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Nietzsche and Levinas

Nietzsche and Levinas: "After the Death of a Certain God"

Jill Stauffer
Bettina Bergo
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Nietzsche and Levinas
    Book Description:

    The essays that Jill Stauffer and Bettina Bergo collect in this volume locate multiple affinities between the philosophies of Nietzsche and Levinas. Both philosophers question the nature of subjectivity and the meaning of responsibility after the "death of God." While Nietzsche poses the dilemmas of a self without a ground and of ethics at a time of cultural upheaval and demystification, Levinas wrestles with subjectivity and the sheer possibility of ethics after the Shoah. Both argue that goodness exists independently of calculative reason-for Nietzsche, goodness arises in a creative act moving beyond reaction and ressentiment; Levinas argues that goodness occurs in a spontaneous response to another person. In a world at once without God and haunted by multiple divinities, Nietzsche and Levinas reject transcendental foundations for politics and work toward an alternative vision encompassing a positive sense of creation, a complex fraternity or friendship, and rival notions of responsibility.

    Stauffer and Bergo group arguments around the following debates, which are far from settled: What is the reevaluation of ethics (and life) that Nietzsche and Levinas propose, and what does this imply for politics and sociality? What is a human subject-and what are substance, permanence, causality, and identity, whether social or ethical-in the wake of the demise of God as the highest being and the foundation of what is stable in existence? Finally, how can a "God" still inhabit philosophy, and what sort of name is this in the thought of Nietzsche and Levinas?

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51853-6
    Subjects: Philosophy, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Abbreviations of Works by Nietzsche and Levinas
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    Emmanuel Levinas is no doubt the most original ethical thinker of the last century. And Friedrich Nietzsche arguably poses him the deepest ethical challenge. As such, it is often supposed that the two have little in common, not least because of the radical difference in approach and in style that separates their works. Yet while the differences between them are numerous, Nietzsche and Levinas are also thinkers with profound similarities. Both radically reevaluate the traditional ground of ethics and morality, and, further, both are united in their apprehension of the risk that nihilism poses to ethics and to life in...

  6. I. Revaluing Ethics:: Time, Teaching, and the Ambiguity of Forces

    • 1 The Malice in Good Deeds
      (pp. 23-32)

      Emmanuel Levinas locates the ethical experience neither in the rationality of the social regulation of behavior, nor in the imperative for rationality internal to the mind, but in an event, a specific form of encounter among humans: when I find another facing me. He or she who faces me is not simply exposing himself or herself to me as an object of my perception but is calling for my attention and speaking to me. Before speech is informative, it is vocative and imperative. It is the voice of a vulnerable and mortal body. In the other facing me Levinas finds...

    • 2 The Imperfect: Levinas, Nietzsche, and the Autonomous Subject
      (pp. 33-47)

      What is clear but also surprising about the terrain inhabited jointly by Nietzsche and Levinas is its shared fixation on ethics. Levinas is the philosopher of an all-surpassing responsibility against which there has never been an opportunity to choose and that seems to be given to us by a God. Nietzsche’s philosophical oeuvre stands for the will to power of free spirits who live on after the death of God. This may leave us asking: Is ethics so broad that it can house two figures who inhabit opposite ends of a spectrum that distances self from other, will from passion,...

    • 3 Nietzsche and Levinas: The Impossible Relation
      (pp. 48-69)

      We ought to be able to let go of facile interpretations that make Nietzsche the herald of self-affirmation and Levinas that of the relationship to the Other. In fact, each of these thinkers attempted to reflect on the articulation between subjectivity and the opening to the other. To put these two philosophers in dialogue has nothing artificial to it, then. This is all the more true because both unfold their reflection from a common basis: a shared critique of the subject that lies in the representation of self and a common description of originary subjectivity as enjoyment [jouissance]. Nevertheless, as...

    • 4 Ethical Ambivalence
      (pp. 70-80)

      I do not have much to say about why there is a return to ethics, if there is one, in recent years, except to say that I have for the most part resisted this return, and that what I have to offer is something like a map of this resistance and its partial overcoming that I hope will be useful for more than biographical purposes. I’ve worried that the return to ethics has constituted an escape from politics, and I’ve also worried that it has meant a certain heightening of moralism and this has made me cry out, as Nietzsche...

    • 5 Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Thus Listened the Rabbis: Philosophy, Education, and the Cycle of Enlightenment
      (pp. 81-96)

      One narrative in the history of philosophy is a story about the search for truth. This narrative reveals an underlying story about a particular model of philosophical education and how that truth can be attained. Yet, in spite of its own attempts at self-critique, and in spite of the variations on how truth and knowledge are defined, philosophy continually appropriates the same model of education. Although it appears to take different forms, the model of education, which doubles as the model of philosophy, expresses the same features: a master teacher who not only does not learn but who also has...

  7. II. The Subject:: Sensing, Suffering, and Responding

    • 6 The Flesh Made Word; Or, The Two Origins
      (pp. 99-115)

      We are now a half century away from the last writings of Martin Buber and the first magnum opus of Levinas, Totality and Infinity (1961). While both thinkers deformalized consciousness, Buber explicitly took up Nietzsche’s heritage to this end. He did this as late as I and Thou (1923).¹ Writing in the 1940s, Levinas will face the prospect of deformalizing Heidegger’s Dasein through a return to embodied states (nausea, lassitude, shame), even to significant dimensions of life itself (fatigue, labor, pleasure, sexuality). His multiple experiments with embodiment in On Escape (1936) and Existence and Existents (1947) are clear evidence that...

    • 7 Nietzsche, Levinas, and the Meaning of Responsibility
      (pp. 116-133)

      “Responsibility” is usually defined in terms of the juridical concept of self-responsibility where, as Bernhard Waldenfels puts it, the “dialogical idea of giving account, inherited from the Greeks, meets the juridical idea of imputation (imputatio) invented by the Romans.”¹ In his genealogy of responsibility, Robert Bernasconi helpfully outlines the individualism and the notion of temporality assumed in the usual definition.² This legal idea of backward-looking accountability (and blame), he suggests, becomes linked, in the late eighteenth century, with the moral idea of accountability that focuses on the agent’s forward-looking conscious intention. While providing a means of making the individual accountable...

    • 8 Beginning’s Abyss: On Solitude in Nietzsche and Levinas
      (pp. 134-149)

      Ethics or the anti-moralist. What more is there to say? Either moral consciousness reflects the degeneration and death of a dancing star or ethics is first philosophy. That is, there is either Nietzsche or Levinas.

      Yet there is always more to say. How are we to say more? To what end? Where might we locate a conversation between Nietzsche and Levinas? These are our first and most crucial questions. Location is of course everything, and location is especially difficult in this conversation. Levinas has had little to say about Nietzsche; even treating those scattered evocative and provocative statements, a reader...

    • 9 Beyond Suffering I Have No Alibi
      (pp. 150-164)

      Suffering and vulnerability to the cruelty of violence constitute the contexts of Nietzsche’s and Levinas’s accounts of morality and moral value. Suffering, moreover, is central for both of them to the formation of moral selfhood. For Nietzsche, it is through the refusal of the meanings attributed to suffering by the herd that the sovereign noble both differentiates himself from the herd and contemplates a reversal of the will, which has become mired in forms of ascetic idealism that are “hostile to life.” For Levinas, ethical responsibility is premised on the radical differentiation of suffering in me from the suffering of...

    • 10 Levinas, Spinozism, Nietzsche, and the Body
      (pp. 165-182)

      Levinas’s rejection of “Spinozism” means far more than a rejection of the philosophy of Baruch Spinoza. Spinozism certainly includes the philosophy of Spinoza, but it also includes the thought of such apparently disparate figures as Hegel, Marx, Freud, Heidegger, and, as I shall argue, Nietzsche. What then does Levinas mean by “Spinozism”? What is his argument against it? And how does Spinozism—and hence Levinas’s radical opposition to it—manifest itself in Nietzsche’s philosophy? These questions guide the present inquiry.

      Levinas’s opposition to Spinozism and his reasons for it are summed up in the final sentence of the first part...

  8. III. Heteronomy and Ubiquity:: God in Philosophy

    • 11 Suffering Redeemable and Irredeemable
      (pp. 185-198)

      Absolute responsibility is significance as my signifying to another my always-already, a priori having answered yes to another’s always-already having required of me that I be not violent to him or her. My affirmation is a priori in that it precedes my having heard another human being’s words—“You shall not kill”—words that may be understood, consistent with what Levinas writes, as a prohibition of any deed that diminishes the duration or quality of the life of another, diminishes his or her well-being. The responsibility thus affirmed is absolute because it is a necessary condition of responsibilities constituted by...

    • 12 Levinas’s Gaia Scienza
      (pp. 199-213)

      The possibility of a rapprochement between Nietzsche and Levinas might seem either evident or quite incomprehensible. It appears evident only insofar as we remain open to the madness, even the violence that gave birth to and impels both men’s thought. But it remains incomprehensible so long as we hold fast to rigid schemas and “clichés,” like that which characterizes Levinas as the philosopher of goodness and fidelity to a certain god, and the one that defines Nietzsche as a cynic without ethics, destroyer of all morality and every god. For this and other reasons, I choose without hesitation to embrace...

    • 13 Levinas: Another Ascetic Priest?
      (pp. 214-231)

      On the Genealogy of Morals offers Nietzsche’s most systematic, pervasive, and devastating criticism of all moralities based on the notion of a transcendent good inhibiting life, the enjoyment of life, and the will to power. Nietzsche does not simply question a certain morality; rather, he challenges “the value of morality,” and especially of that “morality of pity” (GM Preface: 5) in which “ ‘moral,’ ‘unegoistic,’ ‘désintéressé’ [are taken] as concepts of equivalent value” (GM 1:2). Nietzsche’s well-known criticism can be reformulated as focusing on three issues: altruistic morality stems from ressentiment, fosters asceticism, and displaces the value of life onto...

    • 14 Apocalypse, Eschatology, and the Death of God
      (pp. 232-248)

      Nothing separates the thinking of Nietzsche and Levinas more than the question of the “death of God,” its extent and significance, and yet despite this distance they are drawn together in this very questioning, even if this signals an impossible resolution. In the case of Nietzsche, philosophical and theological arguments concerning the death of God abound, ranging from the simple assertion of God’s nonexistence, to the paralysis of nihilism attending such an event, to the absolute release into a total freedom. For Levinas, the matter is more obscure, but it is perhaps best construed as the demise of a certain...

  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 249-258)
  10. List of Contributors
    (pp. 259-262)
  11. Index
    (pp. 263-272)