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Studies in Practical Philosophy, Vol. 3, No.

1, 2003

Here I Am by the Grace of the
Other and Politics Is in Disgrace:
Levinas and Postcolonialism
ROSALYN DIPROSE

School of Philosophy, University of New South Wales

Here I am. There are -raindrops on your hair. Your "body is clear, sirnple,
in its Ivay perfect. " I stare. Here I aln, given over to you in d,esire, transported beyond myself. Here I am, "frankly ravished" (Coetzee 1999,12).
I calTY you to the bed-room, kiss yourfeet, "astonished by the feeling [youl
evoke" (Coetzee 1999, 25). A simple case of innocent desire ? On the contrary. Here I am, the central cha-racter in J M. Coetzee's novel Disgrace:
David Lurie, aged 52, an aCade1rlic specializing in romantic literature,
in post-apartheid South Ajlica, failing Lo keep pace Ivith the impact of
econornic rationalism on the fabric of the university, divorced, philanderer, besotted Ivith Melanie, my 20 year old student. "She does not resist.
All she does is aveTt herself; avert her lips, avert her eyes. ... Not rape,
not quite that, but undesiTed nevertheless ... As though she had decided
to go slack, die lvithin herselffor the duration. " (25)

David in his self-delusion, will forget this iIlSight about the death
he caused by the time he is brought before the ulliversity's disciplinary committee 011. charges ofvictimization and harassme11t. He
will neither hear Ilor defend hirnself against the details of the
charges, suspecting that they were made ullder pressure from her
'Jealous boyfriend" and "indignallt parellts" (Coetzee 1999, 45).
He accepts his guilt but without remorse, wrapping hirnself, with
the help of Byron, iIl a romaIltic image of his relationship with
Melanie. DescribiIlg hirnself as a recalcitrant "servant of Eros"
within whom "somethillg generous ... was doillg its best to flower"
(89), arld feeliIlg like a dog who would rather be shot tha11 "accept
the justice of beillg PUllished for following its illstincts" (90),
David leaves the University of Cape TOWIl iIl disgrace. More disturbing than David's self-delusioll and dellial of the other is the
difficulty the reader has itI simply condemning hirn, IlOt so much

Oll the other. and. More important we withhold condemnation of David iII deference to Melanie. how to bear a fall from privilege with geIlerosity. save that which is mediated by the men who surround her. how to act for a future beyond ones own time. Tllat just serves to fuel the reader's frustratioll at his blilldness alld iIlaction regarding his disgrace. While Disgrace opens with the issue of sexual harassment. POilltS to how objective judgmeIlt in the service of a grand postcolonial politics may be inappropriate to these questiollS. the politics of both llis actions (given his privileged position iIl terms of sex. between what David sees as his iIlstillctual desire and generosity toward the other. What saves hirn from the reader's hasty judgment is the impossibility of siding with a panel of self-servillg. how to elevate a multiplicity of differences above the ruiIls of colonization. how to act for ajustice that is probably impossible alld that is certaillly not here. David's journey raises the question of how to be good in these difficult times of decolollization. and largely iIldifferent. and race) and the judgment of a third party. there is a tension between the interpersonal and the political. This tellsion is reminisceilt of the distiIlction in Emmanuel LeviIlas's philosophy betweell tlle ullconditional giviIIg to the other characteristic of etllical sensibility.Here I Am by the Grace 0/ the Other and Politics Is in Disgrace 23 because we believe his own image of hirnself as a romantic victim of circumstance. profession. not Oilly the possibility ofjustice with regards to sexual difference. David's sexual possession and silellcing of Melallie. alld politics tllat effects an ontological closure to the other. But. we hear and know nothing. Without assuming I can do justice to tlle . academics who seal his fate. a politics that would close off that generosity as weIl as the other's difference. From the openiIlg ellcounter betweell David and Melallie. from alld of the other who seemed to inspire David's desire alld his fall from grace. on the one halId. in deference to any judgmellt of the situation she may hold and that we urge her to make. but also with respect to cultural and species difference. as we follow a white colonist's fall from grace. What interests me in particular about Disgrace is the way David's journey. sets the scene for an extraordinary and disturbillg fictional exploration of the possibility of justice in postapartheid South Mrica. by focusing 011 the complexities of interpersonal relations (their affective basis aIld tlle idiosyncratic histories of the players). as weIl as the impossibility of passing filIal jlldgment on hirn. the novel leads us on to consider.

that attracts. Here I am. AIId so here I am. to alld for the other. is respollsibility for the other. affectivity. but by the grace of the Other. and subjectivity. the alterity that is never present "save through the trace of its reclusioll. goodness. as sincerity. While the grace of the other is never present save through a withdrawal signified ill the nakedness of her face. the "iIIterval ofdifference" (1981. The grace of the Other or the "Glory of the Illfillite" as Levinas has put it. 96).24 Rnsalyn Diprose complexities of Coetzee's llovel. The grace of the Other is the source of subjectivity and subjectivity. . the irreducible ditlereIlce that orders me to the other. On the cOlltrary. but that also grants a delay in penalty. ullique as all unconditiollal respoIlse to and in my responsibility for the other by whose grace I am elected (126-27). that says "thou shalt not kill. judgments alld knowledge. This grace of the Other is IIOt a God above the other llor a cultural orllament. that favors me. A11d here I am. Here I am. saying." that accuses me in my egoism alld of the ilnperialism and negation of difference this implies. an animated body that bears witlless to alterity as "having-the-other-inone's-skin" (115). and "this inspiration is the psyche" (114). attitude or expression that the other 'has' aIId that I COllld know. Not by my own doing. this paper explores that distillCtiol1 in the context of considerillg the possibility of justice in this postcolonial era. The grace of the Other is the alterity sigIlified in the nakedl1ess of her face alld irreducible to what I make of her through my perceptions.141). Without choice alld prior to any world. here I am out of phase with myself. animates. It is the other's indeterminate difference that gets me gOil1g and I would give my all for them. it also "becomes present oftly in my OWII voice" (Levinas 1981. in the accusative alld inspired. a charmiIIg action. as the face of a lleighbor" (140). disturbed by that alterity. that generates. sallctifies and endows me with reSpOIISibility. 140). subjectivity is the trace of alterity that commands me to give to the other by "taking the bread out of my own mouth" and by "making a gift of my own skin" without reserve or thought of return (138). as sellsibility. nOIIindifference to that differellce. allimated corporeality open by. But not a psyche reducible to consciousness of an ego closed irl on and at home with itself. a surplus that breaks through his or her form (Levinas 1987. a welcome of aIId operlness toward the other.

the subject would reestablish itself as an entity ill response to the other. the thought or the deed (Levinas 1981. represelltation alld judgment of the other that may result." is the passivity of exposure tllat is prior to consciousness. is the eondition of the production of meaning. and knowledge. 28-29). Levinas's formulation of the relation between the saying and the said suggests that to the extent that David settles on a mealling alld position in relation to the other. But. the nonindifference to difference. SiIlcerity or sayiIIg.. recover from any disruption the grace of the Other provokes.. aIld objectification of the other. I am in disgrace illsofar as the meaning of tlle sensible content of my perception andjudgmellt of the . COIlsistent with a postcolollial ethics of difference that would base subjectivity on an intersubjectivity that remains sensitive and open to otherlless. that "something generous . For hirn. a leap. the sincerity of "here I am. arises through this saying of sincere subjectivity.Here I Am by the Graee 0/ the Other and Polities Is in Disgrace 25 Levinas thus founds subjectivity on carllal sensibility provoked by the other's irreducible difference.90). the affective openlless to the other of the here I am. the said. and judgmellt that would cover my exposure with words and wrap the other up in my terms. knowledge. he has become indifferellt to difference and has therefore falleIl froln grace.. We cOllld say then.. is the source ofDavid's disgrace." as Levinas puts it (1981.judgmellts. in the perception. having tied her up in his (sexed and cultllral) terms. Also consisteIlt with an ethics of difference is Levinas's explanation of effacemellt of difference ill terms ofjudgment. was doing its best to flower" in David Lurie's opellness to the grace ofthe Other bllt that the acts. This is a rare and welcome move ill philosophy. objectification. an outside-of-oneself toward the other than oneself" (LeviIlas 1987. words. his recalcitrant possession ofMelaIlie. "Sincerity would be sayillg without the said. This recovering of hirnself [rom the rupture of exposllre inspired by the grace of the Other. to action. alld deeds that flowed from this served Ollly to kill off the other's difference and return hirn to hirnself uIlchallged. Meaning. he has betrayed the responsibility of here-Iam-for-the-other. the giviIl'g to the other illspired by the grace of the Other. representation. thoughts. the responsibility of one-for-the-other. through this "orientation . gather the other into the Same (thus absorbillg the difference). following Levinas. volitioll. 143). representation. alld secure itself iIl the present of the said.

give way to objectification and self-possession alld the disfiguring of grace. It is to Lucy's farm that David retreats ill order to recover hirnself in the wake of his disgrace. Indeed. is it the case that. 100). choice. alld the falling from favor this implies? Is the here-I-am-one-for-the-other at some point without disgrace? Tllere is implied at times iIl Levinas's formulatioll of sincerity something like David Lurie's romallticislll where I could be said to be given to the other without intention. unconditional.e less self-serviIlg would fare better than David ill responding to the grace of the Other. This closure to the other. could ever be innocent. for example.26 Rosalyn DipTose other presupposes all agreement betweell the other alld me. the meaning of his own disgrace and the possibility of welcoming alld giving to the other without negating the iIlterval of differellce. eveII as seIIsibility or earllaI affective openness to the other. 1 But this formulation of disgrace poses the questioIl: at wllat point does unconditional respollsibility. And so I am iIl disgrace insofar as my perception of the other's difference subsurnes what is foreign ullder (sexed or other) terlllS already established ill my OWll social body (Levinas 1994. This suggests a level of intersubjectivity where I could deny any damage to alterity that may result from my relatioll with the other. if here-I-am by the grace of the Other. he does receive a clue from his daughter Lucy. While it is Ilot from Melallie that David learlls the primacy of the other. . the effacement of alterity. there is much to suggest this iII the novel Disgrace. would be a conseqllellce of Merleall-Pollty's ontology. Lucy's teachiIlg of alterity 1. Here. I am also always iIl the midst of cultural perceptiollS with their traces of sexed alld ethllic positions? And therefore am I not also always in disgrace? Perhaps not. exposure to the other without reserve. or burden of culturally bound perceptioIlS. and free from cultural baggage and from the reduction of difference this implies. As if subjectivity. sincerity. Perllaps someOl1. according to Levinas. iIltersubjectivity (as lllovement toward the other) accomplishes community by establishing commOll groulld betweell differellt bodies such that they belollg to one social body of shared meaning and kllowledge. at the level of ontology. Levinas levels this charge against Merleau-Ponty's ontological model of intersubjectivity which he argues would always subsunle the other's difference under the perceiving body's perceptions (Levinas 1994). Or.

110t by choice or by virtue of my volition. She is. but in terms of a more ge11eral cultural difference where Lucy's gellerosity toward Petrus would turll hirn from a slave of apartheid hItO a neighbor. ontological closure to the other and the disgrace this involves. or a11ythillg ontological. Lucy for Pet'rus. This sociality is without politics because. Through and beyond the blackness ofyour face there is the expression of a different South Africa. as Levinas has argued iI1 Otherwise than Being. It is not an act or a movement. Here I am but only through broken English. the ullconditioIlal opell11ess by the grace of the Other. that illspires these gifts. Through the sweat on our skin. Lucy's politics of differellce would seem impeccable. Compared to David's. sincerity is not reducible to allything ontic. wOllld effect an. IIOt in her gifts of land. He would say that iI1sofar as her gifts of land. in post-apartheid South Africa. As "a fisSiOl1 of the ultimate substantiality of the ego. at least not at first glance.Here I Am by the Grace of the Other and Politics Is in Disgrace 27 comes. responsibility for the other. 103). and to be good in difficult tirnes. and the sinews in our hands. but by the grace of the Other. culture. trying as hard as I can to remain open to another fron tier. near Grahamstown. Politics does IIOt extend to this inaugural momellt of sociality. However. clilture. 110 less than David's possessioll of Melanie. Here I am. culture and skin to another way of life. a11d skin are conscious acts that would settle the debt to the other. 117). For LeviI1as. and leads as it were beyond or this side of everything positive. but iIl the sensibility.ve work this land together: You are my neighbor: But that neighborhood and the cultural works it generates is not a product of what we have in common. 144). I am. Here I am. through the sensibility that inspires the gift of (my) land. l. not illitially in terlllS ofbeing open to sexual difference. Here I am. they. the dirt under our nails. or skin. or any sort of cultural gesture" (Levinas 1981. of my (white) way of life and of my own skin. Levinas would say that the generosity of exposure to the other is 110t to be found ill Lucy's politics. onIy by ullderstanding "intersubjectivity" in these terms of abolId lyillg in "the non-indifferellce of persons toward one another" "beyolld beillg" (beyolld politics as weIl as 011tology) can we conceive of a sociality that "does llot absorb the difference" (1994. Or so it would seem. every positioll. through the grace of that altenty and its onelor-the-other. an alterity that would be lost in (English) words (Coetzee 1999. . to open my land. the fron tier of British colonialism. to make good the debt to the other that land my culture have incurred. according to Levillas.

judgment about what is good for one's survival alld knowledge of the other. comes after. moral. and social) position (144) al1d this sociality precedes the empirical order of the state (116). implies that the said of language. is based on kno\ving the differenee between the enenlY and the friend and points to the irnpossibility of deternlining the differenee (Derrida 1997. 140. and kll0wledge involve consciousness. 29). 29. of the differellce betweell an enemy alld a friend. eh. this sociality of the llere I am olle-for-the-other is prior to allY decisioll. understood as the orgal1izatioll of society for the improvemellt of the human survival (Levinas 1986. 1969. 64). for example. making saints out of women and mute servants out of COl011ized peoples by assumillg a duty of all opellness to others not expected of some men? Levinas's separation of politics and ontology from ethics. presllpposes judgment. but that the said of language does not iIlform that sensibility. There are no decisions or judgments in the here-I-anl011e-for-the-other. jlldgment. because the alterity that commallds me to the other does 110t appear iI1 the other as a cultural gesture (there is no significant gesture by whicll comparisons and judgments could be made) alld the generosity of my response is 11either a cultural gesture nor an act based Oll a decisioll or judgment I Inake (Levinas 1981. While explaining the ethical aIld affective basis of 2. 144). . and of the difference between the source of harm alld good. the meaning that orgallizes the social alld constitutes our experience itl commOll. moral. alld kll0wledge. 5). the said from the sayit1g. 161). "not the gellerosity of offeril1g olleself. and social order.28 Rosalyn Diprose it is without problems alld it is withollt problems because it is without decision or judgment abollt differences (1981. decision. decision. may be inspired alld i11terrupted by. But can this be right? Is 110t the self-sacrifice of here-I-am-for-theother already unconditiollally distributed inequitably by the political. and that COllsciousness iI1volves reductioll to the Same and ontological closure to the other is why Levinas distinguishes politics from the ethical relatioll to the other and therefore from the responsibility of exposure to alterity (LeviIlas 1986. alld every (political. Derrida diseusses the way Schnlitt's eoneept of the politieal. the affectivity arId sensibility of the here-I-am. Politics. 2 Thatjudgment. which would be an act" (75). The gellerosity of exposure is a having bee11 given to the other.

coexistence. 102)? This expressivity belollgs to the ontological expression of Cllltllral worlds hy a perceiving and perceived body. and comparisorl are there from the first in that the other who inspires and accuses me is in relation to a "third party. it is equally a betrayal of exposure to the other that precedes it and is its condition. actioll.) "is ShOWll from the first" in the ethical relation (1981. al1d it is equallya closure to the other who provokes it. so do Lucy's generous acts risk betraying the uncollditioIlal responsibility arisiIlg from her exposure to those with whom she has nothiIlg iIl common. this expressivity belollgs to the politics and ontology that the ethical relation is said to inaugurate alld exceed. And it would make every decision. thematization. while I-Jucy does 110t seek gratitude from Petrus in returll for her gifts.Here I Am lJy the Graee 0/ the Other and Polities Is in Disgrace 29 sociality. 45)? Justice is always called for in the ethical relatiOIl because." is not just "signified ill the 11akedness of the face" hut also in "the expressivity of the other person's whole sensi- ble being" (1994. perception. alld every word I utter in response to the other. iIlsofar as it is based on culturally irlformed perceptions and judgmel1ts of the other and his or her needs that would absorb this difference a11d iIlsofar as it seeks comperlsation a11d self-affirmatioll for the work it does iIl attempting to meet those needs. and judgment I make. she does view these gifts as the price for staying on in postapartheid South Mrica. alongside ." to other others to whom they are respol1sible and who treat me. 159) alld that "there is a question of the said and heing only because saying or respol1sibility require justice" (1981. Just as David's possession of Melanie alld his self-serviIlg delusions betray his exposure to tlle grace of the other. accordillg to LeviI1as. Hence. And indeed. COllscious judgmel1t. equally a disgrace. consciousness. what are we to make ofLevinas's claim that the other's "ineradicable differellce. etc. born of grace. But if sensibility and its ethical relation is really outside of ontology and therefore the cultural-historical-political dimensioll of perception. And if the etl1ical relation is really outside ofpolitics. is also iIl disgrace. the potential problem with separating the 1111conditional here-I-am-for-the-other from ontology and politics is that who the other is al1d what he or slle has dOlle (as a corporeal expression of a culture) makes no difference to my responsibility for and opeIllless to hirn or her. A postcolonial politics. what are we to make ofLevinas's claims that justice (involving concern for all others. comparison.

the cultural. by the organizatioll of society for the improvemeilt of the human survival and so by the need for reflectioll. is there from the first iIl the ethical relatioll. a taking back. 3 The llere I am olle-for-the-other always also refers to other social beillgs alld so is mediated by the political. enter my home. women too" (98). and Ziarek (2001). shoes. from the prereflective dispersed openllcss to the other by whose grace here I am. Here I am. through the sensibility that inspires the gijt 0/ (my) land. .30 Rosalyn Diprose the other I face. for example. a giving back. but in the service of an exchange system lvhich. 219-36). is best demonstrated in what is arguably the pivotal momellt of Disgrace: Lucy's rape (Coetzee 1999. That politics. Thomas (1999). But with that grace I feel only your hatred. comparisoll. Something dies. 4 While Levillas thus acknowledges that the inaugural momellt of sociality is perhaps iIlseparable from politics and justice. your weight smothers. he also depersollalizes politics by assunlillg it operates only through gralld themes and through COIlscious decisions and judgmellts. carrying the responsibility for the history of white colonialism in the form of a child. while put in place by the colonizers. "leaving the body behind covered in blood" (Coetzee 1999.92-98). Here I am but only through broken English. Trapped. through the grace of that alterity and its one-for-the-other. now works toward aredistribution ofgoods. Raped by "debt collectors. He does not seem to grant that the political is persollaI alld that perhaps politics is also illseparable from sellsibility. Chanter (1995). of "cars. as someOlle to be cOllcerIled about and welcomed (Levillas 1981. an alterity that would be lost in (English) words. saturating sensibility. 4. says Lucy. touch my skin. Here I am. strangers. That. Through and beyond the blackness ofyourface there is the expressio'n ofa dif ferent South Africa. of my (white) way of life and of my own skin. For detailed discussions of the "third party" and justice regarding the ethical relation see. So personal yet so little to do with me. the olltico-ontological. 158). but am I unconditionally for these strangers? Here I am. You. Lucy. is murdered. is the price for stayillg Oll. and COllscious judgment. held down. 161). not out of evil. Simon Critchley provides a convincing argunlent toward this clainl (1992. " by men who "do rape" (158). face blank. Bernasconi (1999). The price the colonizers must pay for decolonizatioll it would seem is not all uncolldi3. open my soul.

and without denyillg that this sociality of IIonil1differelIce to difference is inspired by alterity that is 110t absorbed withhl it. 99 in particular). 01' from the cultllrally bound meaning these imply. these strangers did 110t rape David who was there for the taking). his 01' her actions. decolonizatiol1 irlto taking back. and their meanings. That is. alld perceptions as weIl as my perceptioll of him 01' her. perceptions. at no point can it be said that the relation to the other is free from perception of the other. COlIscious judgmCllt. ju<lgments. alld grace hItO disgrace.ly breaks through in the midst of the productioll of form throllgh words. The grace of the other. Giving 01' taking. but also in the expressivity of the other person 's whole serlsible beillg. Lucy's others. passivity 01' activity. for example. acts. not simply by virtue of COllscious judgment al1d comparison with reference to tllemes for the just organization of society (to which Levinas reduces justice and politics). is. . never without the history of colonialism that call tUfll sellsibility into llate. whether strangers 01' neighbors. See Derrida's discussion of this point in Adieu to Em1nanuel Levinas (1999. from history. betweel1 ethics alld politics.96).Here I Am by the Grace ofthe Other and Politics Is in Disgrace 31 tional being given to the other. Hence Lucy's relations to these others is never without problems. but aredistribution of goods borrl of a sensibility cOlltaminated with llate arId with the very idea of exchange UPOl1 which colonization proceeds. ArId in order to stay on her land in postapartheid South Mrica she will withhold judgment of her rapists and slle will "marry" Petrus in exchange for his protection. grace 01' disgrace: whatever Levinas says. 5 If justice is called for from the first in the sensibility of the ethical relation tllis is because other others are there from the first. Without denying that sellsibility rather than words. LevirIas does acknowledge the iI1separability of the saying alld the said. al1d never without sexual differellce (after all. the other's irreducible difference on. is the surplus that breaks through his/her form.ral ornaments that irIform the other's sensibility. Nor is the grace of the other pure 01' without those cultu. but only "in the midst of the production of its form" (Levil1as 1987. 01' krIowledge expresses the one-for-tlle-other of the ethical relation. that is in the ontological 5. never without the political alld 011tological. as Derrida argues. are never without that cultural production that alterity breaks through. the limit between the two. llever pure.

this sellsibility is inseparable from perception. On the contrary. perception (sellsibility. judgment. What I am suggesting here is that the here-I-am-one-for-the-other is never uncollditional al1d that there is no moment of affective dispersed subjectivity for-the-other that lies outside of ontology. like C011Sciollsness. or culture. all academic specializing in romantic literature in postapartheid South Mrica. the perception alld so from prereflexive 'Judgment. like Levillas. Arlimated by the other. uillike Levillas.6 Yet. is in disgrace. but in terms of how these features of the ontico-ontological would necessarily inform the sellsibility of those actiollS (albeit in illdeterminate ways). this is the effect of corporeal habit and an accompaIlying sedimentation of culturally informed meall- 6. is 110t to suggest that alterity is doomed to absorptioll withill existing meal1ings held by the bodies and positions that dominate our cultures. One way to such all understandillg is via Merleau-Ponty's ontology. or thought." sellsibility. alld the cultural meanings these carry. a divorced philanderer. to the extent that sel1sibility subsumes the world alld the other under familiar terms that may override the differellce. To claim that sensibility is already political. for Merleau-Po11ty. politics. subjectivity) is corporeal and prereflective and happens without choice. For a more detailed conlparison of Levinas and Merleau-Ponty on this and the points that follow see Diprose (forthconling).32 Rosalyn DipTose expressiol1 of cultural-political-historical worlds that is illseparable from the nonindifference to differeIlce of sensibility. But because sellsibility is iI1separable from the act. perception. there is a way to understal1d intersubjectivity in terms of a sellsibility saturated with politics alld cultural meanings without abandoning Levillas's importal1t illSight that it is by the grace of the other~s irreducible differellce that 1 am here for the other. in which call be fOUIld a sensitivity to alterity that Levinas's critiques of Merleau-Ponty overlook. For Merleau-Ponty. and action. are not reducible to reflexive consciousness. suggests that subjectivity as sensibility is animated by the other but. It matters that David is white. however. Merleau-Ponty. not SO much for allY judgment by a third party of his perceptioll of and actions toward Melanie. decisiol1. action. aged fifty-two. understood as sensibility. . and failillg to keep pace with the impact of economic ratiollalism Oll the fabric of the university.

In Merleau-Ponty's OWIl terms. But tllis transformation and its disrllption of meaniIlg alld the culture it supports occurs lvithin sensibility. is always ambiguous. that. aIld problematically. within the perceptioll. Ifwe are to meet notjust through what we have in common but in what is different between us [this] presupposes a transformation of myself and of the other as weIl. at a certain stage I must be surprised. This difference callnot be absorbed in the process. While he also assurnes (problematically alld as Levillas suggests) a kiIld of commuIlion between differeIlt bodies as an ideal endpoint to this illtercorporeal relation. "our differellces can no 10Jlger be opaque qualities.Here I Am by the Grace ofthe Other and Politics Is in Disgrace 33 iIlg.142) Merleau-Ponty also suggests iIl the same passage. (Merleau-Ponty 1973. sllrpasses our commOll prehistory . "especially at the momellt he withdraws froln us and threatens to fall iIlto non-sense. it is still the other's difference that inspires that attempt at commullion. disorielltates and so animates perception is 110t to be dismissed as nOllsense. Tllcy must become mealliIlg" if tlle other's indetermiIlate difference that surprises. . 143).111 this way Merleau-Ponty makes sensibility political alld the political personal. iIldeterminate. act or gesture. The issue is to what extent this becoming mealling alld the transformations involved is a totaliziIlg event that sul)sumes the grace of the Other under the social meaIlings that inhabit the bodies which domiIlate our culture. One thread of Merleau-Ponty's thiIlking here suggests that iIl order for the other's difference to aniInate alld transform perception without heilIg absorbed iIl the process. and open to transformation. meaning. disorientated. "the first 'human' sigllification . this disturbing "spolltaneous" operation of speech (what Levillas might call the "saying" of lallguage). it demands that those domiIlallt meaniIlgs must give way: the animatioll of perception and trallsformatioIl of mealliIlg by the grace of the Otller rests on allowing olleself to "be lead by the flow" of the other's discourse. But because sensibility is opened by and to the body of the other. . As Merleau-Pollty puts it: If the other person is really another." so that what does not fall so easily under familiar terms is capable of transforming us iIltO the other and opelling "us to all0ther meaIliIlg" (1973. iIl this trallsformatioll of meaIliIlg and beiIlg in response to the other's iIldeterminate differellce. the kind of recalcitrance that David Lurie displays so weIl to the detrimellt of those around hirn. and the culture it supports.

acts." "destroys the gellerality ofthe species and brings [mall] to admit others into his deepest singularity" (146). her beillg. It would admit that Lucy's politics of differeIIce. is arguably more constructive alld less disgraceful than her father's or her rapists. that there is the risk of disgrace ill the act of absorbing the other's differellce in every perceptioll. is what characterizes the generosity of Lucy's sensibility. at least ill relatioll to Petrus. Admitting that sensibility. allowing the disorientation effected by this trace of alterity to surpass any assumed commOll prehistory and so to transform mealling. Admitting others itltO her deepest sitlgularity. alollg with Levinas. beillg "led by the flow" of the other's discourse. that the political is personal and itlseparable from seIIsibility also allows that. alld the transformatiolls of meaning. admitting that the political is persoIlaI and inseparable from sensibility is also to allow that evell the most recalcitrant. self-servillg and iIldifferellt among us are opell to the grace of the Other. in relation to her Ileighbors. some perceptions. Jllstice is impossible. is political and therefore that the political is personal is to adlnit. But admittiIlg. while the here I am olle-for-tlle-other is never unconditional alld that sincerity is itnpossible. alollg with MerleauPonty. But in case we are tempted to join the pallel of self-servillg. but because. gesture. allimated by cultural difference. to some extent. prolong its movemellt alollg with its assumptions of commOlllless with others. and words are more open to otherness than others. iIl disgrace. gestures. 141). alld word directed toward and about the other. this spontaneous power (which is "not a god") "pulls significatioIls from us. and culture it effects is IlOt alld could Ilever be sitlcere or unCOllditional. and largely indifferellt academics who lord over David's disgrace. her sellsibility is inseparable from perceptioIIS and judgments that carry the history of her culture alld that. nonindifference to difference.34 Rosalyn Diprose evell though prolollging its movement" (Merleau-Ponty 1973. But her giviIlg. She will always be. act. and culture itl the illterests of decolollizatioll. being. That David is . At the same time however. before this. Not because she withholds herself ill amomeIlt of conscious judgmeIlt itl deference to a gralld politics (as Levillas might have it). That sensibility is iII disgrace and justice is not passivity or retributioll but an action for a different future beyond her own time. her giving to Petrus indicates a sensitivity to the grace of the Other. to a certain extent.

That he is beillg "led by the flow" of the other's discourse is IlIallifest at the level of sensibility and in the least heroic alld least erotic places: iIl his iIlcreased affinity with alld respect for Bev and her work with broken and dyiIIg animals. recognizing that the dog's "period ofgrace is almost over" (Coetzee 1999. makiIlg this conIlection does 110t set hirn off OIltO a path of enlightenment about the meaniIlg of disgrace.. the last alld perhaps most moving in the book.Here 1 Am by the Grace of the Other and Politics Is in Disgrace 35 more open to alterity alld less indifferent to differellce at the end of his jourlley than he was at the begiIlning is not maIlifest in either increased consciousness of the politics aIld ethics of difference 01' in passive sincerity. ByrOll'S discarded mistress. and in his work ill honoring their corpses. It is sobering to note however. explicit ill thoughts and musings about the events and people around hirn. Here 1 am opened by andfor the other. the dregs of Mrica that no one wants. finding iIlcreasillgly less inspiration ill Byron's romanticism thall in the humiliatioIl of Teresa. But this here I am onefor-the-other is not outside of acts. It leaves hirn indifferent and iIl despair. gives hirn up to death. "giving [myself} to the world" in the "service of dead dogs" (146). While Lucy's rape remiI1ds hirn of his treatmeIlt of MelaIlie. that David is opened through Lucy to the teachiIlg of the other is felt . 121). This is hardly a big momellt in South Mricall politics. especially the dogs. 215). ashamed ofLucy's shame. Nor does the apology he offers Melallie's parents shortly after Lucy's rape indicate he has more of a clue about the grace of the Other thall he did before. 01' deeds and the cultural meaIIings and politics this implies. alld cultural difference. Alld it could be read as a commeIlt Oll the hopelessIless . that David's most generous and least self-serviIlg act. is tiIlged necessarily with disgrace. gestures. It is at the level of seIlsibility then. and in his illability to write his operatic eulogy to Byron. David. inspired by the seIIsibilities of the women in his life. David.. sexual. and ashamed ofhis own iIlability to protect her. Rather. nor is a giant step forward for cultural 01' sexual difference. is opened to the grace of the other. that David. beyond 11is words. in his increased compassion for those animals. not gathering myself as was my intention but "losing [myselj] day by day" (Coetzee 1999. of nOIlindifferellce to difference rather than at the level of understalldiI1g witll referellce to political ideals. Here 1 am. Despite a growing and deep affection for an unllamed and crippled dog in his care. His prereflexive living for the other is a politics: a politics of species.

180). The Third Party. to paraphrase John Caputo. nor ill an expectation of uncollditiollal self-sacrifice in the service of the other. DeconstTuction in a Nutshell. John. Journal 0/ the B'ritish Society JOT Pheno'menology 30 (1): 76--87. New York: Routledge. is a passion. if there is such a thing. 1999. That a politics born of the grace of alterity is Ilecessarily in disgrace is 110t an excuse for inactioll or passivity. The Ethics 0/ Deconstruction: Derrida and Lellinas. I think this closiIlg scene is less a pessimistic footllote than a commeIlt on the paradox of subjectivity inspired hy the grace of the Other alld on the aporetic structure of a politics of differellce. 1995. Oxford: Blackwell. cultural. M. and species differellce in this postcolollial era is to be found. an impassioning. 1997. an impatience. hut in the indetermillacy of geIlerous acts that lies somewhere ill hetween. is illseparahle from the act. RecoglliziIlg that subjectivity as sellsibility. this paradox Ull(lerscores a passionate politics and an impatiellce for decolonizatioll emhodied ill acts that risk oneself 110W for a justice that is never here. For deconstruction. Critchley. Disgr·ace. to make salient the urgency of decision. Levinas on the Intersection of the Ethical and the Political. New York: Fordham University Press. 1999. It is to suggest that an ethico-politics of sexual. to make the retardation ofjustice look bad. and so from the disgrace of doing damage to difference is to acknowledge just how hard it is to he good in difficult times. Caputo makes a similar point about deconstruction in his excellent discussion of 'The Messianic: Waiting for the Future" (Caputo 1997). IlOt in the self-serviIlg collection of debts of Lucy's rapists.]. However. inspired by the grace of the other. London: Secker & Warburg.36 Rosalyn Diprose and impossibility of openiIlg South Mrica or even David to the good life at a time of decolonization. Simon. On the contrary. Ethics 0/ Eros: lrigaray S RevJriting 0/ the Philosophers. nor is it a licellse for justifyillg the most disgraceful acts. Robert. 1992. for justice" (1997. Chanter. they serve to underlie and expose postponenlent. after noting that justice is never here. that '''undecidability' and differance do not imply decision and delay. On the contrary. 7 References Bernasconi. Caputo. Tina. . from politics. There he says. Coetzee. 7.

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