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Levinas and Environmental Thought
Despite its attention to questions of ethics and “the ethical,” contemporary continental philosophy has often been disengaged from inquiring into our ethical obligation to nature and the environment. In response to this vacuum in the literature, Facing Nature simultaneously makes Levinasian resources more accessible to practitioners in the diverse fields of environmental thought while demonstrating the usefulness of continental philosophy for addressing major issues in environmental thought. Drawing on the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas, these scholars approach environmental philosophy from both humanistic and nonanthropocentric points of view. On the one hand, the book contributes to the discussion of environmental justice as well as the growth of ecophilosophical literature. At the same time, some of the essays take an interpretive approach to Levinas’s thought, finding that his work is able to speak to environmental thinkers whose positions actually diverge quite sharply from his own. While recognizing the limitations of Levinas’s writings from an environmental perspective, Facing Nature argues that themes at the heart of his work—the significance of the ethical, responsibility, alterity, the vulnerability of the body, bearing witness, and politics—are important for thinking about many of our most pressing contemporary environmental questions. Essays specifically highlight the otherness of nature, the vulnerability and suffering of nonhuman animals, the idea of an interspecies politics, the role of nature in ethical life, individual responsibility for climate change, and the Jewish understanding of creation as points of contact between Levinas’s philosophical project and environmental thought. Levinas is also brought into conversation with dialogue partners who enhance this connection, such as Theodor Adorno, Hanna Arendt, Tim Yilngayarri, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Henry David Thoreau. While widely relevant to all those who attempt to think through our ethical relation to the natural world, Facing Nature will be of special interest to scholars and students interested in both continental philosophy and the manifold areas of environmental studies.
The Philosophy of Generosity in Shakespeare and Marlowe
Forgiving the Gift challenges the tendency to reflexively understand gifts as exchanges, negotiations, and circulations. Lawrence reads plays by Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare as informed by an early modern belief in the possibility and even necessity of radical generosity, of gifts that break the cycle of economy and self-interest. The prologue reads Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus to show how the play aligns gift and grace, depicting Faustus’s famous bond as the instrument simultaneously of reciprocal exchange and of damnation. In the introduction, the author frames his argument theoretically by placing Marcel Mauss’s classic essay, The Gift, into dialogue with Jacques Derrida, Emmanuel Levinas, and Paul Ricoeur to sketch two very different understandings of gift-giving. In the first, described by Mauss, the gift becomes a covert form of exchange. Though Mauss contrasts the gift economy with the market economy, his description of the gift economy nevertheless undermines his own project of discovering in it a basis for social solidarity. In the second understanding of gift exchange, derived from the philosophy of Levinas, the gift expresses the radical asymmetry of ethical concern. Literature and philosophy scholars alike will benefit from the original readings of The Merchant of Venice, Edward II, King Lear, Titus Andronicus, and The Tempest, which constitute the body of the text. These readings find in the plays a generosity that exceeds the social practice of gift-giving, because extraordinarily generous acts of friendship or filial affection survive the collapse of social norms. Antonio inMerchant and the title character in Edward II practice a friendship whose extravagance marks its excess. Lear, on the other hand, brings about his tragedy by attempting to reduce filial love to debt. Titus also discovers a love excessive to social convention when rape and mutilation annihilate his daughter’s cultural value. Finally, Prospero in The Tempest sacrifices power and even his own life for the love of his daughter, giving a gift rendered asymmetrical by both its excess and its secrecy. While proposing new readings of works of Renaissance drama, Forgiving the Gift also questions the model of human life from which many contemporary readings, especially those characterized as new historicist or cultural materialist, grow. In so doing, it addresses questions of how we are to understand literary texts, but also how we are to live with others in the world.
An Introduction and Reader
The French School of Spirituality of the seventeenth century made vital contributions to a significant movement of spiritual renewal at a critical time in Catholic church history. Since Vatican II, interest in this tradition of spirituality has been rekindled. This tradition has even been called “the foundation of modern Catholic spirituality.” Raymond Deville’s work is a contemporary introduction to this school of spirituality. Deville’s work locates the French School of Spirituality within the context of seventeenth century France and its art, literature, and political science. He identifies the founder of this school, Cardinal de Bérulle, and his associates, Condren, Olier, John Eudes, John-Baptist de la Salle and Grignion de Montfort. Deville also identifies the key moments leading up to the “foundation” of the French School and describes its four major themes: a theocentric spirit of religion; mystical Christocentrism; the sovereignty of the Mother of God; and the meaning of the priesthood. The work also contains a collection of texts from other authors, which forms a framework for Deville’s reflections and comments. In addition, Deville gives a bibliography for further study including sections from the spiritual leaders of the French School themselves.
Reclaiming Seducation Theory and Revisiting Oedipus
One of the most important questions in Freud scholarship concerns why, after touting traumatic childhood sexual abuse as the cause of hysteria, Freud turned away from “seduction theory” and instead created the Oedipus complex and the theory of childhood sexuality. In this study, Mary Marcel applies the most recent clinical work on trauma and recovered memory to Freud’s memories. Her use of rhetorical analysis reveals that Freud’s own reasons for abandoning the seduction theory were unfounded and misanalyzed. Marcel relates how, near the beginning of his self-analysis in 1897, Freud recovered a memory of having been molested by his nurse in infancy. Deeply troubled, Freud misread a favorite Greek myth and created the Oedipus complex as a means of regaining a sense of control over himself and the nurse’s crime. Marcel’s book is a comprehensive analysis of both the original Oedipus myths and the Greek myths of father-daughter incest. Closely analyzing Freud’s biography, his early career, his letters to his confidante Wilhelm Fliess and the Oedipus myth in its full complexity, Marcel applies a multiplicity of methods and casts a completely new light on what is in fact Freud’s thorough misrepresentation of both Oedipus and the incest taboo. By analyzing Freud’s arguments, recovered memories from self-analysis and misuse of classical sources, Marcel uncovers why Freud turned away from seduction theory, misconstrued Oedipus, and was unable to cure his own neurosis.
"United as one individual Soul" in Paradise Lost
In this provocative study, Kristin A. Pruitt offers a close reading of pivotal passages and critical concerns in Paradise Lost and examines Milton’s presentation of Adam and Eve’s relationship through the intersections of theology and gender in the poem. By delving into several seventeenth century commentaries on Genesis, Pruitt examines the various depictions of Eve and presents Milton’s Eve and her relationship with Adam. In recent years, scholars have addressed the disparate, often contradictory positions on gender and hierarchy in Paradise Lost. However, Pruitt adds to the discussion another layer: that the dialectic in the poem—the parallels and reversals in structure, imagery, action, and characterization—offer a reading from multiple perspectives and means of understanding one of the poem’s principal messages, which is the dual emphases on individuality versus selfhood and relationship versus union as they illuminate the ideal of unity in diversity.
From God to the Gods
In various texts, Martin Heidegger speaks of god and the gods, but the question of how exactly Heidegger’s thought relates to theology and religion in a broad sense—and to God in a specific sense—remains unclear and in need of careful, philosophical excavation. Ben Vedder provides the first book-length study on Heidegger’s relation to the philosophy of religion, offering greater accessibility into an area that continues to fascinate philosophers, theologians, and all those interested in the philosophy of religion. Heidegger’s Philosophy of Religion: From God to the Gods deals intimately with hotly debated topics such as Heidegger’s interpretation of Saint Paul, Nietzsche and the death of God, ontotheology, and Heidegger’s discussion of the “last god,” taking into account the early, middle, and later texts of Heidegger. Significantly, Vedder draws heavily on Heidegger’s The Phenomenology of Religious Life, long available in German, but only recently available to English readers. Vedder describes the tension between religion and philosophy, on the one hand, and religion and poetic expression, on the other. If we grasp religion completely from a philosophical point of view, we tend to neutralize it; but if we conceive it in a simply poetic way, we tend to be philosophically indifferent to it. Vedder demonstrates how Heidegger speaks a “poetry of religion,” a description of humanity’s relationship to the divine, and why Heidegger’s thinking is ultimately a theological thinking. Clearly written and comprehensive in scope, Heidegger’s Philosophy of Religion: From God to the Gods represents a major step forward in Heidegger scholarship.
Philosophical and Literary Sightings of the Unseen
In spite of the injunction of philosophy to “know oneself,” we realize that we often act from motives that are obscure; we realize that we often do not fully understand how we feel or react. In short, we understand ourselves as not completely knowable. In attempting to know ourselves, we recognize that some aspects of ourselves—not unlike when we try to know others—are hidden from us. In Hiddenness and Alterity, Mensch seeks to define how the hidden shows itself. In pursuing this issue, Mensch also raises a parallel one regarding the nature and origin of our self-concealment. In developing the theme of the exceeding quality of selfhood, in which part of our self is truly “other,” Mensch presents a unified theory of alterity. He examines how our acknowledgment (and suppression) of the other shapes our thought in ethics, politics, epistemology and theology. Further, he demonstrates such “sightings of the unseen” through original readings of the major figures of the phenomenological movement: Husserl, Levinas, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Derrida, Nietzsche, Lacan and Fackenheim. He draws further on works by Herman Melville and Joseph Conrad to examine the inherent alterity of our flesh and its implications for the ways in which we relate to the world around us.
From Antiquity to the Middle Ages
While we all seem to talk about politics, few of us actually know how today’s issues fit into the framework of political history. Indeed, as contemporary French philosopher Philippe Nemo points out, much of our Western secondary education is increasingly compartmentalized and provides no overarching framework for thought or any chronological bearings. With this engaging and comprehensive volume, Nemo provides just such context, as he traces the origins of political thinking from the earliest prestates through subsequent eras to allow us to better understand today’s super states. Nemo sets forth the premise that the beginnings of political thought—our political science—can be traced to three primary sources: the philosophers and thinkers of the Greek city-state, Roman law, and the Christian Gospels. He analyzes the pre-Greek prepolitical societies and, leaning on the work of anthropologists, shows that while these societies may have had organizing principles, they did not have the concept of an evolving jurisdiction that governed the people—a concept that is the foundation of political thought. From the Greeks—Plato, Aristotle, Xenophon, and the Stoics—Nemo moves on to the Romans. He demonstrates how Cicero, Seneca, and Tacitus added that sense of evolving jurisdiction and shaped political thought for generations to come. Finally, the impact of Christian thought is examined, including a discussion of the “political” ideas present in biblical texts and the attitudes of Christians living under the Roman Empire. Tracing the birth and development of canon law and the influence of numerous Christian thinkers and writers—including Saints Paul, Augustine, and Thomas Aquinas—Nemo reveals the additional layer these have added to the history of political organization. By including little-known details and fascinating stories, Nemo makes these historical figures and their thought come alive for us—and, in the process, provides us with an understanding of the foundations upon which the contributions of modern (and postmodern) political thinkers continue to build.
The rich history of the Christian church — with its centuries of dramas, splendors, achievements, and controversies — has long provided a deep source of inspiration for artists. Our own cultural familiarity with the historical aspects of this tradition, however, has waned in recent years. Thus, there exists an odd paradox: works of art have never been more carefully preserved and enhanced; museum exhibitions and visits to view artwork in churches and cathedrals have never been more popular. Yet the historical events and theological ideals depicted in such artistic masterpieces are quite often unknown or misunderstood.
The History of the Church through 100 Masterpieces has been designed to give that deeper meaning back to our experience of these paintings by providing insightful descriptions of the stories they purport to tell. Jacques Duquesne and François Lebrette choose a beautiful array of works — some already well known to us as visual images — to discuss, recounting both the historical events and the religious and cultural background surrounding them.
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.