Volume 6, 2006
A Century with Levinas
Levinas and the Phenomenology of Reading
Although Levinas showed relatively little interest in secular literature, and indeed he was sometimes distinctly hostile towards it, some of his essays sketch a phenomenological account of the reading experience which is applicable to non-sacred texts. This article compares Levinas’s phenomenology of reading to that of Wolfgang Iser, and argues that it may be susceptible to some of the same criticisms. It then examines Levinas’s 1947 essay “L’Autre dans Proust” in the light of Proust’s Un amour de Swann, suggesting that Levinas’s reading is blind to aspects of Proust’s writing which contradict his ethics. This finally raises questions about the viability of a genuinely enlightening, ethical encounter between reader and text, or between self and other.