Do I Know You? Memory, Trauma and the Other

Jeff Warren
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Someone knocks on your door. You open it, and in that instance before you recognize the visitor, you experience the transcendent face of the other in all its immediacy, tearing you from your reality and exposing you to infinity before you fall into ontology once again. Examples such as this one used by C. Fred Alford have been used to explain Levinas’ philosophy. Although this example provides insight into the focus on infinity and the Other in Levinas’ thought, this example does not account for all aspects of this encounter. One question that remains is: Why open the door in the first place? Why would we not pretend we are not home, or at least peek through a chained door to see if we recognize the person at the door before opening? Why should I open the door and make myself vulnerable, even allow myself to be hostage to the Other? Levinas would argue that it is the call of the Other that beckons us to respond. Why does everyone not respond to this call? How can we trust that the Other will also respond to the call of "thou shalt not murder?" We know that not everyone heeds the call – otherwise cases of violence would not occur.

The answer can be found in memory: It is the memories of people’s past experiences of nakedness and trust that most often cause them to turn a deaf ear to this call. Trauma of the past prevents them from entering into the trauma that is the experience of the Other and trace of infinity. Ontology can become strong enough to cover the pre-ontological call of the Other. Everyday we encounter people who ignore the call of the Other. How can those people hear the call? When the ethical imperative of the call is ineffective, what is the solution for them to experience the Other again? Can our ontological dealings with others help provide them with the ability to open the door and experience infinity and the Other?

This paper will explore this question, suggesting that our posture in-the-world affects our ability to experience the Other. This will question Levinas' concept of the primacy of the pre-ontological, suggesting that the ontological, while not more important than the pre-ontological, is necessarily our starting place and effects our ability to experience the infinite Other.

Keywords: Levinas, Derrida, Ethics, Continental Philosophy, Trauma, Memory
Stream: Anthropology, Archaeology, Cultural Studies and Humanities, Psychology, Cognitive Science and the Behavioural Sciences
Presentation Type: Virtual Presentation in English
Paper: Ethics and Experiencing the Other

Jeff Warren

Faculty / Artistic Director, Music Dept / Verge Arts Series, Trinity Western University
Langley, BC, Canada

Jeff Warren teaches in the Music and Fine Arts departments at Trinity Western University. His main teaching and research interests include 20th century art, jazz and popular music, the application of continental philosophy (in particular Heidegger, Gadamer, Levinas, Derrida) to questions of meaning in the arts, postmodern aesthetics, and psychology. He has published and presented his scholarship internationally. Jeff also serves as the Artistic Director of the Verge Arts Series at TWU, an interdisciplinary series that presents new art and scholarship. He also teaches bass and guitar privately at Studio 2000 in Abbotsford.

As a performer, Jeff has played with the West Coast Symphony, the Vancouver Philharmonic, and several jazz and pop / rock groups including the jazz trio Fulcrum and the Nuevo Flamenco trio De La Terra, and has performed in many different venues and events including the Vancouver International Jazz Festival, the Jaun de Fuca Festival, and the Chan Centre. Jeff is also an active session player and has contributed his electric and double bass playing to many recordings.

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