The following text has been automatically reproduced by an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) algorithm. It may not have been checked over by human eyes. For matters of precision please consult the original pdf.

The philosopher’s fear of alterity

Europe, thatʼs the Bible and the Greeks. It has come closer to the Bible and to its true fate. Everything else in the world must be included in this. I donʼt have any nostalgia for the exotic. For me Europe is central.

Emmanuel Levinas, 19861Those who have sought resources in Levinas for a project of anti-racism have been confounded by some of his comments about non-Western cultures: ʻthe exoticʼ. In addition, many of his advocates have been confused by the metaphysical apparatus assembled in support of the valorization of the ʻfaceʼ (le visage): these features tend to be understood biographically or as functionless remnants of religious beliefs and personal prejudices.

This article attempts to demonstrate that the two problems – metaphysical apparatus and unpalatable comments – are fundamentally connected through Levinasʼs conception of transcendence. The failure to foreground paleonymy in his writing means that the systematic reconfiguration of terms such as ʻfaceʼ, which transforms its everyday sense, goes unaddressed. The ʻfaceʼ is not a physical countenance; it is an interpretation, beyond philosophy and phenomenology, tied to a particular historico-cultural formation: the ʻculture issued from monotheismʼ. This has the consequence that the special idea of the face of the Other (Autrui), as encounter with the idea of the Infinite, in drawing from one particular culture, is not open to all other cultures; it is not a universal possibility. My strong claim will be that the problematic of the face is at root mobilized in a valorization of the Judaeo-Christian legacy against those who come from outside ʻthe Westʼ.

There is a misapprehension when ʻalterityʼ in Levinasʼs work is understood simply as difference.

For him, it marks a positive plenitude that breaks with Being. In this regard, intra-ontic difference would be encompassed by knowledge and hence merely part of ʻthe Sameʼ. Infinite responsibility remains a metaphysical gesture. In the essays contemporaneous with Totality and Infinity, alterity references height, the better, ʻtrans-ascendenceʼ and as such depends on determining the value of the individual in the possibility of effectuating the infinite beyond the finite. [2] It should be stressed at the outset that the present essay does not circumscribe Otherwise than Being, a work that operates with a different temporality and largely eschews the vocabulary of ʻmetaphysicsʼ and ʻexteriorityʼ found in the first book. [3]

Here, I reconstruct the context for Totality and Infinity by bringing together Levinasʼs writings on anthropology and Judaism with the more familiar ʻphilosophicalʼ text, so as to illuminate the axis of ʻSacred Historyʼ in its exemplariness. [4] Only by reading these texts together can the importance for Levinas of a philosophically reconfigured religious inheritance be located as it interrelates with and qualifies his phenomenology, such that the differentiation of ʻphilosophyʼ and ʻeschatologyʼ may be comprehended.

Humanity with and without sacred history

In ʻJewish Thought Todayʼ (1961), Levinas lists three conditions marking the novelty of the contemporary world-historical situation. Alongside the defeat of antiSemitism and the foundation of the State of Israel, he includes ʻThe arrival on the historical scene of those underdeveloped Afro-Asiatic masses who are strangers to the Sacred History that forms the heart of the Judaic-Christian world.ʼ [5] Besides the belated entry into history of Africa and Asia, a tenet of Levinasʼs The philosopher’s fear of alterity Levinas, Europe and humanities ‘without Sacred History’

Andrew mcgettigan

philosophy of history that connects him through Franz Rosenzweig to Hegel, [6] we should attend to the claim that ʻSacred Historyʼ differentiates the West as a monotheistic formation.

The specificity of this formation means that even Marxism must be understood as a Judaeo-Christian legacy, which under Mao is ʻlost in the vastness of these foreign civilizations and impenetrable pastsʼ. The universality of its principles are blocked by a cultural and historical inheritance sufficiently foreign for Levinas elsewhere to describe it as ʻlunar or Martianʼ; notoriously, a ʻyellow perilʼ which, as a ʻspiritualʼ peril, [7] threatens the ʻnew-found authenticity of Israelʼ (JTT 165).

Given the centrality of the critique of Western philosophy in terms of its violent conceptuality and will to totality, Caygill writes on this ʻfear of Asiaʼ: ʻLevinas might have been expected … to confront Europe and its dangerous metaphysics with new sources of universality and freedom drawn from the East. That he does not even contemplate this step is one of the many mysteries of this tormented textʼ (L&P 183). Such an expectation would ally Levinas with the thoughts offered by Merleau-Ponty in ʻEverywhere and Nowhereʼ, where the ʻOrientʼ could serve as a ʻsounding-boardʼ through which ʻwe learn to estimate what we have shut ourselves off from by becoming Westernʼ. [8] But the darker problem is that Levinas has given us enough material in his writings on anthropology (and Merleau-Ponty) to come to see that these prejudices, repeated in a later article pointedly entitled ʻBeyond Dialogueʼ, [9] have supporting theories. We are obliged to ask what a cultural formation is for Levinas, such that the ʻgaze of Asiaʼ, a ʻreligious collectivity that is … built around different structuresʼ, can help Jews and Christians ʻrediscover their kinshipʼ (JTT 165).

First, some context: Levinasʼs formative training in Neo-Kantianism and phenomenology occurs in a period where the philosophical concept of the nation is at the forefront of academic concerns. [10] Second, Levinas, again through Rosenzweig, has strong connections to Hermann Cohen, for whom the notion of ʻpeoplesʼ (Völker) as spiritual entities is central, the Jewish people being exemplary for humanity as a whole. Derrida noted the importance of Fichte for Cohen, in that the former ʻdiscovered that the social Self is a national Selfʼ and hence allowed thought to go beyond Kant through the formation of a Geisteswissenschaft – a ʻhuman scienceʼ that would study the particularities of different Volkgeister. [11] That is, the transcendental is no longer understood as universal – there are different experiential structures for different societies, cultures and peoples. [12]

Third, Husserl, who appears to be Levinasʼs dominant interlocutor in this context, had, in his late writings, differentiated ʻhumanitiesʼ in the plural – Menschheiten as distinct from Menschentum – according to their historicities or ʻhistoricalitiesʼ (Geschichtlichkeiten).

Historical mankind does not always divide itself up in the same way in accordance with [the category of historicity]. We feel this precisely in our own Europe. There is something unique here [in Europe] that is recognized in us by all other human groups, too, something that, quite apart from all considerations of utility, becomes a motive for them to Europeanize themselves even in their unbroken will to spiritual self-preservation; whereas we, if we understand ourselves properly, would never Indianize ourselves, for example. I mean that we feel (and in spite of all obscurity this feeling is probably legitimate) that an entelechy is inborn in our European civilization which holds sway throughout all changing shapes of Europe and accords to them the sense of a development toward an ideal shape of life and being as an eternal pole. … The spiritual telos of European humanity, in which the particular telos of particular nations and of individual men is contained, lies in the infinite, is an infinite idea toward which, in concealment, the whole spiritual becoming aims, so to speak. [13]

I flag here the two key aspects of this particular European historicality that will persist in Levinas: the idea of the infinite, in metaphysical Desire, and the idea projected into the infinite future, the prophetic time of sacred history produced through ʻfecundityʼ (TI 301, 306). This doubling of the infinite is taken to distinguish the West from Asian cultural formations. That said, it is important to appreciate why Levinas repudiates the notion of entelechy. For Levinas, there is no ʻHistoryʼ governed by a telos. Humanity is not the site of such a production in spite of itself (TI 72–3) (ʻan inward maturation of reason common to allʼ [TI 219]). Consequently, there is no linear scale on which historical societies are located in a hierarchy and no value that attaches to humanity per se. Here, Levinasʼs essay on Lucien Lévy-Bruhl illuminates the notions of participation and separation found in Totality and Infinity. [14] With respect to cultural formations, for Levinas,

Lévy-Bruhlʼs achievement is to undermine the universal claims for transcendental subjectivity – that the investigation into ʻourʼ conditions of possibility of experience are the conditions of possibility for any experience whatsoever. ʻLévy-Bruhl questions precisely the supposed necessity of those categories for the possibility of experience. He describes an experience which mocks causality, substance, the reciprocal determination – such as space and time – of these conditions for ʻall possible objectsʼ. [15] The categories of Aristotle and Kant do not apply to those ʻparticipatingʼ;16 they belong to cultural formations that have accreted above that primitive form – the ʻgivenʼ depends upon a prior ʻwrestingʼ that sensation performs on inchoate being. Such an engagement with concrete environments and landscapes is anterior to and orients representation, which appears after in the formation of egoism qua separation. [17]

In this way, Levinas takes Lévy-Bruhl to have ʻruined representationʼ as the central philosophical category and to have overturned the notion of exteriority as neutral being. [18] It follows, then, that there is no linear history to humanity, no historical totality, because there is a plurality of ʻmodes of existingʼ, discrete ʻmentalitiesʼ, which differ radically in their fundamental encounter with the world and do not reduce to each other.

Cultural totalities are national, ethnic and religious and marked by fundamental ideational differences. Such an understanding can be found throughout Levinasʼs writings. It underlies his ʻReflections on Hitlerismʼ where the German is distinguished from the Judaeo-Christian:

It is to a society in such a condition that the Germanic ideal of man seems to promise sincerity and authenticity. Man no longer finds himself confronted by a world of ideas in which he can choose his own truth on the basis of a sovereign decision made by his free reason. He is already linked to a certain number of these ideas, just as he is linked by his birth to all those who are of his blood. He can no longer play with the idea, for coming from his concrete being, anchored in his flesh and blood, the idea remains serious. [19]

These comments on the ʻGermanʼ are transmuted later into the ʻpaganʼ or ʻbarbarianʼ. In ʻPlace and Utopiaʼ, Levinas details the three main spiritual formations. [20]

1. ^ Pagan: seeks the satisfaction of the self before the other. Rooted in Being and Fate, it is egoist and unconcerned if it usurps anotherʼs place in the sun. 2. Christian: marked by the utopian rejection of this world in favour of the life to come. 3. Jewish: concerns itself with ʻethical actionʼ which ʻdoes not flee from the conditions from which oneʼs work draws its meaningʼ – that is, this world. Regarding the last, Levinas appears close to Rosenzweigʼs contention that the Jewish people attests to a collective meta-historical experience – a different way of experiencing time. [21] Indeed, Levinasʼs own essay on Rosenzweig contains the startling claim that ʻJudaism is alive and true to the degree that it stays close to God, while Christianity is alive and true … to the extent that it marches into the world and penetrates it.ʼ [22] As outrider to ʻethical actionʼ, the ʻChristianizationʼ of the world repeats Husserlʼs ʻEuropeanizationʼ and prepares the opposition of freedom to fate, while the ʻpaganʼ appears to gloss all cultures that fall outside this monotheistic front. Crucially, these differences do not simply relate to historical content: ʻSacred Historyʼ determines a different temporality and historicality.

‘teaching’: the revaluation of religious sources

ʻJewish Thought Todayʼ indicates the basis for treating Judaism as exemplary. It underscores the ʻnoveltyʼ of the Western reconsideration of the Talmud: it is ʻno longer treated archaeologically or historically but as a form of teachingʼ (JTT 161). As a cultural repository, its value escapes from ʻoutmoded theology or simple folkloreʼ. [23] ʻTeachingʼ here connects to the Neo-Kantian discussion of Lehre – variously translated as ʻdoctrineʼ, ʻteachingʼ, ʻstudyʼ and so on, but signifying a body of experience handed down. This unique source is reconfigured for its pertinence to current and future conditions. Cohenʼs Religion of Reason out of the Sources of Judaism is exemplary here, [24] while the pervasive themes can also be seen in Walter Benjaminʼs earliest writings. [25]

Much weight is accorded to Levinasʼs claim to be teaching Hebrew to Greek philosophizing, but it is in this notion of ʻteachingʼ that such translation can be seen as a two-way process. To use a different register: Levinas argues that certain concepts taken from Judaism now achieve a new legibility in the disenchanted, desacralized modern world: this secularization is a necessary condition for the ethical response to the other. [26] As Robert Gibbs puts it, ʻThe desacralization of the world is what allows that full translation of the relations to God to become realized in our relations with other people.ʼ [27] The reconfiguration of religious teaching only occurs after a necessary ʻatheismʼ where all ʻmythsʼ are purged: ʻEverything that cannot be reduced to an interhuman relation represents not the superior form but the forever primitive form of religionʼ (TI 77, 79). Levinas has no belief in a personal God, posits no afterlife, and constantly translates the content of the biblical text and commentaries into philosophical language.

The ethical begins beyond atheism when religious teaching is distilled to philosophical, not to say Kantian, ideas. What remains of ʻmonotheismʼ is the idea of the infinite (double genitive). As he writes in ʻMeaning and Senseʼ, the 1964 essay that positions his world-view in contrast to Merleau-Ponty and structuralist anthropology: ʻThe revealed God of our JudeoChristian spirituality maintains all the infinity of his absence, which is in the personal “order” itself.ʼ [28]

These ideas are not straightforwardly part of philosophy; in Totality and Infinity they form what Levinas terms ʻeschatologyʼ. Philosophically reduced ʻteachingʼ takes these religious contents as legitimate starting points for orientation. [29] Where philosophy qua phenomenology runs up against the limit of being, the break-up of totality, eschatology serves as a supplement.

Without substituting eschatology for philosophy, without philosophically ʻdemonstratingʼ eschatological ʻtruths,ʼ we can proceed from the experience of totality back to a situation where totality breaks up, a situation that conditions the totality itself.

Such a situation is the gleam of exteriority or of transcendence in the face of the other [le visage dʼautrui]. (TI 24)Both Stella Sandford and Caygill have noted that the encounter with the Other as an idea of the infinite is irreducible to a phenomenological analysis30 – Levinasʼs ʻexteriorityʼ cannot be posited from a phenomenological position. The ʻgleamʼ of exteriority is already an eschatological interpretation, or in Levinasʼs terms a ʻvisionʼ aiming beyond the break-up of totality.

The first ʻvisionʼ of eschatology (hereby distinguished from the revealed opinions of positive religions) reaches [atteint] the very possibility of eschatology, that is, the breach of the totality, the possibility of a signification without context. The experience of morality does not proceed from this vision – it consummates [consomme] this vision; ethics is an optics. (TI 23, translation modified) For Levinas, eschatology is neither revealed nor deduced from within philosophy. Its validity as a set of orienting ideas comes from its inheritance, from its centrality to the monotheistic cultural formation. To ʻenvisageʼ the face as the encounter with the idea of the Infinite, as the commencement of Illeity, [31] exceeds phenomenological or philosophical description: Illeity as idea redeems a distinct mode of phenomenality – the enigmatic, absent trace in the face. To understand why eschatology is an interpretation, one can compare the account of the encounter with the Other (Autrui) in Totality and Infinity with that of Sartreʼs Being and Nothingness. [32]

In Part Three, “Being-for-Others”, Sartre radically separates the experience of the Other as subject (autrui-sujet) from the identification of a particular object as another subject (autrui-objet). While seeming to deflate the traditional problem of other minds, he rescues the case for a direct experience of the other as subject (autrui-sujet): the experience of being-seen, in particular, the experience of shame (BN 256 ff.). As a result, the look, or gaze (le regard), is preserved phenomenologically as a particular, ambivalent experience of that which is in the midst of this world and beyond this world at the same time – this is transcendence (BN 270).33

Where Sartre is forced to present the other-as-subject as out of reach (ʻwhat is certain is that I am looked-at: what is only probable is that the look is bound to this or that intra-mundane presenceʼ [BN 277]), Levinas, in eschatology, interprets this out-of-reach as an absence or withdrawal indicating the beyond. The face is abstract. … But the abstractness of the face is a visitation and a coming which disturbs immanence without settling into the horizons of the World. Its abstraction is not obtained by a logical process starting from the substance of beings and going from the individual to the general. On the contrary, it goes toward those beings but does not compromise itself with them, withdraws from them, ab-solves itself. Its wonder is due to the elsewhere from which it comes and into which it already withdraws.… And Sartre will say that the Other (Autrui) is a pure hole in the world – a most noteworthy insight, but he stops his analysis too soon. The Other proceeds from the absolutely Absent, but his relationship with the absolutely Absent from which he comes does not indicate, does not reveal, this Absent; and yet the Absent has a meaning in the face. (MS 59–60)Instead of existential nothingness, the ideas of eschatology overwrite this nothingness as the absence which spurs metaphysical ʻDesireʼ for the infinite. That is, the face as Autrui, as better, ʻa relation to surplusʼ (TI 22–3), is already an idea impinging on phenomenological results, but an idea to which monotheism entitles ʻusʼ.

Or, consider ʻIlleityʼ, which renders a God no longer onto-theological. Distinct from the third party (le tiers) who interrupts the intimacy of the face to face, Illeity designates the ʻthird person, who in the face has already withdrawn from every revelation and every dissimulation … it is the whole enormity, the whole inordinateness, the whole infinity of the absolutely Other, which eludes treatment by ontologyʼ (MS 61). Paradoxically, this absence prompts an envisioning of a positive transcendence, which, as idea, would be redeemed through ethical practice.

The idea of the face

Levinas suggests that I often pass indifferently before another person and do not feel the gaze (MS 52). For the trace of the face to appear, the ordinary experience must be ʻjostledʼ by a presence that is not integrated into the world: a presence that can be effaced by ʻhumble choresʼ and ʻcommonplace talkʼ (MS 47):34 ʻIt is not the interlocutor our master whom we most often approach in our conversations, but an object or an infant, or a man of the multitude, as Plato saysʼ (TI 70).

Not all others are encountered as Other. It is the great failure of the English-language reception of Levinas to posit without justification a token–token correspondence between the other as object (Autre) and the face of the Other (Autrui). It fails for the reasons given by Sartre. Levinasʼs characteristic idea of first philosophy lying in the ethical relation generated by the face-to-face encounter with the Other has generally been understood in a familiar humanist, anti-bureaucratic sense: it is in a fundamental personal contact that I am struck by my commonality with the other. But this reading completely neglects Levinasʼs putative transcendence.

The ʻfaceʼ is not an individual countenance. The face is not a physiological characteristic distilled from phenomenological description through which I recognize members of a genus. The face confounds ontology and interrupts phenomenology (MS 61) in a manner ʻno transcendental method could corrupt or absorbʼ (MS 56). The particular, liminal experience of teaching through a master, who brings me more than I contain, prompts the positing of exteriority in remoteness and height – those qualities drawn from monotheism become ideas.

Is the ideality of the ideal reducible to a superlative extension of qualities, or does it lead us to a region where beings have a face, that is, are present in their own message? Hermann Cohen (in this a Platonist) maintained that one can love only ideas; but the notion of an Idea is in the last analysis tantamount to the transmutation of the other [Autre] into the Other [Autrui]. (TI 71) It should be stressed that there is no pre-existing realm of transcendence to which the subject is granted access in the encounter. The ʻbeyondʼ (the ʻregionʼ of the face) does not designate any Hinterwelt (this would be to collapse back into onto-theology [MS 60]). Instead, the desire for the infinite instigates ethics as the production of the beyond. The encounter with the master, who does not belong to my ʻplaneʼ (TI 101), is the spur to the production of transcendence beyond being. [35] As Stéphane Mosès insists, the ʻgeste spéculatifʼ of Levinas lies precisely in this conception of the infinite being produced from out of this liminal experience, [36] for which Autrui should be reserved.

In turn, Autre, in its ethical determination, refers to the idea of fraternity: a pluralism of separated, external beings. In the section of Totality and Infinity entitled ʻThe Other and the othersʼ (Autrui et les autres), Levinas argues that the epiphany of the face opens humanity: the experience of the third party in the eyes of the other, which becomes the Il of Il-leity, produces a whole new experience of humanity. This human fraternity is invoked over and above biological speciesbeing, but as it does so it exceeds phenomenological evidence (TI 213–14). The face comes from beyond the world of meaning and commits me to fraternity in referring to the ʻthird partyʼ of Illeity, ʻwhom in the midst of his destitution the Other (Autrui) already servesʼ. But it is important to note that the encounter with Autrui is the prior condition of possibility for the valorization of les Autres, such that the latter are understood as a pluralism, not as members of a genus. These ideas are transformative: the pluralism produced in ethics is hooked back onto phenomenological experience as interpretation, not description.

Here, we must strictly reject the current conflation of the idea of the Other as Autrui with the more familiar idea of respect for the way in which the other person (Autre) exceeds my cognitive appropriations. Levinas consistently rejects the possibility of merely reflecting upon, acknowledging or recording the otherness of the other in favour of the need to effectuate transcendence which would thereby justify the encounter with the face of the Other.

Acknowledgement of the inability of comprehension to exhaust the particular individual in front of me merely records the break-up experienced by philosophy qua phenomenology. This is precisely the trap Simon Critchley falls into when he describes the face (or, worse, the otherʼs eyes) as a ʻpalpable infinity that can never exhaust oneʼs curiosityʼ. Even if such respect is engendered in a conversing that is ʻactively and existentially engaged in a non-subsumptive relationshipʼ, [37] it fails to grasp the production of transcendence intended by Levinas in ethics. The emphasis on the non-subsumptive is purely negative; it does not get out of Being. In this regard, it would read Levinas either as espousing the false infinite of the ʻoughtʼ [38] or the account of intersubjectivity given in Husserlʼs Fifth Cartesian Meditation: both explicitly rejected by Levinas himself. The indefinable order of transcendence, as positive plenitude, is, for Levinas, not the indefinite extension of being. Instead he insists:

The I is not a contingent formation by which the same and the other, as logical determinations of being, can in addition be reflected within a thought.

It is in order that alterity be produced in being that a ʻthoughtʼ is needed and that an I is needed. The irreversibility of the relation can be produced only if the relation is effected by one of the terms as the very movement of transcendence, as the traversing of this distance, and not as a recording of … this movement. ʻThoughtʼ and ʻinteriorityʼ are the very break-up of being and the production (not the reflection) of transcendence. We know this relation only in the measure that we effect it; this is what is distinctive about it. Alterity is only possible starting from me. (TI 39–40)The alternative of acknowledgement runs the risk of neglecting the universal being the particular being incarnates39 – the ʻbeatific contemplationʼ of the other is ʻidolatryʼ (TI 172). Such is the secular variety of the ʻunctuous, consoling religionʼ at variance with the transformation wrought by the production of the infinite. [40]

the supposed ‘superiority’ and ‘generosity’ of western thought

Wherein lies the superiority of such ideas? In so far as it presents a morality, Levinasʼs ʻreligionʼ offers itself as a corrective to Western nihilism: ʻMorality does not belong to culture: it enables one to judge it; it discovers the dimension of height. Height ordains beingʼ (MS 57). The idea of fraternity is premissed upon the monotheistic concept of alterity as height, the human as potential image of God, in opposition to a notion of alterity as difference that would be premissed upon a ʻsaraband of innumerable and equivalent culturesʼ (MS 58). Western thought is privileged in so far as it contains the germ of this value given to the individual as the finite site of the incarnation of the Infinite.

In Signs, Merleau-Ponty had taken up the results of Claude Lévi-Straussʼs work in anthropology to advance the thesis that different cultures are multiple expressions of being on the same plane, with no one culture having direct or privileged access to eternal ideas. Universality is then understood as a practice of translation that leads to the ʻlateral interpenetrationʼ of cultures. Explicitly challenging this conception, Levinasʼs ʻMeaning and Senseʼ recognizes the value of such an ʻontology of decolonizationʼ (MS 44) but grants more importance to the consequent disorientation. No constructive principle is left in place which can give an orientation to existence – nihilism or the ʻpure indifference of multiplicityʼ is the result (MS 45).41

Apparently, Merleau-Ponty had taken the ʻgenerosityʼ of Western thought too far and forgotten its task of overcoming ʻthe infantilism of purely historical culturesʼ, which had never understood themselves until the advent of anthropological science made of them an object (MS 58). What is that generosity? The willingness to see the abstract in other cultures – to accord them the dignity of being equals.

Introducing a distinction between the plurality of cultural meanings (significations) and the need for a single, orientating sense (sens), Levinas concludes that desire for exteriority and the beyond, as found in monotheistic culture, provides such a sense in the midst of the variety of cultural totalities: ʻthe Other dispels the anarchic sorcery of the factsʼ (TI 99). The Other orients being because it creates a value that drives and elevates practical reason, such that it is no longer satisfied with being and so aims at the beyond.

Again, an echo of Husserl is apparent. From as early as the 1911 essay ʻPhilosophy as Rigorous Scienceʼ, Husserl was concerned to differentiate European, philosophical science from the plurality of historical Weltanschauungen. [42] As the only cultural form to be a ʻculture of ideasʼ, to set itself infinite tasks, ʻcapable of an absolute self-responsibility on the basis of absolute theoretical insightsʼ, [43] science, if taken up explicitly, assumes the form of an ethical ideal capable of unifying humanity and fending off the barbarism. While Levinas continues to support the ʻexcellence of Western scienceʼ (MS 58), and repeats Lévy-Bruhlʼs insistence on ʻprimitiveʼ, as opposed to ʻsavageʼ, minds, [44] he does not subscribe to the notion that the idea of science can provide an adequate ethical ideal in the face of the events that scarred the twentieth century. Instead, fraternity is accorded that task.

In structuralist anthropology, the excessive generosity of the West puts its own privilege in question. But, for Levinas, it is precisely here that its special contribution to the world is revealed. The argument in ʻMeaning and Senseʼ proceeds in transcendental fashion by asking: what is the condition of possibility for constructing a flat ontology of cultural meaning? It concludes that orientation to the Other, the excellence of the Judaeo-Christian legacy, underlies structuralist ontology.

For there does exist the possibility of a Frenchman learning Chinese and passing from one culture into another, without the intermediary of an esperanto that would falsify both tongues which it mediated.

Yet what has not been taken into consideration in this case is that an orientation which leads the Frenchman to take up learning Chinese instead of declaring it to be barbarian (that is, bereft of the real virtues of language), to prefer speech to war, is needed. One reasons as though the equivalence of cultures, the discovery of their profusion and the recognition of their riches were not themselves the effects of an orientation and of an unequivocal sense in which humanity stands. One reasons as though the multiplicity of cultures from the beginning sunk its roots in the era of decolonization, as though incomprehension, war and conquest did not derive just as naturally from the contiguity of multiple expressions of being. (MS 46) Let me spell out three points:1. The recognition of the richness of cultures and the suggestion that they are equivalent, depends upon an orientation to the Other; a sense of the status of humanity. 2. The veiled suggestion to the anthropologist is the following: we have seen that your interest in these other civilizations and cultures depends on an orientation towards the other. However, does the culture you examine itself reveal or valorize this orientation? The example of Chinese is not innocent given the passages referenced earlier and the insinuation that Chinese might be a barbarian language is neither retracted nor qualified. Robert Bernasconi observes that Levinas seems unaware that the Chinese also learn to speak French. [45] 3. War does not only spring from a logic directed towards totality and domination. War also springs from the friction of contiguity with other civilizations. Difference cannot be valorized per se, if war is to be avoided. Peace does not just require the recognition of difference, but the orientation to the other: the sens unique which can ground peace. The Other as instantiating height, not the other as different.

Peace and ethical illusion

Of peace there can only be an eschatology. (TI 24)Even if the ideas associated with metaphysical desire for the Infinite are ethical and foreign to China, it may still not be clear why Levinas takes them to be superior. It must be stressed that there is no epistemological privilege accorded to these ideas. Levinas explicitly touches on the affinity between these ideas – variously glossed as ʻmetaphorʼ, ʻillusionʼ, ʻaspirationʼ – and delirium (TI 49). ʻThe power of illusion is not a simple aberration of thought, but a movement in being itself. It has an ontological importʼ (TI 240). In this case, its import lies in producing the beyond, an illusion that ʻconstitutes a positive eventʼ (TI 55).

Some might baulk at this emphasis, but the face as eschatological interpretation commences from ʻmetaphorʼ as the ʻmarvel of languageʼ. Philosophy and certain human sciences might try to reduce its power by drawing up a list of its sources, but this practice cannot ʻdestroy its intentionʼ: ʻlucidity does not abolish the beyond of these illusionsʼ (MS 56). If the beyond established is not simply to repeat onto-theology, or be determined by being, it must be a human, subjective production. It is because of this projection that Levinas describes the metaphysical as an ʻaspiration for radical exteriorityʼ – ethics is defined by its ʻtranscendent intentionʼ (TI 29): ʻthe beyond which the metaphor produces has a sense that transcends (its origin); the power to conjure up illusions which language has must be recognizedʼ (MS 56). The face is not the discovery by the West of a pre-existent truth. The courthouse for eschatology is not the limits of theoretical reason or phenomenological description. The key lies in the ability of the idea of fraternity to orient peace. As in Neo-Kantianism, the idea is originary (ursprünglich) in that it sets the test it itself must undergo: it orients the task (Aufgabe) of practical philosophy on which it depends for its justification or validity. The excellence of the West would be located in a potential that must be manifested such that the other cultures of the world follow that example and Europeanize. That is, the belief in the superiority of monotheismʼs ideas can only be verified in attempting to produce it. As such, orientation is speculative: a form of bootstrapping described in Otherwise than Being as ʻlevitationʼ that has no other guarantee than its own activity:46 ʻto be worthy of the messianic era one must admit that ethics has a meaning, even without the promises of the Messiahʼ. [47]

The bottom line is peace. Pace Caygill, but via a different route, Totality and Infinity is an ʻimmense treatise on hospitality and warʼ (L&P 209 n2). Orientation is directed to the production and generalization of the prophetic vision of peace, averting the possibility of war (MS 46) – that this is best produced by eschatology is the gauge at the heart of Levinasʼs Occidentalism.

To recap, in so far as they exceed philosophical support, the ideas of the face and fraternity draw their power from the monotheism that informs Western culture. Rendered into Infinite Ideas, they form an eschatology that orients ethics, whose value, above other cultures and their particular ideas, lies in the ability to produce a politics directed to peace. This hypothesis can only be tested historically through this very production – it is fundamentally speculative. Or, as Cohen puts it, ʻThere will be no peace among nations unless our example is followed.ʼ [48]

the infinite and asia: the influence of rosenzweig

What sources support Levinasʼs prejudice against China and Asian thought? Given that he undertook no research himself, the obvious source is Rosenzweigʼs The Star of Redemption (on this score, itself a repository of third-hand banalities), where Eastern thought is compared to idolatry, [49] a charge repeated by Levinas. [50] The debt is recognized in the Preface to Totality and Infinity: ʻWe were impressed by the opposition to the idea of totality in Franz Rosenzweigʼs Stern der Erlösung (Star of Redemption), a work too often present in this book to be citedʼ (TI 28).

Reading the first part of The Star of Redemption, one is swiftly struck by the repeated oppositions between concepts inherent to Judaism and Christianity and those of the Chinese and Indian religions. The Judeo-Christian legacy is valorized by virtue of a conceptual superiority: the ideas of God, world and human are defined by the specific interrelation of transcendence and immanence and the concept of historical time. [51] For Rosenzweig, the experience of the ʻfaceʼ (das Gesicht) of the other in language is not open to those dwelling within Asian cultures, for they have an inadequate conception of the relation between immanence and transcendence: the voice of the other cannot be heard – they flee the ʻface of the living God for abstractionʼ. [52] In the Hindu conception of a world of veils, which reduces human reality to appearance, he sees too much separation between transcendence and immanence – nothing of value can appear in this world. In the Buddhist and Confucian conception of a world of excessive variation, he finds only a throng of spirits multiplying – an excess of mixing between immanence and transcendence. [53] If the transcendent is too fully merged into the world then there is only a negotiation through its infinity – nothing of value can be extracted from this proliferation. In short, Buddhist and Hindu metaphysics are presented as polar opposites, but from which there is the same result – the human individual is not the root of value. The weakness of India and China for Rosenzweig is that they are unable to live beyond the immediate present, since history for those cultures is simply the passage of various contingent arrangements – the future cannot be the site of meaning by which to guide the transformation of the present. In contrast, the history of the Judaeo-Christian West has been formed by a more complicated interaction of immanence and transcendence – according to the Bible, humanity was made in the image of God – and it finds itself suspended between the animal and the divine. This, combined with the concept of prophetic time, produces a wholly different culture, a wholly different past. Prophetic time signals the specific biblical temporality whereby revelation is not given once and for all as edict to follow, but as prophecy, giving signs that must be discerned in the future to come. [54]

As in Levinas, a unique concept of humanity rests with messianic monotheism: it is not present in other traditions whose own ideas can be encompassed by the Greek dimension of Europe. [55] For Levinas, these cultures cannot teach us, they bring nothing that we do not already contain: ʻYou can express everything in Greek. For example, you can say Buddhism in Greek.ʼ [56]

In his essay on racism in the history of philosophy, ʻWill the Real Kant Please Stand Upʼ, Bernasconi identifies three tasks for any writing to be adequate as intellectual history. [57] These are:

1. ^ ʻidentifying the problematic statements of these thinkers that are prima facie racistʼ;2. ʻlocating them in the context of their works and the broader historical contextʼ;3. ʻestablishing their sourcesʼ. [58] While that essay fails to think through its historicist apparatus, and its convenient valorization of the potential virtues of ʻcontinentalʼ practice, I have tried to situate Levinasʼs writings in the suggested manner. While Levinasʼs comments on Asia have been well known for some time, they have been separated from the ʻseriousʼ work. Bernasconi himself has attempted to effect this wall by differentiating occasional comments from philosophical texts: ʻit would be a mistake to assume that the philosophical texts conceal behind their complexity the same appalling message that is said so directly in the interviews.ʼ [59]

Here I have demonstrated that the views expressed in those pieces, whose sheer frequency should be underscored, do not ʻrun counterʼ to Levinasʼs ethics – if Levinasʼs radical, metaphysical transformation of that term is appreciated. Indeed, I have argued that the ʻidea of the faceʼ, the spur to ethics, is fundamentally tied to a theory of separated cultural totalities which circumscribes the particularity of its obligating force. Levinas fears a valorization of alterity that would not orient around the transcendence resulting from ʻSacred Historyʼ distilled into ideas. To repeat, the alterity of height is distinguished from an alterity of difference. For Levinas, contiguity without orientation will lead to wars worse than those witnessed in recent history.

In light of this, I can share neither Bernasconiʼs suggestion that Levinasʼs work ʻcontains the most promising resources for addressing the enigma of persecution, hatred, and violenceʼ, nor Judith Butlerʼs idea that Levinas can help to reanimate the ʻhumanʼ in the ʻhumanitiesʼ:60 the structure of ʻwhat binds us morallyʼ can find in Levinas only a representation of a specific religious tradition. Given the complacency with which Levinas rests on his shaky sources, [61] his philosophy evinces the easy, armchair belief in superiority which is constitutive of prejudice and discrimination: the claims for Judaism lack any form of independent testing beyond backing it – fidelity and ignorance trump science.

This leaves me to conclude with two questions.

First, why have the philosophical readings of Levinas missed the, admittedly troubling, notion of transcendence and instead reduced his work to more familiar ideas? To paraphrase Kierkegaard: what does this ʻmollifying exegesisʼ signify? Second, is it possible to break with an idea of the West, given the particular investments that underlie ʻcontinentalʼ or ʻmodern Europeanʼ philosophy? Breaking with Bernasconiʼs forensic model of prosecution and apology, which fails to reflect on the privilege of latecomers, might not the challenge be not only to portray these writings in their own context, but to represent ourselves in, and our ties to, that same context? Is Western philosophy simply one cultural formation among others limning its own borders? What would it entail to act otherwise? These fundamental questions challenge the particularity of all philosophizing and cannot be avoided given current institutional and world-historical conditions. That the formative figures of twentieth-century thought offered solutions that we would now disavow does not mean that the problem to which those solutions were addressed is illusory.


Earlier versions of this article were presented to the Research Seminar of the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy, Middlesex University; the Human Sciences Seminar, Manchester Metropolitan University; and the ʻLevinas and the Politicalʼ conference, Purdue University, Indiana. My thanks to Stella Sandford, Peter Osborne, Tim Hall, Nick Lambrianou, Peter Hallward and David Cunningham for commenting on the various drafts.

1. ^ ʻEmmanuel Levinasʼ (1986), in Florian Rötzer, Conversations with French Philosophers, trans. Gary E. Aylesworth, Humanities Press, New Jersey, 1995, pp. 57–65, p. 63.

2. ^ Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority (1961), trans. Alphonso Lingis, Duquesne University Press, Pittsburgh, 1969, p. 35; hereafter TI.

3. ^ The specific relation to Otherwise than Being involves the reconstruction of a different systematic structure as Levinas introduces the concepts and ideas of diachrony, psyche, hostage and the nazirate. The key influence on this latter book is the notion of Urimpression found in Husserlʼs Phenomenology of Internal Time Consciousness. Emmanuel Levinas, Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence (1978), trans. Alphonso Lingis, Kluwer Academic, Dordrecht, 1991. Edmund Husserl Phenomenology of Internal Time Consciousness (1905–1910), ed. Martin Heidegger, trans. James S. Churchill, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1964.

4. ^ In this regard, I respect two of the protocols expounded by Howard Caygillʼs Levinas and the Political (Routledge, London, 2002); hereafter L&P. ʻInstead of separating Levinasʼs “philosophical” and his “Jewish” writings … the importance of the relationship between “Israel” and the State of Israel in Levinasʼs thought makes it essential to insist on them being read together.

And finally, given the inseparability of reflection on the political from political events, it is vital to pursue as far as possible a disciplined chronological exposition of the development of Levinasʼs thought and to avoid the luxury of the anachronistic pursuit of thematic parallels that is enjoyed by many commentatorsʼ (L&P 2–3).

5. ^ Emmanuel Levinas, ʻJewish Thought Todayʼ (1961), in Difficult Freedom – Essays on Judaism, trans. Seán Hand, Athlone Press, London, 1990, pp. 159–66, p. 160; hereafter JTT.

6. ^ See Franz Rosenzweig, The Star of Redemption (1919), trans. William W. Hallo, Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, 1985. 7. ʻThe yellow peril! It is not racial, it is spiritual. It is not about inferior values; it is to do with a radical strangeness, which is alien to all the density of its past, from where no voice with familiar inflection filters: it comes from a lunar or Martian past.ʼ Emmanuel Levinas, ʻLe Débat Russo-Chinois et la dialectiqueʼ (1960), in Les Imprevus de lʼhistoire, Fata Morgana, Montpellier, 1994, pp. 170–73, pp. 171–2.

8. ^ Maurice Merleau-Ponty, ʻEverywhere and Nowhereʼ, trans. Richard C. McCleary, in Signs (1960), Northwestern University Press, Evanston IL, 1964, pp. 126–58, p. 139.

9. ^ Emmanuel Levinas, ʻBeyond Dialogueʼ (1967), in Alterity and Transcendence, trans. Michael B. Smith,

Athlone Press, London, 1999, pp. 79–89.

10. ^ For the German context, see Hans Sluga, Heideggerʼs Crisis: Philosophy and Politics in Nazi Germany, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA and London, 1993. For the dominance of Neo-Kantianism in the France of the early twentieth century, see Vincent Descombes, Modern French Philosophy (1979), trans.

L. Scott-Fox and J.M. Harding, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1980, and the discussion in Caygillʼs first chapter, especially L&P 9ff.

11. ^ Jacques Derrida, ʻInterpretations at War: Kant, the Jew, the Germanʼ (1989), trans. Moshe Ron, in Acts of Religion, ed. Gil Anidjar, Routledge, New York and London, 2002, pp. 137–88, pp. 174–5.

12. ^ See Book One of Part III of The Star of Redemption. 13. Edmund Husserl, ʻThe Vienna Lectureʼ (1935) in The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology: An Introduction to Phenomenological Philosophy, trans. David Carr, Northwestern University Press, Evanston, 1970, pp. 269–99, p. 275; emphases added.

14. ^ Emmanuel Levinas, ʻLévy-Bruhl and Contemporary Philosophyʼ (1957), trans. Michael B. Smith and Barbara Harshav, in Entre nous: Thinking-of-the-other, Continuum, London and New York, 2006, pp. 34–45.

Lévy-Bruhl is referenced at TI 234 and TI 276.

15. ^ Lévy-Bruhl and Contemporary Philosophyʼ, p. 35, translation modified.

16. ^ ʻThe pure form of time is unknown to primitives, the instants each have their own different potential, in contrast to the homogeneity of the form of time (in Kant).ʼ Ibid., p. 42, translation modified. Compare the foregoing to the critique of ʻempty, homogeneous timeʼ in Benjaminʼs ʻTheses on the Philosophy of Historyʼ (trans. Harry Zohn, in Illuminations, Fontana Press, London, 1973, pp. 245–55). In this regard, see Nickolas Lambrianou, ʻNeo-Kantianism and Messianism: Origin and Interruption in Hermann Cohen and Walter Benjaminʼ, in Peter Osborne, ed., Walter Benjamin: Critical Evaluations in Cultural Theory, 3 vols, Routledge, London, 2004.

17. ^ Levinas, ʻLévy-Bruhl and Contemporary Philosophyʼ, pp. 42–3.

18. ^ Ibid., pp. 36, 41.

19. ^ Emmanuel Levinas, ʻReflections on the Philosophy of Hitlerismʼ (1934), trans. Séan Hand, Critical Inquiry 17, Autumn 1990, pp. 62–71, p. 64.

20. ^ Emmanuel Levinas, ʻPlace and Utopiaʼ (1950), in Difficult Freedom – Essays on Judaism, trans. Seán Hand,

Athlone Press, London, 1990, pp. 99–102.

21. ^ Commenting on ʻReflections on Hitlerismʼ, Caygill writes: ʻEach [pagan and Christian civilization] has its own way of structuring time, in particular historical time; each has its own understanding of destiny and freedom and both have their opposed “predeterminations or prefigurations of their adventure in the world”ʼ (L&P 32).

22. ^ Emmanuel Levinas, ʻFranz Rosenzweigʼ (1965), trans.

Michael B. Smith, in Outside the Subject, Athlone Press, London, 1993, pp. 49–66, p. 62.

23. ^ Emmanuel Levinas, ʻSpace is Not One-dimensionalʼ (1968), in Difficult Freedom, pp. 259–64, p. 262.

24. ^ Hermann Cohen, Religion of Reason Out of the Sources of Judaism (1919), trans. Simon Kaplan, Frederick Ungar, New York, 1972. Here, religion is a ʻnew extensionʼ of the concept of man, as individual, and humanity, which mark the limit of traditional ethical understanding (ibid., pp. 19–32). It teaches ethics to say ʻThouʼ to ʻheʼ.

25. ^ ʻHowever, the original and primal concept of knowledge does not reach a concrete totality of experience in this context, any more than it reaches a concept of existence.

But there is a unity of experience that can by no means be understood as a sum of experiences, to which the concept of knowledge as teaching [Lehre] is immediately related in its continuous development. The object and content of this teaching [Lehre], this concrete totality of experience, is religion, which, however, is presented to philosophy in the first instance only as teaching [Lehre].ʼ

Walter Benjamin, ʻOn the Program of the Coming Philosophyʼ (1918), trans. Mark Ritter, in Selected Writings: Volume 1 – 1913–1926, ed. M. Bullock and M. Jennings,

Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, London, 1996, pp. 100–110, p. 109.

26. ^ Crucially, reason is taken to have entered world history with the democratic revolutions of the eighteenth century. In essays such as ʻMessianic Textsʼ, he argues that Jews are no longer excluded from political or state history and as a result messianic thinking is no longer appropriate. Emmanuel Levinas, ʻMessianic Textsʼ in Difficult Freedom, pp. 59–96. As noted by Caygill, part of Levinasʼs valorization of technology is that it shows us that the gods are of this world (L&P 154).

27. ^ Robert Gibbs, Correlations in Rosenzweig and Levinas, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1992, p. 165.

28. ^ Emmanuel Levinas, ʻMeaning and Senseʼ (1964), trans.

Alphonso Lingis (revised by Simon Critchley and Adriaan T. Peperzak), in Basic Philosophical Writings, ed.

Adriaan T. Peperzak, Simon Critchley and Robert Bernasconi, Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1996, pp. 33–64, p. 64; hereafter MS.

29. ^ Kantʼs essay ʻWhat is Orientation in Thinking?ʼ (1786), trans. H.B. Nisbet, in Kant: Political Writings, ed. Hans Reiss, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1991, pp. 237–49, proves the precursor for this question of religion and orientation in thought. See also Nickolas Lambrianouʼs doctoral thesis for a thorough discussion of orientation in Cohen, Rosenzweig and Benjamin.

Nickolas Lambrianou, ʻOrigin and Becoming: Anticipation, Orientation and Creatureliness in the Work of Walter Benjamin, Hermann Cohen, Franz Rosenzweig and Hugo von Hofmannsthalʼ, Ph.D., Birkbeck College,

University of London, 2006.

30. ^ Stella Sandford, The Metaphysics of Love: Gender and Transcendence in Levinas, Athlone Press, London and New Brunswick, 2000, p. 124. See L&P 99ff. for a discussion of the ʻexcessiveʼ character of ethics which exceeds the noetic–noematic structure of intentional analysis.

31. ^ The term is introduced in ʻMeaning and Senseʼ.

32. ^ Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology (1943), trans. Hazel E.

Barnes, Routledge, London, 1969; hereafter BN.

33. ^ It should be noted that the crucial experience differs for the two writers: Sartre emphasizes the shame of being caught in a compromising act; Levinas, the shame of encountering a master who ʻbrings me more than I containʼ.

34. ^ In ʻSpace is not One-Dimensionalʼ (p. 300 n1), he observes that people can close themselves off from such encounters by ʻtranslating them into banal languageʼ.

This should be directly related to Heideggerʼs discussion of the chatter of they-talk.

35. ^ Here Derridaʼs concerns over the persistent spatiality of Levinasʼs metaphors are of central importance. Jacques Derrida, ʻViolence and Metaphysicsʼ, in Writing and Difference (1967) trans. Alan Bass, Routledge, London, 2001, pp. 97–192, pp. 139–46.

36. ^ Stéphane Mosès, Au-delà de la guerre: trios études sur Levinas, Éditions de lʼéclat, Paris and Tel Aviv, 2004, pp. 15, 102.

37. ^ Simon Critchley, ʻIntroductionʼ to The Cambridge Companion to Levinas, ed. Simon Critchley and Robert Bernasconi, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2001, pp. 1–32, pp. 27, 12.

38. ^ ʻHegel thus formulates the bad infinite: “Something becomes an other: this other is itself somewhat; therefore it likewise becomes an other, and so on ad infinitum.

This Infinity is the wrong or negative infinity; it is only a negation of a finite: but the finite rises again the same as ever, and is never got rid of and absorbed.” … In the situation we have described the other ([Autre] does not become likewise an other [Autre]; the end is not reborn, but moves off, at each new stage of the approach, with all the alterity of the Other [Autrui].ʼ Note the difference between the alterity of the different Autres compared to the alterity of Autrui. Levinas, Otherwise than Being, p. 193 n34. 39. Emmanuel Levinas, ʻIs Ontology Fundamental?ʼ (1951), in Basic Philosophical Writings, pp. 1–10; p. 7.

40. ^ Levinas, ʻFranz Rosenzweigʼ, p. 55.

41. ^ As he confirms in the interview with Rötzer: ʻNaturally there were first-rate thinkers like Claude Lévi-Strauss.

People read him with great interest, but no norms for thinking came out of it.ʼ Rötzer, ʻEmmanuel Levinasʼ, p. 57.

42. ^ Edmund Husserl, ʻPhilosophy as Rigorous Scienceʼ (1911), trans. Quentin Lauer, in Phenomenology and the Crisis of Philosophy, Harper & Row, New York, 1965, pp. 71–147.

43. ^ Husserl, ʻThe Vienna Lectureʼ, p. 283.

44. ^ In his essay on Lévy-Bruhl, Levinas notes that the privilege of Occidental reason comes not from the cogito (a transcendental or universal argument) but from the independence from history that its thought has achieved.

Levinas, ʻLévy-Bruhl and Contemporary Philosophyʼ, p. 43.

45. ^ Robert Bernasconi, ʻWho is My Neighbor? Who is the Other? Questioning “the Generosity of Western Thought”ʼ, in Ethics and Responsibility in the Phenomenological Tradition (Ninth Annual Symposium of the Simon Silverman Phenomenology Center), Duquesne University Press, Pittsburgh, 1992, pp. 1–31, p. 22.

46. ^ Levinas, Otherwise than Being, p. 170.

47. ^ Emmanuel Levinas, Ethics and Infinity: Conversations with Philippe Nemo (1982), trans. Richard A. Cohen,

Duquesne University Press, Pittsburgh, 1985, p. 114.

48. ^ §41 Deutschtum und Jugendtum, cited by Derrida, ʻInterpretations at Warʼ, p. 183.

49. ^ ʻThe living “gods of Greece” were worthier opponents of the living God than the phantoms of the Asiatic Orient. The deities of China as of India are massive structures made from the monoliths of primeval time which still protrude into our own times in the cults of “primitives.”ʼ Rosenzweig, The Star of Redemption, p. 35. And a later aside: ʻat least the gods of myth livedʼ (ibid., p. 38).

50. ^ ʻIt is probably because it evokes Greece that idolatry can still be preferred to something else! But idolatry also encompasses all the intellectual temptations of the relative, of exoticism and fads, all that comes to us from India and China, all that comes to us from the alleged “experiences” of humanity which we would not be permitted to reject.ʼ Emmanuel Levinas ʻAnd God Created Womanʼ, in Nine Talmudic Readings (1970), trans. Annette Aronowicz, Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1990, pp. 169–76, p. 176.

51. ^ This summary of Rosenzweig is synthesized from three brief sections: ʻAsia: The Unmythical Godʼ (pp. 35–8); ʻAsia: The Non-Plastic Worldʼ (pp. 57–60); ʻAsia: NonTragic Manʼ (pp. 73–6).

52. ^ Ibid., p. 36. Incapable, therefore of pluralism, leading Levinas to repeatedly make reference to ʻmassesʼ and ʻhordesʼ when referring to Asia and Africa.

53. ^ This notion of China overflowing with spirits (ibid., p. 35) may underlie Levinasʼs references to the ʻdensity of Chinaʼs pastʼ.

54. ^ Rosenzweig specifically categorizes Islam as pagan because of its once-and-for-all-time revelation in Mohammed; Judaism would also share this structure were it to rest with the Pentateuch. Indeed Islam is described as a pagan plagiarization of Judaism, with Mohammed ʻtaking overʼ revelation but neglecting the proper presuppositions of prophecy (ibid., p. 116) so that the Koran is only a ʻmagical miracleʼ and Allah (who is not God) only an ʻoriental despotʼ (ibid., p. 118).

55. ^ Rosenzweig glosses Eastern thought in terms of ʻPrimitive Atheismʼ, ʻPrimitive Phenomenalismʼ, and ʻPrimitive Idealismʼ.

56. ^ Rötzer, ʻEmmanuel Levinasʼ, p. 63.

57. ^ Robert Bernasconi, ʻWill the Real Kant Please Stand Up:

The Challenge of Enlightenment Racism to the Study of the History of Philosophyʼ, Radical Philosophy 117, January/February 2003, pp. 13–22.

58. ^ Ibid., p. 15.

59. ^ Bernasconi, ʻWho is my Neighbor? Who is the Other?ʼ, p. 14.

60. ^ Ibid., p. 2; Judith Butler, ʻPrecarious Lifeʼ, in Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence, Verso,

London and New York, 2004, pp. 128–51.

61. ^ See Gibbs, Correlations in Rosenzweig and Levinas, pp. 119, 145–6.

Download the PDFBuy the latest issue