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1. Levinas Studies: Volume > 14
Emmanuel Levinas, Mendel Kranz, Denis Poizat We Lack a Culture: Reflections on Hebrew Education
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he following is an essay by Emmanuel Levinas, newly translated by Mendel Kranz, concerning Jewish culture and education, Hebrew studies, and Zionism. The essay was first published in 1954 in the United States by The Alliance Review, a small journal affiliated with the Alliance israélite universelle, and has since been almost entirely forgotten. In 2011–2012, it was republished in French by Denis Poizat based on the original draft found in the Alliance archives. Preceding Levinas’s essay is a preface by Kranz that situates it at the intersection of Levinas’s postwar project for Judaism, his relation to Zionism, and the colonial backdrop of the ENIO—three issues that are rarely considered together in Levinas scholarship. Poizat also provides some commentary on the question of education and the similarities between this and other essays by Levinas.
2. Levinas Studies: Volume > 14
Nicolas de Warren Expiation without Blood: An Essay on Substitution and the Trauma of Goodness in Levinas
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The aim of this article is to develop a novel interpretation of the significance of trauma and substitution in Levinas’s ethical thinking in light of the problem of temporality, language, and the question of what it means to be a created being. With an emphasis on Levinas’s style of writing, the intersections of Derrida, Husserl, and Freud in his thinking, and the “two-times” of traumatic temporality, the argument of this article seeks to understand how responsibility for the other is crystallized through the trauma of the Goodness and expiation for the impossibility of enduring its unforgiving demand.
3. Levinas Studies: Volume > 14
Pascal Delhom Justice Is a Right to Speak
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Levinas’s conception of justice in Totality and Infinity is very different from the one developed in Otherwise than Being. Both are bound to the presence of the third party next to my neighbor. But whereas in the later work this presence leads to transform the responsibility of the I for the Other, to compare the neighbor and the third party for the sake of justice, hence to enter the sphere of visibility in which retributive justice is possible, it opens in the early work to a fraternity of all humans, understood as a community of language, of expression, teaching, and commandment. Here, justice is a right to speak. I argue that these conceptions of justice are not only different. The early one can also be seen as the condition of the later one. And Levinas refers explicitly to it in Otherwise than Being as a justice that passes by justice.
4. Levinas Studies: Volume > 14
Sarah Hammerschlag Emerging from the Marrano Complex: Levinas and the Therapy of the Colloque des Intellectuels Juifs de Langue Française
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By examining the ambivalence around the application of the concept of religion to Judaism at the first meeting of the Colloque des Intellectuels Juifs de langue Francaise, this essay shows how Levinas’s employment of the term in Totality and Infinity and after emerged in and through the cloaking of Judaism in the terminology of Christianity, a procedure which began with Levinas’s reception of Catholic thinkers such as Paul Claudel and Jacques Maritain in the 1930s and developed through his interpretation of Franz Rosenzweig’s Star of Redemption at the second meeting of the Colloque in 1959. Rather than a straightforward appropriation of the Christian conception, religion is a term for Levinas designated to register what it is to be stunned by the Christian gaze. The reclamation of the term, the essay argues is itself a kind of therapy that embraces the designation of scapegoat as Judaism’s historical mission.
5. Levinas Studies: Volume > 14
Brigitta Keintzel The Other as Categorical Imperative: Levinas’s Reading of Kant
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For Kant and Levinas, the categorical imperative is the only possible formula for universalization. It has a structural necessity. Its claim is ultimate, valid without exception, and therefore reason-based. What differentiates Levinas from Kant is Kant’s assumption that “pure reason, practical of itself” is “immediately lawgiving.” Levinas contradicted this form of reason legislating itself as an end in itself: according to Levinas, reason has no self-generated power. Although both agree that the achievement of an ethical insight depends on “passivity,” in contrast to Kant Levinas does not consider this “passivity” to be part of a conceptual insight. Its place is outside the subject. Instead of an “archetype” that already exists in the subject, Levinas advocates the conception of a counter-image whose form is based on the face. This face is not speechless. His speech is based on a universalizable commandment, namely the commandment: You shall not kill me. In its full extent, this claim can only be understood via a body-based understanding of the categorical imperative.
6. Levinas Studies: Volume > 14
Jill Stauffer How to Be the Crux of a Diachronic Plot: Levinas, Questions and Answers, and Child Soldiering in International Law, in Four Acts
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A question opens up a space between self and other in the very act of expecting a response. As such, it can be a form of world-building. Posing a question might reveal what is or it might push interlocutors to revise what is. Levinas counsels us to question the first attitude toward questioning in order to open ourselves up to the second. Using questions and answers from a trial of a former child soldier at the International Criminal Court, this paper explores the ethical ramifications of the choices we make when we pose and respond to questions.
7. Levinas Studies: Volume > 14
Michael L. Morgan I, You, We: Community and Fraternity in Buber, Rosenzweig, and Levinas
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Levinas’s notion of fraternity and his conception of an ideal human society recover themes from late nineteenth and early twentieth-century social and political thought. In this paper I show how Levinas’s thinking can be illuminated by examining the conceptions of community that we find in Martin Buber’s dialogical thinking and in Franz Rosenzweig’s concept of redemption and redemptive community in The Star of Redemption.
8. Levinas Studies: Volume > 14
Cynthia Coe The Fragility of the Ethical: Responsibility, Deflection, and the Disruption of Moral Habits
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I argue in this paper that habits of moral attention, such as those that sustain racism and xenophobia, should be understood as attempts to deflect responsibility as Levinas describes it. The provocation to responsibility is fragile in the face of these moral habits, which separate the morally considerable from the morally inconsiderable. But in its traumatic quality, responsibility cannot be deflected entirely—it impacts the self prior to and outside of our attempts to manage our obligations. Levinas’s description of the interaction between the conatus and responsibility should thus be read as a supplement to critical race theory, as an account that recognizes the power of moral habits but also the constant possibility of their interruption.
9. Levinas Studies: Volume > 14
About the Contributors
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10. Levinas Studies: Volume > 13
Sarah Hammerschlag Editor's Introduction
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11. Levinas Studies: Volume > 13
Jean-Luc Marion A Long Road to Escape
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reading religion
12. Levinas Studies: Volume > 13
Michael Fishbane “Seeing the Voices”: Enchaining the Chains of Tradition (Reading Levinas Reading Talmud)
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Rabbinic Talmudic tradition is marked by chains of tradition, integrating written Scripture (as prooftext) and oral Traditions (as exegesis). The interrelation of word, voice, and instruction is paramount. Levinas’s reading of Talmudic texts follows this format and continues this tradition, by superimposing his voice and philosophical concerns. I have chosen his reading of Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Makkot 10a as an exemplum. In the process, Levinas’s style and method can be seen as a contemporary meta-commentary on the ancient rabbinic source.
13. Levinas Studies: Volume > 13
Oona Eisenstadt Rhetorical Subterfuge: A Reading of Levinas’s “Promised Land or Permitted Land”
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This article focuses on a Talmudic lecture Levinas delivered in 1965. Its long central section is an extended reading of most of that lecture’s images and ideas. Its frame, however, treats what does and does not change in Levinas’s conception of the State of Israel between the early ’60s and the early ’80s. At issue here are two other texts: a short but important paragraph from the 1961 lecture published as “Messianic Texts,” and the interview with Malka and Finkielkraut that took place in 1982, shortly after the massacres at Sabra and Shatila. The gist of my closing argument is that while the structure of the understanding of Israel he outlined in 1961 does not change, it is developed very differently in the 1965 lecture and the 1982 interview. I try finally to account for this difference. In the meantime, the long analysis of 1965’s “Promised Land or Permitted Land” offers a novel account of Levinas’s hermeneutic, an account that might perhaps be applied to other Talmudic lectures.
14. Levinas Studies: Volume > 13
Martin Kavka For It Is God’s Way to Sweeten Bitter with Bitter: Prayer in Levinas and R. Hayyim of Volozhin
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In accounts of Emmanuel Levinas’s relationship to the Jewish theological tradition, scholars often analyze Levinas’s essays about Rabbi Hayyim of Volozhin, and specifically his 1824 book Soul of Life (Nefesh ha-Ḥayyim). This article treats two essays that Levinas wrote in the mid-1980s on that book, and shows that Levinas’s praise for that book involves coming close to endorsing its theology of suffering, a theology that strikes this article’s author as obscene. In Nefesh ha-Ḥayyim, those who suffer deserve their suffering, their suffering is in proportion to the sins that gave rise to it, and their suffering purifies and atones for their sin—in the language of the Jewish theological tradition, “it is God’s way to sweeten bitter with bitter.” This marks a departure from Levinas’s standard treatment of issues of theodicy in essays such as “Useless Suffering” (1982). In the article’s conclusion, the possibility is raised that Levinas’s account of divine illeity liberates theologians from problems of theodicy.
reading philosophy
15. Levinas Studies: Volume > 13
Rodolphe Calin The Notion of Accomplishment in Levinas
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The aim of this article is to emphasize the notion of accomplishment in Levinas, partly building on the unpublished works of the author, where it appears as a keyword of his philosophy. It is a matter of highlighting the double filiation of this term, as an extension of the Husserlian notion of intuitive fullfilment to the entire existence and as a resumption of the hermeneutical and theological notion of figural interpretation. By showing how Levinas applies the structure symbol-accomplishment to the existence, envisaged in its double dynamism of position and participation, this article intends to emphazise the importance—but also the difficulties—of the notion of history in his philosophy.
16. Levinas Studies: Volume > 13
Michael L. Morgan Plato, Levinas, and Transcendence
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Although Levinas frequently references Plato positively, they are engaged in different philosophical enterprises. Whereas Levinas takes his place in the tradition of modern moral philosophy for which the atrocities of the twentieth century are undeniable burdens, Plato is concerned with cultivating dispositions that promote psychological and social harmony. For Levinas, Plato’s Form of the Good signals a dual commitment, on the one hand to the primacy of ethical action to existence, and on the other to the connection between ethics and transcendence, in the sense of absolute otherness or separation. But this reading is anachronistic.
17. Levinas Studies: Volume > 13
Adriaan T. Peperzak Toward the Infinite
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Levinas approaches the Infinite as beyond all possible ideas and totalities (especially the Hegelian ones).
reading literature
18. Levinas Studies: Volume > 13
Sarah Hammerschlag A World Without Contours: Levinas’s Critique of Literary Freedom
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This article argues that literature is the necessary foil to Emmanuel Levinas’s development of the category of religion, as the site of relation between the same and the other. The essay tracks Levinas’s dependence on literature to illustrate alterity, but also shows that literature functions as religion’s rival in Levinas’s thought. Playing the terms of religion, literature, and philosophy off one another, the article argues, Levinas was also making an interception into a larger post-World War II debate over which of philosophy’s competing discourses, literature or religion, would win the ascendant seat in the post-war context.
other essays
19. Levinas Studies: Volume > 13
Paul Davies Levinas’s Restlessness: “God and Philosophy” without Consolation
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The paper reflects on the experience of reading Levinas’s ‘God and Philosophy’ paying particular attention to the ways in which it would have us read the word ‘God.’ Levinas refuses to let the word become the property of even the most radical treatment of religious faith. The word, the biblical word, must never serve the self-consolation of philosophy. Many of Levinas’s readers regret this aspect of his writing, but the paper argues that ‘God and Philosophy’ offers an exemplary introduction to Levinas’s most developed style of writing and thinking, and it does so while bringing to mind the question of the relation between Levinas’s (and, by implication, the reader’s) philosophy and their religion. The second part of the essay considers possible contexts (religious, philosophical and cultural) in which this question and ‘God and Philosophy’ itself can perhaps best be understood.
20. Levinas Studies: Volume > 13
Mérédith Laferté-Coutu The Passage and Happening of Time in Levinas’s Otherwise than Being
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What can the passage of time mean for Levinas? Is there a passage of diachronic time? In its many iterations (passage, le se passer, se passe, and passe), passage—an expression that easily goes unnoticed, for it is ordinary, perhaps self-evident, yet almost pervasive in the French language—turns out to be at play throughout Levinas’s last major work. This paper traces the role of the notion in Otherwise than Being and shows its stakes for the remarkably numerous topics that it connects: Levinas’s critique of Husserlian temporality, the relation between the Infinite and the finite, as well as, most generally, justice and the ethical relation itself. Specifically, because the equivocal expression “se passer ” means both passing and happening, diachronic time not only passes but happens.