However, the logic of fecundity-election-responsibility leaves the State and the family as two distinct human collectivities with nothing to mediate between their ontological and moral characteristics. Being, understood as existence in all its dimensions, may be modified, but not durably. Thus Being could be called absolute, were it not for the fragile interruption of transcendence and the persistence of its trace.
If family and State represent two irreconcilable instances in Levinas's thought, willing and ethical responsibility prove likewise irreconcilable. It must never be a matter of nature, even human nature. That excludes from transcendence not only an intentional component already bracketed by Levinas's phenomenology , but also anything like moral sentiments or innate capacities to be affected by the other. The non-violent force of the face as expression can be reduced neither to physical force nor to inertia.
In such a case, there would be no question of escaping the mechanistic order of Being. Thus the moment of address in the second person comes after the impact of the face as widow and as He. Moral height is thus not expressed in thou-saying; it is a third person relationship. Here lies the point at which a reading begins that bridges the philosophical and the religious, particularly the Jewish dimension of Levinas's thought.
It is and must remain a question too large for philosophy to know what explains the force of the other's expression. Nothing explains it.
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There are, Levinas insists, objects behind their objects only in ages of penury. To say more than this is to return to the confidence that representation and conceptuality capture every aspect of meaning lived out in a human life. We will have more to say on this when we discuss time and transcendence in Otherwise than Being.
The central wager of Otherwise than Being is to express affectivity in its immediacy, with minimal conceptualization. Consequently, transcendence becomes transcendence-in-immanence before it is transcendence toward the other as untotalizable exteriority. Otherwise than Being opens with a general overview of the argument, in which Being and transcendence will now be called essence and disinterest. Emphasizing the processual quality of Being, Levinas will now refer to it equivalently as Being or essence.
Responsibility will be focused more sharply as the condition of possibility of all signification. The themes of conversation and teaching recede into the background. A more strategic use of the body as flesh, that is, simultaneously an inside and outside locus, is evident.
Subjectivity is now the coming to pass of responsibility itself. That means that subjectivity is properly itself because it is regularly dispossessed of itself from within. The other has become other-in-the-same. But the other-in-the-same is not different from the factical other. It is that Levinas has returned to Husserl's investigation of transcendence-in-immanence and his phenomenology of the living present.
The second chapter approaches Heidegger's theme of language as the way in which Being becomes, the way it temporalizes. Levinas adopts Heidegger's argument that the logos gathers up Being and makes it accessible to us. But Levinas will argue that the lapse of time between lived immediacy and its representation cannot really be gathered by a logos.
Therefore, the lapse poses a challenge to language itself and falls, much the way that transcendence did, outside the realm of Being as process. This is Levinas's ultimate critique of Heidegger, which passes through language rather than through Being itself. The three most remarkable innovations of Otherwise than Being include: 1 The proposed phenomenological reduction to the birth of meaning in a self, carrying what is not itself the other, affectively. This is a radicalization of Husserl's idealism, in which meaning arises thanks to the inner dialogue whose language is more rarefied than that composed of everyday signs.
If sensibility already played an important role in Totality and Infinity , sensibility will now be traced back to the density of the flesh itself. And the flesh serves Levinas as his pre-consciousness, whose ontological meaning counts above all else. It can be likened to prophetic witness. It is as though Levinas were describing the affective investiture of a subject called to witness. This is also the sense of the subject carrying more than it can express, and writhing under the constraints of that investiture.
Chapters four and five of the work have a tone more somber than that of any work Levinas had written up to that point. If responsibility expresses the intersubjective genealogy of the affective subject—arising between Being and the Good—then this affective constitution will be called traumatic in OBBE, Affectivity is now expressed, above all, in light of suffering. The lapse of time, irrecuperable to conceptual identification, will be expressed figuratively as the adverbial. The final half of chapter five recurs to the performative register of language to express the tension of consciousness striving to gather itself in the midst of the subject's affective divisions and its investiture by the other.
To be sure, there is an inevitable artificiality to presenting as immediacy what is already past. But this is a wager we also find in religious language's continuous revivification of the present. It is likewise a wager in Levinas's philosophical discourse; one ventured in the hope that hyperbole and strategic negations will convey a meaning that would otherwise disappear in predicative statements.
The final chapter of Otherwise than Being thus makes a transition out of philosophy into a certain lyricism, repetition, and bearing witness. It is Levinas's step toward the affective conditions of possibility of prophetic speech. I n the work, Levinas's earlier concern with charges of psychologism i. The ontological language also changes. The ways in which existence echoes in language is taken up resolutely. As in his discussion of need and nausea, the complex of sensibility and affectivity overflows representation, while providing an index to the Being that is our own being.
Interwoven layers of affectivity are unfolded in Otherwise than Being. Remorse is the trope of the literal sense of sensibility. We should recall that the spatial distinction between inside and outside falls as one effect of phenomenological bracketing. Faithful to the spirit of Husserl's phenomenology, Levinas suspends that distinction. Rather, it problematizes that more ontological approach. There is good reason for this. As we know, responsibility is an event that repeats.
It even increases as it repeats, according to a logic of expanding significance. That is why the question of immanence arises in regard to responsibility's enduring, and its rememoration. The status of a memory of sensuous events, which affect us before we can represent them, must frame sensibility as intrinsically meaningful, intrinsically beyond-itself.
But that implies that the sensuous meaning-event is vulnerable to a skeptical challenge. Levinas does not solve the question of memory and repetition in cognitive terms.
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As an interpretive phenomenologist, his concern is to pursue transcendence back behind Husserl's transcendental ego, that formal, passive accompaniment of all conscious contents. The opposition to Heidegger now takes place through an analysis of temporality and language, with the focus on the dynamism of verbs and their inflections by adverbs.
Temporalization is the verb form to be. In sensibility the qualities of perceived things turn into time and into consciousness… [But,] do not the sensations in which the sensible qualities are lived resound adverbially …as adverbs of the verb to be? If Being resonates in the verb to be, then transcendence must belong either to Being and verbality, or transcendence must differ from them. The Saying hearkens to his theme of sincerity, introduced in Existence and Existents. In Otherwise than Being , he will radicalize sincerity by insisting that the structure of sensibility-affectivity is to be always already fissured.
It is this that opens us to venture communication. Sensuous vulnerability is the locus of the birth of signification, understood as approaching or speaking-to another whether words are actually spoken or not. There is more, in living affectivity, than Heidegger's conception of Being coming to pass, can designate. If transcendence is transcendence-in-immanence in , it is not simply the continuous birth of intentional acts of consciousness that bestow meaning, as it was in Husserl. Has this ultimate approach to transcendence charted a new apophatics, a new discourse of the unspeakable?
Levinas does not refrain from thinking the lapse of time, which is also the gnawing of remorse, and the symptom of the Other-in-the-same. But he now argues that what is said about transcendence and responsibility must also be unsaid , to prevent it from entering into a theme, since it transcends every thematic. The history of Jewish philosophy, from Philo and Sa'adya Gaon to Maimonides, and then from Cohen to Rosenzweig, alone clarifies Levinas's strategies and figures.
Levinas has recourse, for example, to Maimonides' approach to the Infinite, using a negative interpretation of affirmative propositions. A similar proposition is found in Levinas's characterization of transcendence. We can be otherwise, if we choose to do so, he argues. In the wake of Schleiermacher and Dilthey, Heidegger realized in the early 's that life as concrete, lived immediacy can be interpreted, but that we cannot be certain that what we are interpreting does not move perpetually within the circle of discursive conceptuality. Interpretation spawns interpretation of itself , and a hermeneutic circle arises from this.
Does that mean that factical experience is structurally inaccessible? Levinas's text here echoes his claims about the face as expression that pierces through phenomenality. This is not allegory; that is, it is not the signification, born of a Christian reading of the Bible, of higher realities hidden under everyday objects and events.
It is almost the contrary: signification has its incipience in transcendence; transcendence is the intersubjective quality of sensibility. Levinas seeks the factical and moral depths from which signs arise. Levinas is thus performing a non-technical, interpretive reduction in his text. His radical reduction aims to get at the affective meaning of his ethical interruption of Being and consciousness.
It is like a light out of which arises speaking the dibbour , or Saying, of the Infinite. These thematic parallels are not accidental. The temporality specific to the sensuous passivity that precedes the passive synthesis of time as a unified flow, is stranger than Husserl's complex stream of consciousness with its retentions and protentions. Like living, the time of sensibility occurs despite oneself. No longer do we heed spontaneously our own immanent voice, as in Husserl; no longer do we hearken to a silent call of Being, as in Heidegger OBBE, 56, 62, We are constituted, affectively, by the other within and without.
Being or existence remains on the parallel tracks of a naturalistic will to persist in being and its implications for culture and politics. Levinas's adaptation of the Spinozist conatus essendi predictably has nothing of the latter's monism or pantheism. Nevertheless, existence is not so markedly identified with war as it was in The question remains, as it did in Totality and Infinity : How do responsibility and transcendence enter into the continuum of time and Being? And, how does an investiture of this intensity pass into reason? Here too the passage to reason, sociality, and measurable time occurs because the spatio-temporal lapse is as if spontaneously integrated by consciousness.
Levinas accords Husserl his argument that sensibility and affect are always on the verge of becoming intentional consciousness. The responsibility and fraternity expressed now as the abyssal subject or other-in-the-same leaves a trace in social relations. Moreover, faithful to his project of , the form of the trace is not traditionally metaphysical. It is found in our concern for reparatory justice, even for modest equity. But neither could the adverbial change the verbal quality of being in its continuous becoming.
In however, the difficulty of holding together the time and passivity likened to aging OBBE, 54 , with the flowing time of consciousness and its projections toward future possibilities, is more obvious in the text. Insoluble, this proves a question for us as well. It is of itself the limit of responsibility and the birth of the question: What do I have to do with justice? Now, attempts to express lived facticity occurred not infrequently in philosophy over the course of the last century. The text as first person witness may well date from Kierkegaard and Nietzsche.
But the inevitable thematization of intersubjectivity, from a standpoint outside the face-to-face encounter, simply underscores the necessary double reading Levinas demands of us: conceptualization and performance. For that reason, Levinas is not interested in pursuing a deduction of questions of equity. The site at which comparison, justice, and normativity can be deduced is beyond Levinas's immediate concern.
Illeity and fraternity lose the quality that defines them, that excessive and intensive sensibility-affectivity, when they are incorporated into conceptualizing discourse. The hiatus, here, is well known: it is that already found between intuition and conceptual adequation; truth, in Plato's sense of an unmediated intuition of an Idea versus knowledge, as positing and possession of entities.
The notion of a just politics has meant different things according to the form of the State absolute, noninterventionist, liberal. Given his occasional evocations of a pluralist Being in Totality and Infinity , Levinas's argument that justice is marked by the trace of responsibility accords relatively well with liberal theories of political justice and sovereignty. Anglo-Saxon theorists of sovereignty always emphasized that individuals live in multiple social associations, which impose a host of responsibilities on them.
This pluralist cultural existence diminishes conservative emphases on sovereignty as concentrated in the State itself. But Levinas never decided whether politics meant war or a real possibility of peace. For the Jewish philosophical tradition, justice forms the core of the prophetic message.
In that respect it has a distinctive political dimension. If the prophets demanded justice as well as repentance of their wayward communities, their hyperbolic invocation of justice concerned humanity as a whole. But the prophetic message did not aim at the enactment of justice in the public sphere , whether agora or parliament. Levinas's works subsequent to Otherwise than Being refine its complex thematics.
It is plausible to see in them two sides of a single coin: that of responsibility and intersubjective fraternity, understood as meaningful outside of a biological framework or the discovery of biological paternity. But Levinas had essentially one philosophical project: to interpret existence and transcendence in light of the birth of ethical meaning. To that end he consistently revisited Husserl's phenomenological method. He reconceived Heidegger's ontological difference as the difference between existence and the Good.
He had extensive, often undeclared recourse to the profound, anti-totalizing intuitions into religious life found in Hermann Cohen and Franz Rosenzweig's philosophies. Yet Levinas never remained wholly within any one philosophical system. That does not mean that Otherwise than Being was not motivated by the difficulties highlighted in Totality and Infinity by Jacques Derrida and others. A common thread thus runs through his philosophy and his Talmudic readings.
Transcendence is the spontaneity of responsibility for another person. It is experienced in concrete life and expressed in a host of discourses, even before a de facto command is actually received from that other. We do not choose to be responsible. Responsibility arises as if elicited, before we begin to think about it, by the approach of the other person. Because this theme is found in both his philosophy and his interpretations of Talmudic passages, Levinas's thought has, at times, left both Talmud scholars and philosophers dissatisfied. For the first, his thought is thoroughly humanistic, with Infinity proving a more rarefied concept of divinity than Maimonides' apophatics.
No stranger to Mishnah and Gemara, his interpretations are, nevertheless, less focused on inter- and intra-textuality than on the ethical tenor of the teachings. To the philosopher, Levinas's thought may not escape the hermeneutic circle of facticity, which Heidegger first adumbrated. It is precisely in these tensions, between the Jewish religious and philosophical traditions, and his phenomenological-existential thought, that Levinas's originality lies. A list of works, translated into English but not appearing in any collections, may be found in Critchley, S.
Buber, Martin Cohen, Hermann Derrida, Jacques existentialism Heidegger, Martin Husserl, Edmund phenomenology religion: philosophy of Rosenzweig, Franz self-consciousness: phenomenological approaches to. Introduction 1. Philosophical Beginnings: Transcendence as the Need to Escape 3. Inflections of Transcendence and Variations on Being 4. Transcendence as Responsibility, and Beyond 4. Transcendence as the Other-in-the-same 5. He is the eldest child in a middle class family and has two brothers, Boris and Aminadab.
The family returns to Lithuania in , two years after the country obtains independence from the Revolutionary government. Levinas studies philosophy with Maurice Pradines, psychology with Charles Blondel, and sociology with Maurice Halbwachs. He meets Maurice Blanchot who will become a close friend.
His Lithuanian family is murdered. The annual colloquium at Cerisy-la-Salle publishes a volume devoted to him. Emmanuel Levinas dies in Paris, December Levinas writes: And yet modern sensibility wrestles with problems that indicate…the abandonment of this concern with transcendence. As if it had the certainty that the idea of the limit could not apply to the existence of what is…and as if modern sensibility perceived in being a defect still more profound OE, Inflections of Transcendence and Variations on Being The writings of the s prolong Levinas's counter-ontology against Heidegger's question of Being, but always with recourse to interpretations of embodiment.
We will have more to say on this when we discuss time and transcendence in Otherwise than Being 5. Concluding Remarks Levinas's works subsequent to Otherwise than Being refine its complex thematics. Paris, France: Librairie Philosophique J. Vrin, The Theory of Intuition in Husserl's Phenomenology.
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