Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Host-ile Reader

       If I were to sit down and read, say, Twilight, I would approach it with hostility. That is, I would already expect it to not only contain bad writing, but that I would also oppose it’s moral, ethical, and political position(s). At UF and other R1 institutions, popular culture has become a legitimate topic and text for theoretical inquiry. Thus, there have been many papers written on Twilight, Harry Potter, and, my (least) favorite Avatar. As academics, we believe we can offer fresh perspectives on these texts in order to show if not their aesthetic worth, at least how they openly display the mass culture’s beliefs and pre-occupations.
Even if we are openly hostile to books like Twilight, critiquing them for their re-entrenchment of heteronormativity or religious imperatives to wait to repress desire, we are at the same time their hosts, inviting them into academic discourse. As hosts, even host-ile hosts, we are at the same time hostage to these texts as they seem to be representative texts of our culture. Furthermore, once we become hosts to these texts, they take ‘the tradition’ hostage. Now, I do not want to bemoan the loss of the great aesthetic, literary tradition because to a certain extent it is still alive and kicking. However, I do want to point out the dialectical relationship created by engaging with these texts and then, eventually, compare this to hostility shown in workplace writing.
      As Harold Bloom has pointed out, poets are constantly struggling against some previous figure, attempting to escape from their literary shadow. By engaging with this tradition, the poet becomes part of the tradition and, at the same time, confirms the previous poet’s importance to the tradition. The poet creates something “new,” but only by responding, struggling against, and appropriating the old. Poetry may be the place for true invention, but what about theoretical ideas—or literary hermeneutics? When someone interprets Twilight again, are they re-inventing and re-visioning the text, so as to legitimate it as part of the popular culture (and academic) canon? Are they not also preserving the text, even as they write against it and refute it?
We see that within the academic tradition, the text can actually be preserved by hostility because writing an academic article requires effort and engagement with the text. In academics, we tend to see these cultural texts as “representative” of the culture, perhaps showing us the ‘culture’s’ cultural ‘public opinion’. This does not seem far-fetched, as these texts circulate wildly throughout the United States, impacting the lives of many people. These are paradigmatic stories of our culture, much like the myths told in oral cultures and, even in academic critique, these myths are preserved and legitimized as objects of inquiry. Inquiry and critique takes an appreciation of the text, a hostility to the ideas perhaps  but not to the act of reading itself.

And so we leave the halls of academia and enter the cubicles of corporate America. . .

        In this arena, I want to argue that texts are not preserved by the hostility related to the host and hospitality. In this world, the reader is hostile not only to the ideas but to the act of reading and interpreting itself. In the previous section, I deliberately played with Jacques Derrida’s punning on hôte, meaning both host and guest. As Diane Davis puts it, “as soon as the guest is invited in, the host becomes the guest’s hostage; the power of the host is converted into the vulnerability of the hostage” (Davis 132). However, as Matelene points out, hostile audiences such as the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, are not going to ‘engage in a play of signification’ not going to ‘envision alternative readings’, and are not going to play the role we have written for them” (Matelane 54). Furthermore, the host as hostage of the guest kind of thinking seems to only work if the host and the guest are on the same power-level. A chairman could easily dismiss the text as meaningless, unimportant, hostile to another value, etc. The text, in this case, not the reader, is the hostage of this person in power. These people in power are not going to give up their power, are not going to welcome the ‘unexpected guest’.
      Let me be clear: I think that Derrida’s ideas about welcoming the unexpected other are useful, but, as he says himself, (im)possible. Given that we cannot expect this kind of openness from those higher up on the corporate ladder and given that hostility toward these texts usually result in their death, we need to figure out how to negotiate these types of reading environments. Reading a novel, reading an academic paper (even as a peer reviewer) requires giving the paper the benefit of the doubt and allowing oneself to be captured (taken hostage) by the argument or narrative; true, in academic argument, we also read “against the grain,” but it is only an against the grain so as to help the writer or as a mode of invention for our own writing about the text.
      I’m not sure that all I’ve written is correct. I realize I have little evidence and little argument—perhaps I am just ranting meaninglessly. But I needed to produce some writing. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Baudrillard’s System of Objects, or, a slightly more boring and Marxist Barthes

I just recently purchased Jean Baudrillard’s 1968 work, The System of Objects, expecting more aphoristic, clever, and poetic statements that I have come to expect from the Baudrillard of Fatal Strategies, Simulations, and the little I have read of Symbolic Exchange and Death. While I would not say that this book is completely divorced from these works conceptually, the writing resembles early Barthes-esque structuralism. Baudrillard’s descriptions of everyday objects are full of subtle distinctions, but these careful distinctions, to me, are less profound than his somewhat erratic and poetic ramblings of Fatal Strategies. As reviewers of the book have noted, there is a strong Marxist influence in this work, which I think fades as he moves into his later books.  If I were to relate this work conceptually to some of his later work I have read, I would say that the System of Objects lays out some of his basic claims about objects becoming relations among signs rather than retaining their substance: “To become an object of consumption, an object must first become a sign” (218).       

To me, this reads like Sausurre with some Marx thrown in. Consumed objects are not really the consumption of the object, but consumption of the relationships: “It [the relationship] is thus arbitrary—and not inconsistent with that concrete relationship: it derives its consistency, and hence its meaning, from an abstract and systematic relationship to all other sign objects” (218). This is Sausurrian linguistics applied to objects. Somehow Baudrillard seems to still think that the system is closed, even though these relationships can be consumed ad infinitum because, essentially, the only thing that is consumed is the “the idea of the relationship” (219). The “commodity” is not an object, but a relationship.

Perhaps Baudrillard is responsible for bringing to light the idea that consumer society is driven neither by desire nor need, but I don’t think so. The conclusion he reaches may lay the groundwork for his further explorations of society, but if this is the grand conclusion it seems dated and flawed because of its structuralist and Marxist framework.

While this may be a crucial first step, I had to stop reading the book. Baudrillard’s descriptions of everyday objects don’t really merit close reading. He argues theses that seem almost common assumptions in today’s semiotic interpretation of cultural texts. For instance, Baudrillard’s reflections (no pun intended) on mirrors seem cogent at first: “For mirrors close off space, presuppose a wall, refer back to the center of the room. The more mirrors there are, the more glorious is the intimacy of the room, albeit turned back in upon itself” (21). This kind of interpretation of the function of mirrors pales against Foucault’s brilliant analysis of Las Meninas in The Order of Things. Things in Baudrillard’s first book just seem to simple, too clean. Of course, one might argue that Foucault is not really talking about “actual” mirrors in the room, but in a work of art, which adds an external dimension to the artwork. However, the point is that Baudrillard’s interpretations seem a bit facile and dull.

Don’t get me wrong, I will still be reading later Baudrillard. Its his radical statements and elaborate conceits that get my brain going—not his application of structuralism and Marxist theory.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The (In)authenticity of Joaquim Phoenix's I'm Still Here: A Response

The following post was initially meant to be a short response to a blog I regularly read called Pirates and Revolutionaries. The original post can be found here:

I’d like to thank Corey for this post and continuing to put up fascinating posts that consistently catalyze responses.

This post intrigues me, as the question of "authenticity" plagues existential phenomenological discourse from Heidegger, Sartre,and  De Beauvoir. Authenticity as a sense of respect for self is an interesting way of putting it. If self is ultimately a performance, then in order for the performance to be authentic one needs to fully invest oneself in that performance--otherwise, the performance comes off as a cheap thrill. For Sartre, authenticity is a difficult subject because our ontological condition is one of bad faith. Authenticity is never a stable state of being because we are always in bad faith. Every time we define ourselves as this or that, we forget that we are also that being which has possibilities (freedom). Every time we affirm complete freedom, we forget that, to use Heidegger’s terms, we are also de-limited by our facticity and state-of-mind. Phoenix, paradoxically, affirms himself as an actor because he decides that he wants to act in a fake documentary as himself trying to be a rapper. But while actors seem to have absolute freedom in performance of self, they too are limited by their facticity—their race, gender, class, fame, reputation, attitude, etc. Phoenix cannot transform himself into an ‘authentic’ black hip-hop artist, so he transforms himself into a ‘hipster’ hip hop artist—looking more like an indie singer songwriter than P. Diddy. Phoenix is unable to escape his own facticity. Thus, perhaps although P. Diddy thinks that Phoenix is not ‘respecting’ the self he is creating, perhaps what he means is that Phoenix doesn’t fit the profile for a rapper (and we might agree).

         The funny thing about this is that I almost wrote that maybe P. Diddy doesn’t think that actors can become musicians. We have seen numerous examples of musicians/rappers becoming actors: Ice-Cube, 50 Cent, Eminem, Marky Mark  (Mark Wahlberg--see film discussion below) Perhaps Phoenix and Affleck thought they would see if the reverse were possible—actors becoming hip hop artists. We have also seen many actors become “musicians”—Miley Cyrus, Hilary Duff, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jamie Foxx etc. True, these are usually kids but I’m sure I can find some examples of others. We tend to think of the transition from musician to actor as ok—Ice-Cube is actually quite a good actor, but the reverse usually falls flat—it seems “inauthentic” to us and, in the case of the child attempts, the music frankly, sucks balls. Perhaps this is because acting is something we are all capable of because we do it every day—we perform ourselves for others. Acting allows us perform our freedom. Music, on the other hand, is something that we do not all do—music involves fitting oneself into a particular niche within a large tradition. Acting has that too to a certain extent, but there is something about music that almost requires a certain authenticity. Keep in mind that I am not saying music is nothing like acting—indeed, we see from the personas of people like Marilyn Manson, Lady Gaga, G.W.A.R., Slipknot, etc. that there is a performance aspect.

Brian Warner "Marilyn Manson"

           Or perhaps, as you say in your post, Phoenix is merely creating the appearance and persona of a musician rather than devoting himself to the music itself. In other words, his musicianship is merely a function of his acting. As much as I hate Miley Cyrus, Hilary Duff, etc. even though they didn’t do it  all by themselves—they put in the time and resources in order to actually make (dare I say it?) music. To play out your connection between Death of a Salesman and I’m Still Here, rather than showing the inauthenticity of the self, show the inauthenticity of the American Dream itself. If the American Dream is to be a self-made man, then P. Diddy’s confrontation with Phoenix and Phoenix and Affleck’s desperate attempt to just “be” another person shows that you cannot just do this all by yourself—you must make the necessary connections and relationships in order to succeed. We know that Cyrus, Duff, Paltrow owe a lot to the people who helped them become musicians—the producers, the editors, the sound guys, the trainers, etc. etc—Phoenix seems to think that he can make this transformation without the help of others. How long did it take him to prepare for Walk the Line? How much research and work did he do in order to sing like Johnny Cash? How many people helped him transform himself into a musician? T. Bone Burrett, a master at making nostalgic music, obviously helped the project. In other words, Joaquin worked through the process with others and transformed himself materially and not just creating a persona, an appearance.
         Could Joaqiun Phoenix ever become as much of a rapper as much as he became Johnny Cash, even if he invested time, energy, money into learning the art? Is Phoenix’s rapper persona sophistry and does this open up Plato’s endless debate with the sophists? I would say that Phoenix does not take sophistry seriously, because he does not take into account the context of his transformation. He is trying to “become a rapper—in the sense that he seems to want to alter his whole “self” into a rapper. He obviously is not even paying attention to the appearance of a rapper, as we already pointed out above he looks more like an indie singer-songwriter. Thus, contrary to what we may have thought, he does not follow the Sophists, but the Platonists in attempting to form an “authentic” self and soul of a rapper, without taking into account the necessary transformation of appearance, context, and lifestyle.
Bearded Phoenix

     To say that authenticity comes from respect for self, is to assume that self is ontologically prior to performance. I would argue, even without having seen the film (but I will watch it—soon), that Phoenix is trying to create a counter-narrative to the side of him we have seen in his films and public performances—attempting to deconstruct our image of who Phoenix really “is.” But going even further than that—Phoenix seems to be revealing that the transformation of the self comes from a diffusion of the self rather than a commitment to an authentic being—“a rapper” in essence. The transformation of himself into a rapper would involve a change in appearance, attitude, investments, acquaintances, etc. He is not committed to this work, preferring to claim an essential transformation of the self and the soul. This answers the above question about why Phoenix is able to become Johnny Cash—because he transforms not his essential ‘self’ but acts like, talks like, sings like, looks like Johnny Cash.


Perhaps this is the rapper look he should have gone for? 

 Furthermore, I would like to think that Phoenix and Affleck are saying something about the documentary style itself—that to document someone’s life is always already a fictional self and persona, which already has a frame. This is evident in David O. Russell’s amazing film The Fighter, where Dicky (Christian Bale) and the viewer for part of the film think the documentary filmmakers are composing a documentary about his boxing ‘comeback’. However, the viewer finally knows the truth when Dicky is in a cheap drug house and asks the director “What is the documentary about again?” and the director says “We’ve already told you, its about  crack addiction.” Thus, the documentary displays Dicky’s life as a function of his crack addiction, whereas the film (the “fiction”) displays Dicky as part of other narrative’s as well—his brother’s rise to be a great boxer. Coincidentally (?), his brother is played by Mark Wahlberg, previously known as Marky Mark, from Marky Mark and the funky bunch (see below). Mark Wahlberg has earned his place as a respectable actor—less so as a respectable musician. The hit they had in the 80s is still played, but this is not his primary focus. Wahlberg no longer looks like and acts like Marky Mark—that self has been traded in for his various acting and real-life personas.

Marky Mark
Mark Wahlberg--The Fighter

In the "Making of the Figher" we find that Wahlberg actually trained for years in order to play the role he played in The Fighter--how long did Joaquin train for Cash? How long, do you think, he trained for his 'rapper role'? Did he? Is it even a "role"? Is it even a performance? 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Baudrillard Post

In Moment of Complexity, Mark C. Taylor critiques Baudrillard’s theory of simulation. Or rather, to be more accurate, he criticizes Baudrillard’s lack of a solution: “With no prospect of productive activity, all we can do is to mourn interminably the death of the real” (Taylor 71). Taylor argues that reproduction and production creates something new outside of the binary oppositions rather than one consuming the other. For Taylor, Baudrillard’s theories deny the creative possibilities of the new media culture.

True, Baudrillard’s attention to the gift economy (Bataille’s general economy) rather than the restricted economy suggests that he longs for a past where the gift economy still operates. But this is not quite accurate either, as the introduction to Symbolic Exchange and Death points out: “It is a mistake, then, to think that Symbolic Exchange and Death is simply about the 'ideological process' of the reduction of the symbolic by the semiotic. It is also about the irruption of the symbolic within the semiotic” (xii).  As Greg Ulmer has pointed out to me (and others), the general economy (the gift economy) is still present in today’s world. For Ulmer, this manifests itself in the accident. For Ulmer (and I suspect in Baudrillard as well) the general economy takes into account the necessity of sacrifice and death, what is not taken up in the universal exchange of signs and simulacra. This may not be Baudrillard’s position, but it seems that it might buffer Taylor’s critique.

Furthermore, even though Taylor mentions Baudrillard’s Fatal Strategies, he does not pick up on Baudrillard’s suggestion for a positive program for resistance. Essentially, he suggests that we need to take things to their limit—their ecstasy—in order to overcome the ennui of banal binary oppositions and reign of the simulacra. The problem with binary oppositions is that they eliminate any real adversity and conflict between them, they merely become exchangeable and reversible signs. Thus, usual modes of opposition are anticipated and merely reproduce the binary. In Simulations, it seems as though Baudrillard is lamenting the coming of parody and pastiche, but I think that Baudrillard is more hopeful than Jameson about the use of comedy, or at the very least, using the discourse/object itself and pushing it to its limit. Jameson argues that pastiche has rendered parody impossible, but Baudrillard’s interest in pataphysics makes it seem as though he believes that certain parodies, particularly parodies of science, may have a positive effect.

In Fatal Strategies, Baudrillard recommends that rather than oppose one sign to another in a binary, we take a concept to its ecstasy in the form of “more truth than truth” more “false than false,” etc. The implosion, like Nietzsche’s slave morality (although not related in content), contains a potential power in order to transform itself into an ecstasy at the same time that it erases “the real.” Only through a creative transformation of slave morality can we get to an affirmative and creative philosophy. Similarly, Baudrillard seems to be advocate moving through (transversing the fantasy?) of simulacra in order to solicit the real. For Ulmer, as already pointed out, the real resides in the accident—we can look at the accident as an indication of the general economy.

But I’d like to suggest that, though Baudrillard declares at the end of Simulations, “and so art is everywhere, since artifice is at the very heart of reality. And so art is dead,” (Baudrillard 151) certain public artwork demonstrations escapes the deadlock of binary oppositions, zero or 1. Public art, I want to argue, in effect re-creates a “scene” of the political, localizing it an allowing a point of resistance. I elaborate more on this argument with particular texts in my paper on Noise, posted a few days ago. In the movie Noise the protagonist throws all he has at car alarms—smashing them to bits, vandalizing the cars, to no avail. Only when he uses the car alarms’ power is he able to affect change. In this sense, the protagonist follows and takes the side of the object. Baudrillard writes, “the object mocks the laws we attach to it,” and in the concluding parts of Fatal Strategies elaborates (Baudrillard 227):  

The object, subtler than man, hardly answers. But it’s certain nevertheless that in disobeying laws, in unraveling desire, it answers secretly to some enigma. What remains but to side with this enigma? (Baudrillard 230).

Thus, we take the side of the object—subject ourselves to the object in order to affect the status quo. More on this later. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Zum Beispiel (For Example): A Reflection on Michel Serres' The Parasite

I am currently working on two things in my summer “off.” One, is reading several texts that I will use for my independent study this summer. The other, is preparing for my language exam that I will take in the fall, and, should I not pass it, the spring as well. I only mention these personal ventures in order to give the conditions of possibility for the reflections that follow. While reading Michel Serres The Parasite, which may be one of my favorite books I have read in years, a footnote concerning ‘the example’ caught my eye. Serres writes, “I ask you, says Socrates to the Sophist, for some definitions; you give me praise and examples. Later on, Socrates says that he too sells them” (Serres 29). Plato’s relationship with examples as opposed to concepts is complex, as many critics more astute that I have pointed out. But to give a specific example (zum Beispiel), let us take the discussion of piety in the Euthyphro. Socrates criticizes his interlocutor’s use of examples when he is asking for a definition, an essence of piety:

Remember that I did not ask you to give me two or three examples of piety, but to explain the general idea which makes all pious things to be pious. Do you not recollect that there was one idea which made the impious impious, and the pious pious?

However, Socrates himself constantly resorts to examples and figures of speech in order to explain concepts. The “allegory of the cave,” for instance. The example seems to play a similar role to writing in Plato—it is a technique of the sophists! Thus, the example is a kind of approximation to truth, a simulacrum that stands in the place of truth, a metaphor, a figure, an image—not the thing itself. Derrida frames writing as a supplement, but we might frame writing and the example, in Serres’ terms, as a parasite.

The word “example” caught my eye because I had just (re)learned the phrase “zum Beispiel” in my German textbook. While the etymology I may perform here might be completely false in one sense, I believe that an investigation into the pieces off this word “Beispiel” is in order to figure out the composition of an “example.” We will break it up into two words: Bei and Spiel. I will look at three meanings of Bei.

1.) Bei as “in (the?) case of” (as in the understanding of the phrase zum Beispiel). Ex: “In case of fire”

2.) Bei as in “By Jove!” (a curse, a swear)

3.) Bei as in near

In the first sense, I have modified the definition a bit to connect this bei with the bei-spiel. The phrase “in case of” tends to preface a warning or a hypothetical statement. “In case of” indicates a particular context or situation—indeed, it indicates a ‘for example’—if this occurs, then this.

In the second sense, we have ‘bei’ as referring to the gods or God. Serres claims that the ‘noise’ at the door that interrupts is precisely the gods! “For the first time we know who knocks at the door, who makes a noise behind the door frame. The gods.Who warn us to move, for the sky is about to fall” (31). In the realm of the gods, Serres writes, “the given comes before the owed.” We say “By Jove!” or “By God!” when something unexpected comes to us—an interruption, a disturbance, a disaster. Our “bei” indicates our necessity to respond to the given of the gods (Heidegger’s es gibt?)

In the third sense, we can understand bei as near, relating to neighbor, but also to the para in parasite, which indicates a ‘to the side’ according to Serres. So the example is always on ‘this’ side of truth (wherever this side of truth may be), it is to be located near the site of truth, but not quite there. We approach truth—truth is a neighbor or, to put it in Serres terms, truth is the producer, and we have to pay (in Heidegger’s terms, ‘give thanks’) to the producer through our words. Serres writes, “the parasite pays in parables.” What is the parable, but a mode of example, an example that is not meant as an illustration, but as a complication and interruption of easy meaning. A parable is an ambiguous enthymeme, where interpretation is at once necessary and impossible. The parable is the parasite of truth and objectivity, it requires the participation of the subject, of the reader to make sense of it (and yet will never make sense of it).

And so we can now understand that in German the example is always a parable. How? By introducing the meaning of the second word “spiel”:

Spiel: “game, match, to play a game, (fig) “to be in the game,” “to be involved,” “(free)play,” (see spielraum—playspace, clearing)

If the example is related to being involved with the game, which is also to occupy a ‘playspace’ than we can understand how the example is always a parable, which is always a parasite. Play is always parasitical on someone else’s work. In order to play, in order to occupy one’s time in leisure, one usually is playing on someone else’s time (which is why employers always speak of “working on their time”). Play involves a surplus of time as do examples and parables. They not only require time to create and tell, but also time to interpret and to “play within.” Parables, parasites, are noise that looks like order—only when a reader or a node or whatever we want to call him/her involves oneself in the play of the parable does the noise become a message. Usually, this message actually looks closer to disorder than the ordered narrative of the parable. The parable seems self-contained and simple—beginning, middle, end—but like a poem, it contains layers of interpretations. People ‘pay in parables’ because parables are entertaining. Parables give us ‘work’ to do that seems like play.

Of course, the issue then comes when we consider that for most people an “example” tends to clarify an abstract concept rather than complicate it. But this is only if they take the example for the concept. Or, to put it differently, if they take the example as unmediated truth, as unrhetorical. Or, to place it within Derrida’s terms, if they take the example to without tracing its history and without realizing that the example reveals a relation rather than the thing or concept. If we do not lose sight of this relation, then our task becomes tracing the history of the trope. The example when looked at as a parable seduces us into play, it persuades us to give the parasite (the one telling the parable) food. The parable creates an enigma (as does the riddle), giving us a meaningful (and impossible task). They create mystery and enigma, tempting us to interpret while constantly eluding our ability to do so.

As Cary Wolf points out in his introduction to The Parasite in different language: “These questions bring us back, in the end, to Serres’ ‘method’, to his writing, perplexing and unwieldy here as perhaps nowhere else in his body of work. Perhaps to answer those questions, we just have to do the impossible anyway. Perhaps it is a question of what we think ‘thinking’ is, not a reflection or representation but a performance, a practice” (Wolf xxv). I think this is what I love most about Serres’ writing. He interprets and performs others’ texts in ways that I think pluralize meaning. I enjoy his writing like I enjoy good literature (I am planning on a post on Serres and Cormac McCarthy in the distant future). As Serres writes,

“These customs and manner can be the object of anthropological study; they were once the pleasures of idle reading, when literature still existed. Literature made clear, even for the blind, a kind of figural instructive anthropology that was both accessible and profound, but without theory, without awkward weight, not boring but intelligent. Why do we have to pay nowadays with lead for what we used to get from a quill pen?”

Is this “figural instructive anthropology” not another name for the parable?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Responding to D. Diane Davis and John Muckelbauer's conversation on Levinas, Ethics, and Hermeneutics

This is an old post from a prior blog I wrote last year. I have begun to revisit this conversation as I work my way through Davis' new book Inessential Solidarity

    In “Addressing Alterity: Rhetoric, Hermeneutics, and the Nonappropriative Relation,” Diane Davis discusses the limits of rhetorical hermeneutics. Rhetorical hermeneutics, or, a hermeneutic rhetoric leaves out the “non-hermeneutical dimension of rhetoric that has nothing to do with meaning making” (Davis 192). In order to investigate this dimension, she adds to Stephen Mallioux interpretation of communication in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Mallioux believes there is no way to encounter the other without subjecting him or her to one’s own cultural assumptions because a completely other would be unintelligible (Davis 198). Far from refuting this claim, Davis (citing Heidegger’s discussion in Being and Time of the pre-understanding) believes that this is the only way to understand a subject. Davis disagrees with Mailloux, who argues that it is impossible to encounter the other as completely other. To do this, she draws on the work of Emmanual Levinas.
       The distinction between a Levinasian conception of the other and Mailloux hermeneutical one is framed by the way they describe learning. Whereas Mailloux argues that learning is an appropriative relation that forces us to deal with the other on our own terms, Levinas’ conception of learning involves the other’s intrusion into our own system of meaning. Levinas makes a distinction between the “said” and the “saying.” The “said” is the signifying and thus hermeneutical side of an “address.” The saying is the performative, asignifying aspect of the address. In Davis’ words, the address is “both the exposedness of the other and the obligation to respond” (194). Thus, the other calls us to respond, in a sense, by interrupting our hermeneutic desire for meaning. Learning does not take place by appropriating or colonizing the other on one’s own terms, but rather true learning, for Levinas is a “trauma, a shattering of ‘self’ and ‘world’” (Davis 199). We cannot “know” the other because we are in no position to ‘know. That is, we have no position outside our relationship with the other. Indeed, as Davis writes, we cannot “know” radical alterity, we can only “undergo it, suffer it as an interruption, a rhetorical rupture” (207).
       Just as Davis makes clear that she is not merely refuting Mailloux’s position, so John Muckelbauer is at pains to make sure that he is not offering “a critique or defense of either Davis’s or Levinas’s discourse” because he does not believe that the “risks” he will identify stem from any failure on their part. Instead, he argues that their discourses “expose” risks and impossibilities (Muckelbauer 241). Just before jumping into the four risks he reminds the reader again that he does not want to either take sides in an intellectual debate nor offer a ‘third’ alternative. Such a desire for a different and yet not different style of engagement stems from discussions that occur in his then forthcoming, now out, book The Future of Invention: Rhetoric, Postmodernism, and the Problem of Change. He argues that even though humanism and modernism seem directly opposed to each other in content, they do the same thing: “Because they advance themselves as a position, as a content that locates itself in relation to some other position, they cannot help but partake of the logic of identity and the dialectical movement of appropriation that it enables” (Muckelbauer 32). In the spirit of not taking sides, Muckelbauer offers four “risks” that Davis and Levinas expose.
      The first risk involves the difficulty of “thematizing something that is irreducible to understanding or knowledge” (241). Even thematizing something as “unknowable” makes it knowable, is to “the make the other into a theme, a “said.” The second risk is that even if this is avoided, they risk saying that theencounter with the other can be “subjectively experienced,” so it is important to make sure that the “undergoing” Davis discusses are not experiences. Muckelbauer acknowledges that Davis seems to effectively understand this risk (Muckelbauer 242). The third risk is addressed to the use of “metaphorics of excess,” which Muckelbauer argues that the “discourse of excess is coterminous with the discourse of signification itself” (243). Again, Muckelbauer doesn’t charge that Davis has not thought of this, but rather explicitly points to Davis’ attempts to clarify her meaning. The fourth and final risk is the risk that even the discourses that call us to recognize the other “on its own terms” implies that the other possesses its own terms. I take Muckelbauer to mean here that it is as if the other is a unified subject that, should we be able to, we could “properly” respond to it.
This fourth risk seems to be what we might call Muckelbauer’s “critique” of Levinas and Davis. While it is true he uses an interesting style of engagement that points to the “risks” (the “effects” of Davis and Levinas discourse) while, at the same time, showing how Davis attends to these risks, the fourth risk seems to reveal Muckelbauer’s “position.” He writes,

 attending to the ethical encounter with the irreducible other can quickly become yet another moralism. . .it is not far from attentiveness to irreducible otherness to a discourse that wants to distinguish the right way of attending to this irreducible other (through such familiar terms as welcoming, generosity, and openness) from  the wrong way closing down, violence, appropriation). Through such a   movement, the irreducible other is reduced to the new terrain for judgment (244).
     I can understand Muckelbauer’s fear that this will become simply another “moralism” in the sense that Levinas is trying to get at an ethics that goes beyond the mundane, but Muckelbauer seems to have something against judgment. His strongest claim in the entire essay is that “one can never simply point to any of these discourses as being somehow ethically or politically superior because it is more attentive to difference or more concerned with the other” (246).  As Muckelbauer seems to slide back into this idea that we might be able to inhabit these discourses in an effective way, but, I think, Davis will argue that this doesn’t take the Levinasian challenge to ethics seriously enough. Davis identifies the “fifth risk” that “such discourses may invite the unfortunate conflation of an im-mediate encounter with alterity (over which “I” have no power) and the attempt to attend to the implications of that encounter” (248). I sense either a hidden polemical tone or a solidarity in the way she engages with his response. For example, when she says “and Muckelbauer understands all of this” and as she cites Muckelbauer saying “Davis’s project” (Davis 248). She clearly states that her project “if we must call it that” has nothing to do with agency or advocating a particular engagement with the other (249). She makes a very astute observation that Muckelbauer “conflates the im-mediate relation with alterity and the (scholarly) attempt to attend to it” (251). We cannot choose a particular response, but we can choose to attend to it or, instead, notattend to it to stay in the safe realm of knowledge and appropriative learning.
Davis then comments on Muckelbauer’s sense of “judgment.” She reads closely the very end of the essay where he first says that this “hope for the impossible encounter for the other” cannot tell us what to endorse but then says “perhaps it can.” Davis is flabbergasted why Muckelbauer won’t come down on either side or the other. Rather than explore that statement at length, she says that she would at the very least argue that one must take it up in one’s discourse. I think that Muckelbauer would say that is ok, but that he wouldn’t say it was the only discourse that could produce similar ethical “effects.” First, I’m not sure that I didn’t just create a straw man to knock down, but if I didn’t, then I’m not sure I (nor, I suspect) Davis would agree with that response.
      Rather than making that rather crude accusation of mine, Davis “assumes” that his reluctance to advocate has something to do with Levinas’s distinction between justice and judgment. But while Muckelbauer seems to distinguish between them as if he comes down in favor of justice when he says “[. . .] each of these discourses risks becoming a discourse of judgment (rather than justice)” (246). In contrast, Davis points out that justice “demands judgments” (253). I suspect that Davis may be subtly critiquing Muckelbauer’s reluctance to advocate. Though Davis admits that one would “miss the point” if Levinas was used to justify any determinate ethics and politics, using those ethical descriptions “to justify an avoidance of advocacy altogether is to make things too easy for oneself” (255). I would suspect that she would apply the same logic of non-advocacy to Muckelbauer’s deployment of Derrida and Deleuze and Guattari.
Works Cited
Davis, D. Diane. “Addressing Alterity: Rhetoric, Hermeneutics, and The Nonappropriative
      Relation.” Philosophy and Rhetoric. 38.3 (2005) pgs 191-212. Web.
Davis, D. Diane. “The Fifth Risk: A Response to John Muckelbauer’s Response.” Philosophy
      And Rhetoric. 40.2 (2007) pp. 248-256. Web.
Muckelbauer, John. “Rhetoric, Asignification, and the Other: A Response to Diane Davis.”
      Philosophy and Rhetoric. 40.2 (2007) pp. 238-247. Web.