By Michaël de Saint Cheron Translated by Gary D. Mole
An ardent admirer and student of Emmanuel Levinas during the last decade of the philosopher’s life, Michaël de Saint Cheron sat down with his mentor for these interviews, conducted in 1983, 1992, and 1994. Throughout, their conversations provide further insight into the key concepts of responsibility, transcendence, holiness, and the hostage for understanding Levinas’s notion of ethics as first philosophy. As Levinas and Saint Cheron discuss a variety of topics — death and time in the philosophies of Heidegger and Bergson, eros and the feminine, the Judeo-Christian dialogue, Levinas’s differences of thought with Paul Ricœur, reflections on the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the “end of history” with the fall of Western Communism — we can clearly see Levinas’s ceaseless engagement with the justification for living after such horrors as those of Auschwitz, Hiroshima, Stalinism, Cambodia, or Rwanda.
Included here as well, following the interviews, are several essays in which Saint Cheron presents his own further considerations of their conversations and Levinas’s ideas. He writes of the relation of the epiphany of the face to the idea of holiness; of Sartre and, in particular, that existentialist thinker’s “revision” of Jews and Judaism in his final controversial dialogues with Benny Lévy; of the epiphanies of death in André Malraux’s writings; and of the radical breach effected in the Western philosophical tradition by Levinas’s “otherwise-than-thinking.” Finally, Saint Cheron pays homage to Levinas’s talmudic readings in an analysis of forgiveness and the unforgivable in Jewish tradition and liturgy, culminating in an inevitable confrontation with the Shoah from the perspective of Simon Wiesenthal’s harrowingThe Sunflower and some of the contemporary reactions to it.