into the night
of oneself

Levinas, the enigma and
his caress.

Nausica Manzi

Night-time represents fear, loss of perspective and a disarray of lives; it is a process of concealing in order to find oneself, of extinguishing oneself in order to rekindle the true fire of Being, of letting time pass in order to be reborn again.
During this nocturnal preparation of rebirth, something extraordinary happens: an unsolvable enigma takes form, and a guiding light is lit, unexpectedly revealing the secret of its mystery.

In the past, many, in the throes of questions that tormented their existence, took refuge in summoning help from the oracle of Delphi. Apollo, by means of the Pythia, answered through an enigmatic saying whose meaning lay elsewhere unknown and which, paradoxically, constituted it: an indecipherable saying contained a revolutionary said. Philosopher Emmanuel Levinas speaks of this enigma and, indeed, through a language that is not immediate. His own philosophy acts as an oracle: it always points beyond the ambiguous saying, to dismantle it, to go beyond it and thus reach an original said.

“The verb consists of the impossibility of expressing oneself. Love – the mystery  of others – the Word – the mystery of me”.

With Levinas, Saying and Said are terms that express the search for truth. Saying, specifically, is what is ambiguously expressed by an entity: an enigma envelops ontological language. 

According to Levinas, the saying, in its utterance demonstrates the said, which is given in secret like a frail  whisper,  “The being […] makes the essence resound without entirely muffling the echo of the Said that carries it and gives it life.” [1]. In the said resides the saying’s origin. The essence, the accomplished resolution, is held in what is said, whereas in the saying lies the Being, in terms of a verb, which expresses the passing of time where the personal events of individuals emerge:

The essence […] is the verb’s verbality […] Being is the verb itself […] Language stemming from the verb’s verbality would not only consist in making the essence of being heard, but also in making it vibrate […] The word identifies “(this as this)” […] Identification which is a provision of meaning: “(this as that)”. [2]

The saying always refers to someplace else, a said that whispers in the folds of existence, the understanding of which stimulates action and thought of every individual who, in crisis, gropes around courageously and in despair. It is a third element that insinuates itself in order to lead to a change of perspective and mentality and, according to Levinas, can only be acknowledged at will: like a clammy fog, whether one chooses to understand it or reject it, it awakens the human being nevertheless. In the complicated interweaving between an ambiguous saying and a profound said, in fact, he suddenly finds a similarity that shakes him: in it he finds the image of his own face that suffocates a truth which requires liberation.

 What is this enigma really? 

Speaking of the subject’s inner reality, Levinas emphasises how this dimension, just like the said concealed linguistically in the saying, besides its ways of appearing to the outside world, it has also the capability of hiding itself, “withdrawing into the night of oneself” [3]. Inner reality is always kept in the dark, because it is concealed by words and gestures which, at first glance, make it difficult to be perceived and understood. Internally, everyone is made up of a said, which preserves the true essence, the voice of one’s darkness, in the form of a saying, an enigmatic appearance. The enigma of self and reality rekindles man’s thinking and reminds him to look inside himself. It therefore represents the root of essence of every human being: each of us is an embodied enigma of existence that inevitably gives itself in a confused way within a community of gazes, hiding the truth of itself in a deviant darkness that only waits for a torch to light up. We are eyes that guard a small light amidst the blinding lights of cities, hands of superficial gestures, fruits of deep roots, bodies covered with souls, in which the true meaning is in the darkness, enigma, means of personal and collective rebirth. The shape of the human soul is an enigma, hidden in the night of a saying that conceals a said of meaning. 

What is that guiding light that brings forth the solution, that gives our enigmatic soul the strength to be born anew into life itself? 

To answer this question, I would like to focus on an element that is present in Delphi: there is a particular wind that constantly circulates there, which is both a gentle breeze and a violent mistral, something that cradles and something that chills, caresses and smites. In the past, this pneuma channelled itself into a chasm and gave voice to the Pythia. 

This wind is a metaphor for a community built on multiple enigmas, which insinuates itself into each and every soul by means of an ambiguous saying, a trap which makes one return to oneself to prove that “said means otherwise” [4]. The community allows us to rediscover singularity and challenges us to change our perspective in order to exist ‘otherwise’. 

It is interesting to note that this wind makes every subject exposed, ‘naked’, observed and therefore able to look around and inside themselves, because they are touched, at the same time cradled and shaken by that discovery which advances within themselves. While becoming aware that the enigma is actually their own self to be illuminated again in order to respond to the call of the community, through it, the subject thus discovers themselves vulnerable: the solution to the enigma passes through fragility. We are fragile when, in our enigmatic identity, we discover being part of a community of as many mysterious eyes, which demand answers in the same way, while continually withdrawing into their own nights of the soul. How can we do this when everyone demands a resolution that is both care and responsible action? The solution is a caress. 

The caress is a way of existence to be learned from that Greek wind, to solve the enigma of identities: the dark night of an enigma merges with each human face, mutates it through a wind of community and illuminates it thanks to the guiding light of a caress of existence. Being a caress of existence means becoming capable of watching over and fighting for others in their darkness in order to understand one’s own better, to cure in order to cure oneself, to guard in responsibility in order to guard oneself. Making caresses of existence responds to the community’s call to exist otherwise for others, thanks to others and with others. It brings to light the said, the essence of every identity, indicated in the same Latin root of ‘caress’, carus: to be loved ones who, between fragility and strength, try to make their lives conform to its essence hidden in the night of an enigma, which speaks through a wind and is resolved in the light of a caress, love. “The verb consists of the impossibility of expressing oneself. Love – the mystery of others – the Word – the mystery of me” [5].

[1] All translations hereafter were translated by La Livella Magazine’s translator. However, for a better understanding of the text we suggest you read Emmanuel Levinas, Otherwise than Being: or Beyond Essence, translated by Alphonso Lingis 

[2] Ibidem

[3] Ibidem

[4] Ibidem

[5] Translated by La Livella Magazine’s translator from: Emmanuel Levinas, Quaderni di prigionia e altri inediti, a cura di R. Calin e C. Chalier, Bompiani, Milano 2011 p.150.

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