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Toward the Outside

Concepts and Themes in Emmanuel Levinas

By Michael B. Smith

Publication Year: 2005

Unlike many recent studies that have purported to examine the scope of Levinas’s thinking, Toward the Outside is distinguished by its attention to texts from both of Levinas’s two main genres: the philosophical and the confessional. Organized into three parts, the first examines key pairs of concepts—totality/infinity, same/other, saying/said, among others. Smith demonstrates a keen attunement to the development of Levinas’s thought as an overall philosophical trajectory. In part 2, Smith more explicitly identifies themes that are essential to our better understanding of Levinas—Judaism and the Holocaust, temporality, Levinas’s treatment of Husserl and Heidegger, Derrida’s reading of Levinas, and others. Finally, in part 3, his commentary, based on close readings of selected Levinas texts, meticulously follows and highlights the development of Levinas’s thought.

Published by: Duquesne University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix

I wish to thank Dean Chaitram Singh of Berry College for recommending my sabbatical leave in the spring of 2001, which allowed me to write some of the early material from which this book developed; Susan Wadsworth-Booth for her editorial encouragement and reassurance along the way; ...


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pp. xi-xv

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pp. 1-16

The overall movement of Levinas’s philosophy is toward “the outside.” By this I do not mean to make a statement about the development of his philosophy, but about its constant polarity at every stage. This movement dominates his entire philosophy, and is already present in his first original work, ...

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Part One: Concepts

No philosopher begins entirely anew. In a sense, by taking as my point of departure an analysis of selected concepts, I begin with what is least specific to this thinker. But not only does every philosopher come to a much labored vineyard, so that his originality is manifested largely by his choice of ...

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pp. 19-36

The fundamental importance of this opposition is reflected in the title of Levinas’s major 1961 work Totality and Infinity. Although the opposition between totality and infinity is not a dialectical one in the Hegelian sense, it would be a mistake, as the French philosopher Pierre Hayat warns us, to think that Levinas ...

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pp. 37-42

The concepts of “same” and “other” are treated in Plato’s dialogue, the Sophist, and they play a prominent role in the metaphysics of Hegel. What is new in Levinas’s use of them is that he associates same with the “I” of subjectivity, and other with the other person and, in the form of illeity, with God. ...

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pp. 43-55

Language becomes increasingly central to Levinas’s philosophy as his career develops. As in the philosophy of Levinas’s contemporary Merleau-Ponty (1908–1961), language is both a system of signs, a code, and a domain preceding all decibels or inscription. I will have more to say about the similarities ...

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pp. 56-62

The terms “being” and “beyond being” are ontological. But there is an underlying ambiguity in writing about Levinas’s ontology. He considered his own thinking to differ from Heidegger’s, mainly on the issue of ontology. It remains to be determined (see below, chapter 6, “Ontology/Metaphysics,” ...

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pp. 63-65

“Person” and “thing” have become emblems for opposing systems of thought over the past century or so. The conflicting worldviews that have configured themselves around them — science and the humanities—are ontologically distinct. Keeping in mind this dichotomy, we can grasp what is at stake in the ...

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pp. 66-71

This chapter sketches out the relation between ontology and metaphysics, then more specifically the way these terms have been understood by phenomenologists, and finally Levinas’s specific understanding and use of them in his own work. The distinction may prove helpful in differentiating the projects of Heidegger ...

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pp. 72-76

The idea of not considering reciprocity, not requiring the same behavior of others, is repeated constantly throughout the later writings and interviews. In saying that “it is very difficult, because you, too, approach my face,” I don’t think Levinas is referring to the practical difficulty of getting through doorways ...

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Part Two: Themes

A topical approach, though less strictly philosophical, has the advantage of offering the freedom necessary to enter into an intertextual domain— Levinas and Husserl, Levinas and Heidegger, and finally Derrida’s reading of Levinas— and to pursue certain themes. Some are themes within Levinas’s ...

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pp. 79-84

It is generally assumed that the two works for which Levinas will be remembered are his two major philosophical contributions, Totality and Infinity (1961) and Otherwise than Being (1974). It is indeed true that it is in those works that Levinas has presented us with the fullest, most sustained and best “coordinated” ...

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pp. 85-90

The philosophical significance of grammar has long been apparent to linguists, linguistic philosophers, and philosophers in general. Levinas does not explore this topic directly, but his approach appeals at key moments to cases and parts of speech which play specific roles in philosophical expression, and in the ...

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pp. 91-108

Proximity is the field that Levinas opens between the same (or the subject) and the other, in which the “intrigue of the infinite” unfolds. It evokes a spatiality of a rather abstract nature since it is the distance between the poles of a relation. The relation between subject and other was central to Levinas’s philosophy ...

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pp. 109-121

The rise of anti-Semitism in the 1930s, the threat of totalitarianism, and the Holocaust itself not only “mark” Levinas’s work, they set in motion a complex intertwining of his philosophical reflection with the state of the world in which it unfolded. I have taken care in this chapter to present Levinas’s writings ...

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pp. 122-126

Phenomenology stands at the beginning of Levinas’s career as a philosopher, and it is therefore of some interest to consider what aspects of Husserlian phenomenology appealed to and affected the future development of his thought. He arrived in Strasburg (from Lithuania) in 1923 at the age of 18. ...

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pp. 127-139

This passage was omitted from the revision of the essay that Levinas published in 1949 in En découvrant l’existence avec Husserl et Heidegger. Both this text and numerous statements by Levinas in the course of interviews attest to his embarrassment at his youthful enthusiasm for that rising star among ...

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pp. 140-178

Jacques Derrida’s essay on Levinas, “Violence et métaphysique,” is a defense on Derrida’s part of other philosophers — namely Kierkegaard, Hegel, Husserl, and Heidegger— against what he considers to be Levinas’s inaccurate interpretation of them. This approach, though negative in an obvious sense, has the ...

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Part Three: Commentary

Levinas’s thought has left its trace in its most pregnant form in the original French texts, leading most surely to the potential “unsaid” that prolongs it and also serving as a “given” upon which future debates and interpretations will be based. Therefore I will at times supply both the original French and the English ...

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15. “DE L’ÉVASION” (1935)

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pp. 181-185

Levinas’s first original work, “De l’évasion,” was published in 1935 in Recherches Philosophiques. Bruno Roy, the director of Fata Morgana and a friend of Levinas’s, asked permission to republish it, but Levinas demurred until, in 1982, a former student of his, the late Jacques Rolland, resurrected the work ...

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pp. 186-209

This work was written during the war years, which Levinas spent in a prison camp in Germany. He mentions that circumstance to explain the absence of allusions to the most recent developments in French philosophy (the work of Merleau-Ponty and Sartre, which proceeded unimpeded by the German occupation: ...

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pp. 210-215

The preface to this major work sets out by placing it within the framework of a question not addressed in the same terms within the work itself. The question is whether or not one is “duped” by morality. Thus the book could be considered an extended answer to the question of whether there is any reason to be “moral,” ...

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18. DIFFICULT FREEDOM (1963, 1976)

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pp. 216-223

This collection of essays and articles, devoted either to Judaism or to Jewish themes (Jewish life in France, the relations between Jews and non-Jews, anti-Semitism, a commentary on the concept of Messianism, current events as they relate to the Jewish community, and a short autobiographical piece titled “Signature”), ...

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pp. 224-233

“Language and Proximity” was first published in the second edition of En découvrant l’existence avec Husserl et Heidegger (1967). It is not included in the English translation of selected items from that work (Discovering Existence with Husserl, 1998), but has been available in English since 1987 in ...

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pp. 234-239

As is the rule in Levinas’s talmudic commentaries, we begin with a text from the Talmud, in this case the Tractate Berakhot (Blessings) 61a. The first problem that the rabbis take up is one of spelling. Why does the word vayitzer (“he formed”) have two yods (Genesis 2:7) instead of the customary one? ...

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pp. 240-242

It is quite clear that Levinas has broken a major convention in his philosophical works, and that is to have spoken of God and of eschatological matters that are traditionally held to be more appropriate to theology than to philosophy proper. It does little good to adduce the cases of Descartes or Leibniz, or any number ...


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pp. 243-264


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pp. 265-270

E-ISBN-13: 9780820705538
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820703688
Print-ISBN-10: 0820703680

Page Count: 285
Publication Year: 2005