Levinas and the Holocaust: A Reconstruction

in The Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy
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Abstract

Emmanuel Levinas remains one of the most influential and challenging writers in twentieth-century European philosophy. But while critics often accuse him of obscurantism, even sympathetic readers are not always enamored with Levinas’s highly emotive vocabulary. Although there are standard ways of reading Levinas’s work—usually through his phenomenological and/or Judaic heritage—in this paper I offer a different route of access. Drawing primarily on Primo Levi’s testimonial Holocaust writings, I argue that reading Levinas as a “post-Holocaust” thinker both clarifies key features of his work, and eases at least some of the frustration commonly experienced by readers.

Levinas and the Holocaust: A Reconstruction

in The Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy

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References

  • 1

    Primo Levi“The Survivor,” Collected Poemstrans. Ruth Feldman and Brian Swann (London: Faber and Faber 1988) 64.

  • 2

    Emmanuel Levinas“As If Consenting to Horror,” Critical Inquiry 15 no. 2 (Winter 1989): 488. See also Emmanuel Levinas Is It Righteous to Be? Interviews with Emmanuel Levinas ed. Jill Robbins (Stanford ca: Stanford University Press 2001) 137 178 186 (hereafter cited as irb); Emmanuel Levinas Nine Talmudic Readings trans. Annette Aronowicz (Bloomington: Indiana University Press 1994) 25 (hereafter cited as ntr).

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  • 5

    Dermot MoranIntroduction to Phenomenology (London: Routledge2002) 322 (hereafter cited as itp).

  • 7

    Gary GuttingThinking the Impossible: French Philosophy since 1960 (Oxford: Oxford University Press2011) 201. See also itp 352.

  • 13

    Emmanuel Levinas“The Paradox of Morality: An Interview with Emmanuel Levinas,” in The Provocation of Levinas: Rethinking the Othered. Robert Bernasconi and David Wood (London: Routledge1988) 175–176 (hereafter cited as pom). See also ds 33; Hannah Arendt “The Concentration Camps” in A Holocaust Reader: Responses to the Nazi Extermination ed. Michael Morgan (New York: Oxford University Press 2001) 58 (hereafter cited as tcc); Primo Levi Survival in Auschwitz: The Nazi Assault on Humanity trans. Stuart Woolf (New York: Simon and Schuster 1996) 86 (hereafter cited as sia); Elie Wiesel Night trans. Stella Rodway (London: Penguin 1981) 44 (hereafter cited as n); Elie Wiesel “A Plea For the Dead” in A Holocaust Reader: Responses to the Nazi Extermination ed. Michael Morgan (New York: Oxford University Press 2001) 71 73 (hereafter cited as apd).

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  • 20

    See also Kenneth Seeskin“What Philosophy Can and Cannot Say about Evil,” in A Holocaust Reader: Responses to the Nazi Exterminationed. Michael Morgan (New York: Oxford University Press 2001); Norman Geras “In a Class of Its Own?” in Moral Philosophy and the Holocaust ed. Eve Garrard and Geoffrey Scarre (Hants uk: Ashgate 2003).

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  • 30

    B. R. TilghmanWittgenstein Ethics and Aesthetics: The View from Eternity (Albany: State University of New York Press1991) 115.

  • 31

    David CockburnOther Human Beings (Basingstoke: MacMillan1990) 5 (hereafter cited as ohb).

  • 35

    See Bob PlantWittgenstein and Levinas: Ethical and Religious Thought (London: Routledge2005) hereafter cited as W&L.

  • 48

    John D. CaputoRadical Hermeneutics: Repetition Deconstruction and the Hermeneutic Project (Bloomington: Indiana University Press1987) 277; my emphasis.

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  • 72

    Jacques Derrida“To Forgive: The Unforgivable and the Imprescriptible,” in Questioning Goded. John Caputo Mark Dooley and Michael Scanlon (Bloomington: Indiana University Press2001) 43.

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  • 81

    See also Raimond GaitaGood and Evil: An Absolute Conception (London: Routledge2004) chap. 4.

  • 100

    Zygmunt BaumanPostmodern Ethics (Oxford: Basil Blackwell1995) 51.

  • 103

    See also Alphonso LingisThe Community of Those Who Have Nothing in Common (Bloomington: Indiana University Press1994) 158–159.

  • 121

    Jonathan Bennett“The Conscience of Huckleberry Finn,” Philosophy 49 (1974): 126 (hereafter cited as chf).

  • 124

    David Wood“Thinking with Cats,” in Animal Philosophy: Ethics and Identityed. Peter Atterton and Matthew Calarco (London: Continuum2004) 132. See also tsb 60–61.

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  • 164

    Martha NussbaumLove’s Knowledge: Essays on Philosophy and Literature (New York: Oxford University Press1990) 19.

  • 167

    See Simon GlendinningIn the Name of Phenomenology (London: Routledge2007) 150.

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