Emmanuel Levinas begins his book “Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence” with the reflection that:

If transcendence has meaning, it can only signify the fact that the event of being, the esse, the essence, passes over to what is other than being.⁠¹

His point contradicts the common understanding of people that have been raised with the belief that to transcend the world of the appearances of being is to arrive in some metaphysical realm — still a realm of being, but no longer mortal being. But this imaginal world, created out of our aching desire to know the truth behind the appearances, removed though it is from our everyday concerns, is nothing but a reflection of this world of appearances, air-brushed and granted deistic potence, but from which vibrant reality has been removed, vivisected out of the remaining diorama of the structural formalisms of human speech and thought. It is but a human-made image that no god has set in place, constrained even before uttered by the limitations of language.

The history of philosophy is marked by the recurrence of the failure of an immersion in such a metaphysic to answer anything, because it is impotent to inform the mundane word of being and only serves as a means of temporary escape, or more ominously, as a springboard for the worst barbarities of man.

The skeptic and the empirically-minded both demand: “Show first that there is another realm, or show a clearer understanding of this one, and do not escape into fantastic realms of imagination.” Ah, what violence such words make against those that strive for redemption, calling into question their very impulse as if some sort of abdication — a manifestation of the aporia of the modern world’s pointless strivings. But is this violence any more of an offense than that done by words when directed to the otherwise than being even if only glancingly? Is this violence not at the root of all thought, especially when the “I” is faced by the “other”?

Why is there this burning need to transcend Being? Why is being here a concern that gives rise to uneasiness? And why is the otherwise than being a clue to a basis for an ethics of responsibility in Levinas’ thought? Isn’t our immanent experience enough to give an answer to our deepest desire to understand our selves and this mysterious place that we find ourselves in? The perennial answer to these questions is that the appearances that we can so methodically study are resting upon shifting sands of conjecture, assumption, and imagination, and we need to find stable ground. Merleau-Ponty in his final unfinished work, “The Visible and the Invisible” put it this way:

Since the enigma of the brute world is finally left intact by science and by reflection, we are invited to interrogate that world without presupposing anything. It is henceforth understood that in order to describe it we may not resort to any of those established ‘truths’ which we count on each day, and which in reality teem with obscurities from which they could not be freed except precisely by conjuring up the brute world and the labor of knowledge that has posed them over it as a superstructure.⁠²

He points out that this superstructure:

… presupposes about us this world in itself; between this world and ourselves it presupposes relations of simultaneity and of succession that enclose us in the same objective time with this world; it presupposes a mind capable of knowing this true universe…

The way forward, he says, is to follow the inverse route:

… starting from perception and its variants, described as they present themselves, that we shall try to understand how the universe of knowledge could be constructed.

Moreover, he says:

(W)e also do not allow ourselves to introduce into our description concepts issued from reflection, whether psychological or transcendental: they are more often than not only correlatives or counterparts of the objective world. We must, at the beginning eschew notions such as ‘acts of consciousness’, ‘states of consciousness’, ‘matter’, ‘form’, and even ‘image’ and ‘perception’. We exclude the term perception to the whole extent that it already implies a cutting up of what is lived into discontinuous acts, or a reference to ‘things’ whose status is not specified, or simply an opposition between the visible and the invisible.

Finally, he says:

The resolution to confine ourselves to the experience of what is in the originating or fundamental or inaugural sense presupposes nothing more than an encounter between ‘us’ and ‘what is’ — these words being taken as simple indexes of a meaning to be specified. The encounter is indubitable, since without it we would ask no question.

Merleau-Ponty is striving to minimize the violence of his words and the strictures they place on the possibility of our understanding. But we must note that even here in the concept of “experience” one is left with the feeling that we are dealing with something that someone has. And of course this must be what experience is. What, after all, could it be, but the having of something by someone — here in this world? So perhaps this is the ‘proof’ that we need that to “transcend being” is meaningless. And that being’s ‘other’ is just a story that we tell ourselves to placate our aching desire for something more to be.

Yet, what is our warrant to take so bold a stance? If we go back once again and confine ourselves “in the originating or fundamental or inaugural sense” to experience, can we not find another way forward? Is a ‘having’ the only possibility? Or can we look no further than ‘being’ and consider ‘being experience’ rather than ‘having experience’? Would this be allowed into discourse? Is there a difference, or is this mere wordplay? Could such a move escape the violence of human language? This is the problem which Levinas, amongst others, raised, and which he highlighted at the very start of “Otherwise Than Being”: How do we speak about an ‘I’ and the ‘what is’ without immediately falling back into the objective world of discourse and all of its presuppositions that appears even there, in the “I” and the “what is”?

Phenomenology takes as a fact a world already given to us. Merleau-Ponty explained in the introduction to his seminal work: “The World is there before any possible analysis of mine.”⁠³

Such a fact is primordially incorporated into our relationship with phenomena, as Heidegger pointed out:

Thus Dasein’s understanding of Being pertains with equal primordiality both to an understanding of something like a ‘world’, and to the understanding of Being of those entities which become accessible within the world.⁠⁴

But is Dasein in this world or is it immanent within the ‘world’ of experience? Is this world ‘given’ to us? What would that even mean? That it is a gift? From whom? From what? Or does it mean that it is a given, as the rising of the sun is a given — given to us by inductive understanding? The simple answer that it is given to use as perception should be anathematized even before it is uttered, as it implicates a perceiver and a perceived and thus the thought already presupposes the world. But isn’t that what is already at play even before Husserl reinvigorates the cogito of Descartes?

… as soon as I look at the flowing life in its actual present and, while doing so, apprehend myself as the pure subject of this life (later we shall busy ourselves particularly with what that means), I say unqualifiedly and necessarily that I am, this life is, I am living: cogito.”⁠⁵

Husserl’s epoché puts the question of the existence of the world out of play because it is already securely bound up in his words as “pure subject” and the “I am”. This question need not be asked anew because it is already answered. And this answer is a given.

Heidegger approaches this problem and then retreats, taking the questioning as unanswerable and the knowledge of being-in-the-world as what there is available for his theme. He points out:

But in any of the numerous varieties which this approach may take, the question of the kind of Being which belongs to this knowing subject is left entirely unasked, though whenever its knowing gets handled, its way of Being is already included tacitly in one’s theme. Of course we are assured that we are certainly not to think of the subject’s “inside” and its ‘inner sphere’ as a sort of ‘box’ or ‘cabinet’. But when one asks for the positive signification of this ‘inside’ of immanence in which knowing is proximally enclosed, or when one inquires how this ‘Being inside’ which knowing possesses has its own character of Being grounded in the kind of Being which belongs to the subject, then silence reigns.⁠⁶

He continues:

With this kind of approach one remains blind to what is already tacitly implied even when one takes the phenomenon of knowing as one’s theme in the most provisional manner: namely, that knowing is a mode of Being of Dasein as Being- in-the-world, and is founded ontically upon this state of Being. But if, as we suggest, we thus find phenomenally that knowing is a kind of Being which belongs to Being-in-the- world, one might object that with such an Interpretation of knowing, the problem of knowledge is nullified; for what is left to be asked if one presupposes that knowing is already ‘alongside’ its world, when it is not supposed to reach that world except in the transcending of the subject? In this question the constructivist ‘standpoint’, which has not been phenomenally demonstrated, again comes to the fore; but quite apart from this, what higher court is to decide whether and in what sense there is to be any problem of knowledge other than that of the phenomenon of knowing as such and the kind of Being which belongs to the knower?⁠⁷

Is there another way to understand immanence? One that does not throw itself to the mercy of some “higher court” for validation? If we are searching for the otherwise-than-being as a theme should we not first regard “transcendence” and “immanence” and shed them of the tacit presuppositions that already take the world as a given?

Meister Eckhart pointed the way to a purer understanding of these concepts that did not involve the tacit understanding that we see plaguing the others that we have discussed. He said:

A master says, if all mediation were gone between me and this wall, I would be on the wall, but not in the wall. It is not thus in spiritual matters, for the one is always in the other; that which embraces is that which is embraced, for it embraces nothing but itself. This is subtle. He who understands it has been preached to enough.⁠⁸

And in another sermon he said:

Every vessel has two properties; it receives and it contains. Spiritual vessels are different from physical vessels. The wine is in the cask, the cask is not in the wine. And the wine is not in the cask as it is in the staves, for if it were in the cask as it is in the staves, we could not drink it. With a spiritual vessel it is different. Whatever is received in that is in the vessel and the vessel in it, and it is the vessel itself.⁠⁹

One can say that wine is in the wooden cask, that it is contained by the cask, but the allegorical sense of the wine being immanent in the staves, having permeated the wood of the cask itself is better for our theme as it implies a lack of separation between the two; this permeation of the wood and the wine is a sought after occurrence that is absent in today’s world of stainless steel tanks. One misses the taste of the wood that seeps into the wine that is only contained within the cask. But even the idea of a “loss” of separation exhibits the same tacit understanding of a world of separate things.

Going further back in time, Plotinus raised an issue regarding form itself and his “One” and his insight can enrich our own search:

Since the substance which is generated [from the One] is form — one could not say that what is generated from that source is anything else — and not the form of some one thing but of everything, so that no other form is left outside it, the One must be without form. But if it is without form it is not a substance; for a substance must be some one particular thing, something, that is, defined and limited; but it is impossible to apprehend the One as a particular thing: for then it would not be the principle, but only that particular thing which you said it was. But if all things are in that which is generated [from the One], which of the things in it are you going to say that the One is? Since it is none of them, it can only be said to be beyond them. But these things are beings, and being: so it is ‘beyond being’. This phrase ‘beyond being’ does not mean that it is a particular thing — for it makes no positive statement about it — and it does not say its name, but all it implies is that it is ‘not this’. But if this is what the phrase does, it in no way comprehends the One: it would be absurd to seek to comprehend that boundless nature; for anyone who wants to do this has put himself out of the way of following at all, even the least distance, in its traces; but just as he who wishes to see the intelligible nature will contemplate what is beyond the perceptible if he has no mental image of the perceptible, so he who wishes to contemplate what is beyond the intelligible will contemplate it when he has let all the intelligible go; he will learn that it is by means of the intelligible, but what it is like by letting the intelligible go. But this “what it is like” must indicate that it is ‘not like’: for there is no ‘being like’ in what is not a ‘something’. But we in our (aporia) do not know what we ought to say, and are speaking of what cannot be spoken, and give it a name because we want to indicate it to ourselves as best we can. But perhaps this name ‘One’ contains [only] a denial of multiplicity. This is why the Pythagoreans symbolically indicated it to each other by the name Apollo (a pollõn: not many),⁠¹⁰ in the negation of the multiple. But if the One — name and reality expressed — was to be taken positively it would be less clear than if we did not give it a name at all…⁠¹¹

Has Plotinus said what Heidegger already pointed out, that only silence remains when one tries to state positively what the ‘inside’ of “immanence” means? Or, has Plotinus in fact pointed out a way to frame our thought about the “otherwise than being” that Levinas missed?

Levinas continued his thought about the “otherwise than being” by pointing out:

Among the five ‘genera’ of the Sophist a genus opposed to being is lacking, even though since the Republic there had been question of what is beyond essence.⁠¹²

Is this correct? Did Plato fail to present a genus opposing being in the Sophist, or did he simply fail to do violence to it by refusing to misapply words to it, as Plotinus refused to do in seeking an understanding of “One”? The latter is my position. Although this point is not obvious in what is said in the Sophist, it is clearly there if we are but on the look-out for it.

In the Sophist Plato searches for a definition of a sophist and finds himself needing to explain how it is that there can be false statements. This is driven by his assumption that anything said must correspond to something, so a false statement must correspond to “that which is not”. But note that “that which is not” is a positive assertion about something that is “in a way” according to Plato. That is, it does not indicate a privation of being, but rather something other than being. And it is this that Levinas has focused on. For what is “it” that is other than being?

The key is to be found in the presentation of the three great forms that underlie all being according to Plato⁠.¹³ They are: “that which is”, “the same”, and “the different”. “That which is” is being, and this form grants existence to all that is, including these great forms. “The same” is not a relation of equality but rather is the self-sameness of anything (including itself). For, instance, Plato goes to great lengths to explain that when he says that something is “the same but not the same” he is in fact using two completely different meanings for the word “same” in that assertion. The first is an assertion of self-sameness, while the second is an assertion of difference from something else. What creates this difference is “the different”, which is a relation between two things. Now, the argument is that each of these great forms is unique and self-same because of “the same”, they each are because of “that which is”, and they are each distinct from one another because of “the different”. But the key to discovering what is other than being is to be found in how these three forms necessarily combine together, and specifically what it is that “the different” creates a relation to in order to create “that which is not”, or the other to being, that is Plato’s goal. The problem is that “the different” combines with “that which is” and something else to create “that which is not”, but he is only discussing the three great forms listed above. He has specifically excluded the case where any of these forms can be different than itself, which logically makes sense, so “that which is” and “the different” cannot combine to form being’s other. The only possible choice is “the same” and this is in fact what Plato does, although he does not name it or single it out. Why is this the case? Because, I would assert, a naming or singling out would do violence to the result. When “that which is” and “the same” are related over against one another by “the different,” the result is individuated being — the world ‘given’ to us; the world of experience — and Being, which is just a name, in its purity is the “One” of Plotinus of which nothing can be said without undermining that which one is attempting to say. Prior to mixing with “the same” there is nothing to point to at all; prior to mixing with “the different” there is nothing distinct either — no subjects and no quiddities. It is also, and this is more pertinent to Plato’s arguments in Sophist, the “One” of Parmenides — whole, monogeneric, still, and not unfinished — [ ]“is”¹⁴,⁠ but not “is” in the way that “that which is” is when mixed with “the same”. But speaking this way is deficient from the start.

Thus, Plato has supplied us with the other to Being, but it remains nameless and in a necessary way, formless, and thus it must be non-individuated and ineffable. A further analysis of these three great forms shows that in fact their very origination and existence is co-dependent. The three require “that which is” to be; “the same” to be anything at all, and “the different” to be different than one another. Thus what is arises from Being (or “One”, or whatever utterance you wish to use as a placeholder) as form; and this “what is” is not other than the action of Being which both transcends the appearances and is immanent within the appearances. The horizon that we must understand is not out there “on the horizon” but right here marking the territory within which language can be allowed. Language requires the three great forms. It is inapplicable where those are not present; worse yet, to use language outside of the hither side of this horizon is to violently destroy any possible validity of what is said.

Given this depiction by Plato of “that which is not”, which is “in a way”, we can insist on a different interpretation of immanence; one in which immanence and transcendence are so radical that they are merely different names indicating the same “that” which transcends and is immanent in experience. To Levinas’ question about what is “otherwise than being” we can respond that it is not only beyond essence, as he stated, it is also beyond the strictures of words. That any saying results in a said that completely misses its mark, just as Plotinus pointed out. But this does not leave us ‘treading water’ without a foundation for thought. Instead it provides the only solid foundation possible. It does this because it shows us that what transcends being is what is immanent in being, as Eckhart said, except that this is no realm beyond the realm of experience. This is the very definition of experience. Experience is not something that is had. Being is experience; experience is. Heidegger remarked that:

The world presences by worlding. That means: the world’s worlding cannot be explained by anything else nor can it be fathomed through anything else. This impossibility does not lie in the inability of our human thinking to explain and fathom in this way. Rather, the inexplicable and unfathomable character of the world’s worlding lies in this, that causes and grounds remain unsuitable for the world’s worlding. As soon as human cognition here calls for an explanation, it fails to transcend the world’s nature, and falls short of it. The human will to explain just does not reach to the simpleness of the simple onefold of worlding. The united four are already strangled in their essential nature when we think of them only as separate realities, which are to be grounded in and explained by one another.⁠¹⁵

But the four, said before any possible saying, are already a stepping away from immanent experience, even while Being is always immersed in it. It is as if one is in a small boat, at the mercy of the howling winds and sizzling waves threatening to overturn it, staring in wonder at the bilge water as it sloshes about under one’s feet, attempting to explain its mysterious presence there. As beautiful and poetic as his words sound, they are but an attempt to bandage the wound inflicted by thought through the care of other thoughts.

The supposed subject — subject of so much suffering — is an artifact of thought and language’s strictures, rending apart, even before saying anything, the wholeness of what is. It is found originating in the very interest that Levinas makes so much of. The range of experience is found in the forms of Being; human being is a particular form of experience. But it is not different in kind from any other form of Being. Thus Levinas was wrong when he said:

Does not the subject then find itself shut up in an alternative? A term is constituted by the understanding of the irony of essence, and by the possibility of being confused with the universal at the moment that thought which embraces the whole and is engulfed in it, thinks of “nothing less than death.” This is an admission of the ultimacy of essence, of the immanence without exit of its play that encloses… The dilemma is without resolution; essence has no exits: to the death anxiety is added horror of fatality, of the incessant bustling of the there is, the horrible eternity at the bottom of essence.⁠¹⁶

His error is that the “horror of fatality” is derived from the tacit understanding of the reality of Being as a world filled with individuals and individuated things. Without this understanding — as a ‘said’ plaguing our thoughts and haunting our nightmares — there is no fatality. What this means for the experience of another first requires that we clarify what “experience of another” could possibly even mean. The value of this endeavor is that it may provide the “kinship” that Levinas feels is missing, the absence of which is the very possibility of oppression in the world:

One has to find for man another kinship than that which ties him to being, one that will perhaps enable us to conceive of this difference between me and the other, this inequality, in a sense absolutely opposed to oppression.⁠¹⁷

As Levinas points out: “esse is inter-esse”¹⁸ — essence is interest. And this interest normally begins with the attachment created by thought upon the resurrected remembrance of experiences, from which interest becomes dependence and then ego — upon the very homunculus created by the rending of experience into piece-parts. The homunculus subject in the world, a world already given — not immanent in experience as world. It is separated out, distilled like some spirit, and just as inebriating. My responsibility for the other results from this attachment to an ego that is the very necessary prelude to the being of another — not me but someone else. My interest is an egotistical act — I grant ethical consideration to the other. Thus the very need for ethics arises from our having forgotten the “otherwise than being.” Lao Tzu said:

When the great Tao is forgotten,
Kindness and morality arise.
When wisdom and intelligence are born, The great pretense begins.
When there is no peace within the family, Filial piety and devotion arise.
When the country is confused and in chaos, Loyal ministers appear.⁠¹⁹

The only self is the world. And yes, I am the world, but not as master or deity, but the soul of the world. As Emerson pointed out:

We live in succession, in division, in parts, in particles. Meantime within man is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related; the eternal ONE.⁠²⁰

This soul “within man” is not in man in the way that wine is contained in a vessel, but is immanent within man, radically transcending his very being:

And this deep power in which we exist and whose beatitude is all accessible to us, is not only self-sufficing and perfect in every hour, but the act of seeing and the thing seen, the seer and the spectacle, the subject and the object, are one. We see the world piece by piece, as the sun, the moon, the animal, the tree; but the whole, of which these are the shining parts, is the soul.

If we wish to transcend the appearances it must either be the case that ‘we’ are not what appears to others — the appearance of another coming hither — or we are just losing our way in imaginative flights of escapism. If my responsibility is to the ‘other’ that I meet in the world, who stands in proximity to me, although not necessarily close by in space, then any question of transcendence is meaningless, for what kinship could we have other than form? Yet, when you come into view there is a range to my response, and the meaning of that range may inform our search for transcendence. First, I may not even ‘see’ you, not through a lack of attentiveness to the appearing, but because I do not see you as an other. You may be ‘nothing’ to me — a Jew in the ghetto, a communist or unionist in a German work camp, a negro hung on a tree, an enemy combatant at Guantanamo Bay, potential collateral damage. You may be of use to me as a thing — a cow whose telos is to die for my ‘needs’, a consumer who might buy my product if I can but awaken the ‘need’ for it in him, a less-than-human whose work is recompensed with a pittance of food and shelter barely fit for the insects who feast on its decay, whose only crime is to have been willing to do such work. Or, I may see you as like me — an other — and this has nothing to do with your appearance. There is something that I recognize as a shared nature between us; something that makes the appearance of you become interesting to me, not because of what value you have to me, but because I see my own ‘self’ in your eyes and in the way in which what you do is just as subject to divergence from a stochastic model of biological systems, believed to be the sole presence here, as my own is. But no matter how hard I try to describe it — this difference that sets you apart from the other things and objects that comprise the world around me — I fail because my words immediately rend what appears from any possible understanding. The description falls flat — sounding hollow and trite. My efforts to transcend the appearances are doomed because any truth to the appearances has already been violently rent from them as soon as the saying begins to form. I am lost in the doxa of appearances and our beliefs and opinions about them. No wonder the “heavenly city in the sky” that Levinas mentions with more than a hint of derision, can only faintly echo the vibrancy of this world of experience — here. No matter how high we turn the lights up on this schematic realm of the divine, it is ultimately empty of any meaning whatsoever, and merely shelters our longing for what we have lost.

The face of the other is not a reflection in a mirror. The face of the other is the manifested appearance of the “otherwise than being” that is immanent as experience in these appearances as much as it transcends these appearances as ground. As the other comes hither, towards me, not in closeness, but somehow in proximity — like two photons that have become entangled and are proximate no matter how far apart they become — I cannot look away. The interest is that of the reflection caught in the periphery, in a glance at a passing window or mirror — of me.

My interest must start with that which appears closest in proximity: the appearance that I am always proximate to. This self cannot be denied entry. Yet this is not me, myself; this is my self, the constant companion that generates the most interest for me. I am otherwise than this being. I must be if transcendence means anything at all. And yet, I cannot deny that there is a special intimacy between this companion and I. It is not born from a placement in the world together — in time and space. He mimes my every desire, mimicking me as I pass on the street. But with a smashing force, violently recoiling back into a state of rest like a spring that has been suddenly released, this dichotomy of me and my self, which has been pried apart by words and concepts from the flux of experience that marks my time here, is once again whole: it is not me that is having these experiences, I am this experience. This self is the manifestation of the otherwise-than-being that is me — the One, the Soul — for which no word suffices as the only meaning is the reflected appearance of the world that is.

But this interest — self interest — can become fetid and inflamed if I do not understand this otherwise-than-being. Not as a mere word-game, but an understanding that permeates this experience, that can only be hinted at with words. This inflamed self-interest, so engrossing and so demanding of my attention, is the very origin of ethics. It is not in duty to some supreme being that I must submit my ego to the needs of the other — it is in satisfaction for the violence that has set us apart. It is a prejudice that sets the ego over all others; that eclipses the truth of the otherwise-than-being that Levinas has finally pointed out. It is a make-do that is only needed because we have lost sight of our Soul. Not my soul and not yours — our Soul. This is the only real kinship that is irrefutable. But it comes at a price.

To recognize this kinship is to renounce the ego. This renunciation is not that of the coward faced with a gun and murderous intent who denounces his neighbor; it is the renunciation of the violence of separation — of words and thoughts that rend experience apart. It is the Christ on the Mount of Olives; it is the Cathars at Monséqur. And in renouncing the ego, in understanding the otherwise-than-being, we are faced with an infinite responsibility for the Self that manifests as the world of experience, which we can distinguish into others, things, and objects, places, and times, but these are just a momentary focus on the particular which has no truth in it — it is merely a momentary interest that we manifest.

To recognize this kinship is to find what Levinas felt was missing. It is a kinship that reduces the difference between ‘me’ and the ‘other’ in a sense that is absolutely opposed to oppression. But to find this kindship is not easy, such is the power of words and the violence of concepts. This is the problem that is faced, and that was faced by Levinas. His solution was to attempt to minimize the violent rending of words by using a technique of saying called aphophasis in his original text.

Apophasis begins with the aporia — the unresolvable dilemma — of transcendence. What transcends being is beyond being, beyond names, ineffable. Yet in order to claim that, I name and reify the transcendent. Therefore such discourse, if the initial logical impasse of ineffability is held to, exerts a force that transforms normal logical and semantic structures. Real contradictions occur when language engages the ineffable transcendent, because the logical rule of non-contradiction, which functions for being, cannot hold for “otherwise-than-being” and “no-thing”. Yet apophasis is not irrational speech because it holds that such logic must be superseded. Call it disontological speech — speech about the “otherwise-than-being”.

But apophasis is a tool that points the listener to an intuitive understanding beyond words and concepts, and herein lies a problem: those who are presented with this apophatic discourse may not understand it. They may not even understand the speaker’s intent. As Michael Sells points out:

Performative apophasis results from a particular intuition into the dilemma of transcendence and a particular response to it. A performative apophatic writer, such as Plotinus, Ibn al-Arabi, Moses de Leon, or Meister Eckhart, may found a tradition, but later members of that tradition may, in systematizing or regularizing the thought of their founder, write in a more formal, less performatively intense mode of discourse.⁠²¹

This systematization of the original apophatic discourse results in a negative theology that uses negative propositional discourse because it is easier on the mind of the listener, but it violently destroys what is intended by such speech. This fate, suffered by Levinas, whose words were transformed in a treason of translation, is described by Sells this way:

Part of the modern misunderstanding of classical apophasis is due to the projection back upon late antique and medieval writers of a mononomic, generic God divorced from particular traditions and language. If the apophatic intuition of unnameability has validity, then a reconsideration of apophatic writing is particularly needed in view of the modern domination and deification of the generic name.
The domination of the generic name entails a domination of the ‘what’. Much discussion of mystical union and comparative mysticism has been based upon substantialist language of whatness or quiddity.⁠²²

Thus by forcing a conception of ‘God in the heavenly city’ upon the transcendent, we lose sight of the understanding that Levinas wanted to show us because this violence — different in method only from the violence of the said — forces the transcendent out into the world of discourse and thus into “whatness”.

Levinas’ translator, Alphonso Lingis is very clear in his introduction to Levinas’ work that he has not maintained Levinas’ apophatic performance, choosing instead to recast it into kataphatic language of positive and negative propositions. Thus we have lost the power behind the words that is the understanding that Levinas had reached and which he wished to communicate to us. Lingis picks up on Levinas’ theme that all language as such represents a betrayal of the intended meaning and uses it to forgive his own failure to understand:⁠²³

Traduire c’est trahir: all translation is unfaithful. More than in his other texts, Levinas’ composition in this book reflects the understanding of the work of language the book puts forth. The thought succeeds in formulating itself without being set forth in predicative assertions. Constructions by participial clauses avoid the very use of the copula. Where he elides the verb to be, Levinas is forced to write in clauses rather than in sentences, and yet the French text is precise and unequivocal. Again and again the procedure is to juxtapose formulations in apposition, as though the movement is not to reduce but to disimplicate. We have first tried to produce an English version which would duplicate these grammatical artifices, but the result seemed to us to strain the expressive devices of English grammar much more than seemed to have been the case in French. We have concluded that in English Levinas’ intentions would have required different grammatical distortions. Failing to find these, we have reintroduced the copula and the predicative structure everywhere, and movements preceding by enchainments of appositions have been dismembered and rephrased in declarative propositions.⁠²⁴

So we come face-to-face with this perennial problem of the transcendent. It is not a matter of knowledge, as some performative ability earned as recompense for studious attention to experience. It is an understanding — nearly ineffable, truly ineffable — that is the very naturing of experience and which changes the egotistical me amongst others into the Self that is both the transcendent otherwise-than-being and the immanent presence within experience that so inspires life into the appearances. This Self is the epistrophic presence of the ground of appearances turning back upon its Self. But not really. Words are incapable of truly expressing the wondrous immensity and fecundity of this moment now, right here. They change what they say, even as they are said. It is as Wallace Stevens pointed out in “The Man With the Blue Guitar”:

The man bent over his guitar,
A shearsman of sorts. The day was green.
They said, “You have a blue guitar, You do not play things as they are.”
The man replied, “Things as they are Are changed upon the blue guitar.”
And they said then, “But play, you must, A tune beyond us, yet ourselves,
A tune upon the blue guitar
Of things exactly as they are.²⁵
ཨེ་མ་ཧོ། ཕན་ནོ་ཕན་ནོ་སྭཱཧཱ།
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