The Exorbitant: Emmanuel Levinas Between Jews and Christians

The Exorbitant: Emmanuel Levinas Between Jews and Christians

John D. Caputo series editor
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 304
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    The Exorbitant: Emmanuel Levinas Between Jews and Christians
    Book Description:

    We are exorbitant, and rightly so, when we cut any link we may have to cosmological powers. Levinas invites us to be exorbitant by distancing ourselves from visions of metaphysics, epistemology, and theology. We begin to listen well to Levinas when we hear him inviting us to break completely with the pagan world in which the gods are simply the highest beings in the cosmos and learn to practice an adult religion in which God is outside cosmology and ontology. God comes to mind neither in our attempts to think him as the creator of the cosmos nor in moments of ecstasy but in acts of genuine holiness, such as sharing a piece of bread with someone in a time of desperate need. Levinas, in short, enjoins us to be exorbitant in our dealings with one another. This book asks how the betweenof Levinas's thinking facilitates a dialogue between Jews and Christians. In one sense, Levinas stands exactly between Jews and Christians: ethics, as he conceives it, is a space in which religious traditions can meet. At the same time, his position seems profoundly ambivalent. No one can read a page of his writings without hearing a Jewish voice as well a a philosophical one. Yet his talk of substitution seems to resonate with Christological themes. On occasion, Levinas himself sharply distinguishes Judaism from Christianity--but to what extent can his thinking become the basis for a dialogue between Christians and Jews? This book, with a stellar cast of contributors, explores these questions, thereby providing a snapshot of the current state of Jewish-Christian dialogue.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-4778-3
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Introduction: Levinas the Exorbitant
    (pp. 1-16)

    The wordexorbitanttakes us deeply into the thought of Emmanuel Levinas (1906–95). On first hearing the word, and letting it return to its native strangeness, we are likely to remember from school or college the Latin masculine nounorbis, meaning “disk, ring, circle,” even “eye.” We may also recallorbis terrae, the globe on which we live,orbis lacteus, the Milky Way, and images of the whole such asorbis doctrinaeor encyclopedia. We may think too oforbita, the track of a wheel or the circuit of a planet or a moon. A planet, comet, or asteroid...

  5. Levinas Between German Metaphysics and Christian Theology
    (pp. 17-31)

    Emmanuel Levinas is most famous for his claim that “ethics is first philosophy.” By this he means primarily to criticize the priority given to ontology, to the question of being as such, in Martin Heidegger’s philosophy in particular and in the Western philosophical tradition more generally. Levinas aims to show that my obligation to another person constitutes the starting point of all truth. Philosophy cannot fully grasp what Levinas calls the “face of the other.” Philosophy can, however, by way of a phenomenological retrieval, recover what ontology—the quest for the meaning of being—has forgotten: namely, the way in...

  6. The Disincarnation of the Word: The Trace of God in Reading Scripture
    (pp. 32-51)

    Philosophyandtheologyare not only terms that are open to renegotiation in each generation, they are also terms that fit different religious communities differently. Levinas was never a theologian, but that means something quite different from saying that Kant was never a theologian (although Hegel was) or that Frege was never a theologian. It means something quite different from asking what theology continued to mean for Heidegger throughout his philosophical thinking. For Jewish thought is not oriented by the specific opposition between theology and philosophy that one can surely find in Augustine and cannot quite escape today. Indeed, I...

  7. Secrecy, Modesty, and the Feminine: Kabbalistic Traces in the Thought of Levinas
    (pp. 52-73)

    Various scholars have discussed the possible affinities between Levinas and kabbalistic tradition,¹ despite his unambiguous critique of mysticism on the grounds that the experience of union it presumes effaces the transcendence beyond ontology² that grounds the radical difference between human and divine, the basis for the alterity that serves as the foundation for the ethical responsibility that one must bear for the other.³ The focus of the scholarly discussion has been on certain key terms and ideas, largely drawn from the teachings transmitted in the name of the sixteenth-century master Isaac Luria, to wit, the notion of withdrawal of the...

  8. Against Theology, or “The Devotion of a Theology Without Theodicy”: Levinas on Religion
    (pp. 74-89)

    Theologyis a notoriously difficult term to define, owing both to the depth of its meaning and to its long and varied usage in the West. Etymologically, the term is a combination of two classical Greek words:theos, referring to the divine, andlogos, referring to word, speech, manifestation, reason, science, or logic. Both of these words are perhaps no less difficult to define. We can nevertheless say that the termtheologyis commonly used to mean reasoned speech about God. In this way it is a term akin to such words asbiology, anthropology, andetymology, except that common...

  9. Is the Other My Neighbor? Reading Levinas Alongside Hermann Cohen
    (pp. 90-107)

    “Der Ferne ist der Nahe geworden”; “The distant one has become the near one.” This statement represents a key claim from a 1910 essay by the German-Jewish philosopher Hermann Cohen entitled “Conviction” (“Gesinnung”), an essay that belongs to a series of works by him concerning the question of love of the neighbor. The claim that it represents is—like all the arguments made by Cohen in his writings on “the neighbor”¹—both a matter of Jewish-Christian polemic and part of a philosophy of morality, sociality, law, and politics.

    As an observation concerning something that “has” occurred (that the distant one...

  10. “Love Strong as Death”: Levinas and Heidegger
    (pp. 108-129)

    In philosophy and in theology, as in all else, the question we pose and how we pose it can make all the difference. In the case that concerns us (Emmanuel Levinas and his relation to two particular religious traditions: Judaism and Christianity), recognizing this basic fact about our investigations seems as pressing as ever.

    My own approach to the issue assumes that we are led astray when we put the question in such a way as to ask whether or not Levinas is a Jewish philosopher, whether or not he offers a Jewish conception of God, or whether or not...

  11. On Levinas’s Gifts to Christian Theology
    (pp. 130-149)

    The name Emmanuel Levinas looms large in contemporary philosophical and religious discourse. His work marks an attempt to think in the wake of Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger; beginning with phenomenology, and in the shadow of the Heideggerian question of Being, he tries to create an opening for the interruption of thought by alterity. More specifically, he tries to show that the ethical relation with the other person is prior to, even the condition for, thought.¹ Levinas is of interest philosophically because he traces a path where not being but being’s other has the first word.² And he is of...

  12. The Prevenience and Phenomenality of Grace; or, The Anteriority of the Posterior
    (pp. 150-170)
    Michael Purcell

    Tout est grâce. All is grace; grace is everywhere. These words mark the closure of the diary of a country priest (Journal d’un curé de campagne), fictional or otherwise, by Georges Bernanos. Perhaps, as Levinas might say: “True as only fiction can be,”¹ like Yosel Rakover’s address to God from the Warsaw Ghetto, a God who has not left a forwarding address. PerhapsJournal d’un curé de campagneis as “true as only fiction can be.” Dying, and in death, the Curé d’Ambricourt, whose life and ministry of service for others can be read as desolation and isolation, finds himself...

  13. Profligacy, Parsimony, and the Ethics of Expenditure in the Philosophy of Levinas
    (pp. 171-187)

    The ethics of Emmanuel Levinas is one of radical self-giving, of boundless expenditure in the interest of the other. Does not giving without reserve encourage an ethic of prodigality, an unlimited generosity that, in the long run, may exhaust the resources of the self so that future giving is impaired? If the prodigality of Levinasian giving is not to result in the depletion that is likely to follow upon sheer profligacy, must there not also be a turn to a parsimony that would husband the resources needed for further expenditure? What is more, if self-giving in acts of total selfdonation...

  14. Excess and Desire: A Commentary on Totality and Infinity, Section I, Part D
    (pp. 188-200)

    Levinas could be disarmingly clear about his position regarding Christianity. Explaining himself in a 1983 conversation in Geneva, he observed: “I say of the face of the neighbor what the Christian says of the face of Christ.”¹ This, of course, is only a singular expression of what was barely unstated in numerous passages dating at least from the 1950s, wherever Levinas invoked a messianism that is concretized specifically in ethics. But a messianism it truly is, and one that is clearly not without a robust conception of God sustaining it. “It is for man to save man,” he wrote, “the...

  15. The Care of the Other and Substitution
    (pp. 201-210)

    The striking originality of Emmanuel Levinas can be felt on every page of his work. But it is perhaps nowhere more striking than when he speaks of the notion, introduced between 1968 and 1974, thus late in his career, of substitution.

    This notion is astonishing, in fact, since it marks a redoubling of responsibility—in other words, “one degree of responsibility more, the responsibility for the responsibility of the other”—that involves me substituting myself for the other in what is most his own, his own responsibility: “the overemphasis of openness is responsibility for the other to the point of...

  16. Should Jews and Christians Fear the Gifts of the Greeks? Reflections on Levinas, Translation, and Atheistic Theology
    (pp. 211-215)

    What in Levinas’s thinking is Jewish, and what is Christian? There is no good reason to think that these questions will be easier to answer than the question What is Jewish, and what is Christian?

    Here is a familiar dialectic. You are tempted to say of some idea or doctrine:thatis essentially Jewish and not at all Christian, orthatis essentially Christian and not at all Jewish. Perhaps you succumb to the temptation. Then you find—depending on your predilections, either to your despair or to your delight—that something excruciatingly hard to distinguish from that very idea...

  17. Thinking about God and God-Talk with Levinas
    (pp. 216-229)

    Emmanuel Levinas is a Jewish thinker. This claim has at least three meanings, two of them quite unproblematic, while the third is more than a little. First, in his confessional writings (Jerusalem, Talmud) he is overtly a Jewish thinker. Second, in these writings he is with equal clarity not a Christian. Third, in his philosophical writings (Athens, phenomenology) the matter becomes a bit muddy. He appeals to phenomenological evidence or, perhaps better, postphenomenological nonevidence, in a manner addressed to philosophers who need not be Jewish or share his reverence for the Talmud. We are all supposed to see what he...

  18. Words of Peace and Truth: A-Dieu, Levinas
    (pp. 230-242)

    I take my subtitle from the eulogy delivered by Jacques Derrida upon the death of his friend and mentor Emmanuel Levinas.¹ It is true, as Kevin Hart states in the Introduction to this volume, that Levinas breaks the easy elision of the supernatural and the natural by transferring the burden of responsibility to human beings in their interaction with one another. It would seem that, while Levinas presses for the truth, his exorbitant description of the asymmetry between human beings dislodges the individual from any form of solipsism. To be responsive to the other who makes demands upon me would...

  19. Notes
    (pp. 243-300)
  20. Contributors
    (pp. 301-306)
  21. Index
    (pp. 307-308)
  22. Back Matter
    (pp. 309-312)