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Levinas Studies


published on July 17, 2019

Timothy Stock

A Broken Fast
“The Bread from My Mouth” as Ethical Transcendence and Ontological Drama

“The gift of bread from my mouth” serves as a byword for “Levinasian ethics,” the precise meaning of which is often taken for granted. It is not at all clear that a prescriptive ethics could ever be derived from these passages; it is also a hyperbole for responsibility. Discussion of this figure almost universally ignores the parallel, and explicitly ethical, discussion of Isaiah 58, where the breaking of bread represents the perplexity of hunger, the rejection of oppression, and the proximity of God. The breaking of bread is not a self-standing account of ethics but is paralleled by the ethics of the broken fast. The “gift of bread from my mouth” helps to explain the repeated references to fasting throughout Levinas’s authorship. The varying figures of the broken bread frame an ontological drama: sensibility, separation, proximity, and diachrony—and presses the sense that possession and the ego are ethically futile, as the alterity of hunger is proximal or “at the core” of the subject.

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