responsibility & infinite love


“On what condition is responsibility possible? On the condition that the Good no longer be a transcendental objective, a relation between objective things, but the relation to the other, a response to the other; an experience of personal goodness, and a movement of intention. That supposes, as we have seen, a double rupture: both with orgiastic mystery and with Platonism. On what condition does goodness exist beyond all calculation? On the condition that goodness forgets itself, that the movement is a movement of the gift that renounces itself, hence a movement of infinite love. Only infinite love can renounce itself and, in order to become finite, become incarnated in order to love the other, to love the other as a finite other. This gift of infinite love comes from someone and is addressed to someone; responsibility demands irreplaceable singularity. Yet only death, or rather the apprehension of death, can give this irreplaceability, and it is only on the basis of it that one can speak of a responsible subject, of the soul as conscious of self, of myself, etc. We have thus deduced the possibility of a mortal’s accession to responsibility through the experience of his irreplaceability, that which an approaching death or the approach to death gives him. But the mortal thus deduced is someone whose very responsibility requires that she concern herself not only with an objective Good but with a gift of infinite love, a goodness that is forgetful of itself. There is thus a structural disproportion or dissymmetry between the finite and responsible mortal on the one hand and the goodness of the infinite gift on the other. One can think this disproportion without assigning to it a revealed cause or without tracing it back to the event of original sin, but it inevitably transforms the experience of responsibility into one of guilt: I have never been and never will be up to the level of this infinite goodness nor up to the immensity of the gift, the frameless immensity that must in general define (in-define) a gift as such. This guilt is originary, like original sin. Before any fault is determined I am guilty inasmuch as I am responsible. What gives me my singularity, namely death and finitude, is precisely what makes me unequal to the infinite goodness of the gift, which is also the first appeal to responsibility. Guilt is inherent in responsibility because responsibility is always unequal to itself: one is never responsible enough. One is never responsible enough because one is finite, but also because responsibility requires two contradictory movements. It requires one to respond as oneself and as irreplaceable singularity, to answer for what one does, says, gives; but it also requires that, being good and through goodness, one forget or efface the origin of what one gives.”


pg 51-52, The Gift of Death, Jacques Derrida


About Michael Johnson

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