- Infrapolitical Literature:Hispanism and the Border
What counts is the idea of the overflowing of objectifying thought by a forgotten experience from which it lives.Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity, 28
The villains and heroes get all mixed up.Ian Fleming, Casino Royale, 159
1. On Exteriority
Immanuel Levinas's "Preface" to Totality and Infinity opens with the question of war and morality. War and morality are incompatible. If war, then perhaps no morality. "War is not only one of the ordeals—the greatest—of which morality lives; it renders morality derisory. The art of foreseeing war and of winning it by every means—politics—is henceforth enjoined as the very exercise of reason. Politics is opposed to morality, as philosophy to [End Page 183] naiveté" (1994, 21). Politics and war are the same, or rather, politics is the art of winning wars. And of course, Levinas says, "we do not need obscure fragments of Heraclitus to prove that being reveals itself as war to philosophical thought, that war does not only affect it as the most patent fact, but as the very patency, or the truth, of the real" (21). So, for philosophical thought, Levinas says, being reveals itself as war, that is, as politics. War is "the pure experience of pure being" (21).
But Levinas does not leave it there, because something haunts war. Levinas calls it "the eschatology of messianic peace" (1994, 22). There is an exception to war, an exception to politics. "Eschatology institutes a relation with being beyond the totality or beyond history, and not with being beyond the past and the present" (22). The point is that eschatology does not refer to the past or the present or the future; that is, it does not refer to temporality or to the supratemporal, understood as what sustains the temporal. It refers, rather, to what is beyond the totality. Eschatology is, therefore, not a teleology. It is not a teleology because it does not have a temporal structure. It is, simply, the announcement of something beyond the totality, which means beyond the totality of time and thus outside time, outside finitude (but then again not simply as what is beyond time but still within ontology). If it is outside war, and outside politics, it is not because it comes at the end of war or at the end of politics. What is that something named in the expression "messianic peace"? And how do we access it? He says: "Infinity" (23). And he says: "It is reflected within the totality and history, within experience" (23). Although it is outside totality and outside history, that is, outside the purveyors of experience, it is nevertheless reflected within them, and thus reflected in experience. Indeed, Levinas will say, it constitutes experience, because "[t]he idea of being overflowing history makes possible existents . . . that can speak rather than lending their lips to an anonymous utterance of history. Peace is produced as this aptitude for speech. The eschatological vision breaks with the totality of wars and empires in which one does not speak" (23).
Experience is linked by Levinas to this capacity for speaking, for speech or language, for saying. A vision of experience makes speech possible, and speech is only possible out of this vision. Without it there would be no [End Page 184] language. This would be a "vision without image," and a "signification without a context" (1994, 23). In Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, for instance, the kid speaks not only when he tells Sproule "I know your kind . . . What's wrong with you is wrong all the way through you" (1992, 66), but also when he tells the Mexican mummy "¿No puedes escucharme?" (315). As we will see in what follows, Immanuel Kant's notion of a need for exposure without ulterior purpose is matched by Javier Marías's understanding of the need for writing and by McCarthy's thematization of an inner fold in the practice of war. All of three of them are glimpses of Levinas's experience of an overflow in objectifying thought: a signification without a context, immemorial as such, beyond history, atemporal; without which, I add, any narrative, provided...