Monday, January 4, 2010

Levinas and Winnicott on Nuclear Bombs


Happy New Year and please continue to privilege me with your kindnesses in 2010.

I'm catching-up on some Levinas and rereading his essay "Peace and Proximity" ('Paix et Proximité', Les Cahiers de la nuit surveillée, No. 3, 1984) translated by Michael B. Smith (1999). I'd written (which I reread today with great embarrassment) about this essay a few years back and I'm glad to return to this essay. Today I'm reading and I feel a much-expanded understanding of what Levinas is getting at.

Anywho, for my own enjoyment, I am presenting some quotes from Levinas and Winnicott about the result of nuclear arms development and proliferation.

"Peace and Proximity" Emmanuel Levinas:
The explosion of the earth itself by an energy that the search for truth - having become modern science - released from being. Here we have truth threatening being itself. Here truth threatens, so to speak, being qua being and disqualifies Europe, which discovered - and left uncovered - these forces. But doubtless that very way of disqualifying and accusing already proceeds from a vocation of the spirit whose powers of love are neither translated nor exhausted by the love of wisdom. (133-4)

There is the anguish of committing crimes even where concepts are in agreement. There is the anguish of the responsibility incumbent upon each one of us in the death or suffering of the other. The fear of each for himself in the mortality of each does not succeed in absorbing the gravity of the murder committed and the scandal of indifference to the other's suffering. (135)

...[W]e may wonder whether peace must not respond to a call more urgent than that of truth and initially distinct from the call of truth. [...] But peace in this case will no longer be reducible to a simple confirmation of human identity in its substantiality, anchored in itself, in its identity of I. It will no longer be a question of the bourgeois peace of the man who is at home behind closed doors, rejecting that which, being exterior, negates him. (136)

"Struggling Through the Doldrums" (1963) from Deprivation and Delinquency (1984) D.W. Winnicott:
The atom bomb affects the relationship between adult society and the adolescent tide which seems to be for ever coming in. It is not so much that his new bomb symbolizes a maniacal episode, a moment of infantile incontinence expressed in terms of fantasy that has come true - rage that has turned into actual destruction. Gunpowder already symbolized all this and the deeper aspects of madness, and the world was long ago altered by the invention of gunpowder which gave reality to magic. The more general result of the threat of nuclear war is that in effect it means that there is not going to be another war. It can be argued that there might be a war any minute in some place or other in the world, but because of the new bomb we know we can no longer solve a social problem by organizing for a new war. (150)

If it makes no sense any longer to deal with our difficult adolescents by preparing them to fight for their king and country, we have lost something that we have been in the habit of using, and so we are thrown back on this problem, there is adolescence, a thing in itself, with which society must learn to live. (150)

When we think of the occasional atrocities of modern youth we must weigh them against the deaths that belong to the war that is no more to take place, and against all the cruelty that belongs to the war that is not going to be, and against all the free sexuality which belongs to every war that has ever been but is not going to be again. So adolescence has come to stay, and along with it the violence and sex that is inherent in it. (151)


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