Volume 63, Issue 2, Spring 2019
Mediation and Its Shadow
Ethics and Politics in Selected Works of Levinas and Adorno
Emmanuel Levinas and Theodor Adorno never spoke to one another. Both thinkers were of Jewish ancestry, though their lives would be impacted in distinct ways by the rise of Nazism. With these historical parallels in mind, this paper seeks to place these thinkers in a productive juxtaposition with regard to the status of ethics and politics in either’s work. In particular, I examine the ramifications of philosophical reflection on Auschwitz as a mediating event in post-war European philosophy, reading Levinas’s and Adorno’s theoretical differences as alternate philosophical responses to this momentous event. I argue that Levinas’s thought is ailed by the problem of immediacy, exemplified by his positing ethics as first philosophy and his rejection of the category of totality which, as Adorno highlights, is an important critical tool for an analysis of the form of society which produces Nazism.