[always] remains open, that does not settle an ambivalence through disavowal, but rather gives rise to a certain ethical practice, itself experimental and seeks to preserve life better than it destroys it’ (p 232. Butler 2009 p. 177). For Butler, again borrowing from Levinas, it is the fleeting but profound awakening to the sensorial and penetrating trace of the other’s human frailty and to ‘the precariousness of life itself’, that is fundamental to radicalizing political theory (Butler 2004).
As Jews, Benjamin and Butler defend an ethos of accepting social responsibility for
Israel’s violence towards Palestinians – actions taken in the name of all Jewish people, including those who live outside Israel. However taking such a stance has a number of precarious repercussions, not the least of which is to be accused of Jewish anti-Semitism. This predicament results in a quandary. Benjamin asks; ‘What do you do when you live in a [Jewish] society where you are a perpetrator and everyone is in denial of that?’ (p. 235). Frosh describes the friction provoked by any criticism of Israel (by Jews) because it tends to be interpreted as a betrayal. In the face of this experience, criticism of the Jewish violence towards Palestinians evokes at best only painful and provisional acknowledgement. As a consequence the author asks profound questions such as: What damage have I done if I am a critic of Israel? For what wrong can I be called into account? How can acknowledgement come about without resulting in a self-abasement that will poison as much as it will cure (p. 236)?
An important omission in Frosh’s discussion regarding Levinas’s insertion of the ethical relation into the political realm was Levinas’s own ambivalence about whether the Palestinian can be considered a ‘neighbor’ or not. While Levinas implies that justice is awakened through an ethical relation with the ‘neighbor’, he could not condemn the murders inflicted in the massacres at the Chatila and Salora camps in 1982, and is infamously noted for remarking – ‘in alterity we can find an enemy’ (Caygill 2005 pp. 289-297). It is these occasional statements about actual political events that reveal Levinas’ own personal struggle with responsibility for the other and the subsequent relationship between ethics and action (justice) – the basic human struggle that Frosh is addressing.
Frosh gravitates towards Slavoj Žižek’s extension of Levinas’s esoteric, albeit profound view of justice through the presence of the third party (le tiers) or what Levinas also refers to as the ‘neighbor’. There are a number of tensions in Frosh’s rather abstracted discussion of Žižek’s critique of Levinas, leaving the reader with only a vague sense of the Levinasian platform from which Žižek departs. The most basic tenets of Levinas’s ideas about the ethical relation are omitted by the author, which leaves the reader unprepared for Žižek’s discussion of the third party. For Levinas, for example, the ethical subject pre-exists consciousness. That is, consciousness is a belated trace (nachträglich) of a sensorial affect, an affect that is due to the traumatization of being held hostage to the enigmatic ethical command of the other (Critchley 2010). In other words, a sense of justice is born from a subject’s pre-conscious predisposition to ethical responsibility, awakened through suffering and introduced by the awareness of not an- other but of the many. This awareness liberates subjectivity, the act of thought and a call to responsibility. While Levinas implies that justice is deduced through an ethical relation with the neighbor, he leaves us puzzled as to how this might occur. Žižek’s important essay addresses Levinas’s crucial silence on this point. Our understanding of the ‘hiatus’ between ethics and justice that is so crucial to the discussion could have been sharpened if the author had contextualized the concepts with primary text material or critiques (his or others –for instance, Derrida 1997, Caygill 2002, Critchley 2010, to name a few). An over-reliance on the exegesis, comparison and commentary of intellectual arguments other than his own throughout the paper is in my opinion, a minor deficiency.
If analysis is at root an ethical undertaking, then a responsiveness to the fractures of hurt and suffering that occur in the reality of being in the world with others is crucial. Frosh’s article contributes an important ethical perspective by highlighting how important cultural identity and its dilemmas may be when working with Jewish patients or others in similar ethical/cultural contexts. His discussion highlights how profoundly culture affects our capacity to be in the world with others, and underscores the ethical urgency of a response to the ‘command’ of the many, ignited through awareness of the other.
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Derrida, J., (1997). Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Frosh, S., (2010). Psychoanalysis Outside the Clinic. London: Palgrave: Macmillan.
Levinas, E., (1969) Totality and Infinity. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press.
Levinas, E., (1996). ‘Substitution’. In: Peperzak, A., Critchley, S., Bernasconi R., Basic Philosophical Writings of Emmanuel Levinas. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Levinas, E., (2003). On Escape. Stanford CA: Stanford University Press.
Žižek, S. (2005). ‘Neighbors and other monsters’. In: S. Zizek, E Santner and K. Reinhard (eds.), Three Inquiries in Political Theology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Robin McCoy Brooks
North Pacific Institute for Analytical Psychology