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Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995)
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Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995)
Photo: The Levinas brothers; Emmanuel, Aminadav and Boris

Yves Sobel (webmaster@levinas100.org) wrote: Congratulations for this
exceptionally valuable and informative site!
May I suggest you add the outstanding philosopher Emmanuel Levinas born
Kovno on January 12, 1906. Numerous events and international
conferences in the
World, including Kovno, celebrate the 100th anniversary of his birth.
You can
find them on a dedicated website: http://www.levinas100.org

Message: You can find data and pictures on members of Levinas family
from Kovno
on the following web pages:


Links to more pages on Emmanuel Levinas:

From; http://mythosandlogos.com/Levinas.html
Levinas, the French philosopher, was born in Kaunas, Lithuania to
Jewish parents. He moved to France in 1923, and, between the years of
1928 and 1929, resided in Germany where he studied under Husserl and
Heidegger. Levinas published his first book, Theorie de l'intuition
dans la phenomenologie de Husserl, in 1930, and became influential in
France for his translations of Husserl and Heidegger into French. In
the late 1950's and early 1960's, Levinas began to formulate his own
philosophy which became increasingly critical of Heidegger's
philosophy, and, with his critique of prior phenomenological thinkers
and Western philosophy in general, Levinas began to assert the primacy
of the ethical relationship with the Other.

Levinas' scholarship directly influenced the movement of
existential-phenomenology in France. His translations and secondary
texts influenced thinkers such as Sartre and Merleau-Ponty. In the
last several decades, Levinas has become increasingly influential in
continental philosophy, and his influence is evident in Jacques
Derrida's more recent writings, where he has increasingly emphasized a
Levinasian ethics as being at the heart of deconstruction. Derrida, a
close colleague of Levinas, influenced Levinas' attempt in his book,
Otherwise than Being (1998), to go beyond the still too ontological
language of his Totality and Infinity (1969).

Levinas' philosophy is directly related to his experiences during
World War II. His family died in the Holocaust, and, as a French
citizen and soldier, Levinas himself became a prisoner of war in
Germany. While Levinas was forced to perform labor as a prisoner of
war, his wife and daughter were kept hidden in a French monastary
until his return. This experience, coupled with Heidegger's
affiliation to National Socialism during the war, clearly and
understandably led to a profound crisis in Levinas' enthusiasm for
Heidegger. "One can forgive many Germans," Levinas once wrote, "but
there are some Germans it is difficult to forgive. It is difficult to
forgive Heidegger." At the same time, Levinas felt that Heidegger
could not simply be forgotten, but most be gotten beyond. If Heidegger
is concerned with Being, Levinas is concerned with ethics, and ethics,
for Levinas, is beyond being--Otherwise than Being.

Levinas' work, particularly beginning with his Totality and Infinity
(1969), is a critique of Heidegger and Husserl, not to mention all of
Western philsophy, in the service of ethics. Levinas is concerned
that Western philosophy has been preoccupied with Being, the totality,
at the expense of what is otherwise than Being, what lies outside the
totality of Being as transcendent, exterior, infinite, alterior, the
Other. Levinas wants to distinguish ethics from ontology. Levinas'
ethics is situated in an "encounter" with the Other which cannot be
reduced to a symmetrical "relationship." That is, it cannot be
localized historically or temporally. "Ethics," in Levinas' sense,
does not mean what is typically referred to as "morality," or a code
of conduct about how one should act. For Levinas (1969), "ethics" is
a calling into question of the "Same":

"A calling into question of the Same--which cannot occur within the
egoistic spontaneity of the Same--is brought about by the Other. We
name this calling into question of my spontaneity by the presence of
the Other ethics. The strangeness of the Other, his irreducibility to
the I, to my thoughts and my possessions, is precisely accomplishmed
as a calling into question of my spontaneity as ethics. Metaphysics,
transcendence, the welcoming of the Other by the Same, of the Other by
Me, is concretely produced as the calling into question of the Same by
the Other, that is, as the ethics that accomplishes the critical
essence of knowledge." (Totality and Infinity, p. 33)

Levinas adopts a style of writing that is fluid and includes
self-effacing double-movements. Ethics cannot be reduced to a set of
propositions--cannot be reduced to the Same (or, thinking in terms of
Lacan, to the One of the Symbolic)--and so Levinas must repeatedly
unfold and then withdraw his propositions. Even as he uses the
language of ontology, his style of writing endeavor's to resist
ontology's totalizing grasp. "Western philosophy," writes Levinas
(1969), "has most often been an ontology: a reduction of the Other to
the Same by interposition of a middle and neutral terms that ensures
the comprehension of being" (pp. 33-34). As ontology, philosophy is
narcissistic, seeking pleasure by incorporating the other into the
Same. Philosophy, in this sense, is an "egology" whenever it asserts
the primacy of the self, the Same, the subject or Being. Ontology as
totality admits to no outside. Thus, if Levinas is to preserve the
Other, the Other cannot become an object of knowledge or experience
within the totality of an egology. In the enjoyment (jouissance) of
egology, the I is the "living from" which uses up the other in order
to fulfill its own needs and desires. The "transmutation of the other
into the same," writes Levinas (1969), is "the essence of enjoyment"
(p. 113). The other, in this sense, however, is not the Other. Only
the other, not the Other, can become a source of enjoyment. The
transcendence of the other is not a threat to the self, but rather a
source of satisfaction and happiness:

"The I is, to be sure, happiness, presence at home with itself. But,
as sufficiency in its non-sufficiency, it remains in the non-I; it is
enjoyment of 'something else,' never of itself. Autochthonous, that
is, rooted in what it is not, it is nevertheless, wtihin this
enrootedness independent and separated." (Levinas, Totality and
Infinity, 1969, p. 152)

The relation with the Other, however, is a "relation without relation"
(p. 79). The Other is never reduced to the Same, thus remaining
unknowable, outside of the totality of the Same. The encounter with
the Other calls egology into question. The "I" can no longer live in
the fantasy of a unique possession of the world. The power and
freedom of the Same are called into question. The Other cannot be
possessed, resists enjoyment, and, as the I encounters this Otherr, it
is called back to the meaning of its freedom--a freedom which is
founded by the Other and which, in this encounter, is called to
responsibility and obligation towards the Other as genuine freedom.

As responsible for the infinite Other, I am called to guard her
against the systematic determination of any moral law. "For Levinas,
the God that provides sanctity for the Other can never be reduced to a
set of commandments because the Other calls me only as herself"
(Cornell, 1998, p. 140). To reduce the Other who calls me as a unique
self in the face-to-face to a set of a priori moral principles is a
violence to her alterity. And since my responsibility to the Other is
to the Other in her uniqueness and alterity, my responsibility is
infinite. "It is precisely because the Good is the good of the Other
that it cannot be fully actualized" (Cornell, 1998, p. 141).

Emmanuel Levinas