The Field and the Other

I would like to extend my argument from the last post—or rather, return to a subsidiary thesis of the last post and expand upon it. A field, specifically a lexical field, can be a place or a text, any discrete object to which associations, connotations, and meanings can be attached. When I encounter such a place or text, I must negotiate the meanings that I and the field share, the overlap, and so, in the process, produce a new object, a new, unified field. Importantly for this process, and for my argument today, we, ourselves, are not perfectly discrete and objective. We, ourselves, in our conscious subjectivity, exist at the centre of our own field of associations, connotations, and meanings, the unconscious habitus which I have referred to previously. And so, to read a text, or go into the field, is to enmesh and entangle the field of myself with the field of this other.

But what if this other is another conscious subjectivity? To frame our conversation in different terms (specifically those of James Mensch,¹ who himself draws extensively from the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas, our freedom, our will and capacity to act, is only made possible by our others. We are not born with the “content,” the choices, that make possible the acting out of our freedom. This content, all the possible “projects” that we can undertake and so exercise our will and express our freedom, is learned from others, in relation with other freely acting individuals. What follows, then, as a subject constituted in relation with other subjects, the fields we interact with and simultaneously produce are “disclosed” according to the possibilities made known to us by our others. Thus, not only is Paris what I make it, but Paris is what others make of it through me. The conscious subject is embedded in a field of other conscious subjects who, together, produce each other’s realities.

The argument becomes more intricate as Mensch delves into the nature of the public, the “appearing” of our others, and deeper complexities of Levinasian thought, so I will stop here, concluding with an application. I write this in Charles de Gaulle airport, sitting with eight other members of my field team. Three more are soon to join us, and two more in the days following. Plus the director and TA that makes a team of sixteen, and that still excludes non-SFU individuals. The remarkable quality of the field school is that, as we, together, plunge into a world largely unknown to us, a world that exceeds our own finity, as individuals, in the possibilities that it offers, we do not interact with that world in isolation but as a team. And this team is made up of individuals with widely differing beliefs, disciplines, lifestyles, and backgrounds, brought together by the physical space of the field. Many of us would likely not have ever encountered each other, or, if so, not encountered each other enough to know one another. But in this setting, knowing is unavoidable. This knowing can be uncomfortable, even frightening sometimes, but it is precisely in this knowing, in the interaction between strangers, fields, possibilities, and the gradual negotiation of the overlap between, that new meanings, new fields, new possibilities, are born. And, in the process, new worlds are conceived and disclosed in concert with one another. 

Every interaction with the other—text, space, or subject—is a process of revelation, because, in the other, we discover that which does not yet exist in ourselves, the inexpressible excess extending beyond the overlap of our negotiated social spaces. We see the world and our selves in new and brilliant ways only when we look at the world through different eyes. And on this trip, I have at least fifteen other pairs of eyes to look through. That’s a whole lot of new worlds.


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