The Primacy of Disruption in Levinas’ Account of Transcendence

in Research in Phenomenology
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Abstract

I present ‘disruption’ as what is most fundamental to Levinas’ account of transcendence. I argue that one should read his treatment of the Other as a modulation of transcendence, and prioritize the structures of positionality and solitude as the conditions that make transcendence possible. Hence, Being is transcended insofar as these structures have ‘always already’ articulated the rupturing of the subject, which, for Levinas, constitutes her transcending. Included in my argument is a critique of reading Levinas’ project as undermining the fundamentally solitary nature of human existence because of his focus on alterity. Such a reading reduces Levinas’ account of alterity, instead of maintaining its signification as that which is ‘never there.’ It is the solitary existent who is vulnerable before an ‘already gone by’ alterity, such that her subjectivity is radically disrupted. For Levinas, an encounter with alterity is the agony of finding no one, or having nowhere, from which I can be granted wholeness or justification. It follows that transcendence is fundamentally concretized in a positioned solitude, and not in some inter-subjective space.

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