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41. 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.
42. 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.
43. 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?
44. 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.
45. 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.
46. 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.
47. Levinas Studies: Volume > 3
About the Contributors
48. Levinas Studies: Volume > 3
49. 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.
50. Levinas Studies: Volume > 3
Jeffrey Bloechl Editor’s Introduction
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52. Levinas Studies: Volume > 3
Michael Barber Epistemic and Ethical Intersubjectivity in Brandom and Levinas
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As the first part of this essay will show, Robert Brandom has developed an impressive epistemological position that explains the structures of discourse in terms of an inferential semantics and a normative pragmatics, and that implies a version of epistemic intersubjectivity centered around the figure of the scorekeeper. The second part of this paper will show via a consideration of the Brandom/McDowell debate on perception how this version of intersubjectivity emphasizes a theoretical-critical, externalist stance toward the other whose claims are being assessed, though Brandom includes to a degree the first-person perspective of the scorekeeper and the assessed other. Section three will show how Emmanuel Levinas proposes an alternative view of intersubjectivity, ethical intersubjectivity, which engages us at a bodily level, beneath theorizing, and which involves a fusion of a robust first-person perspective with inescapable intersubjectivity (the otherin the same). In this relationship, the I approaches the other in trust, through a nonknowing (but still known) attitude, and experiences a different kind of decentration from that typical of a project aimed at overcoming epistemic inertia. A final section will point out how one can find traces of ethical intersubjectivity within Brandom’s epistemic intersubjectivity and how an ethically directed epistemic intersubjectivity can best achieve its epistemic goals.
53. Levinas Studies: Volume > 3
Bettina Bergo A Site from which to Hope?: Notes on Sensibility and Meaning in Levinas and Nietzsche
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We have now had some two decades of Levinas commentary. What remains to be said? Certainly one thing we have learned since Otherwise than Being is that Levinas’s philosophy and his talmudic and confessional writings nourish each other so profoundly that to approach Levinas without understanding the historyof Jewish philosophy — in its confrontations with neo-Platonism, Aristotle, Kant — is to risk misunderstanding Levinas. Insights into the interrelationships between Jewish thought and Levinas’s other humanism have been provided by thinkers like Robert Gibbs, Claire Katz, Catherine Chalier, Shmuel Trigano, and Gérard Bensussan, to name but a few. But if one is not well versed in Jewish thought, will one be liable to abandon Levinas’s thought as an existentialized confessionalism? Perhaps. But I think the loss to philosophy would be considerable.
54. Levinas Studies: Volume > 3
Rudi Visker In Praise of Visibility
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Those who are familiar with the development of contemporary philosophy and in particular of phenomenology, may have frowned at the prospect of having to sit through a praise of visibility. Indeed, if there is any praise to be sung, it is not the visible but the invisible that should be its subject. The realm of the visible suffers from an intrinsic defect: it lacks the depth to resist the movement of appropriation implied in seeing, or more generally in perceiving. It does not dispose of whatLevinas would call the infinity that could help it withstand the gaze that catches it and helps it contest the subject of that gaze its power. There is not enough of the event in it to “summon the subject outside of its autarky.” “The flat phenomenon and the subject to which nothing ever happens form a pair,” Rudolf Bernet writes in a paper with the telling title “Le phénomène et l’invisible (le regard).” It seems indeed left to the invisible to remediate the shortcomings of the eye that sees. Its task is to divest the subject who sees of a handicap it cannot compensate for on its own, — of a kind of Midas complex: whatever it encounters in the light that it throws on things, is fatally robbed of its alterity, leaving the seeing or perceiving subject alone in a solitude that is but the reverse side of the power by which it subjects whatever crosses its way. “The exteriority of light,” Levinas writes in this vein, “does not suffice for the liberation of the I that is its own prisoner.”
55. Levinas Studies: Volume > 3
Lawrence Vogel Emmanuel Levinas and the Judaism of the Good Samaritan
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Any thoughtful reading of Levinas must grapple with what is implied by his notion that the Other is “higher” than the self — that the Other is “one for whom I can do all and to whom I owe all”? (EI 89). At least two evident issues arise when we wonder what it would mean to live with and by this notion. Without fail, newcomers to Levinas’s ideas raise these two issues. The first centers on the question: What is my responsibility to strangers? That is, if I “owe all” to a stranger in need to the point where his or her welfare and life come before mine, how can I possibly address the interests of my loved ones, friends, colleagues, and fellow citizens, not to mention my own needs? Moreover, is Levinas suggesting that we have a moral duty to be saints? The second issue revolves around the question: What is the responsibility of a victim toward her persecutor? This can easily lead to asking, is Levinas implying that a Jew being herded off to Auschwitz “owes everything” tohis Nazi captor? Also, what can it mean for a victim to encounter the face of a rapist and to “substitute” herself for him? And should she? I shall approach these persistent issues by first explaining how Levinas grounds his claims that the face-to-face-relationship is asymmetrical and that “I am responsible for the Other, without waiting for reciprocity, were I to die for it” (EI 98).
56. Levinas Studies: Volume > 3
Robert Bernasconi Extra-Territoriality: Outside the State, Outside the Subject
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In his preface to Beyond the Verse, written in 1981, Emmanuel Levinas poses the following provocative question: “Can democracy and the ‘rights of man’divorce themselves without danger from their prophetic and ethical depth?” (BV xv / AV 12–13). The question is clearly intended to threaten the comfortable consensus that has gathered around these icons of our time and, more specifically, to displace what have come to be known under the title the “rights of man” from the context of the European Enlightenment with which they are so often identified. Levinas performs this act of displacement in the first instance by relocatingthem within the tradition of the Jewish prophets. However, this effort ultimately leads him to a more radical displacement, one that amounts to a certain re-placing of them, a relocating of them elsewhere altogether. What does that mean? What are its implications for the doctrine of the “rights of man”?
57. Levinas Studies: Volume > 3
John Drabinski On Subjectivity and Political Debt
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Much of the work on Levinas and political philosophy is content to note two things: the resistance of the ethical to politics and the messianic dimension of Levinas’s thought. The task, then, has largely been to identify (usually formal) points of resistance and/or to trace out the figures of messianism in the various functions of the prophetic word. Themes of singularity and eschatology therefore dominate the discussion. While both of these aspects of his work are important and can pay interesting dividends, one cannot but note another result: a lack of materiality in developing a Levinasian politics. This need not be the case. Indeed, much of my concern in what follows is to open up the possibility of thinking about Levinas and politics in a manner that reintroduces an element of concreteness.
58. Levinas Studies: Volume > 3
59. Levinas Studies: Volume > 4
Anthony J. Steinbock Reducing the One to the Other: Kant, Levinas, and the Problem of Religious Experience
60. Levinas Studies: Volume > 4
Steven G. Smith The Work of Service: Levinas’s Eventual Philosophy of Culture