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Longing for the Other

Levinas and Metaphysical Desire

By Drew M. Dalton

Publication Year: 2009

One of the most persistent and poignant human experiences is the sensation of longing—a restlessness perhaps best described as the unspoken conviction that something is missing from our lives. In this study, Drew M. Dalton attempts to illuminate this experience by examining the philosophical thought of Emmanuel Levinas on longing, or what Levinas terms “metaphysical desire.”

Metaphysical desire, according to Levinas, does not stem from any determinate lack within us, nor does it aim at a particular object beyond us, much less promise any eventual satisfaction. Rather, it functions in the realm of the infinite where such distinctions as inside and outside or one and the other are indistinguishable, perhaps even eliminated. As Levinas conceives such longing, it becomes a mediator in our relation to the other—both the human other and the divine Other.

Dalton follows the meandering trail of Levinas’s thought along a series of dialogues with some of the philosophers within the history of the Western tradition who have most influenced his corpus. By tracing the genealogy of Levinas’s notion of metaphysical desire—namely in the works of Plato, Heidegger, Fichte, Schelling, and Otto—the nature of this Levinasian theme is elucidated to reveal that it is not simply an idealism, a “hagiography of desire” detached from actual experience and resulting in a disconnect between his phenomenological account and our own lives. Rather, Levinas’s account of metaphysical desire points to a phenomenology of human longing that is both an ethical and religious phenomenon. In the end, human longing is revealed to be one of the most profound ways in which a subject becomes a subject, arising to its “true self,” and hearing the call to responsibility placed upon it by the Other.

Throughout, Dalton explicates the nuance of a number of key Levinasian terms, many of which have been taken from the Western philosophical tradition and reinscribed with a new meaning. Eros, the “Good beyond being,” shame, responsibility, creation, the trace, the il y a, and the holy are discovered to be deeply tied to Levinas’s account of metaphysical desire, resulting in a conclusion regarding longing’s role in the relationship between the finite and the Infinite.

Published by: Duquesne University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-ix


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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii-xiv

A work in progress now for a number of years, there are so many people who have contributed to the fi nal completion of this project, both directly and indirectly, that the task of composing an acknowledgements complete enough to include them all becomes frankly impossible, something akin to constructing a map of a city on a 1:1 scale. Within this city of contributors, there ar...

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Introduction: Levinas and the Problem of Human Longing

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pp. 1-16

It is the aim of philosophy in general, and the special province of phenomenology in particular, to come to the aid of human experience by enlightening and informing through rigorous study and tireless pursuit those phenomena which constitute it. Considered in light of this charge, the work of Emmanuel Levinas stands out as one of the most fecund examples of philosophical...


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pp. 17

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ONE. The Origins, Aim, and Ends of Human Longing: Levinas and Plato in Dialogue

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pp. 19-66

Levinas never uses the term “longing” in his work. This is not because, as we have already noted, he is not interested in it as a phenomenon, but rather because his native language does not provide him with a suitable equivalent. Longing is traditionally rendered in French merely as désir, though it is sometimes modified as being a particularly grand, intense, or ardent désir...

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TWO. Longing and Striving for the Beyond: Levinas and Heidegger in Dialogue

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pp. 67-110

The influence of Martin Heidegger on the thought of Emmanuel Levinas cannot be overestimated. As Philippe Nemo put it in an interview with Levinas, though he may have gone to “Fribourg to follow Husserl’s teachings, [he] discovered there a philosopher he did not know beforehand, but who would have a capital importance in the elaboration of [his] thought: Martin...


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pp. 111

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THREE. The Ethics of Longing: Levinas and Fichte in Dialogue

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pp. 113-164

Metaphysical desire is, according to Levinas, inexorably bound to the appearance of the Other, whose arrival on the scene opens up the possibility of the ethical choice by calling into question the subject’s complicity with its own being.1 Metaphysical desire is thus for him primarily an ethical movement, a movement which contends with choices made in the social realm — a realm situated...


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pp. 165

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FOUR. The Metaphysics of Longing and Creature-Consciousness: Levinas and Schelling in Dialogue

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pp. 167-223

In Totality and Infinity Levinas famously identifies ethics as a sort of “spiritual optics,” as a means of observing within the phenomenally apparent that which lies out beyond appearance, beyond essence — in other words, as a means of catching sight of that which lies beyond the pale of the visible and pertains...

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FIVE. Longing and the Numinous: Levinas and Otto in Dialogue

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pp. 224-261

Over the course of our investigation of Levinas’s dialogue with the history of philosophy a clearer picture of his understanding of the nature of human longing has slowly emerged. As we have seen, longing is for him a kind of insatiable and interminable movement within human nature — one which is not circumscribable by any...


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pp. 263-291


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pp. 293-304


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pp. 305-313

E-ISBN-13: 9780820705460
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820704258

Page Count: 327
Publication Year: 2009