Thursday, June 28, 2007

"Whom To Give To"

As an undergraduate, the first philosopher I read was Derrida and the first book I read was The Gift of Death. I picked it up because someone I admired and with whom I worked at the MTC (he was, in fact, a serious former student of Jim'€™s) told me that one of the most significant and transformative spiritual experiences of his life occurred in connection with his reading The Gift of Death. I've tried to make it a rule to never turn down such book recommendations. I don'€™t know for sure what passages he had especially in mind, but I have a hunch. And I'€™m pretty clear about which passages ended up producing a similar effect in me. In both cases, I think they are here in the third chapter.

A few comments and transcriptions.

1. "€œWe tremble in that strange repetition that ties an irrefutable past (a shock has been felt, a traumatism has already affected us) to a future that cannot be anticipated; anticipated but unpredictable; apprehended, but, and this is why there is a future, apprehended precisely as unapproachable. Even if one thinks one knows what is going to happen, the new instant of that happening remains untouched, still inaccessible, in fact unlivable." (54)

The trembling produced by the mysterium tremendum is the living bridge between the trauma of the past (irrefutable, irreducible, and unmasterable) and the secret that is the future. The future, here, being constituted by the fact that it is necessarily a secret that cannot be told, a secret that is structurally rather than accidentally a secret or mystery. What gives the future a future (what makes it other than a modulation of the present) is its secret. We never know what'€™s going to happen. The limit of the future, the limit that marks the future a€™s absolute rather than relative mystery, is death. The gift of death is the secret that death holds and the future that death's secret both gives and forecloses (gives, Derrida would say, by foreclosing).

Within a Derridean framework we might say that typology is this living, trembling bridge between the unfathomable past and the secret of the future. Except, for Derrida, the quivering connection between type and antitype and is possible only if the antitype remains a secret (if it were not a secret the future would itself collapse) and thus the meaning of the type, though irrefutably given, remains a mystery. Or we might say: in a Derridean typology, we receive an endless series of powerfully transformative types€“ but the antitype that would definitively reveal their meanings can never, by definition, be given.

2. "What is it that makes us tremble in the mysterium tremendum? It is the gift of infinite love, the dissymmetry that exists between the divine regard that sees me, and myself, who doesn't see what is looking at me." (56)

What does love have to do with death? Love is our trembling in the face of the secret/future that death gives. Love is a trembling in light of the dissymmetry between what I apprehend and the secret that the Other holds.

Love, Derrida would maintain, is only possible insofar as the antitype is never given and the meaning of the type is never definitively unveiled. Death makes love possible because death is what gives us an end, but it gives us end that we can only receive by no longer being around to receive it. It promises to tell us the secret by promising to keep the secret a secret. Love, founded on dissymmetry, is necessarily absurd: the books can never be balanced, the debits and credits can never be zeroed out, no universal equivalence can ever be accomplished. It is the dissymmetry of love that renders it immune to money (the universal equivalence machine) and, thus, unconditional.

3. "He [Abraham] says something that is not nothing and that is not false. He says something that is not a non-truth, something moreover that, although he doesn'€™t know it yet, will turn out to be true."€ (59)

This is, I think, a tantalizing formula for doing theology (and typological theology). When we do theology properly we manage to say things that are not nothing and that are not false. When we do theology properly we manage to say things we do not know the meaning of€“ but, nonetheless, will turn out to be true. We venture a wager in faith on the meaning of a type, but do so in the absence of its key, the antitype.

4. "If I obey in my duty towards God (which is my absolute duty) only in terms of duty, I am not fulfilling my relation to God. In order to fulfill my duty towards God, I must not act out of duty . . . . It is in this sense that absolute duty (towards God and in the singularity of faith) implies a sort of gift or sacrifice that functions beyond debt and duty, beyond duty as a form of debt. (63)

What does sacrifice have to do with the gift of death? What does sacrifice, as Abraham enacts it, have to do with the secret? Sacrifice is (as Krishna tells Arjuna in the Bhagavad-Gita) the only mode of action that escapes the bind of conditioned actions. It is the only mode of action capable of giving a gift. It is the only way to act that eludes the trap of debt. Sacrifice simultaneously preserves what it sacrifices and sacrifices for the sake of preserving what is sacrificed.

Say we sacrifice the antitype. Derrida'€™s point is that we can only preserve the antitype as a messianic antitype by sacrificing the possibility of its arrival. Or: the only way to love my wife is by constantly sacrificing my desire for the affects that she produces in me (the affects that I love). If I love her for those affects, if I love her out of duty to the debt that I owe her because of what she gives me, then I will have failed to love her and loved, instead, only what she gave. So that it is impossible to perform my duty to her (to love her) out of duty. In order to perform my duty to love her, I have to sacrifice that duty as a duty and love her without regard to what I owe her or receive from her. I can only love her by sacrificing my love for what gifts come from her.

Sacrifice, then, is the kind of action capable of keeping a secret: it can perform a duty without duty knowing that it has been performed. It can keep duty a secret from itself.

5. "Kierkegaard rejects the common distinction between love and hate; he finds it egotistical and without interest. He reinterprets it as a paradox." (65)

The paradoxical sacrifice that love enacts has to reject the common distinction between love and hate because, commonly, both love and hate are modulations of self-interest. In order to love Isaac, Abraham must sacrifice him. Abraham must hate him, sever any connection he has to or interest in what Isaac gives to him. Only by hating him can Abraham become free in a way that will allow him to love Isaac without the intervention of debt and the interest of self-interest. Love is neither love nor hate but some impossible third things beside them both. Faith is neither faith nor doubt but some impossible third thing beside them both.

6. "I cannot respond to the call, the request, the obligation, or even the love of another without sacrificing the other other, the other others . . . . I betray my fidelity or my obligations to other citizens, to those who don'€™t speak my language and to whom I neither speak nor respond, to each of those who listen or read, and to whom I neither respond nor address myself in the proper manner, that is, in a singular manner (this for the so-called public space to which I sacrifice my so-called private space), thus also to those I love in private, my own, my family, my sons, each of whom is the only son I sacrifice to the other, every one being sacrificed to every one else in this land of Moriah that is our habitat every second of every day."€ (68, 69)

If this were the only passage worth reading in Derrida's corpus, it may still be worth the effort to read his work in its entirety.

In my estimation, life in the Spirit begins here: with the revelation of a responsibility that is not bound by any consideration of self-interested guilt and accountability at the judgment bar of God (or man). This is the revelation of a responsibility to others that exceeds anything that God (or man) would either reward or punish us for fulfilling or not fulfilling. The revelation of an absolute responsibility that can only be taken seriously by sacrificing both an attempt to be universally responsible (the tragic hero) and an attempt to limit our responsibility parochially (the aesthete). An absolute responsibility that we can only enact by sacrificing the other others to another other, both preserving and resigning what we sacrifice.

What is beautiful about this passage is it's€™ non-intellectual, non-mystical, non-religious mundanity. This land of Moriah is our habitat every second of every day. This has do with the cat that I choose to feed and all the cats that I don'€™t. It has to do with the time that I spent at work rather than with my family and the time that I spent with my son rather than with my other son. It has to do with the gift of time that death gives by assigning an end to time: there are only so many minutes in a day and I must do something with them but I cannot do everything. This is the Abrahamic bind and it is, according to Derrida, the bind that gives birth to an experience of faith, decision, mystery and the absolute.  In other words, this is the bind that gives birth to religion. I have to decide what to do without knowing what to do because the very condition of possibility for a meaningful decision is not knowing which way to decide.

7. "€œOur faith is not assured, because faith can never be, it must never be a certainty. We share with Abraham what cannot be shared, a secret we know nothing about, neither him nor us. To share a secret is not to know or to reveal the secret, it is to share we know not what: nothing can be determined. What is a secret that is a secret about nothing and a sharing that doesn'€™t share anything?" (80)

- Adam

Monday, June 18, 2007

Derrida's Gift of Death, chapter 2: "Beyond"

I want to begin this week by focusing on Derrida’s focusing on Patocka’s focusing on Poe’s/Heidegger’s focusing on that which escapes focus: the purloined (Lacan, you’ll remember, transgressed Baudelaire’s volee by focusing on the etymology here, rendering “purloined” as “prolonged”) letter. In one of Derrida’s more brilliant linguistic plays: “Heidegger himself, and his work, come to resemble a purloined letter. He is not only an interpreter of the play of dissimulation who can be likened to one who exposes letters; he or it is also in the place of what is called here being or the letter [l’etre ou lettre].” Heidegger thus plays two roles: he is the philosopher who eulogized philosophy (giving it its very being, but thereby cutting short its time), and he is the philosopher (inevitably like all philosophers) who is never eulogized by anyone but suicides (that is, philosophers).

I was reminded again and again in the course of reading “The Secrets of European Responsibility” of a curious little paper by Francis Landy, titled “Tracing the Voice of the Other: Isaiah 28 and the Covenant with Death” (found in Exum and Clines, The New Literary Criticism and the Hebrew Bible, 140-62). Landy writes: “The primary symbol in the passage [verses 1-8 of Isaiah 28] is drunkenness. Drunkenness in Isaiah is a paradigmatically inane defence against death, as the carpe diem motif, ‘Eat and drink, for tomorrow we die’ (Isa. 22.13), suggests. Drink fends off but also anticipates death, anaesthetizing fear and rendering the subject unconscious.” (p. 150) This fleshing out of drunkenness leans on her earlier articulation of poetry: “Poetry plays with alternative worlds, with the infinite combinations of sounds and images, with the transition between narcissistic omnipotence and the terror of finitude. It is a game with language and the world that constitutes preeminently a ‘transitional object,’ transitional between mother and child but also between union and separation. The spoken or unspoken other player in this game is death, not only in that poetry tries to make sense of the world despite death, nor in that it seeks immortality for our voices and our lived experience, but in that it passes between being and non-being, what can and cannot be said, the thought of being and the unthought.” (p. 142) At precisely that point, she adds in a footnote about Heidegger on poetry: “But if poetry marks a trace of the holy, it also sounds the knell of the philosophical subject.” (p. 142).

I think this nicely traces the contours of Derrida’s discussion of Patocka’s paper: in Plato, Europe makes a covenant with death, but in Christ, death makes a covenant with Europe. But let me take up Landy’s paper primarily as a kind of excuse for reading Derrida in an Isaianic idiom (without trying to get too involved with genealogies, it was in part my encounter with precisely the Isaiah passages I’ll take up below that gave birth to this curious Abraham seminar…). That is, following up on a comment I made perhaps a week ago, I’d like to think more carefully about the Isaian image of the seal.

Isaiah 8:16 nicely articulates Derrida’s/Patocka’s Heidegger in (I’ll leave this undecided) 1976/1967: “Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples.” Gerhard von Rad takes this passage as the key to an important historical puzzle: when and why did the writing prophets begin writing? (His brilliant reading of this problematic is found in his section on First Isaiah in volume II of Old Testament Theology.) If von Rad does not thematize the act of sealing at any length, let me emphasize the importance of doing so in any serious attempt to grapple with the broader problem of Mormon theology (and I imagine we can all sense which of our four questions is at the center of my thinking this week).

David John Buerger opens his “history” of Mormon temple ordinances (The Mysteries of Godliness) with the claim that “Some time between June and November 1831, however, LDS salvation theology changed, tied to the 3 June 1831 conferral of High Priesthood on church elders.” (p. 2) He makes this change primarily a question of sealing: “This notion, when taken with key Book of Mormon passages, represented a departure from biblical precedent. In the New Testament, for example, the terms ‘to seal’ and ‘to place a seal on’ referred to the ancient practice of placing a wax or mud seal to close and protect a document from misappropriation.” (p. 3) He unfortunately then goes on to sum up the Book of Mormon references to sealing up a text as “obvious non-figural usages of the term.” (p. 4) But it seems pretty easy to sense in Buerger’s approach a (rather common) presupposition that does a great deal of violence to the meaning of the Book of Mormon in the Restoration: the Book of Mormon, as a sealed text, is precisely a question of sealing the fathers and the children (according to what is usually dubbed the “Nauvoo theology”). The title page itself makes this clear, since, in all rigor, there the Book of Mormon is first and foremost written “to show unto the remnant of the House of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever,” only secondarily---“also” is the term the title page itself uses---“to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that JESUS is the CHRIST.” Nor is one justified in reading some kind of distance in the “Nauvoo theology” from textuality, translation, or writing: “It may seem to some to be a very bold doctrine that we talk of---a power which records or binds on earth and binds in heaven. Nevertheless, in all ages of the world, whenever the Lord has given a dispensation of the priesthood to any man by actual revelation, or any set of men, this power has always been given. Hence, whatsoever those men did in authority, in the name of the Lord, and did it truly and faithfully, and kept a proper and faithful record of the same, it became a law on earth and in heaven, and could not be annulled, according to the decrees of the great Jehovah. This is a faithful saying. Who can hear it?” (D&C 128:9)

But polemics aside, what of sealing---of Heidegger as a “book that is sealed,” of the purloined letter as sealed despite its broken seal (or really, its two broken seals), of Isaiah and the Book of Mormon as sealed, of Abraham’s facsimiles and even text as sealed, of families and covenants as sealed, etc.? But collapsing the sharp (ultimately historical) distinction between sealing documents and sealing covenants/people, might we not pave the way to some real work on what constitutes a uniquely Mormon theology? At the very least, we would thereby be laying the foundation of a theology devoted primarily to the two extremes that temporally define the prophetic work of the prophet Joseph: on one extreme, an angel with a text; on the other extreme, the “family kingdom.”

…Even as I would appear, I think, to leave off much of Derrida’s discussion, let me argue that I am hardly doing so. The “thought-through” (that is, impossible) Christianity Patocka pines for is precisely, I would suggest (but would anyone else here?), what began in 1820 in the Sacred Grove (and I don’t, by that, mean the Church, but the Kingdom). And if we can agree with Derrida about much of what he has to say about the mysterium tremendum---and I do, for now---then we might suggest that death has indeed made a covenant with Europe (or with Ephraim). That is, the impossible gift is being given in every temple we’ve built (gift: endowment), and it is being given in much the manner Derrida is describing. And that gets me thinking about two comments from the recent PBS special on Mormonism, one from Terryl Givens about the temple as a kind of vehicle for total reconstitution, and one from Harold Bloom about Joseph Smith’s Mormonism being the only religion that really aims at fully conquering death as such. But this preface is already twice as long as my entire post should have been…

At least this can be said of the sealed as such: the sealed is the epistolary (and the secret, the tremendum, as Derrida will say at the beginning of chapter 3). The Book of Mormon is a prime example. Written to the Lamanites and sealed up. And, as we are all quite aware, it remains a sealed text: two-thirds, they say, of the text has never been cracked. But what of the part we have read? Are we not simply reading the address of an epistle? The Book of Mormon, as we read it today, is precisely the seal (that is, the signature) and the address on the outside of a letter to the Lamanites (given: the address and seal are quite lengthy!). What in the Book of Mormon is profoundly public---all that has been published---is given to the Gentiles as to a carrier: the Gentiles have the task of working out (and in some detail!) the address, of making sense of the seal and the address, and then of delivering the text up to those who will break the seal and read the contents (and whether or not the addressees desire to share those contents with the Gentiles will be entirely up to them). (And we do not even begin to address here the question of having to translate the address/seal, etc.) And what is clearest, perhaps, of all in that seal and that address is that this is a letter written by the fathers and for the children, written precisely to turn the hearts of the children to their fathers (written: an act that can only be described as the turning of the hearts of the fathers to the children; and an act that can only be brought to completion in the turning of the hearts of the children to the fathers).

Hence, the epistolary, the sealed letter: a binding or welding link between the fathers (according to the covenant) and the children (according to the covenant), delivered “by way of the Gentiles,” the Platonic. (Joseph Smith as hermeticist, as translator: a Westerner trying to make sense of the Eastern---trying to translate characters of ancient date---in an attempt to retreat from the Western, to retreat from the Platonic, in what has been called, by Marvin Hill, a Quest for Refuge….) The absurd, as a kind of call (Nephi tells us that the deaf will hear the word of the book, remember), passes through the public---that is, ethical (in Kierkegaard’s sense)---sphere as a trace, as an address and a seal, being carried from one to another precisely by the individual, the citizen, the Platonist, the European, the Gentile. The text, sealed up and sent, comes as a message, a messenger, true messengers, fathers or angels with/by a book (or a letter, taking especially into account the theme of “the end of the book and the beginning of writing” in all its ambiguities).

But too many themes are converging here. In a word: Mormon theology as an epistolary theology?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Gift of Death, chapter 1

In this first chapter, "Secrets of European Responsibility," Derrida, drawing on the work of Jan Patocka, sketches in a history of the modern self, which is to say, a history of responsibility, conscience, and consciousness. This genealogy takes three principal stages, with two transitions: primitive orgiastic religion is incorporated into Platonism, which is in turn repressed by the mysterium tremendum of Christianity.

Orgiastic religion is poorly defined in the chapter---perhaps Derrida is here relying heavily on Patocka, whom I have not read---and I've been unable to google up anything very useful. But to the extent that I understand the argument, the orgiastic rites from which Platonism emerge are enthusiastic---that is to say, initiates experience something like possession, an abandonment of self and volition to a communal experience of emotion and being. These orgiastic mysteries are then incorporated, but not subsumed or extinguished, by Platonism; Derrida draws on psychoanalytic meanings of "incorporation" that escape me, but, very broadly and in the signature deconstructive gesture, Platonism is shown to retain within itself secret traces of the orgiastic mystery it purports to surpass. Platonism introduces the responsible self at the threshold of the cave, that is to say, Platonic responsibility resides in one's vision of the Good. That gaze originates, crucially, from an internal and internalized seat of the self; it is a major objective of the chapter to show that this gathering in or "secreting" of the internal self and a kind of care or solicitude for death are mutually constitutive.

On to Christianity. Derrida argues that Christianity represses Platonism, again drawing on psychoanalytic meanings that I'm not equipped to evaluate, but again suggesting, very broadly, that Christianity retains secret traces---nay, broad swaths---of Platonism precisely as it denies those traces. The locus of Christian responsibility is the what Derrida calls the mysterium tremendum: the assymetrical relationship that opens the subject to the gaze of God but conceals God from the subject's own gaze. (It is this assymetrical nature of the gaze, I take it, that distinguishes Christianity from Platonism.)

Derrida goes on to make a further assertion about the modern---that is, Christian---self, namely, that the essential condition of Christian responsibility is heresy and dissent. The reasoning, if I've got it, goes as follows:
1. Responsibility can never know itself---that is, cannot acknowledge its historical origins, its historicity---but must claim for itself an autonomous, ahistorical transcendence
2. Because responsibility lacks self-knowledge, it can never act on the basis of comprehensive knowledge of the world
3. Thus responsibility must always be self-authorizing and self-authenticating and self-legitimizing, because it cannot legitimize its actions and choices on the basis of complete knowledge
4. That is to say, because it is self-authorizing rather than subject to a higher authority, responsibility is always already heretical.

I will leave it in the able hands of commenters to tease out the implications of this chapter for our project; I'm still in the digesting stage. Actually, still in the eating stage; by all means please correct my misapprehensions, of which I have no doubt there are many.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Problema III -- more

Since Adam pre-empted my section (thank goodness!), let me respond to some of what he and others said, both with particular responses and with wandering musings, even ruminations.

Adam wonders whether Kierkegaard isn't "too neatly align[ing] the ethical with the universal." I think the answer is "yes," as Levinas argues. For Levinas, the ethical is first of all the relation to the other person, a singular relation. In the presence of the third person (which it turns out is there from the beginning) that relation to the individual becomes a relation to the universal.

We could distinguish these two by referring to the first relation as the ethical—our ethos—and the second as the moral—our rules of conduct. If we make that distinction, then God is certainly beyond morality ("beyond good and evil," to steal from Nietzsche), but I doubt that he is beyond ethics. But is there a gap between ethics and religion? That is more difficult. The gap between morality and religion is easy to see. We talk about it as the difference between the Spirit and the law, and every Primary child learns about it, though perhaps it is less and less a topic taught overtly. However, what about a gap between ethics and religion?

As I said, that is more difficult. I don't think that Levinas sees any such gap. For him, to be ethical is to be religious. (See Otherwise than Being 168, the last half of the third full paragraph). There is a sense in which I can agree, but I do not think his view takes account of covenant. Our covenant relation to God is the relation that establishes our relation to other persons. The saying that has never been present and which obliges me, my responsibility for the other, which I have never assumed, binds me to other persons (OTB 168), but it has its origin in an even more primordial relation, that to God, the covenant relation. SK's authors rarely if ever speak of covenant, so they rarely if ever speak of true biblical religion.

What about the "return" to immediacy? That return doesn't mean leaving universality behind to go back to the black cows in a black night. We can understand the "re-" in "return" not to mean "once again," so that "return" means to go back to where one came from, but to mean "to continue" as it does in "resound." To resound ("re-sound") is not to go back to some original sound, it is to prolong the sound. So I take the return to immediacy to be its continuation rather than its mere repetition. Continuation doesn't occur in opposition to memory (distinctions among cows, universality), though it may seem to. Immediacy could not continue without memory. Without memory, even immediacy would be forgotten—or not even forgotten because never remembered.

Thus, thinking of pure immediacy, I like Hegel's image, but also Nietzsche's in "The Use and Disadvantages of History for Life," part 1:

Observe the herd as it grazes past you: it cannot distinguish yesterday from today, leaps about, eats, sleeps, digests, leaps some more, and carries on like this from morning to night and from day to day, tethered by the short leash of its pleasures and displeasures to the stake of the moment, and thus it is neither melancholy nor bored. It is hard on the human being to observe this, because he boasts about the superiority of his humanity over animals and yet looks enviously upon their happiness—for the one and only thing that he desires it to live like an animal. The human being might ask the animal: "Why do you just look at me instead of telling me about your happiness?" The animal wanted to say, "Because I always immediately forget what I wanted to say"—but it had already forgotten this answer and hence said nothing, so that the human being was left to wonder.

But he also wondered about himself and how he was unable to learn to forget and always clung to what was past; no matter how far or how fast he runs, that chain runs with him. (Unfashionable Observations [frequently translated Untimely Observations], translated by Richard T. Gray, 87)
To live in pure immediacy would be to be unable to remember and, so, to be unable to speak or even to think. Yet that we cannot live in pure immediacy does not mean (as Hume may have thought it does) that we are, intellectually, completely cut off from immediacy. The trace, a term that Levinas gets from Plotinus and Derrida gets from Levinas, is the unspeakable but ever-present immediacy in universality. Skepticism's distrust of universality is appropriate, for universality denies the immediacy traced within it. But skepticism runs the risk also of claiming too much for immediacy and, therefore, of denying universality its due. For the skeptic, immediacy "is all we know," though we cannot know it in any meaningful sense without universality. Without universality, without memory, we are merely black cows in a black night or, perhaps, young calves gamboling mindlessly in Alpine fields on whom night is yet to descend, though it doesn't matter.

Does the return to immediacy require the absurd? If by "absurd" we mean "what philosophy cannot hear" (the original meaning of "absurd" is "what cannot be heard"), then I think the answer is "yes," which is why John of Silence is the author of our treatise: he says as much as the philosopher can about being a Christian, but he cannot hear what Abraham says, though presumably the Christian can. Perhaps the Christian can even hear through what John of Silence says to what a Christian can say. Perhaps the Christian can hear what John cannot say in what he can say.

So speaking of Christianity, of our relation to God, requires philosophical silence. But it does not require mere silence. The Christian can speak. He or she can preach the gospel. They can bear witness, but they cannot say something that philosophy can hear because philosophy is tone deaf—except Christians can speak to philosophers ironically, posing perhaps as someone who cannot speak, who is not yet Christian, who finds Abraham both admirable and absurd. Saying what philosophers cannot hear even though it is said.

De Silentio is criticizing family life when he says that it is the height of the ethical. It does not get beyond the universal. That proves that he is no Christian, for if he is right, then we cannot be the children of God and Jesus' sonship is religiously meaningless. Romans 8:14-16:

As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.
Religion is ultimately about family, so it cannot be that the family is merely ethical. Indeed, verse 17 makes that clear: "If children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together" (my italics).

We can only be sealed to the Father as a joint-heir with Christ if we suffer with Christ. But suffering is always individual, one real person at a real time. Suffering has no universal; it has no place in the Kierkegaardian ethical, though it is unavoidable in the Levinasian ethical.

It seems obvious to me that this business about suffering has something to do with our understanding of Abraham's sacrifice, but I don't know what it is. Any ideas?