Levinas, Multiculturalism and Us

Ethical Perspectives 6 (2):159-168 (1999)
Abstract
Multiculturalism is not a recent phenomenon. From the moment a different world appears, a different culture in which the evidence of the cultural world in which I participate is put out of play, we are confronted with the problem of a split between the world as such and my world, which is only one among others, and we find ourselves compelled to seek a solution.One such solution would be to try to deny the split by restricting the meaning of `world' to one's own world alone; another one would be to welcome the split as allowing us to understand that humanity must ultimately be sought beyond all particularism. But it is not by looking at such classical solutions which, though unsatisfactory, are still with us, that we will understand what might be new in this multiculturalism that so commands our attention.What is new is neither the problem posed by it nor the solutions we have found for it, but our fascination with the phenomenon. It is indeed only very recently that the word `multiculturalism' itself has begun to take over from that other key word which fascinated us for so many years: we no longer expect `postmodernism' to provide the answers to all our enigmas, but multiculturalism.This fascination is somewhat surprising. In order to understand it, we will have to try not to let it captivate us. And perhaps it has already captivated us as soon as we see in it only the name of a problem to which we must find a solution as soon as possible. Hence a series of counter-questions: What is it about multiculturalism that manages not only to fascinate us, but also to make us believe that our fascination merely points out the urgency of a problem that only concerns us to the extent that it concerns others? Whence the tendency to treat the multicultural as something that primarily deals with the existence — ethical or political — of the other, and hence as something that implicates us in an intrigue that interpellates us only in that dimension of our existence that we are content to call our ethical or political responsibility?Multiculturalism would put us `in response' to the other. It would thus be of concern to that part of our subjectivity in which we find ourselves linked to others. But it would not cut deeper than that. As if our fascination for the other would not engage us in another aspect of our being, as if our `non-intersubjective' subjectivity had nothing to do with it, as if our very existence were only implicated in the multicultural by the threads of an intersubjectivity which are only the warp of a subjectivity already there, and ultimately unaffected by it. Let us pause for a moment to consider what is seductive about this logic of the `as if', for it is in this logic that most ethical and political approaches to the multicultural seem to find their point of departure
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