“I Don’t Kill Them Anymore”: Ethics, Ontology, and the Face of the Other

“I Don’t Kill Them Anymore”: Ethics, Ontology, and the Face of the Other
24 October 2019, 5.00pm - 7.00pm
Room 780, UCL Institute of Education, Bedford Way, WC1H 0AL

Opening session by Jan David Hauck, LSE . Followed by drinks.

Ethical concerns are always informed by relational and ontological schemas (who am I?, who is the other?, how do I relate to the other?). But questions of relation and ontology are by themselves also always-already ethical questions. In situations of cultural encounters and change especially, when social and cosmological orders have become unstable, the in-dissociable relationship between ethics and ontology becomes salient. This paper discusses a narrative of an Aché elder who remembers the experience of an ethical dilemma related to the loss of ontological certainty after contact with the Paraguayan national society. The Aché used to live as nomadic hunter-gatherers in the subtropical rainforests of what today is eastern Paraguay. The first half of the twentieth century was marked by violence. Persecutions by colonists, deforestation, and disease forced all bands onto reservations in the 1960s and 70s. There they now live in peaceful coexistence and close proximity to the villages of their enemies. The narrative tells the story of the death of a Paraguayan logger at the narrator’s hands.  He begins his narrative with an account of the mythical origin and hostile relationship of Aché and Paraguayans and morally justifies the killing with reference to deforestation and cruelties perpetrated by the latter. At the same time though, through intermittent reflections about looking into the victim’s face, which he experiences as “beautiful,” he questions the killing and reframes it as an ethical dilemma.  In my paper, I will analyze this dilemma and ask what it tells us about an ethical relation with the other in Aché understanding and experience before contact and after.  I will do so by attending closely to the face-to-face encounter, which, according to Levinas, is the foundation of human existence and the ethical being-for-the-other.

All are welcome. Attendance is free. Booking is recommended

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Olga Jimenez
020 7862 8871