving (26). My body relates me to others, both those others whom I choose, and those “who I do not choose to have in proximity to myself” (26). Consequently, it appears that neither intersubjectivity rooted in dialogue nor intersubjectivity rooted in bodily participation is intrinsically ethical or necessarily results in ethical behaviour. 50 Alterity and Intersubjectivity With absolute otherness as his basis, Levinas’s intersubjectivity is defined by difference and separation between oneself and another. In one sense, this necessary difference comes in response to his interpretation of Buber’s reciprocity. If reciprocity implies that the self and the other are interchangeable or that their equality erases alterity, then the ethical response of generosity for others—giving oneself for another without receiving something in return—is impeded (“Proximity” 213). In another sense, and more fundamental to Levinas’s thought, this necessary difference comes as a response to the Western philosophical tradition’s privileging of human knowledge and Heidegger’s ontological reduction of otherness to “the same” in being for-itself. Levinas contests the philosophical partiality to knowledge in conceiving of one’s relation to others. To begin with the “I” who approaches others by means of knowledge results in objectifying or thematizing others as “things” under my power. As Levinas sees it, “the rigorous development of knowledge led to the fullest consciousness of self. To think being is to think on one’s own scale, to coincide with oneself,” and to reduce oneself and others to objects of one’s own consciousness (“Martin Buber” 30). The philosophical arrogance of placing thinking being at the centre of the world expresses itself concretely and politically as a system enclosed in itself and for itself. This “being for-itself,” Levinas argues, “takes dramatic form in egoisms struggling with one another, each against all, in the multiplicity of allergic egoisms which are at war with one another” (Otherwise than Being 4).30 30 Henceforth Otherwise than Being will be referred to as OTB. He points to National Socialism as the horrifying extreme of such being. To construct a system of being for itself totalizes the other. It subsumes alterity into similitude, others into selfhood, and one’s encounters with others into a system of knowledge or even a “final solution.” Thus, a model of intersubjectivity beginning with knowledge and being is, for Levinas, the origin of violence and destructive social relations. 51 In contrast to this position Levinas asserts, “One has to find for man another kinship than that which ties him to being, one that will perhaps enable us to conceive of this difference between me and the other, this inequality, in a sense absolutely opposed to oppression” (OTB 177). This search for another form of kinship, rooted in difference and inequality, is the driving force behind Levinas’s intersubjectivity, and that which makes his thinking particularly fruitful for discussing how to respond to the lives and stories of vulnerable subjects. How do we be in a way that centres on others rather than on our own being? Overturning Heidegger’s ontology, Levinas asserts that in order to encounter other people ethically we must begin with the other as wholly other and move toward the self rather than begin with the ego and move toward the other. Beginning with alterity, Levinas constitutes ethical subjectivity as the unsettling of being rather than as a prescription for being good. We are summoned to step outside the formulations and systems we use to make sense of ourselves and others and to determine the value of our respective lives. Because these are the ways we inevitably engage, Levinas challenges us to let go of these structures of being even for a moment in order to glimpse something or someone beyond ourselves. If social bearing refers to the social position of the self with others in intersubjective relationships, Levinas situates others as wholly distinct from the self—that is, as infinitely other (Totality and Infinity 22). In Totality and Infinity Levinas describes this separation between oneself and others in two ways: as egoistic and as ethical.31 31 It is critical to recognize here that separation does not mean opposition. Levinas writes, “if the same would establish its identity by simple opposition to the other, it would already be a part of a totality encompassing the same and the other” (Totality and Infinity 38). Otherness does not refer to dialectical opposition to the same, but to separation and difference. In egoism or being for-oneself, the self is separate in the natural human state of enjoyment before reflection, knowledge, and abstraction; the sensibility of the body is independent of thought and representation (112, 136). 52 Unaware or indifferent to everything outside itself, the “I” is “at home” with itself (138). Levinas reasons that egoistic separation is a necessary precursor for ethical separation, where the other remains absolutely other, outside myself. Without complete enjoyment (where one is content in oneself), any social bearing toward the other has the potential to be needy, an attempt to fill a lack within the self by means of the other. At home with myself means I am separate and interior but not isolated. A home also has “a street front,” which conveys exteriority or alterity (156). If being at home is my natural state of interiority and enjoyment, then “opening my home” to the street is an expression of ethical intersubjectivity.32 32 Levinas appears to take this metaphor from Franz Rosenzweig, who writes in “Apologetic Thinking,” “Insofar as the thinker looks into his innermost [being], he indeed sees this innermost, but for this reason he is still far from seeing—himself. He himself is not his innermost but is to the same extent also his outermost, and above all the bond that binds his innermost to his outermost, the street on which both associate reciprocally with each other” (108). However, Levinas’s interest is not reciprocity, but non-reciprocity and asymmetry. As Levinas puts it, ethical separation “designates an interior being that is capable of a relation with the exterior, and does not take its own interiority for the totality of being” (180). In encountering the other as separate, being for-oneself is opened and the social bond is no longer a totalizing incorporation of otherness into sameness. Rather, “I welcome the Other who presents himself in my home by opening my home to him” (171). Opening my home (hospitality) means opening myself, moving from engaging with the other as a “non-I” (defined by and referring back to the self) to engaging with the other as absolutely Other. However, Levinas is clear that such an opening is not natural. My natural state is to be at home with myself with the doors closed, completely unaware or indifferent to others (OTB 178). A truly intersubjective life, as Levinas distinguishes, “cannot remain life satis-fied in its equality to being, a life of quietude” because being human “is never—contrary to what so many reassuring traditions say—its own reason for being, that the famous conatus essendi is not the source of all 53 right and all meaning” (EI 122). Rather, the intersubjective life requires that the self or the egoistic subject be de-centred and interrupted, “awakened” out of itself by the Other (122). Levinas describes this awakening as a call above me.33 I am first of all a passive recipient of the other’s call revealed to me in language (50). Levinas names this call “the face” or the face- to-face relation, which is not to be taken literally although the call may literally manifest itself in the face of another person. Rather, “the face” conveys an epiphany. “Its revelation is in speech,” given much in the way God reveals himself from on high: not seen but heard (193). As such, the face cannot be reduced to my gaze, perception, recognition, or identification; I have no power over it: “the face is a mystery that defies assimilation” (Schroeder 391). I can only bear witness to its alterity. The face is a stranger; it unsettles my being at home with myself. Yet the face speaks to me in language; it relates us.34 In short, Levinas’s intersubjectivity begins in radical separation and distance and relates through the call and the face of the Other (“Intersubjectivity” 102). This relationship does not originate in community, but is nonetheless the foundation of communal life together. This dialogue initiated by the other is one of address and response, in which the summoned self responds to the address of the other before thinking about it. By means of this dialogue, this call to respond, I become who I am: a unique subject, singular, and set apart. The subject is not comprised of itself for itself, but finds its very identity and significance in the call of the other and in its own response to this call. 33 The face reveals itself as revelation rather than as disclosure. Levinas is careful to distinguish between these terms. In contrast to Heidegger, who uses the term “disclosure” to mean “letting beings be,” Levinas suggests that disclosure proposes the Other “as a theme” (OTB 71). While Heidegger suggests that disclosure is the way to get at the origin of truth, Levinas argues that truth is “founded on my relationship with the other” (99). For further discussion, see Anthony Steinbock’s essay, “Face and Revelation: Levinas on Teaching as Way-Faring” in Addressing Levinas (2005). 34 If one were to use theological terms (avoided in Totality and Infinity) the face could be considered as the face of God, who speaks to his people and is Infinite. God’s face is not seen but is revealed in his voice. God cannot be understood, gazed at, conceived, controlled, or possessed. Because God is made manifest in my relation to other people, other people need to be approached in a similar way, that is, in terms of “height” or asymmetry rather than in reciprocity. 54 Community, if understood as unity, totality, synchrony, or absorption of every other one into the same, cannot generate the separation between oneself and another necessary to originate ethical intersubjectivity. To avoid totality and oppression of others, the other in intersubjective relation must remain wholly other, while the subject is made a passive subject to others (OTB 140). The relationship with alterity shifts the subject from being for-itself to being for-the-other (184). To bear oneself intersubjectively means “to leave one’s home to the point of leaving oneself [and] to substitute oneself for another” (182). The question of how to be other than being for myself, the principle movement of ethical bearing, is not about conducting myself well (182). Rather, it means giving oneself, one’s identity, or one’s being over for another: “In its subjectivity, its very bearing as a separate substance, the subject [is] an expiation for another, the condition or unconditionality of being hostage” (182, 184).35 Levinas confesses that those who hold to the idea that “modern man takes himself as a being among beings” will balk at his hyperbolic expression of the subject in intersubjective sociality (184).36 35 Despite its likeness to a Foucauldian or Althusserian vision of subjectivity, Levinas’s view of subjectivity bears some notable differences. Rather than envision the subject produced and maintained through regulatory mechanisms and disciplinary regimes of power or through the recognition of being addressed in language and accepting the subordination and normalization of the law (divine or otherwise) imposed through that address (Butler, Psychic Life 18, 32, 106), Levinas undermines the power hierarchies assumed in these positions. He suggests instead that the “other” who addresses me and to whom I am subject principally refers to other people who are vulnerable, the stranger and the destitute to whom I give of myself as if I were giving myself to God. However, he holds to the paradox that only through the radical mortification of being for-oneself (dying as the complete undermining of being) can totalizing social and political relations of power be opened to peace. Etty Hillesum, a Jewish victim of the Nazi genocide whose journals I examine in my next chapter, illustrates this radical position when she writes: “I see no alternative. Each of us must turn inward and destroy in himself all that he thinks he ought to destroy in others. And remember 36 Indeed, Hegel and Nietzsche would render such an extreme position as internalizing oppressive religious or social mechanisms that function to enslave, mortify, and subordinate the self to the impossible ethical demands of an unhappy conscience (Butler, Psychic Life 32). However, a revelation of the divine Thou, is not a set of institutionalized religious norms and is meant to free the self from persisting in its own being rather than enslave the self to an endless set of moral obligations. 55 that every atom of hate we add to this world makes it still more inhospitable” (212). She reveals precisely this intersubjectivity of peace through self-expiation that Levinas advocates: not a turning against oneself, but the turning inside out of one’s being for-oneself (and against the other) in reorientation toward another in peace (OTB 49). For Levinas, intersubjectivity is otherwise than being: being subject to and responsible for others. Intersubjectivity begins with the wholly other and contests the subject’s oppression of others by situating the subject in a passive, subjected position, exiled from home and infinitely responsible to bear witness to alterity in responding to the call of others: the stranger, the oppressed, the destitute, and the ostracized. In autobiography studies, our desire to give voice to the marginalized or silenced and to encourage counter stories that defy socio-political powers or ideological norms implicitly takes up this Levinasian ethical bearing toward the oppressed (Schaffer and Smith 17). However in turning these responses into prescriptions of how to be with others, we lose the radical undercurrent of Levinas’s vision. Levinas’s intersubjectivity challenges a conception of relational selfhood and responsibility defined within or against socially acceptable and prescribed modes of being and doing. Rather than set up a “for-the- other” doctrine of ethics, he suggests that to truly be for others we must constantly question even our own systems and languages of the good and recognize the way these systems morph into new hierarchies of power. For instance, to take the common example of being for-the-other as “giving voice to the oppressed,” how might giving voice to the silenced merely reiterate the giver’s power? Or how might helping others tell their stories recreate their identities? Might not helping them to assert themselves in the public sphere merely reinforce our dictates of which identities count (the voiced, public ones) and what defines being healed or whole (being able to speak)? If the point of ethics is not to conduct myself well, but to question my conduct and my subtle ways 56 of being for myself in my very definitions of how to be with others, then a Levinasian vision of ethical bearing becomes particularly fruitful in its challenge to let go of these formulations of ethical being and doing for others. Only in letting go can I encounter and witness other people who may not make sense to me, fit within my models of human interaction, or want my vision of help. Intrinsic Alterity and Relational Intersubjectivity If Levinas roots intersubjectivity in the absolute alterity of the other in our life together, Ricoeur counters this position in Oneself as Another (1992), suggesting that intersubjectivity originates in selfhood. For him the question of how to be with others is a matter of recognizing otherness at the heart of what it means to be a self. Alternatively, Levinas argues that beginning with the self results in a totality of “the same” or a reduction of otherness to similitude that denies the intersubjective impulse. While Ricoeur upholds Levinas’s stance of fundamental alterity and agrees that such an expression of the self makes sense considering Levinas’s concern with human evil and the totalizing effects of Nazism and war, he disagrees with Levinas’s notion of the self as “same.” Ricoeur separates “selfhood” (ipse) from “sameness” (idem) arguing that the self is not principally totalizing or at war but is rather a changeable entity, interactive, reciprocal, and rooted in relationship. In constituting selfhood as not necessarily oriented or defined “against” others, Ricoeur suggests that a relational self is intrinsically interconnected with others. Concerned with this lack of connection in Levinas’s intersubjectivity, Ricoeur sees alterity as carrying with it similitude, bridging the distance between self and other in the very place it creates dissymmetry. The other is not absolutely other but part of oneself. 37 37 In “Ricoeur and the Lure of Self-Esteem,” Richard Cohen suggests that such a position raises a number of problems and concerns. I will mention two. First, if the self is primordial, is there such a thing as an-other-to-the- self? That is, if one begins with the self, how can an other be imagined? Does Ricoeur in fact lose the alterity of the Levinas’s other, he 57 worries, is too other to be put into relation with the self: “[No] between is secured to lessen the utter dissymmetry between the Same and the Other” (Oneself as Another 338).38 The title of Ricoeur’s text Oneself as Another emphasizes this connection between oneself and the other with the word “as.” Levinas’s “for-the-other” does not directly address such an analogy except negatively. For him, the other, as wholly other, defies analogy. In contrast, Ricoeur represents a relationship of both/and in which selfhood is defined by analogy, including both connection and difference in its identity: The self must be intimately related to and constituted by alterity in its social and ethical bearing for the sake of responsible interactions with others. Oneself as Another suggests from the outset that the selfhood of oneself implies otherness to such an intimate degree that one cannot be thought without the other, that instead one passes into the other, as we might say in Hegelian terms. To ‘as’ I should like to attach a strong meaning, not only that of comparison (oneself similar to another) but indeed that of implication (oneself inasmuch as being other). (3) Ricoeur expresses this intimate implication of “oneself inasmuch as being other” in a concrete way by looking at the body, conscience, and history (other stories entangled with my own).39 other person in foregrounding the primacy of selfhood? Moreover, if the other is not “absolute alterity” how can it not be subsumed into the self? Ricoeur seems to suggest a much more benevolent sense of self here than does Levinas, one that implies the other intimately in its very articulation of self without subsuming the other and recognizes the other without totalizing or appropriating the other for one’s own ends. Levinas argues that such a natural state of benevolence is impossible since being is naturally indifferent or even at war with others. Second, Ricoeur reads Levinasian intersubjectivity as rooted in complete separation. He deems “absolute alterity” to mean absolute separation. However, such a reading misses the paradox of fecundity in separation. Levinas’s idea of fecundity suggests the Other who is and is not me at the same time, as exemplified in the relationship between a parent and child: For a parent, the child is a stranger and at the same time the child is also me. He is “my own” and “non-mine” simultaneously: “By total transcendence, the trans-substitution, the I is, in the child, an other” (Totality and Infinity 267). Ricoeur ignores this aspect of Levinas’s thinking when he declares that Levinas sees the self and other as entirely separated. Are Ricoeur and Levinas in fact both saying a similar thing, that there is at once separation and connection between self and other, though they differ in their focus and their starting point – alterity in Levinas’s case and selfhood in Ricoeur’s case? Or does Ricoeur privilege connection at the expense of alterity in his focus on the benevolent self? Does he affirm human goodness in response to Levinas’s focus on human evil? 38 As Cohen clarifies, “For Ricoeur . . . the problem with Levinas’s thought is precisely its excess. First error: exaggerating the sameness of the same. . . . Second error, which follows from the first: exaggerating the alterity of the other. Third error, follows from both: exaggerating the difference separating same and other, self and other person” (311). 39 Geoffrey Bennington observes that Derrida makes a similar kind of move in discussing “the-other-in-the-same” in which the other disrupts the totality that the word “same” has come to mean, but also in which absolute alterity is 58 First, Ricoeur argues that the most intimate sense of otherness is not “other people” but the otherness of my own body. In some cases, my mind explicitly tells my body what to do: shake her hand, jump this fence, sit down, get a massage. This interaction between mind and body reveals a certain kind of relationship: bi-directional activity—from mind to body (jump this fence) and from body to mind (sore muscles demand a massage). However, often my body seems absolutely other despite it being me. I become passive to the alterity of my body, particularly in cases of physical trauma or illness. The body becomes foreign to me. In suffering, I become a passive victim to its heavy hand. Ricoeur also reveals the “otherness” of my body in another way. My body is that which mediates between myself and others. I am always a body among other bodies. I am at once my own body (self) but at the same time a body among other bodies (other) because, as mediator, my body is at once part of me and part of the world outside me (Oneself as Another 326).40 My body is never “my own” without also always existing as an other for others in being situated in the world with other bodies.41 Second, Ricoeur suggests that my conscience is other within me. The conscience represents the “ought” (the good) of moral behaviour that is alternate to the “is” of my experience. The good is other to the everyday, but exists within the “is” of everyday life. In much the same way that Levinas’s external other calls from on high and awakens me to respond, incoherent. Otherness is never absolutely external to the self or the same but folded in with it, even as similarity and commonality are necessary aspects of all intersubjective relationships between people (303). It suggests a form of “reconciliation” between distinctions. 40 Ricoeur’s Oneself as Another will henceforth be referred to as OA. 41 Maurice Merleau-Ponty suggests a similar sense of embodiment and intersubjectivity in Phenomenology of Perception (1962). Perception is our experience of being in the world, our orientation to the world and participation in the world. Merleau-Ponty calls the subject’s orientation/participation intersubjectivity. Rather than pose a dichotomy between the subject and the world outside the subject as “object,” he suggests a relationship of subject and intersubjectivity, beings in the world constantly interacting in time and space. There are certain phenomena experienced by myself alone, such as daydreams and images. However, there are many phenomena experienced by other people as well as myself: “That tree bending in the wind, this cliff wall, the cloud drifting overhead: these are not merely subjective; they are intersubjective phenomena—phenomena experienced by a multiplicity of sensing subjects” (Abram 38). We are situated in an intersubjective world, where we mutually experience each other and together we experience all forms of beings in the world. 59 Ricoeur speaks of the conscience as an interior other that is motivated from the outside and calls upon the self. 42 When my conscience calls me, I become the listener, the passive respondent. Quoting Heidegger, Ricoeur suggests, “The call comes from me and yet from beyond me and over me” (348).43 Although Ricoeur does not directly say so, this call of conscience could be read as theologically oriented.44 Third, Ricoeur assumes that selfhood is constituted by narrative and argues that one’s narrative is never one’s “own” but always exists in relation to the stories of others and the official “story” of history. He writes, “the actions of each one of us are intertwined with the actions of everyone else. We have insisted elsewhere . . . on the idea, proper to the narrative field, of ‘being entangled in stories’; the action of each person (and of that person’s history) is entangled not only with the physical course of things but with the social course of human activity” (OA 107). These narratives not only reveal the position of agency—“oneself in as much as being other” in the stories I tell myself and others about who I am—they also reveal the position of patient or passive sufferer. The stories of suffering are often those hidden and unrecounted stories woven into the same social fabric as stories that are told. Even the untold story (as other) implicitly becomes part of the social narrative, of which my story is also a part. From a Christian perspective, the otherness of conscience in oneself is informed by the divine Thou speaking in and through the conscience. The inner self, then, is open to the voice and word of the transcendent Other. 42 In contrast to a Nietzschean vision of conscience in which the self is internally prohibitive, repressive, and self- enslaving, Ricoeur positions conscience as that which is other within the self, challenging the self to function in other ways than those that may be most self-serving and even challenging the prohibitions and guilt that paralyze the self from esteeming other selves. 43At the same time, Ricoeur disagrees with Heidegger about grounding morality in ontology and agrees with Levinas that one cannot get to ethics from ontology since the good is beyond being, even as it appears in beings. 44 The other in oneself, functioning in a spiritual sense, is a common theme in Christian thought beginning from Christ’s teaching. Christ figures himself in John’s gospel as “the vine” in which his disciples are rooted as “branches” who must abide “in him” as he abides “in them” (KJV, John 15:1-5). St. Paul picks up on this language of the wholly Other, Christ, as spiritually internal. As he phrases it in his epistle to the Colossians, his calling is to preach the “mystery”: “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (KJV, Col. 1:27, my emphasis). 60 Such an entangling of stories is the basis for constituting singular and social identity. The self is inasmuch as it is other. Constituting alterity within the self or as the self, Ricoeur reveals an alternative social and intersubjective bearing to Levinas’s. If selves are not naturally constituted as the same but as intrinsically other in their very essence, then they engage with others as both different and like themselves, both wholly other and analogous to them. From this perspective, reciprocity and mutuality become the foundational elements of human intersubjectivity. Reciprocity refers to my mutual relations with other people as sharing with them, whether in terms of social “living together” or in the intimacy of friendship (183). It includes sharing enjoyment and sharing the pain of suffering. The reciprocity of sharing-with is impossible if the self does not first recognize itself in community (existing by means of others) and as another (in body, conscience, and narrative). Reciprocity and mutuality are perhaps most distinctly revealed in language and dialogue between oneself and others. Like Levinas, Ricoeur argues that language relates us. Unlike Levinas, however, Ricoeur suggests that ordinary dialogue tends not to be rooted in asymmetry and non-reciprocity, in which the other initiates, awakens, and calls me to respond from on high. He grants that dialogic positions of asymmetry and non-reciprocity do have a place in theological contexts where God speaks and humans respond in humble reverence and obedience, and in socio-political contexts where power hierarchies between powerful selves and oppressed others need to be destabilized. In these contexts, I must wait, listen, be passive, and subject myself first in order that their words can be heard without my drowning them out, even with such benevolent motives as equal rights and social justice. However, in most conversational contexts and in grammatical structure itself, I constantly exchange roles between being an agent in the 61 nominative and what Ricoeur calls being “a patient” in the accusative. When I speak, I am an agent; when I listen, I am a patient. These roles are reciprocal: the other is also agent and patient. As Ricoeur observes, “The agents and patients of an action are caught up in relationships of exchange which, like language, join together the reversibility of roles and the nonsubstitutability of persons” (193). Roles are reversible; persons are not. Ricoeur argues that such a relationship reveals the paradox of exchange: we are at once equivalent and exchangeable (in language) and different and irreplaceable (as people). The subject in intersubjective relationships, then, is mutually and reciprocally engaged with others, constantly exchanging positions of agent and patient, nominative and accusative, initiator and respondent with others. These double movements offer a mutuality, equality, and bi-directionality between people: human being is being for one another (Recognition 182). Both Ricoeur and Levinas insist that alterity is absolutely essential to ethical intersubjectivity. Levinas, relying on biblical transcendence and the infinity of God as a model for alterity, applies to human relationality a wholly external otherness, a Thou that relates through language but cannot be reduced to language, to object, or to analogy. Ricoeur similarly applies to human relationality a complete otherness, but one that is internal and intrinsic to the self, rather than wholly external. He argues that self and wholly other are not mutually exclusive entities, but experience that which is other within themselves. If otherness is part of me, then I will encounter other people as wholly other but also as wholly interconnected with me. Arguably, this inherent interconnection rather than our separation motivates my responsibility for others. Ricoeur points out that a purely asymmetrical and non-mutual relationship proves ethically problematic in that it has as much potential for negative relations like domination or exclusion (being over and against others) as it does for ethical intersubjectivity (177, 191). 62 Because ethical asymmetry inverts power hierarchies but still functions within their structures, it has the potential to generate new hierarchies in which the oppressed victim becomes an oppressor of others. Moreover, asymmetry in which the self is subject to others can produce a negative subjection of selfhood—in which the self enslaves itself or turns against itself in guilty obligation to others. By balancing asymmetry with reciprocity and subjectivity with selfhood, Ricoeur suggests that we see each other as selves rather than as others in order to avoid the dichotomies of self/other and the uneven power structures they imply. In short, Ricoeur does not envision ethical intersubjectivity as rooted in subjects oriented otherwise than being, but in selves being oriented otherwise toward others selves, a distinction to which I will later return. In autobiography scholarship about human rights and social justice through narrated lives, we foreground this necessity of equality and mutuality, of rendering others enough like ourselves to encourage democracy, belonging, and inclusivity of those who fall between the threads of the social fabric. Doing justice and respecting the rights and privacies of others assume an equality of being that undergirds our scholarly visions of how to be with and for vulnerable subjects—whether suffering from illness, personal abuse, social marginalization, or political oppression—in our witness of them. In fact, according to the double issue of Life Writing devoted to the subject of trauma (2008), our primary ethical concern is to continue broadening the spectrum of vulnerable voices to be heard so that more subjects can be granted equal human rights and social justice (Douglas and Whitlock 3). The shortcoming of being an ethical globetrotter traveling to new sites and gathering an ever-increasing collection of life narratives, however, is that we potentially reinforce the very power hierarchies and negative asymmetries we mean to undermine. While benevolently collecting the stories of oppressed and traumatized people with whom we wish to empathize or 63 grant agency, we still maintain a separation between us and them, categorizing them as “others” or “victims” and reinforcing an asymmetrical relationship of patronage in our very desire to give them voice. Ricoeur’s vision of reciprocity challenges writers, readers, and critics of autobiography to consider whether we do, in fact, exhibit mutual, equal, and bi-directional relationships with those we label “others.” In witnessing the lives of others, textual dialogue may ensue but the power of the writer, reader, or critic is often unidirectional: We can choose how to witness others. We frequently have the last word—whether critical or benevolent. With Ricoeur’s vision we are challenged to see ourselves as “others” to those we witness, as scholars who require interruption, criticism, and questioning from those whom we hear or with whom we speak. Particularly in situations where we do not encounter vulnerable subjects face-to-face, how do we engage with their narrative voices in mutual address and response? Can vulnerable selves in textual form awaken, critique, call into question, and cause scholars to respond to such an extent that the power relations between them are not merely undermined or inverted but actually transcended? From my perspective, the distinctive perspectives of Levinas and Ricoeur offer a fresh vision of intersubjectivity for autobiography studies. On a general level, they extend the idea that selves are relationally and dialogically constituted to propose that selves are also ethically constituted by their very sociality. Moreover, by beginning with ethical rather than political constitution, they present an alternative conception of intersubjectivity that has the potential to destabilize, exceed, and even transform the systems of power in which we are relationally and dialogically located. On a more specific level, addressing the question how to be with others as central to ethical responsibility, Levinas and Ricoeur reveal that the way these interconnections with others are envisioned—as intrinsic or extrinsic, reciprocal or asymmetrical, determined 64 through analogy or difference—will inform the kind of relationship, dialogue, and ethical action that ensues. In other words, how we position the self relationally and dialogically with other selves, how we constitute and navigate that space between oneself and others, and how we understand each particular relationship will determine the nature of ethical responsibility in relational and dialogic interactions. I have suggested that how to be with others intersubjectively is principally a question of alterity as it informs being, whether in terms of being otherwise (Ricoeur) or otherwise than being (Levinas). With this in mind, I now turn to the more specific question of ethical subjectivity: How is one otherwise? What manner of being and what kind of subject orientation is otherwise? How, precisely, does one orient oneself toward other people ethically in order to negotiate relational and dialogic space with them? Levinas and Ricoeur disagree about what bearing or orientation toward alterity proves most ethically responsible. Their differences cause me to wonder how their visions of ethical subjectivity might intersect with and complicate each other in fruitful ways. And further, how their intersections might help us to define ethical responsibility for autobiography studies and accurately reflect the complexity of ethical orientation in processes of witnessing the alterity of others. In order to examine this question of ethical bearing I will consider three things in turn: (a) Levinas and Ricoeur’s alternative positions of how one is to be an ethically-oriented subject, (b) how their alternate views of ethical bearing may be brought together so as to delineate (c) how one is oriented toward other people responsibly for the sake of ethical action and interaction in witness to their lives. Ethical Bearing: The Subjective Orientation, “Here I am!” The way Levinas and Ricoeur formulate intersubjectivity as rooted in alterity directly influences how they express ethical bearing in witnessing others. Bearing witness to the alterity of others 65 means orienting one’s subjectivity otherwise, in regard to others. For these two thinkers, the very fact that one exists socially with others means that one is inherently located in an ethical space: to be relational not only begs the ethical question, how is one to relate to others, but also and by extension, how is one to be oriented otherwise and witness alterity in that relationship? One’s ethical bearing is first and foremost a question of subject disposition. And bearing oneself otherwise reveals precisely how subjects are oriented in relation to others: that is, toward alterity. Ricoeur observes in Oneself as Another, “It is . . . noteworthy that in many languages goodness is at one and the same time the ethical quality of the aims of action and the orientation of the person toward others, as though an action could not be held to be good unless it were done on behalf of others, out of regard for others” (189). Locating ethical responsibility in a relational orientation toward others, Levinas and Ricoeur do not prescribe specific actions or interactions as responsible but suggest that one’s bearing determines whether or not a given action is ethical, regardless of whether it appears responsible or not. In other words, ethical bearing informs the ways we navigate the space between others and ourselves which, in turn, directs our social interactions and political actions with and for others. In this section I will examine the disposition of the subject toward others from a philosophical and theological standpoint. I ask how the subject is directed toward others responsibly in regard to their alterity, as reflected in the ethical bearing and witnessing stance par excellence, “here I am!” upheld by Levinas and Ricoeur. I am convinced that understanding ethical responsibility as a subject’s ethical bearing toward alterity preceding political action or social interaction and exceeding the socio-political systems that define it will not only nuance the language of responsibility for autobiography studies but will also reveal the complexities of subjectivity that underpin and complicate our practices of ethical responsibility. 66 The Subject’s Ethical Bearing Toward Others Subjectivity is determined by intersubjectivity with others and ethical bearing toward others. If am constituted intersubjectively in terms of alterity, then my subjectivity is rooted in the way I am oriented toward alterity in ethical relation to others. Ethical bearing, at least in the Western tradition, tends to centre on a subject directed toward itself as the originary disposition from which to extend outward toward others. Beginning with Plato, the ethical self is one who has achieved self-mastery: the rule of reason over desire and order over chaos. Charles Taylor sums up Plato’s perspective as follows: “We become good when reason comes to rule, and when we are no longer run by our desires” (Sources of the Self 115). He adds that “the mastery of self through reason brings with it these three fruits: unity with oneself, calm, and collected self- possession” (116).45 A cursory reading of Augustine similarly suggests a subject oriented toward itself as the beginning of ethics; however, in his case the subject is directed toward itself as a means to encounter the divine Other internally, and through this internal relation, to reach out to other people. Augustine argues for an inward turn to find God, who is the basis by which one comes to know the truth about oneself and other people (Taylor, Sources 129). Taylor suggests that in turning inward, Augustine begins with the first person position of thinking and sensing, and thus his experience of the Other/other occurs by “[looking] to the self, [taking] up a reflexive stance” Ethics begins in a rational re-orientation of the self and ends with collected self-possession from which to freely realize and assist the needs of others. The “responsible self” in such an ethics could be described as a thoughtful, knowing self who freely chooses to put himself out for another person (Cohen, “Introduction” 5). 45 See Plato’s explicit focus on the good man as master of himself in section 430 of the Republic. See also his discussion of the good as the ultimate object of knowledge, and knowledge as a definitive form of the good in section 471. The good is both expressed through knowledge and also transcends knowledge, as just beyond the grasp of the human mind. Knowledge and truth, Socrates teaches, are “like the good,” but ultimately the good is the source of knowledge and truth, revealed through knowledge and truth (234). 67 (130).46 Relying on Kelly Oliver’s assertion that “what makes human relationships human is what take[s] us beyond ourselves and toward otherness” (Witnessing 183), I want to suggest that an orientation not only “toward the otherness of others” but also “beyond ourselves” is where responsible human relations begin. Such an impetus, he argues, can be traced through to the self-reflexive self of modern thought. He explores how the “first-person standpoint”—one’s self-awareness, knowledge, or experience—translates into a knowledge-based ethics principally expressed as concern or care for oneself (131), and centred on the dignity of the human life and self-esteem (152). This view is accurate but limited, as I will come to show in my discussion of John Howard Griffin’s Black Like Me in Chapter Three. Others are certainly part of this vision of reflexivity but only as experienced, known, or reached through the self. 47 46 This position suggests that knowledge and reflexivity are self-directed, despite being informed by divine Otherness at the heart of the self. Augustine’s encounter with God can be read as an expression of the self engaged reflexively with itself, especially if the divine Other is construed as nothing but that which the self has created for itself. Alternatively, recent readings of Augustine have seen the divine Other at the heart of Augustine’s self— beyond any Christian or anti-Christian theology—as destabilizing or opening up self-directed knowledge with otherness, finite subjectivity with infinity, or more generally, the self/same with the Other (Capelle 116). In this reading of Augustine, the self is essentially in relation with the Other and reflects on itself only through or by means of otherness. That is to say, difference, not similitude, is at the heart of Augustine’s “inward life” (Scanlon 160). For further discussion on the complex issue of Augustine’s inward life, see Augustine and Postmodernism (2005). As a subject with others, one is always oriented toward someone: oneself or others. To some extent these directions overlap. In being oriented toward others, I may benefit myself. I respond to others in order to be acknowledged or feel worthwhile. This expectation of exchange is common enough in reciprocal relations and the subject bears no ill toward others in also being toward itself. However, this “in order to” reveals that one’s motive in orienting oneself toward others is implicitly a way to reinforce oneself, a movement “preformed essentially for ourselves with our own ends in mind” (Reynolds, “Love Without 47 In this discussion I will refer to this orientation “toward the otherness of others” simply as “toward others,” assuming that an ethical orientation toward others is a response to the alterity or otherness of those others. 68 Boundaries” 195). The other becomes a means to an end, the end of my own good.48 A subject’s bearing beyond oneself and toward others is revealed in his or her responses to others, responses that essentially decentre the self or move the self outside its own orbit toward others. For Levinas and Ricoeur the subject expresses this movement in responding, “here I am” to the call of the Other. “Here I am” is the response par excellence that bears witness to what is wholly other, outside and beyond oneself and one’s systems of being. In keeping with the double meaning of the German “es gibt”—at once being and giving—“here I am” radically reconstitutes being as giving over oneself and giving up one’s notions of “the other” in one’s actual encounters with others. In this speech-act (or speech-response), one bears witness to the alterity of others by giving oneself for them, hence the close connection between witness and A subject directed toward itself or directed toward others in order to benefit itself may act in ethically responsible ways. However, such a subject does not ultimately have the ethical bearing to sustain these actions in situations that require behaviour beyond personal benefit or self-care, as in sacrifice, love, generosity, and forgiveness. Ethical bearing must also be an orientation beyond oneself, beyond one’s own formulations of being, and even beyond one’s own thinking about what it means to be ethical. This bearing beyond oneself and toward others is what Levinas and Ricoeur have in mind when they use the phrases otherwise than being or being otherwise respectively. With Levinas and Ricoeur, I explore how a subject orientation beyond oneself and toward others is both a precursor to responsible action and interaction in the world, and a radical vision of subjectivity that exceeds (though it does not escape) socio-political designations, conventional identity markers, and established power hierarchies. 48 Ricoeur reminds us here of Kant’s moral philosophy (see Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals) in which humans are meant to treat one another “as an end and not a means” (Fallible Man 136). 69 martyr in the Greek: the one who bears witness by giving his very life (Levinas, OTB 146; Ricoeur, “Hermeneutics of Testimony” 129). As an ethical response to the alterity of others, “here I am” stems principally from Judaism, which views the gift of life and the divine words of the bible as “God’s call to human responsibility” to which one is summoned to respond (Sacks 134). With its genesis in the Hebrew Scriptures, the ethics of responsibility must be explicitly situated in this theological context in order to do justice to its vision.49 Ricoeur, in contrast, is interested in the intersubjective and reciprocal relations between oneself and another in ordinary circumstances: in community life and in just institutions. Unlike Levinas, who questions the self and the system as ethically suspect, Ricoeur suggests that ethics is rooted in selves and systems, and defines his “here I am” as an “ethical intention . . . aiming at the ‘good life’ with and for others, in just institutions” (OA 172). Where Levinas envisions “here Levinas and Ricoeur both rely on the biblical text to formulate their respective visions of “here I am,” although they describe this ethical orientation differently not least because their ethical concerns are different. Motivated by the totalizing experiences and human atrocities of the Second World War, Levinas proposes a metaphysical responsibility that obliges a response to the vulnerability and needs of others in extreme situations of oppression (such as being Jewish in the context of Nazi Germany). This ethics appears in the face-to-face relation in which one is summoned to respond to the other person beyond one’s systems of philosophy, law, and social-politics while simultaneously being located within them. 49 As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks observes, in the Western philosophical tradition more than one view of the ethical life exists, including a civic ethic, an ethic of duty, and ethic of honour, and an ethic of responsibility. He demonstrates that an ethic of responsibility is a biblical ethic. He writes, “One of Judaism’s most distinctive and challenging ideas is its ethics of responsibility” (3). The “ethics of responsibility [emphasizes] the love of God and humanity, and…the categorical dignity of the individual as such, regardless of status or power” (134). For further discussion on the biblical roots of ethical responsibility, see Sacks’s To Heal a Fractured World: The Ethics of Responsibility (2005) and Moyn’s Origins of the Other: Emmanuel Levinas Between Revelation and Ethics (2005). 70 I am” as a passive response to the call of another despite oneself and one’s systems of being, Ricoeur envisions “here I am” as an intentional and active response to the call of another because one is able to realize one’s inherent intersubjectivity with others in the world. From my perspective, both activity and passivity are critical to one’s “here I am” bearing in response to alterity. However, I also see numerous tensions inherent in its orientation, which in turn affect one’s ability to bear witness to the lives of others in practice. I will thus address both Levinas’s and Ricoeur’s views of subjectivity oriented otherwise and consider how they might be brought together to convey both the possibilities and complications of such a subjectivity underpinning one’s capacity for ethical interaction with others. Levinas and the Passive “Here I am” For Levinas, “here I am” marks the ethical response of a passive subject, whose signification and designation of selfhood (I am) is radically constituted otherwise than being in bearing witness to the alterity of others. This marker of subjectivity—“here I am”—is saturated with philosophical potency. “I am” is generally considered a marker of being, often formulated through consciousness, perception, and reflection (I think therefore I am). However, in Levinas’s phenomenology, “here I am” is not an act of self-positing nor is it a marker of being, but a marker of otherwise than being, a constitution of subjectivity beyond being for oneself. In this move, Levinas inverts a linguistic understanding of signification where “this is that”—in which the sign (I am) stands for the signified (manifested being)—to an ethical signification of “one for the other,” in which the subject ceases to be a represented thing and locates its very subjectivity in giving itself for another (“Truth” 102). I am in that I am for another. My subjectivity, as being for the other, exceeds (though it does not escape) my own being. “Here I am” repositions the subject outside its totalizing gestures by dislocating or disorienting it from its position toward 71 itself. It signifies the subject’s witness of alterity when it is called upon, brought into question, or interrupted by something other (person or idea). In shifting “here I am” from a statement of self- assertion to self-interruption, Levinas inverts the self/other hierarchy by beginning with the other and relegating the self to a secondary, derivative, and responsive position. Levinas defines ethical responsibility as this radical decentring of the self so that the subject can respond to others before he or she recognizes them in consciousness or totalizes them in knowledge. He calls this response “a witness to the infinite” beyond oneself or systems of cognition (OTB 146). With this postulation he challenges a knowledge-based ethics, arguing that knowledge of the good and recognition of the other are both ways in which the self imposes its being (toward itself) on others. To know the good, Levinas contends, “is already not to have done it,” because in knowing the subject has already calculated, decided on the good, made goodness a theme for itself, and located the other somewhere within that theme (EI 11). In its natural position toward itself, the subject cannot reason the good or choose it for the sake of the other without itself getting in the way. Since “no one is good voluntarily” (11), whatever presumed practice of ethical reasoning or recognition of others the subject affirms is shot through with self- centredness. For Levinas the most natural is the most problematic because being is not predisposed to decentre itself for the sake of another or for the sake of the good (121-122). I can only be good “despite-myself.”50 50 In Addressing Levinas, Eric Nelson and Antje Kapust describe this responsibility before knowledge in a concrete and helpful way: “Prior to all reflection and calculation, one is compelled to answer to the other in acting for her, as when one leaps without thinking to save a child who falls into a well or river without considering the risks or rewards of such an action. Could such an ethical spontaneity reflect the human side of the interruption of violence and war?” (x). To be for someone is without “because” (a motivation or evaluation for my ethical action); to be for someone is “just because” I am and he has called me (an obligation and obedience without recourse to reasoning). Consequently, the alterity of others must summon and awaken me, move me, and turn me toward them before I can think about myself. Saying, “here I am!” is 72 my expression and witness of this awakening and turning to responsibility before my totalizing themes of goodness and my calculated responses get in the way. Examining the biblical “here I am” helps to clarify Levinas’s formulation of this expression. Such figures in the Hebrew Scriptures as Abraham, Moses, Samuel, and Isaiah respond to the summons or address of divine alterity (God) with the words, “Here I am.” Rabbi Jonathan Sacks observes that “when God calls, he does not do so by way of a universal imperative. Instead he whispers [the subject’s] name—and the greatest reply, the reply of Abraham, is simply hineni:” ‘here I am,’ ready to heed your call” (262). In its Hebrew rendering, hineni, “here I am” is not an assertion of self but a reference to oneself in the accusative (Ajzenstat 116). Because the summons of God comes to me from outside, initiated from beyond me, I am in a passive position to this One who has called and chosen me. When I respond, “here I am,” I am not responding as an ego but “me under assignation,” inspired by the divine Other to respond before I can see, deliberate, or choose it (OTB 142).51 As Levinas puts it, “There is an assignation to an identity for the response of responsibility, where one cannot have oneself be replaced without fault. To this command continually put forth only a ‘here I am’ (me voici) can answer, where the pronoun ‘I’ is in the accusative, declined before any declension, possessed by the other” (142).52 51 For Jacques Derrida, Abraham reveals this very expression of passive subjectivity as “the only self-presentation presumed by every form of responsibility: [he is] ready to respond, [he replies] that [he is] ready to respond” (Gift of Death 71). See The Gift of Death (1992) for his exposition on the Abraham and Isaac story. Like the Hebrew hineni, Levinas’s French me voici expresses the passivity of the subject’s response to the call of the other, beyond and above the self, revealing the subject grammatically and literally in the accusative. Levinas extends the grammatical to an ethical 52 Prefiguring Levinas, Rosenzweig suggests that “here I am” reveals in language the formation of the subject who is divinely called and is therefore also individuated. See Moyn’s “Rosenzweig on Revelation” in Origins of the Other for further discussions (141-151). 73 positioning of the subject in the passive tense: accused, brought into question, subjected to the call of the other, and suffering for the other’s sake. This language of giving oneself over to suffering for another is easily misunderstood as turning against oneself (Butler, Psychic Life 108). Louis Althusser, for example, suggests that in responding, “here I am” one turns toward others in guilt and, in this movement, turns against oneself (Oliver, Witnessing 179).53 In contrast to Althusser, I take Levinas’s position a step further than perhaps he himself is willing to go to suggest that turning toward the other (even to the death) does not connote turning against oneself; rather, it reflects a reconstitution of one’s identity beyond or exceeding being for oneself. Being for-the-other is being more than oneself. The difference between turning against oneself and giving oneself over reflects the difference between self-denial and devotion, between a reduction of being and a surplus. This distinction is critical because if turning toward the other solely meant turning against oneself, then the subject would be confined to an ethics rooted in guilt, an ethics that could easily slide into the obligatory self-enslavement that concerns Nietzsche in A Genealogy of Morals. Alternatively, if turning toward the other signifies losing one’s instinctual being for oneself (death) to reconstitute one’s subjectivity in giving oneself over for another, then ethics is open to the possibility that love, faithfulness, and forgiveness can motivate the subject beyond a guilty conscience.54 53 Both Althusser and Levinas use the phrase “here I am” to designate subjectivity through one’s response to the call of the other and through turning toward that other (ultimately the divine Other) in that response. However, their visions are fundamentally different. Althusser situates the call of the other within laws, moral codes, and ideologies. Levinas, in contrast, positions the call of the other as a call of infinity that comes from outside systems of finite thought such as laws, moral codes, and ideologies (Oliver, Witnessing 181). The difference is significant because a subject responding to an “infinite call” is ultimately not defined by the codes and ideologies in which he is situated but finds himself in response to the other as exceeding such totalities. He has the potential, then, to respond to others without reducing them (or himself) to systems and formulations of being. 54 While Levinas fixates on guilt in much the way Althusser does, his paradigm of “here I am” taken to its logical conclusions in biblical thought points to a space of response beyond guilt to devotion and love. A “here I am” of love and devotion comes forth much more strongly in the work of Jewish scholars Franz Rosenzweig in The Star of Redemption (originally published in 1921) and Jonathan Sacks in To Heal a Fractured World: The Ethics of Responsibility (2005). 74 The “here I am” of Abraham clarifies this passive position of the subject, personally named to respond with obedience to the divine Other beyond guilt. For Abraham, passivity includes with it passion. Responding includes a movement of self-sacrifice and self-exposure to the divine Other before knowing what the request will be. To Abraham’s “here I am,” God commands, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering” (NIV, Gen. 22:2). Saying, “here I am” for Abraham is synonymous with saying “Yes” to sacrificing the one he loves (his son, his seed) to the one he is assigned to love more (the wholly and divine Other). To sacrifice his son is in effect to sacrifice his desires, his loves, and his future in devoted obedience to the Other. This obedience is not a response of obligation to any law, but a response of faith and love in this Other that exceeds law.55 Drawing on this biblical “here I am” response to the summons of God, Levinas describes the human subject as responsible to bear witness and respond to the trace of God (infinite alterity) in other people, thus subjecting him- or herself to the human others who call him. “Obedience to the glory of the Infinite,” Levinas insists, “orders me to the other” (OTB 146). This movement toward others is explicit in the case of Isaiah, for whom “here I am” to God means “send me” to others (OTB 199 n.11). Oona Ajzenstat sees Isaiah’s “here I am” as “a record of Isaiah’s acceptance of a mission, and thus the expression of the connection, in the saying, between response to a divine command and the ethical movement toward a fellow human being” (118). This response is for anyone; it responds to the alterity in everyone. Levinas can In responding, “here I am” Abraham bears witness to the infinite alterity of God which summons him beyond what he can see to sacrifice himself in giving up his son. 55 According to Derrida (in his reading of Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling), not only does it exceed law, it sacrifices the ethical law itself to kin, community, and nation (do not murder) in an outrageous act of faith and obedience to the call of God (Gift of Death 66-67). 75 thus conclude, “The subjectivity of the subject [is] being subject to everything (146).56 Levinas describes the subject as subjected and responsible in the hyperbole of being “held hostage” (OTB 184). I am held hostage by the face or words of others who question and destabilize me from the centre of my world. To be (a) subject is to respond passively to the summons of another, in which passivity refers both to one’s being acted on or called upon from the outside to respond (by God or by others), and to one’s passion, a response of sacrifice or suffering for the other who calls. My subjectivity is my passive bearing toward others. 57 56 I may be subject to everyone, but I cannot subject myself to everyone simultaneously. Derrida asserts in The Gift of Death that in responding “here I am” to God or a fellow human, I am inadvertently irresponsible to others who similarly call on me at the same time. To be ethical to one other is to sacrifice all the other others. To be responsible to you requires me to be irresponsible to another person, who also summons me. One is always sacrificing one person for another person. In very concrete terms, Derrida explains at length: “By preferring my work, simply by giving it my time and attention, by preferring my activity as a citizen or as a professorial and professional philosopher, writing and speaking here in a public language, French in my case, I am perhaps fulfilling my duty. But I am sacrificing and betraying at every moment all my other obligations: I betray my fidelity or my obligations to other citizens, to those who don’t speak my language and to whom I neither speak nor respond, to each of those who listen or read, and to whom I neither respond nor address myself in the proper manner, . . .thus also to those I love in private, my own, my family, my son, each of whom is the only son I sacrifice to the other, every one being sacrificed to every one else in this land of Moriah that is our habitat every second of every day” (69). Being held hostage means that I cannot evade the other’s call: it is singularly directed to me and me alone (Bernasconi 239). Nor can I evade the suffering that responding on the other’s behalf will produce for me. Levinas describes the other as having “a traumatic hold” on me, claiming me at the core of myself and “alienating” me in the depths of my identity without emptying me of myself (OTB 141). My subjectivity is nothing short of wounding the self-obsessed ego so that I can expose myself in vulnerability to others and give myself in the place of others. Toward and for are directions, movements that go beyond the ego and bear the burden of others without calculating the cost to myself or hoping for 57 Robert Gibbs illustrates being hostage in terms of the egoistic self on trial, called into question before the court. He writes: “The face is not itself the other person’s face, but is a facing by the other, a being questioned or called to account for myself. Although I try to maintain myself as the centre of that story, my orientation to others is making sense of them in my story; when I am confronted by another, when I am faced by another, I discern that my way in the world violated what was other about the others, what did not fit into my story. I have truncated and dislocated others, and so my desire to keep control of my world is now put in question” (“Questioning Justice” 109). 76 reciprocity. Responsibility, as Levinas sees it, “goes one way, from me to the other” (139). He uses the excessive language, “torn up from oneself for another” and “giving to the other of the bread out of one’s own mouth” to suggest that my ethical bearing is a constant agonizing state of being destabilized (142). Bent on preventing the “insidious return” of self-affirmation in any form, Levinas insists that only an extreme formulation of subjection and sacrifice will turn me from myself toward others (OA 338). Indeed, he argues that only in being confronted, questioned, and held to give an account in being for myself can there be any “pity, compassion, pardon and proximity—even . . . the simple ‘After you, sir’” (OTB 117). Levinas thus inverts the “I am” of being in its free choice of responsibility—its active agency and self-assertion—to the “here I am” of passivity and passion. Responsibility ultimately means giving myself over for the other: “To say: here I am [me voici]. To do something for the Other. To give. To be human spirit, that’s it” (EI 97). I am in that I give. In being given over for another my subjectivity transcends being for myself and exceeds the markers of identity I use to define myself against others: being a woman, a scholar, a Christian, a Canadian. This Levinasian perspective of subjectivity is radical for rethinking an ethics of responsibility for autobiography studies. It calls into question our definitions of subjectivity as either an assertion of relational selfhood in narrative form or a subjected self under oppressive and unjust systems of power who must reassert his selfhood in language to regain himself. If we begin from conventional identity markers of being, then a Levinasian ethics of responsibility is impossible. To be ethically responsible, Levinas suggests, requires a positioning of selfhood beyond the systems of being and power relations by which to determine human being. Only in envisioning selfhood and others otherwise—other than our ideologies prescribe—can we bear witness to the alterity of others and respond to them in ways that do not 77 reinscribe their being in the very identifying systems that have reduced them. Passive subjectivity that exceeds my being for myself opens me to the possibility of responding to those who escape my identifications, who are outside my natural connections, and who challenge my markers of what it means to be human. Ricoeur and the Active “Here I am” Like Levinas, Ricoeur formulates ethical bearing as a passive orientation beyond oneself and toward others, but he adds as integral to this bearing an equal and opposite motion of action in one’s aim toward the other. Where Levinas centres on the beyond oneself that initiates ethical bearing, Ricoeur focuses on the toward others that bears it out in one’s relationships with others. His attention to active subjectivity can be seen as a critical response to Levinas’s passive subjectivity. Indeed, Ricoeur develops what I see as a necessary double movement of passivity and activity within ethical bearing.58 Ricoeur begins with Levinas in passivity in a trajectory that leads to activity. Like Levinas, Ricoeur believes that the subject must be made subject to others in bearing witness to His subject is a passive recipient of the other’s call as well as an agent who actively responds and is therefore situated in equal and reciprocal relationship with the other. For Ricoeur, “here I am” functions as a nominative assertion of conviction, self- constancy, and accountability in the subject: I am here; you can count on me (OA 165). I examine this active sense of ethical bearing by first addressing Ricoeur’s view that Levinasian passivity is limited if taken on its own and then turning to his expression of active bearing in one’s “here I am” for others. 58 Certainly Ricoeur is not alone in challenging Levinas on the seeming lack of agency and activity of the subject in relation with others. Although thinkers such as Catherine Chalier argue that Levinasian passivity includes some sense of action—“passivity does not mean inertia or apathy but man’s ability to be moved by what happens to his neighbour” (8)—other thinkers, such as Luce Irigaray, disagree with this interpretation of Levinas, arguing instead that his intersubjective dialectic is lacking between activity and passivity, a dialectic she argues is necessary for marking both our capability for interaction and the limits of our connection (70). 78 their alterity and he follows Levinas by positing subjectivity beyond egoism by de-centring the ego. However, he clearly disagrees with Levinas about how one reaches the ethical position of a self beyond egoism—a subject oriented otherwise—in bearing witness to alterity. Levinas determines that to expel egoism, the subject’s ego must be expiated. Such a radical displacement of the self beyond its egoistic tendencies cannot be self-initiated, for who would choose to displace oneself? Ricoeur diverges from Levinas on this point, insisting that the self does have the capacity to deny its egoism. As with his rejection of Levinas’s self as same, Ricoeur challenges Levinas’s view of selfhood as egoistic or self-interested—for itself alone. He reverses Levinas’s view, arguing that selfhood be seen as a “non-egoistic, non-narcissistic, non- imperialistic mode of subjectivity” (“Philosophical” 17). Because otherness is intrinsic to selfhood and being is therefore essentially relational, the self cannot also be essentially egoistic. Being relational means that the self has equal potential to be toward itself in egoism as it does to be toward others in responsibility. Because egoism is only one mode of selfhood, the self need not be expiated for ethical bearing and relationship with others to occur. In fact, he worries that if selfhood is denied, the question of the other will be eclipsed. “If my identity were to lose all importance in every respect,” he asks, “would not the question of others also cease to matter” (OA 138-9)? For Ricoeur, one must necessarily have a sense of self in order to be open and available to others (138). In the passivity of ethical bearing, there must be a self to be summoned, a self to hear the word addressed to it, a self to respond. And further, to bear witness to the alterity of others that self must have an inclination toward others beyond egoism: open ears to hear and hands intent to give.59 59 Where Levinas believes that the originary position of selfhood is not directed toward the good voluntarily so that absolute otherness (external to the self) must displace the ego in order that the self can respond to others, Ricoeur Ricoeur de-centres the ego in order to re-centre the self around the other. Selfhood is thus constituted as being otherwise. 79 Ricoeur also agrees with Levinas that the self is subject to the summons of another to respond and be responsible. However, he argues that this call to respond is not wholly external, above and beyond me, but is both external (either ‘vertical’ in the divine sense or ‘horizontal’ in a human sense) and internal, initiated by one’s own conscience.60 The passivity and passion of a subjected subject, without an active counterpart, reveals a purely dissymmetrical relation, as problematic as it is potentially ethical. While passivity to the alterity of “another who needs me” necessarily includes vulnerability, submission, and sacrifice in responding to his or her need (OA 165), passivity and passion may also result in negative Alterity is witnessed not only without but also within oneself. Ricoeur thus challenges Levinas, regarding his “entire philosophy” to rest on “the initiative of the [absolute] other in the intersubjective relation” rather than any initiating movement of the self toward others (188). If, with Ricoeur, we see otherness as non-absolute—both external in other people and intrinsic to oneself—then to encounter otherness requires a subject determined both by a passive response to the initiating call of other people and by an active response with and for others rooted internally, in one’s ethical aim, self- esteem, and self-realization that stimulates voluntary goodness toward others. In other words, the subjection of the self for others must be combined with agency of the self for response or responsibility. holds that the originary constitution of selfhood includes voluntary goodness with and for others. The self has within itself the capacity and capability of “aiming at the good life,” directing itself toward the good (OA 170). He argues that while humans have the capacity for evil, the obsession of self that initiates human evil is not the originary point of human existence. We are “fallen,” in other words, with a propensity to evil but an originary position of goodness (Fallible Man 144, 146). For a careful examination of human finitude in relation to guilt, fallibility, fault, and evil see Ricoeur’s early works, Fallible Man (1965) and The Symbolism of Evil (1967). 60 This tension between Levinas and Ricoeur mirrors a theological tension between Judaism and Christianity. Levinas’s other is wholly other, and this other as external and absolutely other reflected in the face and word of other people directs me toward the good. This wholly other i
UBC Theses and Dissertations
Witnessing others : ethical responsibility in relational life writing Stumm, Bettina Marie 2010
Notice for Google Chrome users:
If you are having trouble viewing or searching the PDF with Google Chrome, please download it here instead.
If you are having trouble viewing or searching the PDF with Google Chrome, please download it here instead.
- 24-ubc_2010_fall_stumm_bettina.pdf [ 1.54MB ]
- JSON: 24-1.0071283.json
- JSON-LD: 24-1.0071283-ld.json
- RDF/XML (Pretty): 24-1.0071283-rdf.xml
- RDF/JSON: 24-1.0071283-rdf.json
- Turtle: 24-1.0071283-turtle.txt
- N-Triples: 24-1.0071283-rdf-ntriples.txt
- Original Record: 24-1.0071283-source.json
- Full Text