Historical context in the history of ideas relevant to our study
Some developments in philosophy and psychoanalysis can put the work of Levinas into historical perspective and illustrate his relevance to contemporary analytical psychology. Though often unacknowledged, moments and extended periods of enigma are commonplace in the analytic process. This awareness underlines the radical difference between the epistemological premises of classical analytical psychology and the perspectives of Heidegger’s philosophical phenomenology of Heidegger and the post-phenomenology of Levinas.
Contemporary philosophy: a sketch
In 1927, Martin Heidegger famously completed his grand opus Being and time, a work that would radically recount how being revealed itself in the phenomena of everyday social contexts.4 For Heidegger, understanding one’s existence was dependent upon how it connected to everything else – an understanding that emerged from the contextualization of one’s historical and contemporary ethos. This was a radical step away from the Cartesian presuppositions and the dualisms tacitly adopted in the epistemologies of both Jung and Freud, which maintained the picture of an isolated mind with its various innate structures in relation to its internal and external ‘objects’ (mind/matter, subject/object, conscious, unconscious, transcendent/ phenomena).5 While Heidegger did not totally disavow that such dualities existed, following Husserl he held that they actually abstracted theoretical notions remote from the concrete flow of everyday existence. Husserl and Heidegger both viewed subjectivity as world-constituting. For Heidegger, the phenomenology of the concrete immediacy of existence was revealed via hermeneutics. Hermeneutics is the art of understanding a discourse in the light of the influences of the text in all its forms as it relates to the interpretive heuristics of the interpreter. Heidegger extended this to include existence itself as ‘texts to be interpreted’ or as he has famously said ‘let what shows itself be seen from itself, just as it shows itself from itself’ (1962, p. 34).
Heidegger combined Edmund Husserl’s phenomenological research with Wil- helm Dilthey’s theory of understanding ‘life world’ and for the first time brought a combined use of the traditions of both hermeneutics and phenomenology.6 The range of the philosophical-phenomenological tradition embraces many differences about the important questions concerning method, focus and the status of the existence of a self (Zahavi, 2008, pp. 1-29)7. Scrutiny of the phenomenal complexities of the consciousness of the subject, the structures of experience, time-consciousness, intentionality, body and self-awareness, and with Heidegger the ontological placement of being-in-the-world through language and ‘care’ are core concepts associated with a philosophical phenomenology.
As a post-Heideggarian phenomenologist, Levinas extended the range of what human experiences could be concretely interpreted by introducing sensible responsibility for the other person as well as transcendence (alterity, otherness, that which cannot be known) into the continuum of time and being.8 This, he called the ethical relation. He emphasized the ubiquitous feeling of strangeness that pre- dominates in human experience due to the continual and shocking experience of otherness pervading everyday life. For Levinas, the very sense of selfness is shaped by the trauma of this reality (Levinas, 2008, p. 111). His oeuvre was devoted to an extensive exploration of the face-to-face relation that is prior to thought, action and being at the affective-sensuous level. This was a crucial departure from Heidegger who privileged ontology (being) over metaphysics.9 In other words, Levinas inverted the relation between ethics and ontology making ethics the first philosophy (Levinas, 1969, p. 47). The Levinasian project creates a phenomenology of subjectivity that located at the precarious and pre-theoretical nexus of subjectivity prior to its emergence.
Levinas’s most strident critique of classical psychoanalysis was in what he viewed to be Freud’s reduction of subjectivity to ego consciousness as is depicted in Freud’s famous maxim: ‘Wo Es war Soll Ich werden’ or roughly, ‘Where Id was, there shall Ego be,’ (Levinas, 1996, pp. 82-83).10 Jung, like Levinas considered the ‘Self’ to be affectively and pre-cognitively perceived and separate from ego consciousness. However, Jung’s ‘other’ consisted of the archetypes and his foundationalism bound him to a subject that could be known, represented and observed, in contrast to post- modern views.11 Levinas’s ethical subjectivity is not unlike Jacque Lacan’s relation to the real. Lacan interpreted the Freudian Es as the subject who is articulated in relation to the order of the ‘real’ or ‘Where It was, I am to become’ (Critchley, 2007, pp. 63-68; Žižek, 2007, p. 3). For Levinas, the ‘it’ is alterity located in the ethical relation and the site of subject formation, not in ego-consciousness.
Consciousness, for Levinas was a belated ‘trace’ (nachtr ̈aglich) of a pre-conscious sensorial affect, an affect that is due to the traumatization of being ‘held hostage’ to the primal, enigmatic (transcendent) command of and responsibility towards the ‘Face’ of the other who is commanding me (Levinas, 2008, pp. 99-129; 1996, p.142). We do not choose to be responsible, as thi