Desire Beyond Desire

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January 3, 2013 by jmw

kissIn 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.”

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4 thoughts on “Desire Beyond Desire

  1. Kearney says it well, our desire for God is only a response to God’s ardent desire for us. He always has the initiative. Our desire for God is truly ‘desire beyond desire’. It is a yearning and a hunger for the infinite. In us, that hunger becomes evident in our longing for beauty, truth, goodness and oneness. And our longing finds satisfaction is what is beautiful, true, good and one. Thus, even though we long for what is infinite, we can truly find fulfillment in the way infinity presents itself to us, the other.

  2. jmw says:

    Can we – do we – really find “fulfillment”?

  3. Donald Brash says:

    Some of what you say here reminds me of Antoine de St. Exupery’s Le Petit Prince, when the fox asks the boy to tame him. It’s not an exact fit, but I think the dialogue there relates to the significance of and approach to the other in Levinas (more broadly), and in your comments here: The fox to the boy – “Right now you are like a hundred other boys, but if you will tame be you will be unique in all the world…. My life is monotonous, but if you will tame me, I will see the wind blowing the golden wheat and since your hair is golden, the blowing wheat will remind me of the wind in your hair and of you and I will love the wheat because of you.” (Not an exact quote. I only have it in French and I don’t feel like translate it at this hour.)

    As for lust, the metaphysical and the animal… I’d rather say “evidence of the mixing that already exists in us,” that is essential to the singular but twofold human nature that blends as image in eros. We see this so clearly in Babette’s feast. The Worldly one must teach the religious about the spiritual in the gifts of this world, and liberate them to embrace the whole of themselves and each other. There is freedom to forgive in the leveling recognition of our common nature, but without permission to descend, because the feast as gift in several ways. I hear in your thought the articulated point: “righteousness and bliss shall meet and kiss.” Is that the way it goes? You inspire me, Josh, to read more of Levinas, the great philosopher of “the other.”

  4. […] the God-like capacity to receive and be received. [Going further, I would say it is the ability to be for the other, which is the crux of Trinitarian […]

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