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41. Levinas Studies: Volume > 2
Jacob Meskin The Role of Lurianic Kabbalah in the Early Philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas
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In 1982 the American philosopher and Levinas scholar Edith Wyschogrod conducted an interview with Emmanuel Levinas, the transcript of which she published seven years later. Early in the interview, Wyschogrod proposed to Levinas that his philosophy constituted a radical break with western theological tradition because it started not with a Parmenidean ontological plenitude, but rather with the God of the Hebrew Bible. The God Levinas began with, according to Wyschogrod, wasan indigent God, a hidden God who commands that there be a world apart from God, because God needs the multiplicity of the world in order for there to be justice. Levinas responds to this proposal: That’s quite right. Justice, I call it responsibility for the other, right? There is even in Totality and Infinity, the evocation of the tzimtzum [the idea in kabbalistic writings of the self-contraction of God in order to create the void in which creation can take place], but I won’t venture into that.
42. Levinas Studies: Volume > 2
About the Contributors
43. Levinas Studies: Volume > 2
Claire Katz Educating the Solitary Man: Levinas, Rousseau, and the Return to Jewish Wisdom
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Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) opens his book The Social Contract (1762) with his famous statement, “Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains.” An Enlightenment thinker, Rousseau understands himself to be responding to the two dominant traditions of political thought at this time: the voluntarist tradition of Hobbes, Pufendorf, and Grotius; and the liberal tradition of Locke and Montesquieu. The latter group argues that civil society exists to protect certain natural rights, one of which is liberty. The former group supports an absolute monarchy (benevolent or not), with the famous statement by Hobbes, as its signature: in the State of Nature, life is nasty, poor, brutish, and short. The only solution is to surrender one’s freedom to the sovereign and thus escape the brutality and depravity of life in the state of nature.
44. Levinas Studies: Volume > 2
Jacques Taminiaux Levinas and the History of Philosophy
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Levinas has sometimes been reproached for a certain laxness toward the history of philosophy. By dint of denouncing, as the central thread of this long history, the persistence or recurrence of an ambition to totalization, he would have failed to recognize the diversity of steps articulated along its course, thus ceding to the very thing he placed in question — the prestige of the same — to the detriment of the alterity of the other. I propose to submit this alleged failure to some examination.
45. Levinas Studies: Volume > 2
Abbreviations
46. Levinas Studies: Volume > 2
Notes
47. Levinas Studies: Volume > 2
Index
48. Levinas Studies: Volume > 2
Joseph Lawrence Schelling and Levinas: The Harrowing of Hell
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When Emmanuel Levinas writes (in the preface of Totality and Infinity) that Franz Rosenzweig’s Stern der Erlösung is “a work too often present in this book to be cited,” he effectively names his debt to F. W. J. Schelling as well, for Rosenzweig’s work was a sustained attempt to carry to completion Schelling’s great philosophical fragment, the Weltalter. Scholars of Levinas have explored Levinas’s relationship to Schelling, but I confess that, as a Schelling scholar, I knew nothing of this connection until rather recently. I credit above all the energetic work of Jason Wirth for helping me see its importance — and more generally the importance of reading Schelling in the context of recent work in continental philosophy. None of this has been easy. The very thing that Schelling and Levinas have in common, their resistance to the implicit solipsism of overcoming mystery with clarity, make them poor candidates for quick appropriation and comparison. Indeed, Schelling anticipated Nietzsche by openly mocking the scholars who make it their business to “appropriate and compare.” Mockery and ridicule is, ofcourse, not Levinas’s way of going about things. Even so, he too is so relentless in his polemic against the totalizing desire to know that he forces his reader to pause and question just what a proper scholarly response to his work might be. As such, the very first result of taking up the question of Schelling and Levinas might be that we are forced to set aside the scholarly mask, testimony of one’s acquiescence to the order of the same, in order to step forth as the human beings that we are. Whether this is an act of humility or of arrogance is not at all clear. Dispensing with the pretense of knowledge takes a kind of boldness on our part — for what but knowledge might give us a claim to the attention of others?
49. Levinas Studies: Volume > 2
Adriaan T. Peperzak From Politics to Ethics (Hegel) or from Ethics to Politics (Levinas)?
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Modern philosophy has had difficulty attempting to show the unbreakable unity of the individual with communal aspects of human existence. A number of modern thinkers began their treatises by rationally, even geometrically, constructing a more or less real or ideal community based on a multiplicity of individuals. Yet others, convinced that no form of individualism could ever supply insight into the communal structure of human life, saw all individuals from the outset as members — or even as organs — of a collective whole. While the former struggled in vain to show that contracts or other forms of freely chosen exchangenecessarily mutate into communal dispositions and institutions, the latter had to cope with the modern dogma that all philosophy must begin from an autonomous (individual or transcendental) ego. Modern philosophy, then, has not produced a wholly satisfactory synthesis of individualism and communitarianism. This failure could be a symptom of a faulty start, which may be due to the initial questions: Can individuality and commonality be opposed? Does their distinction concerntwo aspects, two levels, two dimensions of one reality? How do they evoke, provoke, imply, and fortify one another?
50. Levinas Studies: Volume > 2
Jeffrey Bloechl Editor’s Introduction
51. Levinas Studies: Volume > 2
Martin Kavka Levinas Between Monotheism and Cosmotheism
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We are now, I think, in the midst of a sea change in Levinas interpretation. Increasingly in the course of the last third of the twentieth century, Levinas’s phenomenological ethics was seen as a resource for intellectuals to protest a certain kind of, shall we say, methodological naturalism in philosophy. Not only scientific positivism but also existential phenomenology with its apparent emphasis on immanence were feared to be terminally infected with neopagan or proto-fascist elements. If the result of these movements was an embrace of (or a failure to adequately critique) modern secularized civilization and its bureaucratized projects — problematic because such a dimension of modernity was a necessary but not sufficient condition of the Holocaust, as ZygmuntBauman has argued — then the putative solution was to bend the stick toward the opposite pole. Scholars could invoke either the broadly monotheistic overtones of Levinas’s discourse of the Infinite or the specifically Judaic texts of the Bible and Talmud that Levinas saw himself as translating into philosophy, in the hope that these acts of citation would persuade scholars’ audiences that a return to monotheism or the Judaeo-Christian tradition could get the West past its embarrassingcentury-long flirtation with human-made mass death. This reading of Levinas would be coherent with a broader trend in American thought from the 1950s onward that would include Abraham Joshua Heschel, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Martin Luther King Jr., wherein secularism (especially as evidenced by communism) is the problem, religion is the solution.
52. Levinas Studies: Volume > 2
Jean-Marc Narbonne God and Philosophy According to Levinas
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Let me begin with a strong affirmation on the part of Levinas, almost a condemnation of all philosophical discourse itself, such as we find in “The Trace of the Other”: Western philosophy coincides with the unveiling of the Other in which the Other, in manifesting itself as being, loses its otherness. Philosophy has been stricken since its infancy with a horror for the Other that remains Other — an insurmountable allergy. That is why it is essentially a philosophy of being, the understanding of being its last word and the fundamental structure of man. That is also why it becomes a philosophy of immanence and autonomy, or atheism. The God of the philosophers, from Aristotle to Leibniz, including the God of the scholastics, is a god adequate to reason.
53. Levinas Studies: Volume > 2
Michael Juffé Levinas as (mis)Reader of Spinoza
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In a certain respect, one can say that Emmanuel Levinas’s ethics, as asserted mainly in Totality and Infinity and Otherwise than Being, but also partially in Existence and Existents and Time and the Other, constitutes a rebuttal of Benedict de Spinoza’s Ethics. Levinas offers a succinct account of his thinking on this issue in Totality and Infinity, at the end of a section called “Separation and the Absolute,” which concludes the first part of the book “The Self and the Other”: “Thought and freedom come to us from separation from the consideration of the Other — this thesis is at the antipodes of Spinozism” (TI 105). In all likelihood,what has provoked him at such a moment would have to be Spinoza’s pretense to reach the infinite by means of understanding, while for him, Levinas, the essence of created existence consists in its separation from the Infinite (in other words, as especially his later philosophy begins to make clear, from “God”). Let us nonetheless begin with the question itself: Why this intolerance toward Spinoza?
54. Levinas Studies: Volume > 2
Peter Atterton Art, Religion, and Ethics Post Mortem Dei: Levinas and Dostoyevsky
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Discussions of the sources for Levinas’s philosophy have tended to focus on Greece and the Bible to the neglect of his Russo-Lithuanian cultural heritage. Almost no work has been done examining the impact of Russian literature on Levinas’s thinking. The present essay seeks to overcome this neglect by examining the influence that Dostoyevsky in particular exerted on the development of Levinas’s philosophy. I am aware that the notion of “influence” is philosophically vague, and not something whose truth can easily be ascertained. Might there be nothing more than simply a confluence between the thinking of Dostoyevsky and that of Levinas? Could it be that Levinas was attracted to the work of Dostoyevsky because he found there what he was already looking for? Although Levinas credits Dostoyevsky with introducing him to philosophy, it would be facile to draw the conclusion that St. Petersburg occupies as important a place in Levinas’s intellectual itinerary as Athens or Jerusalem. Dostoyevsky provided neither an ontology nor any of the “pre-philosophical experiences” (EI 24) on which, according to Levinas, all philosophical thought rests. But he did give Levinas a way to think about art, religion, and, most importantly of all, ethics after the Holocaust, an event that more than any other, according to Levinas, demonstrated the absolute failure of philosophical theodicy. It was Dostoyevsky, I submit, rather than the Bible, the Greeks, or Kant who taught Levinas that the moral imperative, addressed to the singular existing individual, supersedes the religious imperative, whose validity is placed in question by the suffering of innocents and the absence of the all-powerful and providential God of theism.
55. Levinas Studies: Volume > 3
Maria Clara Lucchetti Bingemer Otherness as Path Toward Overcoming Violence: A Comparative Study of Emmanuel Levinas and Simone Weil
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Violence has become the number one problem in contemporary societies, and has reached the point of becoming a true challenge to present-day moral conscience. Its general form shows up both as a question and a paradox for our understanding of natural and social phenomena, the progress of scientific knowledge and intellectual conquests, and any attempt to assert the value and respect for life. Each day, no doubt each moment, human rights are both proclaimed and violated.
56. Levinas Studies: Volume > 3
Johan F. Goud “What one asks of oneself, one asks of a saint”: A Dialogue with Emmanuel Levinas, 1980–81
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This text is an account of two conversations with Professor Emma nuel Levinas (1906–1995) in his home in Paris. The first conversation took place July 22, 1980, the second on October 29, 1981. A few questions on paper and an article of mine served as introduction and point of departure for the conversations. Originally it was not my intention to publish the conversations as an “interview.” The idea of making the account of the conversations acceptable for publication only arose later. The original accounts, based on recordings, had to be shortened and worked over considerably to get a coherent text that is interesting for a broader public.Olivier van Wersch-Cot has been very helpful to me through his knowledge of the French language. I am very grateful to Prof. Levinas not only for the friendly way he received me and conversed with me, but also for his consent for the publication of the definitive text.
57. Levinas Studies: Volume > 3
About the Contributors
58. Levinas Studies: Volume > 3
Index
59. Levinas Studies: Volume > 3
James E. Faulconer The Past and Future Community: Abraham and Isaac, Sarah and Rebekah
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Emmanuel Levinas asks, “In what meaning can community dress itself without reducing Difference?” (OB 154 / AE 197). Can there be a community that does not create its unity by erasing the differences between those whom it joins, a community that does not establish itself by imposing the Same? His answer is yes. Contrary to the thinkers of community in the philosophical tradition, thinkers like Hobbes, Rousseau, and Kant, Levinas states, “between the one I am and theother for whom I am responsible there gapes a difference, without a basis in community. The unity of the human race is in fact posterior to fraternity” (OB 166 / AE 211 ). “Community with him begins in my obligation to him” (OB 87 / AE 109–10) rather than in something that we share. It begins in hospitality, in which the Infinite is consummated (TI 27 / TeI xv) because obligation is infinite, because the third is revealed in the face of the Other. Hospitality is a welcome of not only the one who faces me, but the third implicated in that face, a face that “compels me to goodness, which is better than goods received . . . a he in the depth of the Thou.”1 This original relation of difference between oneself and the other person, an asymmetric relation that opens the possibility of equality, is the nonfoundational foundation, the original being-together in being-apart, on which the social and political community of law and equal rights can be built — and continually rebuiltin light of the goodness toward which I am compelled, in light of the eschatology of peace.
60. Levinas Studies: Volume > 3
Jeffrey Bloechl Editor’s Introduction