Levinas and Sartre


I was re-reading some interviews with Levinas today and I came across an odd encounter he had with Sartre.  In 1964 Levinas wrote a letter to Jean Paul Sartre congratulating him for refusing the Noble Prize for Literature.  In an interivew in Is it Righteious to Be? Levinas wrote that Sartre:

perhaps was the only man who had the right to speak, and maybe this was the moment where he had to speak: to go to Nasser in Egypt to propose peace with Israel. Crazy Idea! But I told him, “You’re the only man Nasser will listen to (43).

Upon receipt of the letter Sartre, allegedly, asked: “Who is this Levinas anyway?”  Levinas was somewhat offended.  For, over twenty years before this episode, Sartre had stumbled across an early publication by Levinas on Husserl and declared “All this I wanted to say myself, but Husserl has already said it.”  Regardless, the offense dissipated shortly thereafter when Sartre invited Levinas to contribute to an issue of Les temps modernes about the Palestinian question.  Levinas, I believe, wrote “Poltics After!”( in either New Talmudic Readings or Nine Talmudic Readings), which is about the meeting between Sadat and Begin and the ensuing hope for a peaceful resolution.

3 thoughts on “Levinas and Sartre

  1. I have read (I think in Simone de Beauvoir) the story of Sartre getting Levinas’ book on Husserl and reading it as they walked along without cutting the pages, he was so eager to wolf it down. Maybe he skipped the title page with the author’s name.

  2. Thanks for the story. I have been wondering about the relationship between Sartre and Levinas. Both seem to have been cut from the same phenomenological cloth. And both seem equally difficult to wear. Whereas Sartre is a bit too loose, Levinas is a bit too tight.

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