Reading and Interdependence
Author: Gerasimos Kakoliris (University of Athens, PhD.)
For Εmmanuel Lévinas, (1906-1995) the lesson Socrates has bequeathed us is self-sufficiency and the primacy of the Same (Même): “to receive nothing of the Other but what is in me, as though from all eternity I was in possession of what comes to me from the outside —to receive nothing, or to be free”. Levinas refers here to the Socratic method of maieutics and by extension to reminiscence theory. According to this particular method, Socrates pretended to be entirely ignorant on the subject during the debate, thus, eliciting the truth from his interlocutors via a series of questions. This entails that Socrates believed that people know already the truth and that philosophical inquiry consists in helping or enabling people to remember the truth, to recall it in memory (reminiscence theory). For Levinas, “[t]he ideal of Socratic truth thus rests on the essential self-sufficiency of the same, its identification in ipseity, its egoism. Philosophy is an egology”.
Perhaps Levinas’ interpretation of Plato’s reminiscence theory is somewhat hasty, since this particular theory allowed Plato to address an epistemological problem, which seemed unresolved in his time, namely how can one be certain that one knows what one ultimately seeks, if one does not know it in advance. However, Levinas’ observation that “[p]hilosophy is an egology” is perhaps partially true, since the human subject, as an “I” who thinks, knows, acts, desires and is self-determined, self-reliant and independent with regards to his/her own existence, is situated at the epicentre of philosophical thought, at least during modernity.
Given this context, this article, drawing from theorists like Judith Butler and Jean-Luc Nancy, attempts to bring to the fore, the relational ties not only presupposed but also formed by reading. Reading is an action from and towards others, it is offered to us by the other or thanks to the other. It is a means or vehicle of exposure and interaction between oneself and others. For Wolfgang Iser (1926-2007), the text and the reader develop a relationship of interaction. As he notes in his work, The Act of Reading: A Theory of Aesthetic Response (1976): “Reading is an activity that is guided by the text; this must be processed by the reader, who is then, in turn, affected by what he has processed. It is difficult to describe this interaction […]”.
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