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SOUTH AFRICA: DIALOGUE ACROSS DIFFERENCE DEVELOPING THE FORMS OF DIALOGUE FOR A RAINBOW NATION - BY DR STEVEN SEGAL


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DIALOGUE ACROSS DIFFERENCE DEVELOPING THE FORMS OF DIALOGUE FOR A RAINBOW NATION

 

Dr Steven Segal Department of Education, University of the Witwatersrand, Private Bag 3, Wits 2050, South Africa Received April 1997; revised June 1997

 

In order to develop an educative response to the uncertainty and insecurity experienced in the face of difference I develop a distinction between defensive and philosophical responses to the anxiety of difference. Basing my elaboration on an exploration of some of the writing of Thomas Kuhn, Emmanuel Levinas and Jean Paul Sartre I maintain that a defensive response to the anxiety of difference is one which seeks to avoid the 'look of the other' while a philosophical response to difference is one which embraces the 'face' of the other in such a way that the experience of otherness becomes the basis of an existential education. Relationships between people of different cultures are, in the context of today's South Africa, torn between at least two possibilities.

 

On the one hand there is the tendancy to embrace otherness and difference. This is the dream of the 'rainbow nation' articulated in President Nelson Mandela's inaugaral address: 'Many Cultures, One Nation: ... The theme of President Mandela's inauguration, is a beautiful concept' as Holphe Bham (1995) states. On the other hand, there is a fear of otherness. This point is articulated by Bishop Tutu: In a time of transition such as ours, people are insecure and uncertain because well-known landmarks have shifted or are shifting, and they look for security in sameness and homogeneity. They are scared of difference which heightens their anxiety, and so we see an aversion to diversity, be it of opinion or ethnicity or whatever (1995).

 

The difference between the dream (Many cultures: One Nation) and the everyday reality (security in sameness and homogeneity) is the experience of uncertainty and insecurity. For, as Tutu makes clear, it is this uncertainty which leads many of those who embrace the dream of a 'rainbow nation' to search, in their everyday practices for security in 'sameness'. How can we transform the anxiety and uncertainty that, in the context of difference, leads to the desire for homogeneity, into the desire to embrace otherness and difference?[1] In this paper I address the logic underlying the anxiety and uncertainty experienced in the face of difference within South Africa.

 

I demonstrate that there are at least two kinds of responses to the anxiety experienced in the face of difference, what I shall call a 'defensive' and a 'philosophical' response. As I shall demonstrate, a defensive response is characterised by the withdrawal into, as Tutu puts it, 'sameness and homogeneity' while the philosophical response allows for an edifying response to otherness. I also show that the philosophical response to the anxiety of difference allows for the possibility of transcending, as Bham puts it, 'barriers of race, gender, class and religion' which will allow South Africa to become 'many cultures [in] one nation.'

 

The paper is divided into four parts. In the first part I show how incommensurability forms the condition of possibility of a dialogue across difference. In Part 2 I develop the logic of a 'defensive' form of dialogue across difference. In Part 3 I develop the logic of a 'philosophical' form of dialogue across difference. Part 4 is the conclusion in which I argue that if we wish to build a nation of many cultures we need to develop a 'philosophical' rather than a 'defensive' response to the anxiety of difference. If, as Thomas Kuhn in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions argues, different paradigms are incommensurable, what are the implications of this for different cultures?

 

The differences between different paradigms refer to different metaphysical and theoretical assumptions, different rules and techniques for applying the rules. The differences between different cultures are different customs, traditions and histories: they are differences not only of ways of seeing and understanding the world but are differences in ways of being in the world, that is, they refer to the different ways in which people relate to 'nature' or to the 'means of production', the differences in the way people relate to each other and the 'different ways in which people think about these relationships.

 

If incommensurability means that because there exists no common standard of evaluation, communication across paradigms is impossible, this has very negative implications for multicultural communication in South Africa: if we are to uphold a doctrine of incommensurability must we give up on communication and dialogue between different cultures? There is evidence to suggest that some of the proponents of apartheid believed this. John Vorster's defence of apartheid could be justified in the language of incommensurability: Our only guide is the Bible.

 

Our policy and outlook on life are based on the Bible. We firmly believe the way we interpret it is right. We will not budge an inch from our interpretation to satisfy anyone in South Africa or abroad. The world may differ from our interpretation. This will not influence us. The world may be wrong. We are right and will continue to follow the way the Bible teaches (1970). Perhaps not as aggressively, directly or dogmatically this same logic can be said to apply to reductive versions of theorising; reductive Marxists, liberals, phenomenologist's, psychoanalysts, Jungians, in the name of being true to their paradigms believe that their interpretation and its basis is the correct one and they will act in terms of it.

 

Indeed, Aletta Norval has argued that the reductive logic underlying apartheid is a characteristic of western metaphysics. Both are characterised by a refusal of otherness, which they escape through reductive and totalizing tendencies. (1994:119) Commenting on the work of Fynsk, she says that 'apartheid raises significant questions for Western political thought in that it speaks to something already existing in the political discourse of the West' (1994:119). In the context of incommensurability we are epistemologically justified when we can justify our argument or position in the language of our own paradigm.

 

We cannot be expected to enter the paradigm of the other or to look at ourselves in terms of the paradigms of others because there is no belief or assumption that incommensurate paradigms hold in common and thus no shared standard to dialogue across difference. Therefore, we are free to develop in our own terms, separately from the watchful eye of other paradigms. However, this does not stop us from looking at others in our terms and of in fact reducing them to our terms. Indeed, while Vorster refuses to enter a dialogue with others, he is not afraid to reduce the other to his framework of reference. This reduction is quite typical of most nationalisms which judge others in their own terms but do not appreciate the significance of the fact that other nations have different terms in which they experience and relate to the world.

 

The reduction syndrome occurs not only in the arena of political nationalism but, as Derrida has noted, academia is divided into a series of nationalisms each of which are committed to their own language, method and standards of truth. Furthermore, as many others have noted, academic discourses tend to analyse each other in their own terms without looking at themselves in the paradigms of the others that they are analysing. There are many tensions within paradigms and disciplines that indicate this point. As Harry Redner maintains 'nationally based philosophical organizations are ... barely on speaking terms with each other.

 

Every induced or incited colloquium between philosophers of different persuasions results in a dialogue of the deaf- all speak but nobody hears ...'(1986:5). The danger of the incommensurability thesis is that it, wittingly or unwittingly, promotes an academic and political nationalism in which each feels justified in withdrawing into the security of their own. However, the incommensurability thesis does not mean that we avoid being impacted upon by those who share a paradigm that is incommensurable with our own. We cannot avoid the 'gaze', 'look' or 'face' of the other. For some it means exclusion from a university, for others it means being told that they are irrational or sick - and for others that they are uncivilised or barbaric. An example of this is a well-documented antipathy between Jungians and Freudians in the context of psychoanalysis. Commenting on this, Andrew Samuels has said: 'The Freudians have frozen Jungians out of the universities. Freud even set up a committee to ensure his people controlled psychoanalysis.' But such situations are not limited to the field of psychiatry. Marek Siemek claims that, in the context of a concern with Truth, Marxism and hermeneutics simply have 'no access to one another.' Continuing his point, he maintains that a Marxism which operates in terms of a rigid distinction between base and superstructure 'could only view hermeneutic reflection as its own contradiction.

 

The hermeneutic tradition, in turn, tended to aggravate rather than weaken this antagonism' (1984:33). The incommensurability thesis, however, does not account for the logic of the interaction that takes place in the context of the gaze of the other. It does not even recommend a respectful silence. The incommensurability thesis offers a concept of dialogue and interchange under normal conditions, that is, for those who share a paradigm. But what we South Africans, in our multiparadigm universities and multicultural cities, need to develop is the logic of interchange that occurs when members of incommensurable paradigms and discourses are thrown into relationship with each other. As I will demonstrate, the gaze or look of the other is an occasion for a certain kind of dialogue or what I shall call a meta1ogue, a dialogue about the paradigms in which we construct the world.

 

As Kuhn himself notes, the scientist in his normal everyday activities as a scientist is not explicitly aware of his paradigm. It forms the taken for granted background in terms of which he functions as a scientist. It is only in times of crisis that he can no longer take his paradigm for granted but becomes reflectively aware of the horizon in which his scientific research was conducted. As I will demonstrate through the writings of Sartre and Levinas, the look or face of the other can fulfil the same role as crisis for Kuhn. The look and face of the other rupture our everyday complacency in the world in such a way that we come face to face with our taken for granted paradigms. In coming face to face with our paradigms we can either enter into a 'philosophical' or 'defensive' dialogue with the other. A philosophical dialogue is one in which we are prepared to deconstruct our paradigm in the face of the other. A defensive dialogue is one in which we seek to defend our paradigm at all costs against deconstruction. The name of Levinas will be used to elaborate the philosophical dialogue and the name of Sartre will be used to elaborate the defensive dialogue. The gaze or look of the other is not necessarily destructive but can be an occasion for existential education - or what Rorty calls 'edification', namely, the occasion for redescribing the taken for granted terms in which the world makes sense.

 

Levinas shares Kuhn's belief concerning incommensurability in that he believes that there is no independent criterion in terms of which different discourses can be measured and assessed. Or putting this in the language of Levinas, the Other is forever irreducible to the Same: ' ... the radical separation between the same and other means precisely that it is impossible to place oneself outside of the correlation between the same and other so as to record the correspondence or non-correspondence of this going with this return' (1985: 36). But whereas Kuhn sees incommensurability as a sign of the inability to communicate across paradigms, for Levinas, it is the condition of possibility of a certain type of communication, one which cannot be held by members who share a common paradigm. For Levinas in the encounter with the Other of an incommensurable paradigm I come to see and experience what is taken for granted in my own paradigm.

 

As John Wild has written: According to Levinas, speaking becomes serious only when we pay attention to the other and take account of him and the strange world he inhabits. It is only by responding to him that I become aware of the arbitrary views and attitudes into which my uncriticized freedom always leads me, and become responsible, that is able to respond. It is only then that I see the need of justifying my egocentric attitudes, and of doing justice to the other in my thought and in my action (1985: 15). Whilst absorbed within the work of my own paradigm, I do not see or experience it. It is in the face of the Stranger that I come to see myself or my own. This point is made in another way by Zigmund Bauman who says that in the meeting of the stranger 'Our unconscious customs and habits have been shown to us in a distorted mirror of sorts. We have been forced to look at them.....to stand at a critical distance from our own lives' (1990:60).

 

Indeed on my own I do not come to see the taken for granted horizon or background intelligibility in terms of which my experience makes sense. The rupture experienced in the face of the stranger is the condition for sighting myself. However, while the stranger calls me to look at myself, I do not know how to look at myself in the face of the stranger. As Bauman maintains, in the experience of the stranger the familiar terms of my paradigm are in question and thus do not constitute the terms in which questioning takes place. I cannot thus rely on my paradigm and have nothing upon which to rely - no ground, no foundation. The rupture of my paradigm by the stranger is the experience of the unfamiliar or the not at home. The experience of the stranger in fact gives rise to an experience of the strangeness of human existence. To experience the not-at-home is to experience existential anxiety. For both Levinas and Sartre, the experience of the incommensurable other does not give rise to a simple relativism or pluralism but is a traumatic experience of my limits and a very real challenge of being able to look at myself without having a familiar paradigm in which to do this. There are at least two opposing ways of responding to this challenge, namely either to withdraw into the familiarity of 'one's own' or to embrace otherness. The first possibility is characteristic of nationalism's and fundamentalism while the second possibility underlies what I shall call existential philosophical education.

 

The following quotation from bell hooks exemplifies the nationalist possibility: 'What we are witnessing today in our everyday life is not an eagerness on the part of neighbours and strangers to develop a world perspective but a return to narrow nationalism, isolationism, and xenophobia.' This nationalism, she continues, is 'coupled with a notion of security that suggests we are always most safe with people of our same group, race, class, religion, and so on' (1994). The second possibility is exemplified in the works of Deleuzeand Guattarri who maintain that 'philosophers are Strangers ... "societies of friends" formed by emigres' (1994:87). It also is expressed in the writing of Barnd Jager (1990:157) who sees the act of theorising as being rooted in the rupture of the familiar experienced when leaving the security of the home: 'Theorizing made its first appearance as an arduous journey to a place of divine manifestation in the service of community. It required first of all a leaving behind of the familiar and comforting sounds and sights of habitual life ... Once the theorist had achieved the object of his journey .... he faced the task of finding and following the path that would lead him from the festive heights back to the plane of everyday existence...' The logic of the first of these possibilities is outlined by Sartre and the logic of the second by Levinas. It is to an outline of these logics that I now turn.

 

Sartre helps us to understand the frightening implications of this irreducible relationship while Levinas offers us an edifying version of it. Beginning with Sartre who develops his concept of interpersonal relationships as a way of dealing with the question: how do we know that others exist? According to Sartre, the way in which we know that others exist is by the impact that others have on us. The other take us out of our unreflective immediacy. To be in the presence of an other is to come face to face with a different perspective on oneself. In the presence of an other there is a decentring of one's own world and a simultaneous recentering around the other. In the face of the other' ... there is a regrouping in which I take part but which escapes me, a regrouping of all the objects which people my universe .... Thus suddenly an object has appeared which has stolen the world from me .... The appearance of the Other in the world corresponds therefore to a fixed sliding of the whole universe, to a decentralization of the world which undermines the centralization which I am simultaneously effecting' (1976: 255). Sartre calls this experience 'The Look'. To be looked at by the other is to stand in a different relationship to oneself and one's world. Instead of being absorbed in and concerned with one's activities, the look of the other calls one to a reflective awareness of oneself, an awareness that one cannot have in isolation. In the look of the other, one has to answer for oneself. Sartre gives the following example: imaging, motivated by jealousy or curiosity, peeping through a keyhole. Because I need to know what is going on, I am totally absorbed in what I see. I have no thematic awareness of what I am doing: I need to know. I am thoroughly absorbed in whatever it is that I am looking at. Suddenly I hear footsteps down the passage. I see someone looking at me. Now I am no longer drawn to what is on the other side of the keyhole but am drawn to myself as looking through the keyhole. I see myself as looking through the hole. I want to tell this other, this stranger, that it is not what it seems. But it is in fact too late. I am ashamed. The look of the other indicates that there is a perspective on the world which is other than mine, a perspective which cannot be absorbed into my own - one which escapes me. The world is not only the world as it appears to me but as it appears to the other. I have to reckon with the perspective of the other. I have to re-evaluate my way of looking at the world in terms of the presence of his look. I am called to weigh my view up against his. For Sartre this gives rise to a simultaneous desire for and resistance to the other: on the one hand, the look of the other is an alienation of myself: 'The other is the hidden death of my possibilities in so far as I live that death as hidden in the midst of the world' (1976: 264).

 

Thus I need to escape the look of the other. The way in which I attempt to escape the look of the other is by turning the other into an object. In this way I escape the others perspective on me. In terms of this paper this takes the form of reifying the other as an object to be analysed in my own terms without looking at my terms in the context of the paradigm of the other. For example, if I am a psychoanalyst I will see the other as 'resistant', or 'repressed', without seeing the limits of my language in the paradigm of the other. On the other hand I need the other. The other is the source of my objectification. Without the recognition of the other I have no identity outside of myself. I am then lost in the despair of Hegel's Stoic who is able only to affirm the reality of its world of thought but not the reality external to it: 'The Other looks at me and as such he holds the secret of my being, he knows what I am' (1976: 363). Thus, for Sartre, human relations are a struggle in which I simultaneously resist and affirm the other. The other is both the condition of my self-affirmation as well as an experience of threat to my identity: 'While I attempt to free myself from the hold of the Other, the Other is trying to free himself from mine; while I seek to enslave the Other, the Other seeks to enslave me' (1976:364). In the context of nationalism this means that my partitular national identity is both dependant upon and called into question by the way that I am looked at by the other. I am an Afrikaner, a Zulu, a Jew only through the look of the other. And therefore there is a level upon which I need to grateful to the other. But the other threatens my freedom and therefore I resist the objectification by the other. I wish to concur the other in order to posses he who allows me to see myself. Summing up Sartre's view of being with others it can be said that for Sartre the 'Look' of the other is the condition of my objectification.

 

On my own I cannot develop a sense of my identity. It is only in the experience of the look of the other that I develop a sense of self. While I am dependant upon the objectification of the other for my sense of self, I also resist this objectification because it deprives me of my freedom in that I am dependant on the being of the other for my being. The look of the other always escapes me. I can never control the way in which the other looks at me. Resistance to the 'look' of the other takes the form of attempting to disempower the other by attempting to posses the freedom of the other, that is by attempting to posses the way in which the other looks at me. This I do by making them an object for me. However in the very moment that I constitute the other as an object for me I deprive myself of my objectivity. For to constitute the other as an object is to deprive them of their 'Look' and to deprive them of their 'look' is to deprive myself of being looked at - the very condition of my objectivity. To posses the freedom of the other would mean to reduce the other to my perspective. To reduce the other to my perspective would mean that there is no longer an independent look in terms of which I am constituted. Human relationships cannot but be a nightmare. What is fascinating is that Levinas affirms the same rupture in one's relationship to the Other but draws fundamentally different implications from it. Levinas would agree with Sartre that the Other decentres my perspective on the world and he would agree that this also means the end of my solitude. But for Levinas this ambiguity does not culminate in a never ending struggle for power in which each are attempting to reduce the other to their perspectives. Rather the experience of strangeness encountered in the face of the other is the condition of going outside or beyond the self. It is the condition of embracing the new and the different and is the grounds for wonder or edification. Levinas uses the terms 'metaphysical' and 'ethical' to describe the possibility of going beyond the self. It is to an elaboration of the Levinasian logic that I now turn.

 

If incommensurability leads to a position in which each paradigm is locked in its own world, its own way of seeing things, if incommensurability means that I can avoid the perspective of the other - because I can only see things within the framework of my way of seeing things, then it is a narcissistic philosophy or, what Immanuel Levinas in his book Totality and infinity (1985a), would call an 'egology', a philosophy which does not do justice to the being of what is other and strange. We avoid looking at the other's position by looking at the other in terms of our own position on the other instead of looking at ourselves in the way that the other sees us. We resist the look of the other by treating them as an object to be analysed. From the perspective of Immanuel Levinas an egology is any philosophy which attempts to reduce what he calls the 'Other' to what he calls the 'Same'. It is any philosophy which believes that it can reduce all of being to its point of view. Such a philosophy ' ... is hence not a relationship with the other as such but the reduction of the other to the same. ... Thematization and conceptualization ...are not peace with the other but suppression or possession of the other. For possession affirms the other, but with a negation of its independence. "I think" comes down to "I can"-to an appropriation of what is, to an exploitation of reality' (1985: 46). For Levinas the other is always more than the ways in which Imay objectify them. The other is not reducible to my perspective but has a perspective on me which escapes me. The terms in which I analyse the other can never capture the Otherness of the other.

 

As one commentator of Levinas has put it: The other ' ... does not merely present me with lifeless signs into which I am free to read meanings of my own ... The other is not an object that must be interpreted and illuminated by my alien light. He shines forth with his own light, and speaks for himself' (1985: 14). Levinas calls the irreducible perspective of the other the face: 'The way in which the other presents himself, exceeding the idea of the other in me, we here name face .... The face of the Other at each moment destroys and overflows the plastic image it leaves me ...' (1985:51). When ever I constitute the other as an object of knowledge I succeed only in grasping the 'plastic image' of the other and not the face of the other. The face of the Other 'cannot become a content, which your thought would embrace; it is uncontainable, it leads you beyond' (1985B: 8687). The psychoanalyst who diagnosis 'resistance' or 'repression' in has patient, the marxist who condemns the middle class in the name of 'false consciousness' - both of these grasp nothing more than the 'plastic image' of the face.

 

For Levinas the constitution of the other as an object of study is an ethically unjust activity, for it refuses to recognise the face of the other. It is an imposition of one's own on to the other. For Levinas a form of knowledge which reduces the other to its own perspective is a form of tyranny (1985:47) or what I shall colonialism of truth and knowledge, for it is colonialism which is always reducing the other to its own perspective. The 'overflowing' face and the irreducibility of the other through all forms of reduction and objectification means that there is no escape from the otherness of the other. This does not mean that I cannot escape the other. It is the Otherness of the other that is inescapable. Murder, for example, is a form of escaping the other by removing their presence but in so far as I can never escape the fact of murder I cannot escape the otherness of the other. The inability to reduce the otherness of the other to my perspective calls for a different kind of relationship to the other. Instead of constituting the other as an object of discourse or study, I am called upon to respond to the other. Responding rather than knowing becomes the primary mode of engagement with the other.

 

As Cohen (1985) has said: 'The responsibility to respond to the other is, for Levinas, precisely the inordinate responsibility of being-for-other before oneself.' For Levinas, the shift from knowledge of the other to responding to the other is also a shift from epistemology and ontology to ethics. Our primary concern in relationship to the other is not to know them but to be with them. Being with others is characterised by conversation with rather than analysis of others: To approach the Other in conversation is to welcome his expression, in which at each instant he overflows the idea a thought would carry away from it. It is therefore to receive from the Other beyond the capacity of the I ... But this also means: to be taught .... Teaching is not reducible maieutics: it comes from the exterior and brings me more than I contain (1985:51). To stand in a educational relationship with the other is also to stand in an ethical relationship to the other. For the condition of possibility of ethics and education coincide for Levinas. They are both rooted in the experience of being called into question by the face of the other 'A calling into question of my spontaneity by the presence of the Other ethics. The strangeness of the Other, his irreducibility to the I, to my thoughts and my possessions, is precisely accomplished as a calling into question of my spontaneity, as ethics' (1985: 43). In fact it could be argued that an educational attunement is the appropriate ethical attunement for strangers. Those who are unfamiliar with each others ways of being-in-the-world need to develop a sense of each other before they can judge each other. Furthermore because the stranger calls my being into question, the meeting with the stranger is the occasion for an existential education. Unlike those who believe that teaching and conversation cannot take place across incommensurable discourses, Levinas believes that it begins with our incommensurability.

 

Of course it is a specific type of teaching and conversation. Levinas calls this type of teaching and conversation metaphysics. Metaphysics begins in the experience of the otherness of the other. For in the experience of the otherness of the other I am called into question. Unlike in the case of Sartre, being called into question is not simply something that I resist but is the beginning point of what was once called 'first philosophy' or 'metaphysics'. For philosophy and metaphysics are the activity of questioning what is taken for granted. The questioning of what is taken for granted cannot occur in the solipsicism of egoism but is brought about by the 'overflowing' face of the other: 'Metaphysics, transcendence, the welcoming of the other by the same, of the Other by me, is concretely produced as the calling into question of the same by the other...'( 1985:43). The experience of the otherness of the other decentres my world and infuses a sense of strangeness into it. The experience of strangeness is the condition of metaphysical being, of taking me outside and beyond myself: Metaphysics... appears as a movement going forth from a world that is familiar to us, whatever be the yet unknown lands that bound it or that hides it from view, from an 'at home' ... which we inhabit, toward an alien outside-of one self ..., toward a yonder (1985:33). Metaphysics is thus the ability to embrace the strangeness of otherness.

 

This position has also been articulated by Richard Rorty who claims that it is in the experience of the strangeness of the other that we open ourselves up to the possibility of edification, that is, the possibility of experiencing ourselves and our world in new ways: The attempt to edify (ourselves or others) may consist in the hermeneutic activity of making connections between our own culture and some exotic culture or historical period, or between our discipline and another discipline which seems to pursue incommensurable aims in an incommensurable vocabulary (1980: 360). Whereas for Sartre the 'Look' of the other leads to a struggle for power in which each is attempting to posses the other, for Levinas, the face of the other is the condition of philosophical thinking, for it is only in the experience of this face that I can come to experience what is taken for granted from my framework.

 

In the context of Sartre the ego or the I wishes simply to preserve itself and to enhance its power. For Levinas the power of the I is given only in being able to reach beyond itself. For Levinas it is only by reaching beyond itself that the ego can overcome solitude and only by embracing the strangeness of existence can it locate itself in the context of infinity. For Sartre the individual can never overcome itself but in the name of security is always attempting to reduce existence to its own perspective. But, as Sartre himself contends, it can never be successful in this and so human existence is condemned to be a 'useless passion'. For Levinas, although the metaphysical desire is insatiable and thus although strangeness can not be overcome and reduced to the same, through the embracing of the strange, the human being is continually 'deepened' (1969:34). It is not my intention to choose Sartre above Levinas or via versa but to point out that in the rupture of the familiar experienced in the face and look of the other at least two possibilities exist: a struggle for power and the condition of metaphysical and ethical being. Historical exemplification of both possibilities is found in South Africa where in the context of apartheid whites responded in two different ways to the perceived 'darkness of Africa'. The vast majority of whites sough to protect and defend themselves in the face of the experience of the black. Hence the notion of apartheid. A small minority of whites, however, embraced the strangeness of the black and allowed themselves to be deconstructed.

 

Beyers Naude and Nico Smith are examples of the latter. For these figures confronted what Nande refers to as the 'eye of the storm' and rather than fleeing into the insularity of the familiarity of their own, they questioned themselves in the context of the face of the African. For both this was an edifying experience; one which enabled them to experience the world differently. It could, however, be pointed out that an advantage that Levinas has over Sartre is that Levinas is able to think the Sartrian possibility whereas Sartre gives no evidence of thinking the Levinasian possibility. It is important to note that Levinas is not naevi concerning the play of power. Rather he appreciates the limits and futility of the drive for power. For no matter how much power I have I cannot capture the face of the other. As Levinas says of the Other: 'He escapes my grasp by an essential dimension, even if I have him at my disposal' (1985:39). Power is unable to extend itself to the Otherness of the other. For Levinas, no matter how much power I or the Other have, there is no way in which the otherness of the Other can be overcome. No matter how much military, economic or psychological power I have over the other, the drive for power cannot overcome the anxiety of the strangeness of human existence.

 

Exemplary of this is the white government of apartheid South Africa. No matter how much power this government had over the black people of South Africa, it was continually haunted by a fear of these people. Metaphysics while not overcoming Otherness and strangeness embraces it and turns it into an edifying experience. What Levinas is calling us to do is to re-evaluate our attitude to what is strange and unfamiliar: the strange and unfamiliar is not only frightening, it is also edifying. It not only threatens the security of our already established world but opens up new ways of seeing the world. The strange is simultaneously repellent and attractive. Rather than overpowering the other, we need to overcome our fear of otherness. If we can embrace the fear of the Strange we shall not see the Other as simply a threat to our position but shall find in the encounter with the other an existential pedagogical opportunity. It is interesting to contrast the activity of what Levinas calls the metaphysician (that is, he who is concerned with the Other) with the activity of a scientist: for Kuhn in a time of normal science, the scientist is engaged in the activity of problem solving. He is concerned with clarifying theoretical assumptions, with verifying or falsifying hypotheses.

 

The metaphysician, on the other hand, is in no sense of the word concerned with the activity of proving. Rather he is learning how to adapt to what is strange and unfamiliar. He is not concerned with building and fortifying a system, for he believes that this will alienate him from the Other. Furthermore, his primary bond with the other is not a bond of knowledge, not a bond of commensurability but one of concern and consideration. I hope to have shown that incommensurability is not a condition to refuse dialogue but is in fact a condition upon which to enter a metalogue, a dialogue about the taken for granted paradigms in which we experience the world. I do not underestimate the anxiety that goes into such an undertaking. Hence I do not wish to under-emphasise the logic of the Sartrian option. Difference of culture, custom, history, gender and sexual identity are not conditions upon which to refuse culture but conditions in which to enter a metalogue, a conversation about the paradigms in which we make sense of the world. This kind of conversation we cannot have while we are absorbed in our own paradigm. Members of different paradigms challenge us in ways that no member of our own paradigm can. They can make us see dimensions of our beliefs in a way that no one else can. If philosophy is that activity in which we question our taken for granted paradigms and if philosophy is undertaken in a dialogue, then it is through a dialogicaly based philosophy that we can respond to cross cultural tension and difference in a proactive and edifying way.

 

To enter into a dialogue means not that the partners to the dialogue agree with one another - there would be no need for the dialogue if this were the case but that they are prepared to listen to each other. Listening to each other is not simply absorbing as information what the other says, but is a matter of being questioned in one's being by the other. In the situation of dialogue, to listen to the other does not mean simply to be able to comment on what the other says - as, for example, the psychoanalyst does - but to be challenged to respond from one's own point of view. To listen means not only that the other's point of view is in question but that one's own perspective is at stake as well. In the situation of dialogue the values, theoretical and metaphysical assumptions of both sides are open to question: I question the other in terms of my assumptions: he is questioned by my assumptions. He questions me in terms of his assumptions; I am questioned by his assumptions.

 

NOTE 

1. Although I shall not develop it in this paper, I am not arguing for an obliteration of difference through dialogue but would rather argue for a Levinasian position which affirms that we are always simultaneously the same and other.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY 

Bauman, Z. 1990. Thinking sociologically. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Cohen, R. 1985. Translators introduction to Levinas, I Ethics and infinity.

Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. 1994. What is philosophy? London: Verso.

Hooks, B. 1994. Teaching to transgress.' education as the practice of freedom. New York: Routledge.

Jager, B. 1990. Theorizing and the elaboration of place: inquiry into Galileo and Freud, in R. Masek, Hermeneutics and phenomenological psychology.

Kuhn, T. 1970. The structure of scientific revolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Levinas, I. 1985a. Totality and infinity. Pittsburgh: Duquesne Univ. Pr.

Levinas, I. 1985b. Ethics and infinity. Pittsburgh: Duquesne Univ. Pr.

Norval, A. 1994. Social ambiguity and the crisis of apartheid, in E. Laclau (Ed.), The making of political identities. London: Verso.

Redner, H. 1986. The ends of philosophy. New Jersey: Rowman & Allanheld.

Rorty, R. 1980. Philosophy and the mirror of nature. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Sartre, J.P. 1976. Being and nothingness. London: Methuen and Co Ltd.

Siemek, M. 1984. Marxism and the hermeneutic tradition, in B. Waldenfels et al. (Eds), Phenomenology and Marxism. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Tutu, D. 1995. We must be watchdogs - not lapdogs. Sunday Times, June 4.

Vorster, J. 1970. Quoted in the Sunday Times, November 8.

Wild, J. 1985. Introduction to Totality and infinity op cit.

 

BY STEVEN SEGAL

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