I am relieved to learn that my prostate cancer is contained in the prostate. Both the CAT Scan and the Bone Scan were negative for metastasis. But a contained tumor with a Gleason Score of 4+4 (8) indicates a very aggressive tumor calling for surgical removal. The surgery is scheduled for late November, after Thanksgiving and is to be done by a DiVinci Robotic system. This seems to be the best option available and may even lead to a “cure.” It may also lead to significant side effects; one worse than the other. So once again I enter the state Levinas calls proximity. In Postmodern Ethics, Zygmunt Bauman writes of proximity as follows:
Proximity is ‘beyond intentionality’. Intention already presupposes a measured space, a distance. For intention to be, there had first to be separation, time to reflect and ponder, to ‘make up one’s mind’, to proclaim and announce. Proximity is the ground of all intention, without being itself intentional. (p. 87)
Understanding that proximity issues from my responsibility for the other, in a face-to-face dyadic encounter, a dyadic intimacy if you will, the encounter with the other serves as a simulacrum for my responsibility for the absolute Other, the unknown and unknowable infinity that bookends existential being.
Two states come immediately to mind when thinking about proximity that issues from this ethical responsibility: waiting and acting. In either case, proximity depends on the Levinasian fundamental ethical obligation, that of commanding the other to command. It begins with a silent (sometimes vocalized) announcement, a presentation of the self to the other; Here I Am! made without reservation or expectation which commands the other to command. Perhaps the other will ignore the presentation or perhaps the other will issue a command; either way, the self relinquishes control when the Here I Am is made without reservation or expectation. Once made, the only thing left to do is wait. If the other issues a command, as commanded, then the only ethical choice is to act. While the ethical presentation of Here I Am creates the state of proximity, the command of the other violently rips at the very fabric of proximity in order that the self may act.
Once one finds oneself in proximity, once one finds oneself simply waiting, there is no reason to reflect or ponder what might be or should be or what one wishes to be. There is either a command to be commanded issued which simply requires waiting for the command and nothing more, or there is not. If the fundamental ethical obligation was entered into without reservation then there is nothing to be gained through projection. Waiting only occurs at this very moment, a moment which fades into the past as soon as it is existentially experienced. Until the command comes from the other, there is little to do but wait. Yet, once (if) it comes, there is but one thing to do…Act!
Proximity comes when one encounters an existential other, but it also comes when one hears the words of the absolute Other. In a dramatic sense, when one hears the words, “You have cancer,” it is a stunning encounter with the infinity that is yet to arrive. While the dyad is no longer human being to human being, it is, nonetheless, an ethical dyad established by the very fact that my response to these words was to simply present myself to the absolute Other; Here I Am! Made without reservation or expectation, I am required to wait as the absolute Other speaks through doctors and laboratories, through testing and results. Not until I am presented with test results can I act. It follows, that there is no room for pondering or thinking about or even wishing for a desired result. It simply requires waiting until the professionals have had their way with me.
Now that results are in, I once again make an ethical presentation, Here I Am, making me responsible for the responsibility of the Other. I can do nothing more than await the command of the other, unknown until surgery is completed. Along the way, I’ll be commanded to present myself for pre-operative testing, get medical clearances and generally follow some pretty simple instructions, all minor commands that respond to my commanding the Other to command. So, once again, I present myself without reservation or expectation to the absolute Other…Here I Am! And now I wait…