LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 24, No.1 - Spring 1978
Editor of this issue: Kæstutis Girnius
Copyright © 1978 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
TWO PHILOSOPHERS OF LITHUANIAN ORIGINS: EMANUEL LEVINAS and ALPHONSO LINGIS
Although born on different continents, raised under completely different circumstances, Levinas and Lingis share a common Lithuanian heritage. Levinas was born and raised in Lithuania while Lingis was born of Lithuanian-American parents. Levinas was educated by Edmund Husserl, who in one of his letters to Roman Ingarden remarked: "Today I had a very pleasant surprise. I acquired a very intelligent and talented young man for a student who is from Lithuania. His name is Emanuel Levinas." As is well known from Husserl's letters and conversations, such an evaluation was not a rule but an exception. The philosophical journey of Levinas commenced with this "exception." Having studied Husserl, he subsequently studied Heidegger and the various leading French thinkers such as Sartre and Merleau-Ponty. While being critical of their theoretical stances, Levinas contributed to the expansion of such stances adding his own interpretations and analyses of various domains of experience and life. One of his major works is entitled Totality and Infinity dealing with questions such as "The Same and the Other," "Interiority and Economy," "Exteriority and the Face" and "Beyond the Face." This work was translated into English by Lingis. Other works of Levinas which were also translated by Lingis for Nijhoff deal with the following topics: "The Existent and the Relationship with Existence," "Existence and the Instant," "The World," "Existence without a World" and "The Hypostasis." Apparently a close relationship emerges between Levinas and his translator Lingis.
Lingis was educated at Loyola University in Chicago and Louvain in Belgium. He became well versed in contemporary European thought and established lasting friendships with leading European, specifically French intellectuals such as Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Levinas, Ricoeur and others. He spent many summers in Paris acquiring an in-depth knowledge of the French philosophical and cultural tradition. Currently Lingis teaches philosophy at Pennsylvania State University and is regarded as the heir apparent of the French tradition in the United States. He has translated the works of Levinas, Merleau-Ponty's Visible and the Invisible and others. Currently Lingis is engaged in the phenomenological study of various cultures mainly visible in their aesthetic creations and ritualistic performances. The aim of such studies is two-fold: (i) to point out facets usually overlooked by other scholars investigating these cultures, and (ii) to develop a cosmology as an account for the ritualistic and aesthetic phenomena of these cultures.
The work of Levinas must be placed in the flow of continental philosophy with Husserl and Heidegger providing its two major trends. For both, the world is not a stage in which the human being traces out a destiny in the pursuit of goals and means, achievements and pleasures, but an ecstatical process, an opening toward the future and hence a transcendence. In delimiting the ecstatical modality of time as an ever present self-temporalization, both meant not only to articulate a manner of dealing with objects, whether functional, affective or theoretical, but to characterize the very movement that sets up objects and subjects as such. It is an attempt to articulate a process which establishes a world "before" objects, a field of structurations wherein objects and subjects assume a relationship. Husserl articulates this movement in terms of "transcendental phenomenology" aiming at the discovery of all the "conditions for the possibility of experience." Husserlian phenomenology is not concerned with facts, beings, events, theories, whether real or ideal, imagined or validated; it is concerned with the conditions for the experience of "realities, values, theories, facts" and all thinkable objectivities. Whether such realities, theories, objectivities exist or not, whether such theories are reducible to matter or mind, are for Husserl ontological and ultimately metaphysical questions. Within the Husserlian context, the structure of all experience is the following: (i) the experiencing ego, (ii) the act of experience which means something or other, some object and (iii) the meant object in its "essence." Of course Husserl does not take for granted that the objectivities experienced are "pre-given." They emerge slowly in the temporal process of experiencing which constitutes the web of synthetic acts "meaning" the object in a multitude of ways. What is crucial in the discussion of the work of Levinas is that this process of experiencing always commences from the "now point" of the ego as a center of reference both spatially and temporally. In brief, the here-and-now of the ego is the point of commencement of all activities and all orientations. This point of orientation, of commencement, constitutes the precise point of Levinas' critique of Heidegger.
For Heidegger the structure of being-human is not grounded in a transcendental phenomenology and its structure of "ego-act-object" but in an ecstatic, temporal movement toward the future as an opening of possibilities for existence and interpretation of objects and events at the present. This movement, according to Heidegger, constitutes a differentiation between entities, Being and Nothing. Hence it is designated as an "onthological difference" allowing entities and events to appear in light of their being. This difference is a temporalizing event constantly ranging across the "future horizon" with a basic structure of finitude elucidated by Heidegger in terms of "being-toward-death." Although the future horizon may be indefinite, the human being, constituting the locus wherein this horizon is opened, is finite. As a result, the future horizon, comprising the very possibility of the "Being of entities and events," is opened only in a finite manner.
This Heideggerian notion of ecstatic temporality, which always transcends the present and is constantly ahead of itself, constitutes the essence of being-human. The very notion of "existence" means here "ex-istence" where the "ex" stands for "exit, going out" toward the "is," toward Being in its modality of future possibilities. Hence the Heideggerian movement of human existence as ecstatic temporality disperses toward the future and is lost in the final resolution of this movement in finitude as being-toward-death, toward nothingness. Levinas agrees with Heidegger that one modality of being-human is to break forth, to project oneself toward the future, but this projection requires a condition which Heidegger neglects. In addition to, and as a condition for the transcending movement, there is a movement by which the human contracts existence as its own: it posits itself, it takes a stand and hence, as the Husserlian notion of an ego, it commences, it constitutes a point of departures and returns. According to Levinas, prior to the movement of "existence," there is within the human being a constitutive movement of "insistence." Prior to projection, there is a position. Here Levinas accepts Husserlian notion of the point of departure, of the present and interprets it as an insistence. A brief discussion of the relationship between "insistence" and the ecstatic movement of transcendence will hopefully clarify the difference between Levinas and his predecessors such as Heidegger and even Sartre. Temporality is the immanent structure of the Heideggerian existent such that the direction and the meaning of an existent comes to it from the future. But, according to Levinas, the format of the "insistent" movement by which an existent posits itself, assumes a stance, is the present structure of the moment, the instant. It is the point of commencement, a point "from which . . .," and a point of insistence which is always evanescent although ever present.
According to Levinas, the existentialist conception of the human subject as ecstatic temporality not only missed the intensity, the "insistence" of the present from which all expectations of the future and retentions of the past originate, but in addition failed to grasp the openness of the future. For existentialists such as Heidegger and Sartre the present devolves from the future suggesting total transparency of the future leaving no surprises. But future surprises, unexpected events emerge and life is derailed toward unknown destinies.
For Levinas it is the present which constitutes a power, a mastery, a center of orientations and possibilities; it is not a disintegration, a dispersal across a future horizon and finally death, but a movement that initiates, commences and takes a stance. Indeed, without this movement, the ecstatic comprehension of human temporality would always be a dissipation, would forever be a process without an identity frustrating the Heideggerian notion of the search for an authentic self and, as accepted by Sartre, making vain any attempt to attain being.
That a being exists in a constant evasion of a self is indeed peculiar. According to Levinas, this flight from oneself is not a mistaken movement toward a possession of oneself but an escape from the self. Since Heidegger and Sartre could not discover "objective terms" which could account for the identity of the human subject, they discarded the search and allowed the ecstatic temporality to bear the burden of a definition of the self or the human subject. Indeed, they were correct insofar as they noted that a being, who can identify nodes, terms, identities in the flow of the world cannot itself be identified in the way that it identifies such terms. Yet, Levinas argues, such a being cannot be dispersed across the temporal flow as is done by Heidegger and Sartre. Rather the self is identified in an adherence to itself, in the maintenance of a position, in an insistent movement and in a weight that it experiences in fatigue and laziness, in the pain of effort. At the same time the self is understood by Levinas as an excrescence, an excess in existence. The self is not an object before itself but is affected by itself. It is felt, congealed in affectivity rather than intuited or objectified. Yet this feeling is neither oblique, indirect or negative, a feeling such as the Heideggerian anxiety revealing "the outer limits of existence." To feel limited is secondary to the experience of being one is. The possibility of a self is a possibility to experience pleasure, excess, to be affected by oneself, to be vibrant with a plentitude of oneself.
Levinas therefore distinguishes between the movement of insistence which adheres to itself and is experienced in enjoyment, the position that it takes, routes that it commences, burdens that it endures, and the movement of transcendence by which it opens to exteriority and ecstatic time manifest in discourse, desire and voluptuousness. This manifestation is provoked by a being which is other than the self, an altereity which interrogates, contests and yields. Let us recall that in Heideggerian thought, the self is called to be by nothingness, it is enticed to be by its very non-being. The human existent is anxious in the anticipation of the sensed abyss as the existent moves across the entities that glisten before its movement on the way to death. The human is simply a "place-holder" for nothingness. For Levinas, the existent is called forth from itself by a positive force of another life, of an altereity. This altereity is what provokes the transcending movement, the departure from the adherence to the self.
One of the major contributions of Levinas is his reformulation of the concept of the "other" human being and the manner in which the other is given in experience. According to Levinas the primordial "transcendence" of one's own sphere of immanence is toward the other. But the other must be defined in such a way that it is neither pre-categorized a priori nor achieved a posteriori in empirical experience. In a movement toward altereity there is a reaching beyond the most remote things of the world. Levinas attempts to define this movement as eccentric which is provoked by an exteriority that remains exterior and yields to no possibility of appropriation by the self. The self can appropriate objects but not the other. Objects can be identified by their characteristics, but the other can only be identified as altereity. This notion of altereity is quite distinct from the Heideggerian notion of the other found in all cultural and practical achievements, in all implements and ultimately in the interpretation of Being. It is also distinct from the Sartrian notion of the other as an object, a term in one's project and as consciousness which constantly objectifies me, freezes me in a trajectory and makes me into a thing.
For Levinas the other, the altereity is best experienced in language and eroticism. Within the limits of this paper only language will be considered. Speech does not only assume objects, things and events which it signifies, grammatical rules connecting terms, but above all it presupposes the other to whom it is addressed. Properly speaking language is expression, not because it establishes external signs to objects meant, but because while signifying the things of the world it also indicates the presence of another signifier. This other is not experienced primarily as an alter-ego, parallel although different from the ego, graspable through analogization or empathy. It is not primarily grasped as a privation, a lack of presence, as if it were a Sartrian negativity, but as a positive force, a presence that addresses, appeals and contests the ego. Thus concrete speech has not only an indicative function but above all an imperative and a vocative power. While being appealed, contested, interrogated by the other, the other is not recognized, categorized or cognized, but answered, deflected, interrogated, denied, believed or rejected. To encounter another is to answer to him. This means that in the encounter of the other in speech we do not pass from signs to the signified, as some entity, from data to some substance which they represent; rather linguistic encounter of the other is an answer, a response even in silence to the altereity that confronts me as a force, even if the force is submissiveness. The other manifests his altereity by taking a stand either in contestation, appeal or interrogation. This means for Levinas that a non-representational relationship subtends the possibility of representation.
The relationship with the other, presupposed by representation, is identified by Levinas as the domain of ethics. This relationship does not emerge from representation of objectivities but is attained as a response recognizing an appeal, an interrogation, an imperative making demands on me, requiring of me justification, conscience and apology. The movement of critique, contestation, appeal and justification in a dialogue wherein a world is objectified, constitutes the ethical dimension of cognition. It is this dialogical process, this fundamental relationship with the other as ethical that, according to Levinas, might have compelled Plato to elevate the Good above Being. The ethical dimension has very little to do with rules of behavior or principles of duty; rather it is a dialogical encounter wherein first one-sided and truncated understanding is contested, interrogated, justified and appealed, wherein the ethical dimension of cognition is in gestation. This is not an ethic demanding that one speak truth, but contesting the partial truth which is being totalized, interrogating the limits of a view not yet tested in the open arena of critique.
This leads us to another aspect of the experience of altereity. Levinas argues that in the ipseity of the self, in its solitude there may be a view which is never challenged or contested; it is primarily the other who comprises such a challenge, such a contestation and interrogation and hence presents "a truth" or a modality of experiencing which is "other" than the one possessed by the self. The challenge, the interrogation reveals a difference between the self and the other, a difference which constitutes the altereity of the other. Thus the other cannot be conceived of objectively, as one thing among other things, with pre-established properties. Things do not challenge views or positions; the others do, instituting a view which is different, a position which challenges, an altereity which demands justification of the self. The other is therefore not objectifiable.
Of course it has been maintained that a true communication, a dialogue can be attained only if the self and the other are sacrificed in their free interaction and submitted to a neutral, englobing system. Levinas does not deny that a great part of our dialogue is systematic and bound by a presupposed logic. What he is intent in showing is that this neutrality is subtended by a process of an existing self and his "ethical prerogative" to face a stranger, the other, and share his world. In short, humans do not become social by an a priori assumption of a system; rather, they become social by encountering the other in all the various forms of communication. What passes for speaking and thinking is quite frequently a mere playing with words and concepts constituting a succession of egocentric monologues. We may subsume objectivities, events and things under our egocentric categories, but speaking becomes serious when the other contests our views, our categories and even our truths. It is while responding to the other that the self experiences an altereity and an awareness of the arbitrary, limited and egocentric views attained by an uncriticized freedom. In responding to the challenge of the other, the self becomes responsible.
Based on the above understanding of altereity, Levinas distinguishes between two major modes of philosophizing; "totalitarian" thinking which claims to be in a possession of a method, a science, a grammar which is a priori true or leads to truth, and "infinite" thinking accepting the contestation of the other and thus constantly leading beyond the naive assumptions of a priori dogmas. Totalitarian thinking is usually reductionist in nature; it attempts to simplify everything to its terms, to reduce all experience to its assumptions and call everything that is not within its mould either subjective or false. Such thinking calls any innovation "arbitrary" or "unfounded," claiming that ultimately it leads to anarchy. Levinas agrees to such a charge but immediately points out that the anarchy is avoided through the dialogical encounter with the other. This other-regarding modality rejects the traditional notion that reason is singular, that it has no plural and points out that it is possible to approach truth from many centers and that the contestation, interrogation and dialogical appellation constitute a polyvalent field allowing both for systems and their interrogation.
For Levinas therefore there are two basic modes of philosophizing. There are those who totalize and those who "infinitize." The totalizers assume a system or a method and attempt to subsume all phenomena under the terms of the system. Such thinking is ultimately a movement toward control and power. Even if it maintains a semblance of dialogue, the dialogical partners move within the same system and "dialogue" only about the components and their location within the system. The infinitizing thought assumes the other to be completely distinct, an altereity, otherwise no genuine contestation would be possible, no radical challenge would emerge. The other is distinct from me precisely because he presents me with a view, with a perception which is not analogous to mine, an alternative view. That is why the other cannot be subsumed in, captured by, or reduced to any system dealing with processes, objectivities and things. It is precisely the other who contests, interrogates and challenges my systematic subsumption of objectivities, events and things under a particular dogma or method. This process of questioning, contestation, appelation, justification and even acquiescence is a process of "infinition." The other is present not as an object, a thing or a process but as a passing trace across my complacencies, dogmas, an interruption that disturbs the world I have gathered. It appears in my totality of objects and things and disrupts the totality toward infinition, leading me to ways which derail my own ways and dogmas.
The other always arises beyond the thought that I have just formulated or the thought that he used to contest my formulation. According to Levinas, the other leaves a trace leading to infinity.
The thought of Lingis is deliberately indifferent to metaphysics, ontology, theism, atheism, epistemology and ethics; it is basically a mode of cosmological thinking not based on calculative, predictive but on a metaphoric, descriptive method. Another factor playing a major role in his analysis of phenomena is a keen sense of the "unnoticed," the "neglected" factors found in various cultures and their modes of expression. Lingis takes various cultural phenomena and, while attempting to interpret such phenomena within the philosophical framework of western tradition, shows that such phenomena would be "cramped" within such a framework.
According to Lingis Western philosophy ranges within the limits of Platonism and materialism and their variants. These limits are defined by him in terms of a "closed economy," and the basic mode of operation within these systems is reason which is a reckoning, a calculation of equivalences. A sum of force, matter, energy lend themselves to rationality and its calculations when they are regarded within a closed system where changes and exchanges are compensated for. A good example of the closed economics are the social orders set up and maintained by intelligent creatures on one of the planets orbiting around one of the stars. Such orders are established to acquire, preserve and even augment wealth. What is at stake, as Adam Smith and Karl Marx noted, for civilization is the production, circulation and balancing of wealth. Yet such economics, elaborated by intelligent creatures, is a special economics, valid only within these systems which in turn are not self-contained. There is an "open economics" on which the closed, the special economics depends. The "open economics" is called by Lingis "general economics" or, in keeping with his cosmological bent, "cosmological economics."
To describe the cosmological economics, Lingis uses a metaphor of the sun. Upon this planet and its closed system the sun pours an overabundant flood of energy. This immense conflagration, at least from the view-point of the inhabitants of this planet, is the source of virtually all the energy and all the limited formations occurring in this zone of the cosmos. The force of this conflagration is the source of, and found within the movements and formations comprising the closed economic systems and substantial terms. As Lingis indicates, if we should conceive of the laws of wealth from the cosmological point, we should realize that the fundamental law of generalized economics of "solar wealth" is expenditure without recompense, without renumeration. The closed economic systems that have been set up around this enormous outpouring of wealth are formations that owe their source to the compulsion of this wealth to discharge itself outside of, far away from itself. The solar drive is to discharge itself in formations without profit, without recompense far from its center. The outpouring into emptiness creates vast panoramas, varieties, indefinite multitudes of formations, this consummation of wealth without purpose, without utility, without reward or gratitude invests all with this force of dissipation without replenishment, of outlay without retribution. In its outlay, the solar conflagration invests all formations with over-abundance which seeks to invest itself outside itself, at a distance from itself yielding a plethora of new formations even in its final dissipation and deformation.
This outlay, outpouring, this overabundance of wealth appears in humanly conceived cultures and their expressions. It is visible in the construction of gaudy monuments and mausoleums, cults and in the frenzied waste of wars. It is apparent in the ethnic expressions frozen in plastic and visual arts, the exotic music and dance, the games of competition and gambling where entire fortunes, accumulated within the closed economic systems are at stake, where social status is cast aside; it is manifest in the voluptuousness of perverse sexual activity, detoured from genital and reproductive ends—all unproductive expenditures requiring an immense and cumbersome social order which at times expends more wealth than is required for the mere reproduction of the species. It is present in the jewels whose utility is null but whose constitution as jewelry is measured by the sacrifice of fortunes, empires and lives. The modern industry has produced synthetic jewelry whose dazzle and beauty is indiscernible from the jewelry uncovered in the dark crevices of the earth; yet such synthetic jewelry could never function to inspire loss of wealth and life, to yield erotic perversity and to be deemed worthy offers to gods. All this, according to Lingis, suggests that at the core of human life the same cosmological economy of expenditure without recompense yields cultural formations and closed economic systems.
But the solar economy, symbolic of the cosmological economy of expenditure without recompense, has another face: a constant formation and transformation where underneath no substantial form is found. Such a process is visible in various cults where not only the expenditure but also the transformations are visible. While investigating various cultures and their rituals, Lingis finds this "cosmological connection" to be fundamental for their understanding. Take for example the Rangda ritual in Bali. In a village in Bali an uneasiness begins to be felt; a villager falls into a trance and declares that it is time to take out the mask of the Rangda. Men assemble, gather in a circle and become a mass of rolling heads, shaking torsos, dancing hands, they turn into gongs, insects, demons and cries of men with voices as if thousands of years old. Gods appear, attired in silk adorned with gold and silver; other creatures emerge, for human beings never dance in Balinëse rituals. The dancers manifest cosmic forces clashing, assaulting, withdrawing, yielding and vanishing. The ritual proceeds by metamorphoses: demon into priest, into seductress, into ape, queen, as if behind every mask there are other masks and behind these still others. Transformation follows transformation having no "fundamental substance," except for the overabundant energy which pours across all transformations, propelling each formation toward deformation constituting a new formation.
Suddenly a dozen or so men of the village leap up and enter the ritual. They hold daggers in their hands and are in a deep trance; they begin to stab themselves everywhere although their daggers draw no blood. They seem to be enraged, demented and perform this strange ritual till their rage subsides. Then one by one they awaken and vanish into the night. The strange aspect of this ritual is that all watch it and enjoy it, even the children watch it with a happiness that is inhuman, a divine happiness, a happiness like that of the sun which gives out its riches and empties into the sea, dazzling everything with its overfulness far away from itself.
Lingis surveys various theoretical positions attempting to account for this ritual—from sociological, biological, to psychological, mass-psychotic and religious—and finds them lacking. The outcome of his discussion is that such a ritual is best comprehensible in terms of the cosmic, the general economy of wealth. This ritual constitutes the "cosmic connection" of the human. Biologically speaking, the instinct of preservation of the species, the strengthening and promoting of such species would not permit a community to send their most vigorous members to perform a ritual where the fury of destruction is turned against them. An overabundance of energy is depleted in a trance-like, purposeless manner endangering the continuation of a species. Speaking psychologically, one could say that such a ritual is a sublimation of libidinal forces, frustrations and suppressed anxieties. But usually sublimation creates something, forms some artistic or scientific heritage which would excite others, move them to an erotic engagement of the creator. But here no such heritage results. Moreover, we are dealing with a ritual in Bali where libidinal suppression is not present, where erotic expression is natural. Is it perhaps that the ritual of self-annihilation, of suicide expresses the very cosmic drive to exhaust itself, to give itself completely and vanish in formations far from itself, formations which someday will yield other formations; perhaps it is a cosmic drive to dissipate without recompense, without renumeration.
The ritual reveals masks behind masks, behind these other masks, more horrible, more comical, provoking; it reveals figure behind figure which in their dissolution yield other figures. The ritual reveals a cosmic dance, a play of the world which while establishing with its energy closed economical systems, at the same time tenses them toward transformation. Although the thinking creatures in this zone of the cosmos would attempt to maintain one of the figures proclaiming it to be "basic reality," although they would even invest such a figure with such valuations as "good," "eternal" and even "divinely ordained," the very cosmic energies which lent themselves to this formation will explode it toward other formations. According to Lingis, the ritual reveals the dissipation of energy in the transformation of figures and masks. The ritual is cosmic in its essence, revealing the human tension in the cosmic economy, the cosmic conflagration where a force, having created a plethora of figures is the same force which is dissolving them; such figures are overfull with tension and must flow further, must radiate transformations into different figures, masks, must radiate into emptiness and create there spectacles and transformations far from itself.
All theater, as a higher form of ritual, according to Lingis, has the same cosmological significance. Why is there, he asks, such a great pleasure to watch theatrical masquerades, transformations, metamorphoses, all kinds of maskings, disguises, the theatrical pleasure of transvestitism. This theatrical process of masking, this attainment of pleasure in the loss of selfhood, of personality, this non-substantiality and transformation witness the cosmological economy, the cosmological play and connection. It is somewhat strange to think that our biological, psychological or even sociological explanations would exclude the cosmological dimension. It is like saying that the human species is somehow away, apart from, independent of the cosmos. Such a claim conceives the human to be a subject without a world, a worldless being who somehow must get "in touch with reality" through some epistemological, psychological or mental machination. The thesis presented by Lingis claims that the subject, that everything has a cosmic connection, that everything is worldly and moves with the very force of the world. Prior to being a psycho-somatic being, prior to being a mind-body conjunction, the human is a being-in-the-world.
The cosmological connection is found by Lingis not only in ritual and theater but also in other arts such as plastic creations. Let us take the discoveries of statues at the temples of Khajuraho. They reveal a cosmic eroticism inexplicable either in Platonic or Freudian terms. The destiny of Platonic eroticism is an eidos, an idea in its perfect state, changeless and eternal. All erotic impulse is driven toward this idea of perfect beauty as its telos, its purpose. Without this orientation the erotic impulse is reducible to a biological function of reproduction or a momentary pleasure of animal encounter. All in all, Platonism aims at the supercession of the sensual, the carnal in order to attain the ideal, the perfect and the eternal. In Freudianism, on the other hand, the erotic drive is without a telos. It is an excess tension that seeks to neutralize itself. It is not a craving for female by a male but a craving that invests everything with erotic enticement. It is not the upward movement from the sensual and carnal to the intelligible and sublime of Platonic, perfect beauty. For Freud the erotic drive is sublimated due to repression. It is because the unchecked and unbound polymorphy of erotic attachment of the child is repressed that it seeks expressions, releases in the forms of scientific achievement, artistic genius, cultural creations—all acceptable images of a particular culture. Thus the driving force of human restlessness is the suppression of immediate gratification, a frustration of immediate erotic expression. The erotic drive seeks to abolish this frustration, this tension, to discover an equilibrium between pleasure and pain, a stasis among the various erotic charges.
But the statues adorning the outer walls of the Khajuraho temples reveal a different story. One would have to imagine eroticism, not driven toward a telos transcending the sensual plane and not telosless pursuit of erotic gratification leading only to further frustrations. Could one imagine eroticism that invades every aspect of highest mental understanding and lowest corporeal function without a loss of sensuality and without elevating itself above the sensual or debasing the carnal. Such eroticism, according to Lingis, dominates the art works of Khajuraho. Layer upon layer of friezes reveal a universal combinatorium of erotic postures circulating and pulsating about the temple walls without primacy given to any posture. Male with female, with animal, with star, with moon, female with the milky way, with serpent, homosexuality—all are present. Yet there is nowhere a hint of shame, of leers suggesting a violation of civic taboos. What is suggested on these temple walls is a superb aesthetic, sensual intelligence exploring all the possibilities of eroticism where nothing is sanctioned or forbidden, ignoble, imperfect in a cosmological eroticism. The temple walls reveal a society in which sexual repression was completely unknown. Freudianism here would find no patients.
These are temples of eros, yet in an entirely different sense than in the West. They are not invitations to sex, to biological procreation or to a glorification of the phallic, masculine power or birth-giving maternity. The statuary does not depict procreation, does not depict orgasm or tension release. Rather there is a depiction of a sublime state of erotic tension, erotic charge maintained in a stasis, in an equilibrium that is here contemplated and exhibited.
The temples are not monuments to utilitarian and profane aims, political power or social control. The eroticism portrayed, an eroticism that infests everything and connects all beings, this tensed eroticism is a concretized cosmic formula achieved by a sensitized and autonomous formative intelligence. What is singular in this intelligence is that craft, architecture, engineering, mathematics, religious mysticism revealed entirely new regions for eroticism. These are not temples of love in the biological-psychological sense but temples in which sensuality itself reaches a supreme degree of intelligence and assumes cosmic and salvific dimensions. The men and women in passionate embrace have brows poised with respect and eyes radiating intelligence. There is nothing guilty or suppressed, nothing self-indulgent or ashamed. These figures are blissful with the freedom of gods who have understood everything. The bodies are not a tangle of simple erotic encounters, but each posture is a yoga with a nobility of each living form and a carnal intercourse with every form of body. Yet there is no sense of debasement when one makes love to an animal; the carnal, the sensual erotic yearning embraces not only all terrestrial bodies but also the heavenly, the cosmic bodies. Here one does not descend to make love to animals nor ascend to make love to the moon, the rivers, the stars; it is a cosmos eroticized.
The human form is not depicted as something closed within spatial bounds; the erotic treatment is primarily a cosmic dismembering: faces are lotuses, eyebrows are taut bows, fingers are comets across the sky and clothes ripple off into rivers. Unlike in Plato, the erotic glance does not move from the sensual upward toward the ideal but to sequences of eroticized forms which, having no common form are metonymic and not metaphorical. It is a cosmic eroticism maintained in its full tension across all faces and shapes. Thus the eyes look at everything not with disgust or leering, not with contempt and degradation but with reverence, with tenderness and magnetic attraction, where in the eyes of the other one sees the eyes of all creatures reflecting oceans and paths of stars, where human eyes look like those of a fish and the eyes of a fish look with the all encompassing intelligence of gods. In each erotic posture, in each yogic stance we do not discover animal pleasure but a maintenance of a subtle and coiling intensity ready to transform itself into all erotic postures which in their turn seek neither fertility nor orgasmic release, neither abolishment of frustrations nor a telos beyond itself. Each figure is tensed erotically across the entire cosmos, across the All.
Using the cosmological connection, it is now possible to delimit the notion of creativity in human cultural life. It is to be noted that the cosmological thinking allows us to depart from an anthropocentric view of creativity, so prevalent during the modern epoch of Western tradition. It has been assumed that the cosmos is modeled on human needs, projections, conceptions and idiosyncrasies. Within the context of cosmological thinking, creativity depends most decidedly on human cosmic experience. What is then the meaning within the context of cosmological understanding? To deal with this question we must revert back to the metaphor of the sun. As noted above, the sun is a concentrated conflagration which, while exhausting its very essence, pours out oceans of energy into emptiness where most of this energy vanishes without aim, without reason; such an outpouring constitutes an overabundance. Yet from this overabundance emerge formations, crystallizations concentrating and closing this overabundance. The essence of these formations, their intrinsic process is the very energy which created them and which seeks to discharge itself further, to transform itself into other configurations.
And the human, living in this zone of the sun, burns with the same fire of transformation till he burns out. In the creative human process some burn brighter than others; those who burn brighter create more, more intensely and burn out sooner in their own fire. In their works they put out an overabundance of energy most of which dissipates into emptiness, while some of the rays assume a crystallization forming into a tensed balance containing the very essence of the creator, the overabundant force, the cosmic wealth. Thus the created work illuminates, inspires and infests others with creative drive, kindles their cosmic conflagration toward an outpouring of wealth without recompense. A great creative work pours its overabundance across ages and continents, very often without a purpose, without receptive ears, pours its essence as a gift without compensation, without recompense; but at times such a work touches a spark and inflames someone with the creative force, with a burning desire to create, a conflagration of the spirit whose vast riches disappear in crumpled sheets of paper, broken, "unsuccessful" statues, torn canvasses. Such a creator pours his cosmic essence without regrets, without payment—no payment could compensate or evaluate this cosmological process— burning with the fire of the sun till he burns out; yet in this burning he leaves works which have gathered suns whose rays inspire creators far from living in different times, different zones, speaking different languages, kneeling under unknown gods. All creators, all their works attest to the cosmological connection and human participation in the cosmological economy which yields more than it receives, yields without envy, compulsion, without self-pity from its over-abundance. The creative human, although seemingly small, insignificant in the All, participates nevertheless in this cosmological process, this cosmological generosity, leaving more than he received, leaving exploding stars, suns in his works, leaving his cosmological essence in them while becoming in his own way a cosmological creation, a sign of the play of the world. Such a human, such a creator can look into the other's eyes without shame, without degradation, without envy or pity, with magnetic attraction, with openness and generosity. In his essence, such a human is a creation that pours his creative essence, creative fire and passion across distant continents and ages; such a person is the foundation of civilizations, cultures, arts and sciences. Such a human reveals the significance of human life.