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Fall 2008 5 Thomas Butler is an assistant professor of English at Eastern Kentucky University where he teaches courses on modern drama and twentieth-century British literature. The Ethics of an Expressionless Gaze: Samuel Beckett’s Ohio Impromptu Thomas Butler In her contribution to a recent collection of Beckett criticism, Luce Irigaray seeks to clarify what might be meant by the pervasive and murky term of ethical parlance: “the other.” She wants to preserve its ethical force from a popular, desiccated meaning common in everyday speech that promotes something like interpersonal respect. Too often, Irigaray says, discussions invoking “the other” bypass the sheer difference of another human being and try to shape it into a palatable sameness. This tendency is not simply a bad habit perpetuated for the sake of convenience; rather, it has deep (and not necessarily bad) roots in Western cultures. Irigaray explains that Western cultures, for example, teach that we ought to meet visitors with hospitality, as demonstrated whenever we open our homes to them and even, if need be, offer them a bed in a “guest room.” This offering, Irigaray claims, is entirely on our own terms, and, as magnanimous as it may be, it has little to do with encountering the other: “It corresponds to a kind of space for hospitality, in fact neutral or indifferent with respect to whoever is coming toward us. We are not yet available to the call of the other.”1 If opening my home to a stranger does not constitute a meeting with the other, then what, if anything, does? Irigaray suspects that we have domesticated otherness in order to avoid risking our secure sense of self. If I, for example, make a point to befriend people whose attitudes differ from my own, they may broaden my own perspective on things (again, not necessarily a bad thing, as such), but I remain entrenched in my own—somewhat enlarged—subjective position. “To recognize the existence of another subjectivity implies recognizing that it belongs to, and constitutes, a proper world, which cannot be substituted for mine, that the subjectivity of the other is irreducible to my subjectivity.” To what extent can there be contact between self and other if our subjectivities are “irreducible”? This is the fundamental question of Irigaray’s essay nominally about Beckett entitled “The Path toward the Other,” and, as a response, she proposes that such contact is a future possibility that will take place outside of one’s own subjective world: In fact, proximity to the other, with the other, closeness between us can be reached when engendering a common world together, a world that will not destroy the world that is proper to each one. 6 Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism Here nihilism finds a positive fulfillment. Calling into question one’s own world, so as to preserve the existence and the access to the world of the other, allows and needs to bring about a nothing that will permit the articulation between the two worlds. This nothing implies both a “no longer anything of one’s own” and a “nothing yet in common.”2 Rather than slipping into an amorphous commonality, Irigaray’s ethical subject maintains its own subjectivity in meeting the other and at the same time cultivates a “nothing” that preserves the space between self and other. Ethical contact, Irigaray asserts, happens between two subjectivities in a space called “nothing.”3 In Irigaray’s essay, “nothing” is the space where one can meet the other in such a way that privileges neither party. If this space were originally invested with something (rather than nothing), it would no longer be neutral and would tip the encounter toward one subjectivity or the other. Importantly, as Irigaray presents it, nothing is not devoid of meaning or potentiality: “In order to meet with the other, I must first let this nothing, which separates us, be, and even restore it.”4 Irigaray unfortunately does not fully develop her idea of nothing here, but she suggests that it overlaps with a “call” that prompts us to open ourselves to the other.5 Her major claim is that my awareness of the limits of my own world can...


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