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Levinas and the Schizophrenic Other

Levinas and the Schizophrenic Other

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Published by: javi_armenta on Nov 18, 2010
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Must Out of Sight Mean Out of Mind?Levinas, Language and the Schizophrenic OtherAda FettersSeattle University
“We build a foundation but where do we standWhen all air is water and all water is land?”Trey Anastasio,
Twenty Years Later 
“Language as an exchange of ideas about the world… presupposes the originalityof the face without which… it could not commence” (Levinas, 1979, p. 202). EmmanuelLevinas spoke out passionately against reductionist language. In therapeutic terms,reductionism translates into letting the diagnosis speak instead of the patient. Even now,mainstream psychology holds Karl Jaspers’ view that diagnoses and terms are a necessarytemplate; that we must label schizophrenia and its symptoms in terms of form rather thancontent because such individual characteristics of the content mean there is no truth insuch experiences for a therapist to understand. I contend that Levinas offers an ethicalalternative to this rather dehumanizing point of view by reminding therapists that only theOther human being knows the truth of his own
experience, and this holds truefor schizophrenics just as much as for therapists, or anyone else for that matter.Further, Levinas’s view is not merely theoretical. It is practical in that he absolvestherapists from comprehending the patient fully by seeking one universal truth ortemplate to contain them. However, it is the job of the therapist to understand the natureof patient’s struggle. Levinas can help therapists here as well. He reminds us thatlanguage (the primary tool of a psychotherapist) can be both a bridge and a barrier forcommunication between unique individuals, especially therapist and patient.Psychological language is liberating when it gives words to those who do not yet have
their own vocabulary, but terminology can still their voices if it reduces their experienceto generalizations.
Levinas and the Schizophrenic Other
 Levinas writes of the limitless distance between all individuals in his
Totality and  Infinity.
Behind the face of the Other person, the physical features and affect, is the vastreach of interiority. He writes that “The face is present in its refusal to be contained. Inthis sense it cannot be comprehended, that is, encompassed” (1979, p. 194). This isbecause for Levinas, the human face was much more than a membrane stretched over abony casing. For Levinas, the face was the manifestation of transcendence. The infiniteuniqueness and Otherness of the person not only shows in their face, but alwaysoverflows their mere appearance. The face is not just flesh. It is the
way the Other  presents himself 
while always exceeding not only his own form and image, but also anyidea I have about him and his character. It is “the infinite in the finite, the more in theless” (p. 50). The infinity of the interior is constantly being produced so that it is in aperpetual state of 
It is beyond comprehension, beyond summary, beyond anyboundary or template imposed upon it no matter how much of it might be discovered.Before we go any further, it is important to note that I do not intend to reduce thefull complexity of Levinas’s Other – I relationship to that of patient – therapist.According to Levinas, the Other comes from a transcendent height, and I am foreverbelow. The dimension of 
is noteworthy and its application or lack thereof to thetherapeutic relationship has been long debated among philosophers and psychotherapists.However, this paper will focus on Levinas’s dimension of 
as applied to the

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