- Editor’s Introduction
For more than a decade, Levinas Studies has served admirably as the only English-language journal dedicated exclusively to the academic study of the thought of Emmanuel Levinas. It is an honor to coedit an issue of Levinas Studies — not only to contribute articles but also to organize an entire volume. Volume 11 of Levinas Studies gathers together essays from scholars who have (with the exception of James Mensch) participated in one or more of the annual Levinas Philosophy Summer Seminar (LPSS), held from 2013 to 2016, directed by Richard A. Cohen, with the assistance of James McLachlan, and organized jointly by Cohen and Jolanta Saldukaitytė, coeditors of the present volume.
The LPSS has met in different countries at different venues around the world, each time with ten invited international participants (and some additional auditors). Each summer these dedicated scholars join up for one very intense week of reading and conversation, finding a deeper understanding of an important topic in Levinas’s philosophy. As a one-week Seminar for College and University Teachers, 16 American scholars gathered at the University at Buffalo (SUNY), Buffalo, to discuss “Emmanuel Levinas: On Morality, Justice and the Political.” As the ancient Greek philosophers along with the biblical prophets understood, ethics and politics are inseparable. [End Page vii]
Participants usually attend only one LPSS, but some have returned for more, and two scholars have attended four. This and Levinas’s philosophy, and a few e-mail updates to former participants, have created a modicum of continuity and group spirit, or so we hope. The contents of the present volume of Levinas Studies contributes to that collegiality and continuing discussion, enabling a much wider audience of Levinas scholars to look over our shoulders, as it were, and join the conversation. Most of the topics and concerns of the present issue of Levinas Studies — embodiment, Eros, aesthetics, Kant, and difficult freedom — reflect those of past LPSS gatherings.
Volume 11 starts with Irina Poleshchuk’s essay, “Transcendence and Sensibility: Affection, Sensation, and Nonintentional Consciousness.” Underscoring the importance of sensibility in Levinas’s philosophy, she shows that subjectivity is not only a vulnerable and affected selfhood but also that, in and through, its sensible subjectivity is endowed with transcendence. Affected by the other, the vulnerability and sensibility of selfhood are “nonintentional” and radically passive. By introducing the phenomenon of a sensibility with two distinct dimensions — one on the level of enjoyment and the other on the suffering of the face-to-face encounter — she shows the double character of affection, both constituting and constituted. Sensibility is both source and shocked in the face-to-face relation. Elaborating sensibility as enjoyment and sensibility as nonintentional consciousness and passivity, Poleshchuk deepens our understanding of the core Levinasian structures of one-for-the-other and hospitality. In contrast to the idealistic leanings of philosophy’s ontological tradition, Poleshchuk shows that transcendence in Levinas’s ethical philosophy becomes flesh in sensibility.
Sensibility also features centrally in Brigitta Keintzel’s essay, “ ‘Like a Virgin’: Levinas’s Anti-Platonic Understanding of Love and Desire.” This essay questions how sensual love and ethical desire relate to Levinas’s description of the relations linking “intimate” and “real” society. On the one hand, she shows that Levinasian ethical desire coincides with the Platonic notion of love as desire, and hence not as an existing or already accomplished knowledge. On the other hand, Keintzel [End Page viii] underlines that Platonic love does not coincide with what Levinas calls “Desire,” since the latter is directed not toward an idea but toward the face of the Other. Love for Levinas begins as a subject addressed in his/her direct, vulnerable, traumatized passivity. Eros lies in love’s ability to orient itself to the future. Virginity, then, has to be understood beyond biological attributes, in relation to the intersubjective transcendence that defines the human as such. “Like a virgin” is not biological innocence, or eternal youth, or an exclusively female matter, but being “not-yet,” the open orientation of one to the Other. Finally, the figure of the Third — care for others, for justice — deepens the difference between ethical desire and...