Let's bring forth the following conjecture:
Being signifies on the basis of the one-for-the-other of substitution of the same for the other.*Why not apply this conjecture to the blattoidea member above?
A cockroach can never be a who, even for an expert phenomenologist in otherness like Levinas: he simply forfeits the question.
He's concerned with human otherness.
Heidegger comes a bit closer, but he declares the animal kingdom as weltarm (poor in world).
But insects got to have being. This question cannot be superfluous:
What's the cockroach's being?
Obviously, this is not up to the cockroach. It's up to us.
Can one bridge the seemingly incommensurable man/insect gap?
(with about 1,000,000 brain cells, cockroaches may posses proto-consciousness!)
paired structures called mushroom bodies in a cockroach brain play a key role in navigation.
Getting "close" to the insect means using whatever intentionalität available to find sameness in difference.
Franz Kafka's man-to-insect transformation in Metamorphosen is a fruitful exercise, but Kafka was not really interested in the phenomenological side of the insect as much as presenting a "human insect" prototype.
Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector offers a deeper phenomenological analysis in her The Passion according to HG:
The cockroach, with its dangling white matter, kept looking at me, but I do not know if it really saw me (I do not know how a cockroach sees). But she and I looked at each other (and I do not know how a woman sees).in Lispector's metaphysical comparison (human) mental-states are as intractable a problem as the cockroach's hypothetical gaze.
... in the eyes of the cockroach I could see my own existence. In the world we were meeting there are several ways of looking: you look the other without seeing it; one has the other; one eats the other; one is just in the corner and the other is there too. The cockroach was not looking at me with its eyes but with its body.Cockroaches have 360º vision, which make up for the flatness of their bodies. each eye contains about 2,000 lenses, which means that their reality is not static. They assimilate a dizzying multiplicity at any given time. Lispector's conclusion is quite advanced.
In the phenomenology of Merleau Ponty the gaze has fundamental properties. Seeing means being drawn into a particular dimension of being, let's say, a slice of being to which the perceiving body is not foreign.
Is that why Lispector concludes the cockroach sees with its body?
Was Lispector aware of phenomenologists insistence on the importance of the gaze? i dunno. what's important is that she cares for the insect's gaze. she echoes Merleau-Ponty's advice:
... "with the first vision ... there is initiation, ... the opening of a dimension that can never again be closed."**
This is a crucial point: that "first vision" is not exempt from horror (human's and the cockroach's, i bet). that horror is the beginning. without the horror there would be no future hope of empathy. for later Levinas, the face is synonymous with diachrony, i.e., lapsing of time, from time immemorial when both human and cockroach share an ancestor.
Clearly, Lispector finds common ground in our shared prehistory.
What I saw was life looking back at me. How to name that horrible, raw matter, that dry plasma. While I recoiled inward, I felt a dry nausea, I was falling into the very roots of my identity. Centuries and centuries in the mud --wet mud, filled with life; moving with excruciating slowness.A shared fate with insects --in the Permian primordial mud?
If there are eyes there is a face. What a coincidence! According to Levinas the encounter between self and other is given by the face.
Do cockroaches have faces?
In Violence and Metaphysics, Jacques Derrida belabors Levinas' idea of the encounter with the other:
What then is this encounter...? Neither representation, nor limitation, nor conceptual relation to the same. The ego and the other do not permit themselves to be dominated or made into totalities by a concept of relationship.Derrida doesn't have a non-human being in mind. a face-to-face encounter is always a human affair. yet Lispector's analysis addresses the insect's otherness via visage.
Now, is there another way to access the insect's being?
The human/insect distance is not without riddles: we fall for the illusion of approaching difference to reach sameness, but that's a circular trap. can we abstract both insect and human likeness to seek a more hierarchical animal likeness?
Even if the heuristics may look a bit fuzzy, positing the problem already hints @ solution.
when do we start?
(to be continued)
* Emmanuel Levinas, Otherwise than Being (Duquesne University Press, 2009), p. 26. **Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible (Northwestern University Press, 1979), p. 151.