Drew M. Dalton: Longing for the other: Levinas and metaphysical desire
In a 1981 interview Emmanuel Levinas remarked: “My task does not consist in constructing ethics; I only try to find its meaning.”1 Of course, herein lies the scandal. To uncover this ‘meaning’ is, as he had suggested some 30 years prior, to press through the existential “circuit of understanding with reality” and find ourselves and our discourse forged in a relation that is irreducible to comprehension, anterior to reason, and constituted by our fundamental relation with the other (autrui)—“my neighbor… the being par excellence.”2 So it is that ethics, for Levinas, precedes ontology, and moral consciousness is the condition of consciousness itself. It is this basic orientation, sustained and developed over a long and prodigious career, which has done much to shape contemporary discussions across the humanities and human sciences concerning intersubjectivity, alterity, and responsibility.
But what is perhaps most scandalous in this itinerary is Levinas’s insistence on venturing the...
- Levinas, Emmanuel. 1985 (1982). Ethics and infinity: Conversations with Philipe Nemo, 90 (trans: Cohen, Richard A.). Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press.Google Scholar
- Levinas, Emmanuel. 1996 (1951). “Is ontology fundamental?” In Emmanuel Levinas: Basic philosophical writings, ed. Adriaan T. Peperzak, Simon Critchley, and Robert Bernasconi, 5–6, 10. Bloomington, Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
- Levinas, Emmanuel. 1994 (1988). In the time of nations, 171 (trans: Smith, Michael B.). Bloomington, Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar