There is [Il y a]–impersonally–like it is raining or it is night. None of the generosity which the German term ‘es gibt‘ is said to contain revealed itself between 1933-1945. This must be said! Enlightenment and meaning dawn only with the existents rising up and establishing themselves in this horrible neutrality of the there is.

-Levinas, “Signature,” 1966

5 thoughts on “

  1. Those who find this generosity a little cryptic: “gibt” is the third person singular of “geben” which is “giving”. “it gives” would be a word by word and wrong translation of “es gibt”.

    • Yes, but it’s more than likely Levinas has in mind Heidegger (that butcher of the German language) in the passage above. In “Letter on Humanism,” it’s pretty clear Heidegger intends this expression “es gibt” to be taken literally as “it gives:”

      For the “it” which here “gives” is Being itself. The “gives,” however, designates the essence of Being, which gives and which confers its truth.

      Later on, Heidegger tells us that he makes use of “es gibt” in order to avoid suggesting that “Being is,” since the verb “is” would only be appropriate for entities, not Being. It turns out to be–as you most likely know already–one of Heidegger’s favorite phrases because it expresses Being’s generous gesture like Plato’s Good that illuminates and gives reality to being.

  2. Before I move on to the most recent quote, am I following this correctly Levinas, contra Hiedegger, breaks the unidirection of Being -> beings (the silence of H on mass graves could be seen as a manifestation of this neutralism) and endows the latter a certain active determining capacity not allowed by H?

    Will.

    • Right, in Heidegger’s ontology the move is not from “existing” to the “existent” but rather, it’s the other way around, e.g. from “existent” to “existence.” In both Time and the Other and Existence and Existents, the search for a new way of evading being turns into a concern to explain a mode of transcendence that does not negate the need (necessity) of responsibility. Instead, both texts locate the originary signification of the mode of transcendence in relation to the other person. Levinas uses the term, “hypostasis,” to describe the release of the “I” from anonymity and introduces it to a world of its own. This suggests that the subject is “master” and persists at a distance with regards to itself. Yet, this “mastery” is the fact of its being a basis of suffering, and is to be opposed to a site of security. Levinas draws upon this experience of suffering, which destabilizes the mastery of the subject from domination to a freedom for responsibility. In this sense, I see Levinas correcting what he thinks is Heidegger’s flawed notion of transcendence as possible only if thought as an “ecstasy” toward the end wherein Dasein claims its ownmost being.

  3. Thank you for your reply, you covered a lot in a very succinct manner which I need some time to digest and follow up. I have read very little of Levinas directly, but I can fill in some of the blanks with what I have read in Derrida.

    I’m excited as fragments are starting to link together, as with Hiedegger you have the indeterminacy and the impersonality of the “the-they” which I would think also links into “there-is” in which da-sein merely partakes in the passivity that makes responsibility impossible.

    The stakes here then is Levinas trying to get Heidegger back on the hook regarding holocaust via a fundamental exposure to a singular and determined other.

    “Levinas uses the term, “hypostasis,” to describe the release of the “I” from anonymity and introduces it to a world of its own.”

    The world of its own constituted by relation to singular other?

    Yet, this “mastery” is the fact of its being a basis of suffering, and is to be opposed to a site of security.

    Less a mastery perhaps, but a distinctness opposed to the undifferentiated mass of “the-they”? This singular relation precisely being an exposure to other that is fundamental. At the same time I think the respected positions share a similarity of a certain passivity which for H manifests in being a part of an amorphous mass, and for L being at the mercy of the other.

    In this sense, I see Levinas correcting what he thinks is Heidegger’s flawed notion of transcendence as possible only if thought as an “ecstasy” toward the end wherein Dasein claims its ownmost being.

    Yes I agree, I find it fascinating the implications of the respective positions “I was caught up in the mood” verses “you took a stance, you single me out”.

    All of this marvellously leads on to the next quote….

    Will.

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