Levinas on memory and the trace
Let me start with the following paradox, one that arises from the very idea of trace: what seems at first exceedingly limited in scope and secondary in status is capable of drawing together the most divergent realms of human experience and theories about that experience. On the one hand, the ordinary notion of trace is that of a mere mark left by an entity or an event of which it is but the finite and fragile reflection. Its nature seems to consist in a self-surpassing operation whereby its meaning or value lies elsewhere — namely, in that of which it is the trace, that which the trace signifies by a self-suspension of its own being or happening. On the other hand, despite this apparent disposability, the concept of trace has proved indispensable in several quite disparate domains: the neurophysiology of memory, the graphematics of writing, and the overcoming of metaphysics. (Indeed, just because the activity of tracing is so critical to all three arenas, we can no longer afford to regard them as so disparate, and we begin to suspect the possibility of a deep alliance between them.) This is not to mention the rather uncanny way in which a concern with the unsuspected importance of traces brings together Heidegger, Derrida, and Levinas with such unlikely bedfellows as Plotinus, Descartes, and Peirce—all six of whom regard traces as strictly unexpungeable and even as having a certain primacy.
Casey, E. (1988)., Levinas on memory and the trace, in J. Sallis, G. Moneta & J. Taminiaux (eds.), The Collegium Phaenomenologicum, the first ten years, Dordrecht, Springer, pp. 241-255.
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