January 3, 2013 by jmw
In his essay “Desire of God” philosopher Richard Kearny discusses Levinas, Derrida and the eschatological nature of desire. Following Levinas, Kearney first discusses the ‘onto-theological’ desire of presence, fulfillment, representation, etc. This is a desire for objectivity, totality, and “being.” In contrast, he then discusses eschatological desire as a desire that breaches the totality of being and opens up to infinity. This desire is different from biological need or “lack driving toward fulfillment.” It is “a relationship with a surplus always exterior to the totality, as though the objective totality did not fill out the true measure of being, as though another concept, the concept of infinity, were needed to express this transcendence with regard to totality, non-encompassable within a totality” (115). In other words, there is always something more. It is asymmetrical.
Eschatological desire cannot be reduced to a thing that one needs or consumes like the food you eat or the house you possess. It is a “desire beyond desire.” But rather than finding fulfillment, there is always more: the desire is not fulfilled, it is only deepened. Eschatological desire is thus something beyond a subject-object relationship, it is a desire for the “Other.” It points toward a radical subject-subject relationship that is expressed in the event of not only possessing the Other but also being possessed by the Other. This is displayed vividly in erotic desire (Eros). Consider the following.
When a man sees a beautiful woman on the street he experiences a desire for her. This desire is multifaceted. It is lustful and animalistic: he wants to f*** her. This expresses the onto-theological desire of presence and possession. It is a subject-object relationship and he may very well achieve the fulfillment of this desire by f***ing the woman. However, his true desire, the eschatological desire beyond desire, remains. “Nothing is further from eros than possession,” says Levinas. What the man truly desires is to be possessed by the woman. His desire beyond desire is to be desired by the beautiful woman. It is precisely because the man finds the woman to be a beautiful subject that he desires to be for her, which entails being desired by her (i.e. being of benefit to the woman, enriching her, etc.). This eschatological desire is, however, the thing that the man fears the most because it demands a kind of vulnerability unlike the desire of possession. The desire to be for the Other requires a comprehensive letting go of the idols of presence.
In existing-for-the-other we experience an opening up of our being so that we no longer exist only for ourselves. Surprisingly, Kearney does not mention this very theme in the Song of Songs (e.g. “My beloved is mine, and I am his.”). Nevertheless, I think Kearney is on to something when he states that “lust is the mixing of the metaphysical and the animal.” It would sure do well to explain our obsession with sex, as well as our unquenchable desire of a God who is “not yet.”