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The Intersubjectivity of Time

Levinas and Infinite Responsibility

by Yael Lin

Publication Year: 2013

“The essential theme of my research is the deformalization of the notion of time,” asserted Emmanuel Levinas in a 1988 interview, as he approached the end of his long philosophical career. But while the notion of time is fundamental to the development of every key theme in Levinas’s thought — the idea of the infinite, the issue of the alterity of the other, the face of the other, the question of our ethical relations with other people, the role of fecundity, speech and language, and radical responsibility — his view of time remains obscure. Yael Lin’s exhaustive look at Levinas’s primary texts, both his philosophical writings and his writings on Judaism, brings together his various perspectives on time. Lin concludes that we can, indeed, extract a coherent and consistent conception of time from Levinas’s thought, one that is distinctly political. First situating Levinas’s views against the background of two of his most influential predecessors, Henri Bergson and Martin Heidegger, The Intersubjectivity of Time demonstrates that Levinas’s interpretation of time seeks to fill a void created by the egological views those thinkers emphasized. For Levinas, time is neither considered from the perspective of the individual nor is it a public dimension belonging to everyone, but it occurs in the encounter between the self and the other person, and the infinite responsibility inherent in that relation. Yet Levinas himself is surprisingly vague as to how exactly this relation to the other person creates time’s structure or how it is experienced in our everyday lives, and he does not make an explicit move from this intersubjective ethical dimension to the broader collective-political dimension. Lin offers a unique perspective to address this crucial question of the political dimension of Levinas’s project. By turning to Levinas’s talmudic writings and examining aspects of Jewish life, traditions of communal prayer, and ritual, Lin sketches out a multivocal account of time, deepening Levinas’s original claim that time is constituted via social relationships. This imaginative and evocative discussion truly opens the subject to further research.

Published by: Duquesne University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-x

Time for Levinas is intersubjective. It is the interruption of the other person demanding me to respond, speak, and listen. In this sense, this book is not only a material object one can pick off the shelf, hold, smell, and browse through. It is an occasion, a temporal event. It developed from listening and responding to my teachers, students, colleagues, and...


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pp. xi-xii

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Introduction: From My Time to the Time between Us

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pp. 1-16

Time appears to be at once a constantly familiar nearness and yet a mystery. We have time, save time, spend time, and waste time, but every attempt to demystify time by grasping, thematizing, conceptualizing, and defining it seems to miss the heart of the matter. This book seeks to clarify the meaning of time in the writings of the...

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1. Bergson and Heidegger: Overcoming Scientific Time

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pp. 17-53

The notions of time and temporality play a prominent role in contemporary philosophical thought, and as Richard Cohen observes, these notions are as central today as eternity was in ancient and premodern philosophy.1 In order to fully appreciate the extent to which Levinas’s interpretation of time breaks new grounds, it is crucial to...

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2. On the Way to Intersubjective Time

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pp. 54-78

Levinas presents an understanding of time that in many significant ways preserves the model of time provided by Bergson and Heidegger, who find the locus of time in the human structure of existence. As discussed in the previous chapter, Bergson and Heidegger were among the first to break away from the traditional interpretation of time, to...

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3. Intersubjective Time: Fecundity

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pp. 79-105

Levinas presents an interpretation of time that is not merely a different way for considering the topic but an entirely new approach. For Levinas time is neither egological nor cosmological, neither interior nor exterior (see TI 290), neither Heideggerian-Bergsonian nor Aristotelian. His criticism of both the Aristotelian, traditional analysis...

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4. Intersubjective Time: Diachrony

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pp. 106-132

In his later thought Levinas abandons his view of fecundity and provides a different point of view for understanding time. In texts such as Otherwise than Being and “Diachrony and Representation” he discusses time in terms of the opposition between diachrony and synchrony. Although this approach to the question of time is unlike...

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5. From Ethical Time to Political Time

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pp. 133-157

The view of intersubjective time offered by Levinas can be considered as a way to satisfy the discontent with the Bergsonian-Heideggerian egological, synchronic time. This is particularly relevant to diachronic time, which is successful in going beyond the limited viewpoint of the individual. But does Levinas actually succeed in presenting a view...

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Afterthoughts: From Cronos to Moses: Bringing Together Levinas’s Views of Time

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pp. 158-181

This book has depicted Levinas’s view of time as continuing the views presented by Bergson and Heidegger while going beyond them. I have discussed the various perspectives Levinas undertakes in his approach to the question of time, arguing that a coherent and consistent structure of time can be extracted from his thought. Even...


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pp. 182-195


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pp. 196-206


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pp. 207-213

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780820705927
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820704630

Publication Year: 2013