Thursday, December 22, 2005

Totality vs Infinity

This bizarre and massively super-intelligent book by a Talmudic analyst and ethicist philosopher, Emmanuel Levinas, the colossal Totality and Infinity, hit me harder than almost any other book in this world.

book battle zone

I was carrying this Totality and Infinity book in my neighborhood in the Lower East Side of New York City, back in 1987, when some convert-craving cultists, some strange chant-crazy, magic formula, vain repetition Pseudo Buddhist Mantraists confronted me, begging me to just one time say what in translation to English would be something akin to "I praise The Lotus of the True Law as the right guide to life."

They, these pseudo-metaphysical fiends, accumulated in an apartment right behind mine, which was on First Avenue and 13th Street, near WGAF saloon, not far from where Ronald Reagan's son lived. Mostly Puerto Ricans on my block, with a little television on the sidewalk when a ball game was on, in the summer, almost tripped over the long extension cord.

And when the Pseudo Buddhists (not the Puerto Ricans) were amassed, they would launch into group chanting, eery, conformist, traditional, unenlightened, obsessive, loud, almost musical, but unwanted, sinced I had plenty of my own electronic music to listen to then, and thus, didn't need to hear their melodic maniacal team chant exercises.

I clutched my book tighter. Totality and Infinity was my companion and confidante, my shield and filter, my combat buddy.

I had no such confidence in these freaks. Couldn't they see what I was reading? Surely they glanced at it, glared at the title. They must have seen it, as I kept waving it like a flaming sword against all their brainwashed obedience and proselytizing zeal.

(Ironically, I think very highly of both books, and had no wish to see their surrogates clash like this.)

What is Totality and why
is it the opposite of Infinity?

Totality and Infinity ranks, to my mind, both as Pure Literature and as Ethicist Philosophy, right up there with 1984 by George Orwell, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Nichomachean Ethics by Aristotle, Gorgias by Plato, Writing and Difference by Jacques Derrida, A Heart under a Cassock by Arthur Rimbaud, Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau, The Blue and Brown Notebooks of Ludwig Wittgenstein, Djinn by Alain Robbes-Grillet, and the amazing Mahayana Buddhist text The Lotus of the True Law.

My dumbed-down (for my benefit, for my personal later reading pleasure, and not a slur on you, gentle/violent reader), mini-review of Totality and Infinity would be:

Totality and Infinity is a majestically aggressive assault on the addictive narcotic of Narcissism, and its secret evil twin, Conformity.

Levinas, through this book, taught me permanently how the needs of my neighbor (the "other") pre-date, occur prior to, my own existence; thus I am, and so is everyone else, born to serve, not to indulge my own every whim, as though the universe's primary purpose is to please me.

Then he took me to the Realm of Higher Creeds, and showed me, through a deeply turbulent, turgid, and nearly impenetrable writing style, how Totalizers seek to control others, while Infinitizers seek to destroy all limits for all good things, including thought.

Totalizers are mediocre, Infinitizers are innovators. Totalizers manage. Infinitizers create. Totalizers complain. Infinitizers champion.

Thus ends the Vaspers the Grate review of Totality and Infinity by Emmanuel Levinas, a friend and colleague of Jacques Derrida and Maurice Blanchot.

It mightily depresses me to think that I was so deeply and irrevocably influenced by these three giants of literature and philosophy, ethicists all, and yet never contacted them before they died. I tried to find Derrida's email address, but by the time I wrote to him, his addy had changed, and probably he was to sick to deal with online anything anymore.

Now let's go to my favorite web site, shall we?

Amazon dot com, and what's really funny about this being my favorite site: I have never ordered anything online, and because of the dangers of identity theft/spoofing, I never will. I preach against online shopping and online transactions of medical or financial data, because no corporations are sufficiently protecting customer files.

But I like Amazon's free music mp3 downloads, and how I can read several pages of a book prior to buying it.

Plus, it's a major part of my job as a web usability specialist to study and interact with the top traffic sites, which set web norms and user expectations for the rest of the web and blogosphere.

So here's the first review on an Amazon dot com page for the Emmanuel Levinas book, Totality and Infinity.


Beyond Being, May 22, 2000 Reviewer: Eric Mullis (Charlotte, N.C.)

A very difficult and interesting work [Totality and Infinity by Emmanuel Levinas].

Levinas' prose is complex and often seemingly contradictory. Why is this so? Levinas struggles with a language that very often glosses over the radical alterity of the other.

Traditionally, western philosophy has relegated all beings to Being, the stuff from which all things, or beings, spring. Levinas wants to suggest that in doing so, western philosophy has ignored the complex and often difficult relationships that exist between individuals.

Specifically, Levinas addresses the ontology of Martin Heidegger which reduces the other's importance by giving priority to Being, or Totality.

The other, however, points beyond Being and towards infinity. The idea of the infinite is drawn from Descartes' third meditation in which he describes this fundamental idea that we all have.

Levinas carries on this line of thought by emphasizing the other that shatters the supposed totality of Being and consequently creates an necessarily ethical relationship. Wonderfully, Levinas' work acts as an other that continually challenges the reader as do the relationships in everyday life.


"O heedless creature"

poem by Vaspers the Grate

O heedless creature
enthralled with sundry delights,
ferociously chasing
uneven evaporations:

What does your unknown
expiration date
mean to you?

When you think about how
you could abruptly die
at any random moment?

Or could just as suddenly,
without a single warning,
begin a long, tortured
spin-down spiral
into an unseemly
whirlpool of anguish
and mind-boggling pain,
accentuated with absolute

The other side of that ugly
and dreaded reality is
full of hope and trust,
truth and goodness,
but what about
that final phase?
that lasting trace?
your death-refrigerated face?

What will unexpectedly come
creeping out of your skinbag,
smirking at all who encounter it,
slithering in a senile imposture,
slobbering, violent, blind,
when nothing remains of Present Mind?

How will your horrified
wife, children, siblings,
as onlookers purveying
an astonishing scene,
view your Final Self
in all its macabre,
in all its repulsively
insane insatiability?

Work on sanity, clarity,
spirituality now...

before the worst in you
necessarily, monstrously
begins to come out,
in your last days on earth.

Wretch, now what's that worth?

[signed] Steven Streight aka Vaspers the Grate



Merry Christ Mass Everyone!

Happy Hanuka!

And happy...whatever the Buddhists, Muslims, Jains, Zorasterians, Hindus, Dialectical Materialists, Evolutionists, Secular Humanists, UFO Cultists, Scientologists, and Dutch are doing during our American holidays!



carrie said...

wow. you wrote that poem? it is awesome.

steven edward streight said...

Yes, I did. Crummy, but if you like it, that's nice.