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Totality and Infinity at 50

edited by Scott Davidson and Diane Perpich

Publication Year: 2012

The year 2011 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Emmanuel Levinas’s Totality and Infinity, which now stands as one of the classic texts of the second half of the twentieth century. At this anniversary, this collection of essays suggests that a revitalized understanding of the text is needed. While readers can easily fall into routine readings and discussions of this originally provocative—even intoxicating—text, Totality and Infinity at 50 invites students of Levinas to explore new avenues into the work by charting a map of Levinas scholarship for the next 50 years. From the problem of the other, the emphasis of ethics as first philosophy, the text’s theological implications, and the focus on the role of the feminine, Totality and Infinity has been the subject of a wide range of interpretations and scholarly interests since its publication. While these various emphases have contributed to a greater understanding of Levinas’s philosophy, they can also have the cumulative effect of leading us to believe that all of the different options have been explored. In contrast, this volume argues that there is still more to be said about this seminal book, inspiring readers to look beyond routine readings and worn themes of Totality and Infinity. As a result, these Levinas scholars provide essays that offer a fresh account of the argument and purpose of Totality and Infinity; draw parallels between Levinas and other thinkers including Marx, Stanley Cavell, and Édouard Glissant; consider Levinas’s relationship to other disciplines such as nursing, psychotherapy, and law; and bring this seminal text to bear on specific, concrete issues of present-day concern. With this focus, Totality and Infinity at 50 envisions a renewed and newly invigorated relationship with Totality and Infinity, so that Levinas’s philosophy might remain a vital companion to us in the next half-century.

Published by: Duquesne University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

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Introduction: On a Book in Midlife Crisis

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pp. 1-10

The year 2011 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Emmanuel Levinas’s Totality and Infinity, a work widely regarded as one of the most significant philosophical texts produced in the second half of the twentieth century...

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1. Joy beyond Boredom: Totality and Infinity as a Work of Wonder

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pp. 11-28

Totality and Infinity has been presented variously as a metaphysical treatise; as a book on the primacy of ethics over ontology, on ethics as first philosophy, and on the Other; as a critique of intentionality, a defense of subjectivity...

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2. Unspoken Unity: I, Who Enjoy and Desire

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pp. 29-55

In Levinas’s phenomenology, the face is one term involved in the metaphysical relationship moving between the face of the other and the subjectivity of the same. His analysis of the face is often seen as his fundamental...

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3. “All that Is Holy Is Profaned”: Levinas and Marx on the Social Relation

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pp. 57-78

The presence of a deep affinity between Marx and Levinas, especially in Totality and Infinity, is a subject that, though occasionally broached, largely has been overlooked.1 An essential level at which to explore...

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4. Emmanuel Levinas as a Philosopher of the Ordinary

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pp. 79-104

From early in his career Stanley Cavell has sought to show how ordinary language and our ordinary, everyday lives ought to be the primary locus of philosophical interest and concern. In this regard he has drawn...

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5. The Fundamental Idea of Emmanuel Levinas’s Philosophy

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pp. 105-125

According to a standard way of thinking, philosophy is occupied with a diverse set of questions. It deals with questions of knowledge, action, art, and still others. For the most part, philosophers understand...

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6. Don’t Try This at Home: Levinas and Applied Ethics

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pp. 127-152

As Levinas’s thought has become more familiar in disciplines as diverse as sociology, nursing, psychology, education, and law, the question of the import of his work in practical and applied fields needs to be addressed...

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7. Law, Ethics, and the Unbounded Duty of Care

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pp. 153-170

The great sundering accomplishment of Totality and Infinity: An essay on Exteriority lies in the way in which it reconfigured our relationship to others. It asked us to understand our responsibilities in a more...

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8. The Rights of the Other: Levinas and Human Rights

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pp. 171-187

This proposal to conjoin Levinas and human rights might be met initially with reservations from some Levinas scholars, especially those who would be concerned that an emphasis on human rights would betray...

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9. Ethics as Teaching: The Figure of the Master in Totality and Infinity

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pp. 189-208

The figure of the master occupies a unique place among the figures of alterity that populate Totality and Infinity. Unlike the feminine and the child that appear later, it emerges in the initial stage in which...

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10. Turning toward the Other: Ethics, Fecundity, and the Primacy of Education

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pp. 209-226

Emmanuel Levinas returned to Paris immediately following the murderous years of World War II, during which he served as an interpreter before his unit was captured. He then spent the duration of the war, 1940–45, first in Frontstalags...

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11. Future Interval: On Levinas and Glissant

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pp. 227-252

I begin my reflections here by evoking two moments in the cinema of catastrophe. A first site: in Life and Nothing More, the second volume of Abbas Kiarostami’s “Earthquake Trilogy,” the film director...

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12. Levinas’s Ethical Critique of Levinasian Ethics

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pp. 253-269

Since its appearance in 1961, Levinas’s Totality and Infinity has largely been promoted as a book about ethics, but important though ethics already was for him, the question of ethics was not the primary question...


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pp. 271-297

About the Contributors

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pp. 299-302


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pp. 303-310

E-ISBN-13: 9780820705835
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820704524

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2012