levinas reality and its shadow pdf

Levinas reality and its shadow pdf

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Levinas Studies

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Levinas Studies

Gabriel Riera

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Gregory in his contribution to the debate initiated by the Journal of Literary Theory concerning the long-term relations between literature and ethics Gregory , In this article, we join Gregory and subsequent contributors in the effort to rethink the role of ethical criticism in the context of contemporary literary scholarship Rabinowitz ; Groeben ; Titzmann We wish to turn attention to an issue that has thus far been largely ignored in this debate: the role of postmodern criticism in shaping the new face of ethical criticism. In particular, we challenge the concept of empathy and the assumption that empathy is a fundamental element of ethical reading.

Levinas Studies

Gregory in his contribution to the debate initiated by the Journal of Literary Theory concerning the long-term relations between literature and ethics Gregory , In this article, we join Gregory and subsequent contributors in the effort to rethink the role of ethical criticism in the context of contemporary literary scholarship Rabinowitz ; Groeben ; Titzmann We wish to turn attention to an issue that has thus far been largely ignored in this debate: the role of postmodern criticism in shaping the new face of ethical criticism.

In particular, we challenge the concept of empathy and the assumption that empathy is a fundamental element of ethical reading. The first three studies in the JLT controversy Gregory ; Rabinowitz ; Groeben share a prominent assumption: that postmodern thinking has turned its back on ethics.

Indeed, the 20th-century legacy of critical thinking, highly influenced by the historical developments of this era — two world wars, a surge in capitalism, a technological revolution, the dynamic forces of globalization and mass immigration — brought a great measure of instability and uncertainty to the discourse of ethics.

Can ethical criticism exist in a postmodern era, sharing in postmodern discourse? We argue that, to be a relevant approach in the study of literature today, ethical criticism must extend its scope beyond the ethics of narrative empathy. We then offer an alternative way of thinking about ethical criticism as involving an attentive response to the representation of suffering while deconstructing the empathetic position of the reader.

Keen , 39— Empathetic response involves perspective-shifting. Yet, not all perspective-shifting involves empathy. However, the conception of ethical reading that is based on simulating being another person raises several troubling questions: is it indeed possible to take the perspective of another — be it a real person or a literary character — and imaginatively simulate her subjective experience? Does the act of perspective-taking, together with the emotional response of empathy, produce an ethical effect on the readers?

In what follows we call into question the idea that other-oriented empathy is possible and the assumption that simulating the inner perspective of the other is an ethical process of reading. Over the years critics have praised the power of literature to cultivate the capacity for empathy but also raised doubts regarding the potential of empathetic fictional reading to engender actual and long-lasting ethical influences.

In this context, Suzanne Keen asserts that empathy with fictional characters has not been proven to activate helping behavior in the real social sphere cf. Keen , vii. From a postmodern perspective, there are several other problems with the ethics of empathetic reading and its supposed effects on the readers. Braidotti , Second, even when acknowledging the suffering of the other, an empathetic reading risks ignoring the concrete circumstances and the radical uniqueness of the sufferer.

Under the presumption of empathy, people tend to dismiss aspects of difference and believe that they can truly know the subjective mindset of another person, sometimes even better than that person. Narrative empathy must involve an interpretation of the experience of the other and thus it is liable to overlook the difficulty that a reader is likely to encounter in imagining the specific experience of the suffering of another, even if the character is accurately represented and the reader is very attentive.

To cope with this question, we turn to Emmanuel Levinas, whose philosophical writings offer a theoretical perspective for reconsidering the complexities of the empathetic response. Such a reduction also happens in a relationship between two people, when one party approaches the other with his thinking apparatus and tries to know and comprehend the other. According to Levinas, comprehension necessarily involves comparison to the self.

The risk is that instead of being oriented toward the other, the reader is actually projecting his or her thoughts, feelings and desires onto the imagined other, while violently ignoring the differences between them. When engaging in such projection, the reader is liable to ignore signs of suffering and distress that are outside his frame of reference.

Levinas , Levinas argues that Autrui is not an oppositional concept that functions as an essential constituent of self-consciousness. Rather, human otherness signifies a radical uniqueness that cannot be conceptualized, thematized or comprehended, that can never be summed up or reduced to any one general structure or set of attributes cf.

For Levinas, it is this radical separation that ethically affects the subject and obligates him or her with an unconditional responsibility towards the other. The ethical challenge is, then, to encounter the other person as a radical alterity, totally exterior and inaccessible, and nonetheless acknowledge the obligation towards her and be able to hear her call for help. According to this criticism, empathetic reading catalyzed by fictional art involves a delusive effacement of the distance between the reader and the fictional character.

It is the power of fiction to recruit the imagination — in ways that involve deep emotional engagement with the artwork — and to make the reader believe in delusive ideas, that creates a special danger for the relations between the self and the other, even more than day-to-day encounters in the real world.

For Levinas, such a dream consists of the suspension of alterity, the unethical disrespect for the difference that escapes the possessive grasp of the reading subject. In light of these concerns, we propose a new form of ethical criticism that leans on a basic suspicion towards the notion of empathy and empathetic identification. We suggest that, particularly in the globalized world of the 21st century, ethical criticism must take into account the ethical demands that arise when we face a radical stranger: the other whose feelings and thoughts we cannot enter yet who nonetheless demands responsiveness and responsibility from us.

In a global world, empathy is not only impossible to achieve — if we mean it to involve a true reconstruction of the subjective experience of another person — but is a dangerous concept that obscures our obligation to those people who are not similar to us.

Therefore, our notion of ethical reading demands that the incomprehensible other be allowed to remain singular and unexplained. Instead of attempting to obtain knowledge and an empathetic understanding, it strives to detect modes of distress and suffering that escape the scope of familiarity and the framework of comprehensible meanings. Second, like feminist and postcolonial approaches, our ethical criticism strives to reach forms of vulnerability and distress that elude conventional representation.

By unsettling the process of empathetic response that literary texts often evoke, such a reading rejects commonplace images of otherness and acknowledges nameless conditions of suffering and neglected subjectivities.

The novel Alias Grace reconstructs a famous real-life murder affair in 19th-century Canada, in which a sixteen-year-old maid, Grace Marks, and her fellow-servant, James McDermott, were tried and convicted for the murder of their household employer, Thomas Kinnear, and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery. Grace spent more than 30 years in prison, in addition to a few years in a lunatic asylum, until she was pardoned and released in The novel also incorporates documents from the Kingston penitentiary and segments of the historical confessions of the accused.

The merging of the various texts builds the detective plot of the novel and stages Grace as an object of constant examination and speculation. Is this unexpected confession a performance that Grace enacts? Or does she truly suffer from some kind of split personality? Or was it indeed a ghost that committed the murder? We suggest looking at Alias Grace as a complex questioning of the empathetic position and its interrelations with knowing, violence and the effacing of difference.

In our reading it becomes clear that empathy goes hand in hand with the requirement to know Grace and with the attempt to understand who she really is.

Such an empathetic perspective-shifting seems to be the ethical answer that opposes the social exclusion of Grace and her status as an ultimate inferior other. Grace is not only an outcast criminal accused of murder but also an Irish immigrant to Canada, an abused woman in the patriarchal culture of the midth-century; she is a poor servant in a capitalist society and suffers from frantic outbursts.

In her conversations with Simon, Grace forms her own autobiography and thus counters the image of an insane or cruel murderess. Her touching account reveals her miserable childhood, her traumatic journey to Canada, the brutal behavior of her father, the loss of her mother, the hardships of her employment in the new country, and the trauma of seeing her friend Mary Whitney bleeding to death after an abortion. This phrase reveals the implicit invitation that lies in her narration, to enter her perspective and achieve the empathetic position of imagining becoming Grace.

Yet, this observation highlights a crucial point in our criticism of empathy as a basis for ethical reading: the invitation of the reader to undergo an empathetic shift in perspective towards Grace implies a removal of the disturbing aspects from her character. It means choosing one acceptable version of Grace — that of her image while talking with Simon and confessing her thoughts to the readers — and putting aside all the other constructions of her character that the novel provides, which relate her to the murder.

With this empathetic development, the reader, together with Simon, may reach the elevated liberal position of compassionate understanding of the poor woman instead of staying in the unpleasant state of total confusion and uncertainty concerning her true nature.

However, the novel disrupts this process of empathetic perspective-shifting, and we suggest that this disruption bears ethical significance. The ethical reading we pursue further calls attention to the violence that is involved in the process of establishing empathy with Grace. Indeed, theories of empathy assert that close knowledge of the other is a necessary condition for empathizing with him cf. Coplan , However, Alias Grace also reveals that the process of obtaining a close knowledge of the other and forcing her to produce a coherent, intelligible story is violent and oppressive, a process that cannot serve as a starting point for an ethical relationship with the other.

Simon purports to sustain. Yet, although Simon himself comes to feel compassion for Grace ibid. The postmodern ethical reading we promote requires that we consider the ethical responsibility towards those others whose identity escapes definitive categorization, while taking into account the secrecy that lies at the core of our relations with another person. An ethics of empathy implies that when empathy fails — as in the case of Grace, who ultimately eludes empathetic understanding — there is nothing more to do in ethical terms: we come to a dead end in our relations with Grace.

What am I to do to respond to a person like Grace, whose cry for help does not go hand in hand with a potential for empathetic understanding? The ethical reading that we propose demands that we renounce the question of who Grace Marks is and welcome her as she is, with the wide range of undetermined possibilities — a decent woman and a murderess, a talented storyteller and a trickster, a victim and a manipulator — without excluding those features that are unpleasant, irrational or incomprehensible, and without forcing them into a coherent story in which they all fit together.

We suggest that regardless of whether or not Grace is indeed a criminal, whether she has a history of traumatic victimization or is only inventing this history in her narration, whether or not she is sane — the important ethical point is to recognize her as a subject to whom we are indebted and, while refusing the temptation of empathy, to acknowledge her concrete suffering: Grace is isolated and starved in jail cf.

Our notion of ethical criticism, inspired by Levinas, addresses the impossibility of achieving full understanding of either real persons or fictional characters. It demands an attentive awareness to the ways in which we tend to construct and reconstruct categories of similarities and indulge in the position of empathetic identification with those who seem similar to us. This is indeed the responsibility of the reader as she interprets a text: to refuse the position of empathy and develop an awareness of its blind spots and dangers.

As we have shown, in Alias Grace the process of empathetic perspective-shifting involves a reshaping of the protagonist so that she comes to fit a certain acceptable image of womanhood. Our analysis also reveals that this process is intertwined with the violence of getting to know Grace, and that it fails when the impossibility of attaining such knowledge is established, that is, empathy is revealed to be blocked when the personality of the other evades definition and understanding.

However, an incomprehensible person may also be suffering and in need of help, and the ethical reading we suggest advocates recognition of such suffering and the human obligation to help the sufferer, no matter who she is. Ethical literary criticism is a dynamic field of study whose evolution is intimately intertwined with historical changes in the philosophical conceptualization of ethics and with cultural inquiries concerning subjectivity and social relations.

While the last decades have presented a profound challenge to traditional ethical criticism, it is certainly not yet time to mourn the death of ethical criticism altogether.

In this article we have argued that the postmodern notions of uncertainty and indeterminacy are not destructive to the field of ethical criticism, even though they demand its rethinking.

We believe that such a rethinking and a reexamination of our basic assumptions and inclinations concerning ethical reading are crucial for rejuvenating the field of ethical criticism. We have presented such a reexamination in our approach to the idea of empathy, by challenging it as a basis for ethical reading while offering a new approach to ethical criticism in the 21st century.

In our view, the ethical crux of reading is to acknowledge the suffering of the other without appropriating him or losing sight of his singularity. We are certain that further development of this consideration through the analysis of different texts and various situations of personal and social encounters will ensure that ethical criticism remains an important and productive pursuit of literary studies. Bauman, Zigmunt, Postmodern Ethics , Oxford Butler, Judith, Precarious Life , London Rachel Bowlby, Stanford Feagin, Susan L.

Frazer, Michael L. Gregory, Marshall W. The Old vs. Greiner, D. Groeben, Norbert, Less Would be More! Hoffman, Martin L. Nischik ed. Keen, Suzanne, Empathy and the Novel , Oxford Michael B. Smith, Stanford , 99—

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Emmanuelis Levinas later adapted to French orthography as Emmanuel Levinas was born in into a middle-class Litvak family in Kaunas , in present-day Lithuania , then Kovno district, at the Western edge of the Russian Empire. Because of the disruptions of World War I , the family moved to Charkow in the Region of Ukraine in , where they stayed during the Russian revolutions of February and October In his family returned to the Republic of Lithuania. Levinas's early education was in secular, Russian-language schools in Kaunas and Charkow. Levinas began his philosophical studies at the University of Strasbourg in , [8] and his lifelong friendship with the French philosopher Maurice Blanchot.

Access options available:. Cohen bio 1. T he S tandard M isreading of L evinas on A rt a. Introduction Much has been written in the secondary literature about Levinas and art and about Levinas and literature more specifically. Unfortunately, given all their considerable virtues, these books are also hampered by a serious flaw, one that unhappily appears in all too much of the secondary literature on Levinas and art. Surely this is serious and unfortunate.

Levinas Studies

Collected Philosophical Papers pp Cite as. It is generally, dogmatically, admitted that the function of art is expression, and that artistic expression rests on cognition. An artist — even a painter, even a musician — tells. He tells of the ineffable.

Reality and Its Shadow

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Gabriel Riera

In his "Reality and its Shadow" p. As a modality of the there is, art belongs to the order of ontology. Through such works as "Totality and Infinity" and "Otherwise than Being", he has exerted a profound influence on twentieth-century continental philosophy, providing inspiration for Derrida, Lyotard, Blanchot and Irigaray. Images and Shadows: Levinas and the Ambiguity of the Aesthetic.

By contrasting the accounts of pain, enjoyment, and hospitality in Totality and Infinity and Otherwise Than Being, it becomes possible to clarify the continuities and discontinuities in his work. Keywords: subjectivity , vulnerability , substitution , intrigue , proximity , hospitality , pain , enjoyment , excendence , experience. Access to the complete content on Oxford Handbooks Online requires a subscription or purchase.

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Все здесь напоминало зловещую декорацию к голливудскому фильму ужасов. В воздухе стоял тяжелый запах мочи. Лампочки в конце коридора не горели, и на протяжении последних двадцати метров можно было различать только смутные силуэты. Женщина с кровотечением… плачущая молодая пара… молящаяся маленькая девочка. Наконец Беккер дошел до конца темного коридора и толкнул чуть приоткрытую дверь слева. Комната была пуста, если не считать старой изможденной женщины на койке, пытавшейся подсунуть под себя судно. Хорошенькое зрелище, - подумал Беккер.

Беккер предпринял последнюю попытку: - Мистер Клушар, я хотел бы получить показания этого немца и его спутницы. Вы не скажете, где они могли остановиться. Клушар закрыл глаза, силы покинули. Он едва дышал. - Хоть что-нибудь, - настаивал Беккер.

Возле фреоновых помп. Сьюзан повернулась и направилась к двери, но на полпути оглянулась. - Коммандер, - сказала.  - Это еще не конец. Мы еще не проиграли. Если Дэвид успеет найти кольцо, мы спасем банк данных. Стратмор ничего не .

Она нервничала, гадая, сколько еще времени продержится ТРАНСТЕКСТ. Сирены продолжали завывать; то и дело вспыхивали сигнальные огни.


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    Emmanuelis Levinas later adapted to French orthography as Emmanuel Levinas was born in into a middle-class Litvak family in Kaunas , in present-day Lithuania , then Kovno district, at the Western edge of the Russian Empire.

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