Emmanuel Lévinas , originally Emanuelis Lévinas

Lévinas , originally Emanuelis Lévinas

Lithuanian-born French Philosopher, Ontologist, Ethicist and Talmudic Commentator

Author Quotes

Reason is alone. And in this sense knowledge never encounters anything truly other in the world. This is the profound truth of idealism. It betokens a radical difference between spatial exteriority and the exteriority of instants in relation to one another.

The solitude of the subject results from its relationship with the existing over which it is master. This mastery over existing is the power of beginning, of starting out from itself, starting out from itself neither to act nor to think, but to be.

Recurrence is more past than any rememberable past , any past convertible into a present. The oneself is a creature, but an orphan by birth or an atheist no doubt ignorant of its Creator, for if it knew it it would again be taking up its commencement . The recurrence of the oneself refers to the hither side of the present in which every identity identified in the said is constituted.

The whole acuity of suffering lies in this impossibility of retreat. It is the fact of being backed up against life and being. In this sense suffering is the impossibility of nothingness.

Someone may object that material things extend beyond the realm of our present perception. It belongs to their very essence to be more than what is intimated or revealed in a continuum of subjective aspects at the moment of perception. They are also there when we do not perceive them: they exist in themselves.

Things are never known in their totality; an essential character of our perception of them is that of being inadequate.

Spectres, ghosts, sorceresses are not only a tribute Shakespeare pays to his time, or vestiges of the original material he composed with; they allow him to move constantly toward this limit between being and nothingness where being insinuates itself even in nothingness, like bubbles of the earth...

This impersonal, anonymous, yet inextinguishable 'consummation' of being, which murmurs in the depths of nothingness itself we shall designate by the term there is. The ‘there’ is, inasmuch as it resists a personal form, is 'being in general'.

The anonymous current of being invades, submerges every subject, person or thing. The subject-object distinction by which we approach existents is not the starting point for a meditation which broaches being in general.

This way death has of announcing itself in suffering, outside all light, is an experience of the passivity of the subject, which until then had been active and remained active even when it was overwhelmed by its own nature, but reserved its possibility of assuming its factual state.

The comprehension of God taken as a participation in his sacred life, an allegedly direct comprehension, is impossible, because participation is a denial of the divine, and because nothing is more direct than the face to face, which is straightforwardness itself.

This world, in which reason is more and more at home, is not habitable. It is hard and cold like those depots in which are piled up goods that cannot satisfy: neither clothe those who are naked, nor feed those who are hungry; it is as impersonal as factory hangars and industrial cities in which manufactured things remain abstract, true with statistical truth and borne on the anonymous circuit of the economy, resulting from skillful planning decisions which cannot prevent, but prepare disasters. There it is, the mind in its masculine essence, living on the outside, exposed to the violent, blinding sun, to the trade winds that beat against it and beat it down, on a land without folds, rootless, solitary and wandering and thus already alienated by the very things which it caused to be produced and which remain untameable and hostile.

The expression 'in one's skin' is not a metaphor for the in-itself; it refers to a recurrence in the dead time or the meanwhile which separates inspiration and expiration, the diastole and systole of the heart beating dully against the walls of one's skin.

This, available in respect of the past, but captive to itself exudes seriousness of being where he is committed.

It is necessary to dig deeper, down to the very meaning of the notion of being, and to show that the origin of all being, including that of nature, is determined by the intrinsic meaning of conscious life and not the other way around.

The exterior - if one insists on this term - remains uncorrelated with an interior. It is no longer given. It is no longer a world. What we call the I is itself submerged by the night, invaded, depersonalized, stifled by it.

To be conscious is to be torn away from the there is, since the existence of a consciousness constitutes a subjectivity, a subject of existence, that is, to some extent a master of being, already a name in the anonymity of the night.

It is not by chance that Plato teaches us that matter is eternal, and that for Aristotle matter is a cause; such is the truth for the order of things. Western philosophy, which perhaps is reification itself, remains faithful to the order of things and does not know the absolute passivity, beneath the level of activity and passivity, which is contributed by the idea of creation.

The idea of infinity… is an overflowing of… new powers to the soul…- powers of welcome, of gift, of full hands, of hospitality.

To become conscious of a being is then always for that being to be grasped across an ideality and on the basis of a said. Eyen an empirical, individual being is broached across the ideality of logos. Subjectivity qua consciousness can thus be interpreted as the articulation of an ontological event, as one of the mysterious ways in which its 'act of being' is deployed.

It is the very transcending characteristic of this beyond that is signification. Signification is the contradictory trope of the-one-for-the-other. The-one-for-the-other is not a lack of intuition, but the surplus of responsibility. My responsibility for the other is the for of the relationship, the very signifyingness of signification, which signifies in saying before showing itself in the said.

The light that permits encountering something other than the self, makes it encountered as if this thing came from the ego. The light, brightness, is intelligibility itself; making everything come from me, it reduces every experience to an element of reminiscence. Reason is alone. And in this sense knowledge never encounters anything truly other in the world. This is the profound truth of idealism. It betokens a radical differ­ence between spatial exteriority and the exteriority of instants in relation to one another. In the concreteness of need, the space that keeps us away from ourselves is always to be conquered. One must cross it and take hold of an object – that is, one must work with one’s hands. In this sense, ‘the one who works not, eats not’ is an analytic proposition. Tools and the manufacture of tools pursue the chimerical ideal of the suppression of distances. In the perspec­tive that opens upon the tool, beginning with the modern tool – the machine – one is much more struck by its function which consists in suppressing work, than by its instrumental function, which Heidegger exclusively considered. In work – meaning, in effort, in its pain and sorrow – the subject finds the weight of the existence which involves its existent freedom itself. Pain and sorrow are the phenomena to which the solitude of the existent is finally reduced.

To deny the totality of being is for consciousness to plunge into a kind of darkness, where it would at least remain as an operation, as the consciousness of that darkness. Total negation then would be impossible, and the concept of nothingness illusory.

Just when everything is lost, everything is possible.

The moral consciousness can sustain the mocking gaze of the political man only if the certitude of peace dominates the evidence of war. Such a certitude is not obtained by a simple play of antitheses. The peace of empires issued from war rests on war. It does not restore to the alienated beings their lost identity. For that a primordial and original relation with being is needed.

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Lévinas , originally Emanuelis Lévinas
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Lithuanian-born French Philosopher, Ontologist, Ethicist and Talmudic Commentator