Saturday, July 19, 2008

Levinas Course - take 2


“We propose to call ‘religion’ the bond that is established between the same and the other without constituting a totality”

- Emanual Levinas, Totality and Infinity

In a previous blog entry, I had said that I found the philosophical ideas of Emanuel Levinas steeped in religion and in Judaism in particular. I had quoted Levinas himself as saying, that he saw his philosophical endeavors as “translating the Hebrew into Greek.” As I continue taking my Levinas course (which I am enjoying greatly – thanks Corey!) I am struck over and over and over again by the religious, and Jewish, and specifically “misnagdik” and Reconstructionist Jewish, echoes I hear in Levinas’ words.

Some examples:

“ Conversation, from the very fact that it maintains the distance between me and the Other, the radical separation asserted in transcendence which prevents the reconstitution of totality, cannot renounce the egoism of its existence. But the very fact of being in conversation consists in recognizing in the Other a right over egoism, and hence in justifying oneself. Apology, in which the I at the same time asserts itself and inclines before the transcendent, belongs to the essence of conversation.”
Sounds like prayer and tshuva to me.

“Transcendence designates a relation with a reality infinitely distant from my own reality, yet without this distance destroying this relation and without this relation destroying the distance, as would happen with relations within the same; this relation does not become an implantation in the other and confusion with him, does not affect the identity of the same, is ipseity, does not silence the aplogy, does not become apostasy and ecstasy.”
I hear theVilna Gaon in these words.

“Morality will oppose politics in history and will have gone beyond the functions of prudence or the canons of the beautiful to proclaim itself unconditional and universal when the eschatology of messianic peace will have come to superimpose itself on the ontology of war.”
I hear traces of Isaiah here.

“… infinity is produced in the relationship of the same to the other,… the particular and the personal, which are unsurpassable, as it were, magnetize the very field in which infinity is enacted.”
Buber could have written that.

“Infinity does not first exists, and then reveal itself. Its infination is produced as revelation, as the positing of the idea in me.”
Shades of Mordeccai Kaplan, IMO.

And finally this:
“Metaphysical desire longs not for return, for it is desire for a land not of its birth, …and to which we shall never betake ourselves. … The metaphysical desire … desires beyond everything that can simply complete it. It is like goodness – the Desired [note the capital D! -sn] does not fulfill it but deepens it.

Desire is absolute if the desiring being is mortal, and the Desired [again a capital D! -sn] invisible. Invisibility does not denote an absence of relation; it implies relations with what is not given, of which there is no idea. … Desire is the desire for absolutely other. Besides the hunger one satisfies, the thirst one quenches, the senses on allays, metaphysics desires the other beyond satisfaction, where no gesture by the body to diminish the aspiration is possible…. A desire without satisfaction which, precisely, understands the remoteness, the alterity, and the exterior of the other. For Desire this alterity, non adequate to the idea, has meaning. It is understood as the alterity of the Other and of the Most-High. The very dimension of height is opened up by metaphysical Desire."
Reminds me of the opening and closing of Shir Hakavod:
These melodies I sing, now weaving lines of song,
for only for your presence does my spirit long.
My soul desired nothing but the shadow of your hand,
To walk the secret paths within your mysterious land.


And may my thoughts be pleasing, find favour in your sight;
For you alone my soul has longed, you are its chief delight.

ki eylekha nafshi ta’arog


* * *

But as if to prove that he is not merely preaching classic God talk – to confirm, as if, his misnagdik and Reconstructionist credentials, Levinas finishes off the paragraph quoted above with:

“That this height is no longer in the heavens, but rather the Invisible [again that capital letter ! – sn] is the very elevation of height and its true nobility. To die for the invisible – that is metaphysics. This does not mean that desire can dispense with acts. [On the contrary!] But these acts are neither consummation, nor caress, nor liturgy.
Then they must be mitvoth!

Or do I read too much into this?

In any case, I find Levinas' philosophy very religious. And that's fine with me.

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