Volume 1, 2005
Derrida and Levinas
Ethics, Writing, Historicity
In 1964, Jacques Derrida’s long essay “Violence and Metaphysics” opened a dialogue with Emmanuel Levinas that would not be interrupted until Derrida’s
recent death. Published only three years after the appearance of Totality and Infinity and at a moment when Derrida’s own early texts were still in the course of elaboration, this text right away recognizes the legitimacy and the import of Levinas’s philosophical project. Derrida pays homage to the Levinasian attempt to interrogate the whole of the western philosophical tradition beginning from its Greek origin — which should not be understood as an empirical place but as a system of categories and fundamental concepts, elaborated for the first time in Greece and structuring the entire philosophical discourse. According to Levinas, these concepts are dominated by “the supremacy of the One and the Same” (cf. TO 35) making the long history of philosophy a history that takes place in the shadow of Parmenides, who would still command — all the more surely from afar — the phenomenology of Husserl and the ontology of Heidegger. The reservations that Derrida expresses in “Violence and Metaphysics” concern more Levinas’s discursive strategy than his intentions. He does not contest the desire to open philosophy to another origin than the Greek origin, no more than the necessity of making resonate in philosophical discourse the call of an alterity capable of contesting the supremacy of the One and the Same. His reservations are situated, rather, at the level of the strategy to follow in order to render this opening finally effective.