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The Pain With No Name V (Seeing and Being Seen)

By loving the other first once and for all, the stage is set for the advance of the beloved. By setting aside the requirement that the natural attitude imposes on the lover--that he know the other first in order to love, or, which comes to the same thing, to know who it is that he loves--the lover clears up the horizon within which the lover may be admitted and accommodated. Without this clearing, much like making room for the arrival of the guest, the other cannot come to the fore and become a phenomenon, that is, be seen and be loved. Much of the environment that surrounds me is of my own making and my own domain; within these bounds my rule reigns according to my rights, passions and persuasions. Within this sphere, the ego controls as a king any and all phenomenality in that whatever may appear can only do so with my permission and my conditions for its possibility. Hence, the object--that which could not appear before me if it were not for me, that which can only appear before a subject which subsumes it so as to comprehend it. Yet what about the other who as other cannot be comprehended as an object? To be sure, I can relegate the other to the rank of the object along with the things of this world. But this would miss the other completely. So how do I allow the other in her advance without doing violence to her, that is, without constituting her? In simpler terms, how do I let the other become a phenomenon (something seen) without instantly turning her into another seen object? How do I see the other without seeing her?

The answer: to see her as unseen, to see her as invisible.

For if I do not see her, that is, if she is invisible, I would have no object to intuit or constitute. Without an object in front of me, my gaze cannot settle on anything that will fulfill its desire to see in order to consume it; my gaze thus continues in its search in the absence of an object. But the other is just such a phenomenon which stops the gaze, it stops it by forbidding it to settle on it or to transgress it; my gaze merely stops short of it, failing in its aim and unable to surpass it. The primacy of my perception is then suspended upon the other's advance; and becasue of the Aristotelian doctrine which says that there is nothing in the intellect which did not first pass through the senses, the lonely ego is left without a concept of the other. This only concludes what we have said earlier that when it comes to the other who approaches me, I do not know a thing or anything. Without a concept to hold on to or a spectacle to behold, the ego is exposed to an alterity which it has no idea or experience of. Blind, deaf and dumb, the ego welcomes the arrival of that which is so different from it, so alien to it, that is, his alter ego.

But it is with this suspension of the ego and its powers that enables the other to finally appear, truly and appropriately. The other can never be seen because she is an ego just like me. An other ego, an alter ego, which also sees, intuits, constitutes, comprehends, and establishes a world, in short, is an other world. The other is invisible because even though she is embodied like me, she never remains merely on the level of existence and being, or in the present and in the actual; she, too, is possibility and past, promise and hope. The other is invisible because I cannot pin her down; she has here own "there" where she unfolds, she has her own here which my here can never substitute. This is evidenced whenever I truly look at her eyes: all that her pupils offer to be seen are the double void that they posses where, strictly speaking, I do not see anything. Why? Because it is through the void in her eyes where she also takes the intiative to see. In reality, when I look into her eyes, I do not see anything but myself being seen.

Whence comes the reversal that the ego never expected. Once the ruler of the universe of objects, the ego experiences itself seen as well with the danger of becoming an object for an other. The other's gaze cancels out my own, nullifies it and endangers it; from now on I can no longer see in the same way. Seeing myself seen, I am thus exposed no longer as an ego, an I, but transformed into that which for the other is also an other; the I is turned into a me. A me, which, finally, might then be able to accomplish what the lonely I could not do: to love the other who comes first and who, in her advance, decenters me and relagates me to a rank which is able to love the other who is always more worthy of love than me. In front of the other whom I love, "I can never do anything but apologize for my shortcomings and belatedness." In front of the other who advances in full glory of her alterity, I finally realize what it means to love an otherwise than me.

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