Levinas and the Cinema of Redemption (NDPR review)

Michael Morgan reviews Levinas and the Cinema of Redemption: Time, Ethics, and the Feminine in the NDPR:

The question that I kept before me as I was reading this book and preparing to write this review is whether philosophers can learn anything valuable from it. After all, it is a book written by someone who has published extensively on film, it treats various Hollywood and European films that are classics and certainly worthy of attention, and it purports to engage with the work of an important twentieth-century philosopher as part of its project. To be sure, one can learn something even from a book that has significant deficiencies, but what I have been asking myself is something different. It is whether a philosopher could learn anything positive from the book. Does the book say helpful and interesting things about Emmanuel Levinas? Does it show us how to explore films in the light of Levinas’s philosophical work? Does it read films in a way that is philosophically novel and interesting, about film itself or about these particular films? I wish that I could answer “yes” to one or more of these questions, but I cannot. The most I can say is that in the course of reading what Girgus has to say about Levinas and the nine or so films he discusses, one is provoked to reflect upon a number of problems and issues concerning Levinas and film, and although Girgus has nothing particularly helpful to say about most of them, it is worthwhile to have them called to our attention. Continue reading

Commonplaces of Academic Life: NDPR Review of Levinasian Meditations

Since I wasn’t all that interested in reading it to begin with, I completely forgot Richard Cohen’s  Levinasian Meditations had already been published until I saw this review by Martin Kavka in the NDPR just now.  The review certainly  makes for some interesting reading.   While Kavka admits Cohen broaches some important, if not crucial topics in Levinasian scholarship (and beyond), there seems to be a defensive tone that runs through the whole book:

Levinasian Meditations, in its structure, embodies a claim frequently found in scholarship on Levinas, namely that Judaism and its other-centered ethics, through its countercultural stance, can play a role in saving the modern West from the historical evils that have resulted from the West’s tendency either to create social commonalities through political violence or to erase social difference through genocide and ethnic cleansing. Those who read these essays seriatim will quickly infer that many of them are, at least in part, responses to unnamed others who have offered dismissive responses either to Cohen’s approach to Levinas or to Levinas’s philosophy tout court. It strikes me as very possible that readers of Levinasian Meditations will misinterpret it as a result. Continue reading

A Boring CFP Post: North American Levinas Society

Sixth Annual Conference and Meeting
“Celebrating Totality and Infinity at 50”
May 1-3, 2011 | Texas A&M University

Call for Papers

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the publication of Totality and Infinity, the North American Levinas Society invites submissions of individual paper and panel proposals for our sixth annual meeting and conference, hosted by Texas A&M University, to be held May 1-3, 2011. We are especially interested in organizing the conference around considerations of Totality and Infinity, with regard to both its historical framework and relevant contemporary readings and questions that the work continues to engender. Although preference will be given to papers that address the conference theme, papers and panels on any topic related to Levinas will be considered. Continue reading

Levinas as a Negative Theologian?

There is an odd, but I suppose understandable, tendency to  “theologize” negative dialectics.  Both Adorno and Levinas are often read from a negative theological standpoint. For Adorno, such a view is tempting, but ultimately (and problematically) assimilates a view of Adorno as the other-wordly, potentially conservative metaphysician/aesthete, who, having been disillusioned by politics, sought refuge in the beyond. I’ve recently read through Michael Fagenblat’s A Covenant of Creatures: Levinas’s Philosophy of Judaism with interest.  Really, how can one not want to read on after this opening sentence: “Another book on Emmanuel Levinas?”  However, I’m not sure how convinced I am of his claim in the second half of the book that Otherwise than Being is best understood as a work of negative theology, or rather, as  a Judaic ethical negative theology.  Continue reading

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

The monotonous ursurpation of “the Other”

Here are the first few paragraphs of an article (or review), “Back to the Other Levinas: Reflections prompted by Alain P. Toumayan’s Encountering the Other: The Artwork and the Problem of Difference in Blanchot and Levinas,” by Michael Fagenblat (incidentally, I’ve been enjoying his new book on Levinas in my non-existent spare time):

Since the exultant reception of Levinas work, particularly in the United States, an imposing obstacle to this oeuvre has steadily been erected. It is not Levinas complicated, often unstated philosophical disputations, nor his exhortatory style, nor even the originality of his argument that constitute the most formidable obstructions to his work today. On the contrary, the greatest difficulty today is the ease with which Levinas is arrogated, a facility that risks making him so accessible as to be wholly irrelevant. The ubiquity in contemporary intellectual circles of an ethics of the other leads, from ever diverse paths, directly to Levinas; and it is just this that prevents us from reading him well. Continue reading

Sartre as Levinas?

From Sartre’s (notorious?) interviews/discussion with Benny Levy, collected in Hope Now:

The Jewish religion imples that this world will end and, at the same time, another world will appear–another world that will be made of this one but in which things will be made of htis one but in which things will be differently arranged.  There is another theme I like: the Jewish dead–and others too, for that matter, will come back to life, they will return to earth.  Contrary to the Christian conception, they–the present Jewish dead–have nno existence other than that of the grave, but they will be reborn as living beings in this new world.  This new world is the end. Continue reading

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.

Conversations with Emmanuel Levinas (forthcoming this month)

Conversations with Emmanuel Levinas


By Michaël de Saint Cheron Translated by Gary D. Mole

$18.95  paper
ISBN: 978-0-8207-0428-9

200 pages

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. Continue reading

Levinas at Davos

Yesterday I mentioned Levinas’s impression of the Davos dispute from an interview with Francois Poire (it can be found in Is it Righteous to Be? Interviews with Levinas, 33ff).  In that same interview, here’s Levinas describing the play put on by the students in which he played Cassirer:

At that time I had an abdundance of black hair; we put a lot of white power on my hair in order to evoke the noble gray head of the master.  As for Bolnow [who played Heidegger]…I furnished him with the reply which to me seemed to caricture the eymological findings of Heidegger: “Because interpreting means to put a thing upside down.”

Levinas is asked if people felt a “great trembling” at Davos:

Certainly! Cassirer presented an order which was going to be undone.  Now one has a slanted perspective which perhaps falsifies memories.  I think that Heidegger announced a world that was going to be turned over.  You know who he would join three years later; one would have to have had the gift of prophesy to sense this already at Davos.  I have thought for a long time–in the course of those terrible years–that I had felt it then, in spite of my enthusiasms.  The value judgments of them have necessarily changed over time.  And during the Hitler years I reproached myself for having preferred Heidegger at Davos. Continue reading