Recent posts have turned my attention back to the role in ethical experience of recognition between people, and from this has emerged a new theme I’d like to explore: How we greet one another.
The possible importance of greeting came out in the story of the toddler in the farmers market:
“I’m here! I’m here!”
But I thought, yes, child, you are here!
Here you are! Welcome!
It also figured in my thoughts on encountering human drivers as distinct from self-driving cars:
However, I know quite well that it might not occur to the driver to glance to her or his right before hitting the accelerator, and I really would rather not be in the way just then. So, I stop and wait. Usually, the driver turns glances at me; we make eye contact, sometimes nods are exchanged, sometimes the driver waves me across; I wave back in thanks and go on my way.
I intend to pay attention to these kinds of interactions, in everyday experience and narrative of experience as well as in more theoretical literature.
I begin my understanding of the role of greeting in a communicative ethics from a reading of Emmanuel Levinas. In Otherwise than Being, or Beyond Essence Levinas distinguishes one aspect of communication, a process of subject-to-subject recognition, on the one hand, from an aspect of expressing content between the subjects, on the other. the former he calls Saying and the latter the Said. Prior to and a condition for making assertions and giving reasons for them is a moment of opening to and directly acknowledging the others, without the mediation of content that refers to the world. Prior to a thought to be conveyed, a world to refer to, act in, and share in is the gesture of opening up to the other person where the speaker announces ‘Here I am’ for the other, and ‘I see you’.
For Levinas, this act of signification is one of exposure, vulnerability, risk. In such announcement the speaker responds to the other person’s sensible presence, by taking responsibility for the other’s vulnerability, but without promise of reciprocation. Communication would never happen if someone did not make the ‘first move’, out of responsibility for the other to expose herself without promise of answer or acceptance. Greeting (which is my term, not Levinas’s) is this communicative moment of taking the risk of trusting in order to establish and maintain the bond of trust necessary to sustain a discussion about issues that face us together.
– Iris Marion Young (2000), Inclusion and Democracy, Oxford, p.58
I suppose this means, among other things, that I will at last have to keep a long-deferred promise to myself to dig into the works of Levinas.
It’s about time.