JAC: A Journal of Composition Theory, Volume 24, Number 2, 2004 Page: 333
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the "possible that is presently impossible," an infinitely ungraspable
point that opens us to what is before and beyond us.
This discussion seems to be caught up with this point. But what
exactly catches us? And why does this account of writing necessarily
keep indebting and entangling itself with this point? It cannot really do
otherwise. For a writing that aspires to write in order to break out of the
circuits of the same inevitably finds itself always already caught (as if a
hostage) and obligated to attend the other. It realizes-because it works
before the Law of law-that beyond our fulfilling/rendering meaning, we
are first and foremost caught in our obligation to the other: to an
obligation that signifies itself beyond our present knowledge. This
writing then does not seek to write (represent) the other, but writes its non-
indifference, its immediate obligation, its being caught and entangled
with an infinite concern for the other.
The immensity of this infinite obligation necessarily overflows our
finite representations: the imperative ofthe Law overflows the law. Thus,
rather than a settlement within our terms (an answer), rather than the
closure of comprehension, the concern here is toward a writing that writes
in order to reveal the infinite (ungraspable) obligation that is due. This
writing then writes, not with or toward understanding (knowledge), but
rather it writes its exposure to an obligation that cannot be accessed by
a finite set of "characteristics" or "qualities" that can be recognized or
identified by our common vocabulary. This writing writes of an obliga-
tion that "dates from before my freedom in an immemorial past, an
unrepresentable past that was never present and is more ancient than
consciousness of... A responsibility for my neighbor, for the other man,
for the stranger or sojourner, to which nothing in the rigorously ontologi-
cal order binds me-nothing in the order of the thing, of something, of
number or causality" (Levinas, "Ethics" 84).
Because this obligation is beyond meaning-is never graspable or
present enough-it can afford to think beyond itself to those who share
nothing in common with "us." It thus faces an (alien) obligation "that not
only contests the common discourse and community from which he or she
is excluded, but everything one has or sets out to build in common with
him or her" (Lingis 11). Beyond a community of shared enterprises, even
beyond the "community of genus," the other-citing Levinas-"remains
infinitely transcendent, infinitely foreign; his face in which his epiphany
is produced and which appeals to me breaks with the world that can be
common to us, whose virtualities are inscribed in our nature and devel-
oped by our existence" (Levinas 194). This epiphanic presencing of the
Here’s what’s next.
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Association of Teachers of Advanced Composition (U.S.). JAC: A Journal of Composition Theory, Volume 24, Number 2, 2004, periodical, 2004; (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc28644/m1/79/: accessed December 13, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .