Wednesday, December 07, 2005

A concern for the meaning of life

Katz, Claire Elise 1964- "Levinas--Between Philosophy and Rhetoric: The "Teaching" of Levinas’s Scriptural References"Philosophy and Rhetoric - Volume 38, Number 2, 2005, pp. 159-171 Penn State University PressExcerpt Philosophy and Rhetoric 38.2 (2005) 159-171
The "Teaching" of Levinas's Scriptural References Claire Elise Katz

In an interview titled "On Jewish Philosophy," Emmanuel Levinas illuminates the connection that he sees between philosophical discourse and the role of midrash in interpreting the Hebrew scriptures. His interviewer immediately expresses surprise at Levinas's comments that suggested he saw the traditions of philosophy and biblical theology as in some sense harmonious (quoted in Robbins 2001, 239). Levinas responds by elaborating on this connection he sees. For him, the lived experience of Judaism is above all a sense of belonging to humanity and, in turn, to a supreme order of responsibility (240). Although his intellectual life focused on the sacred texts of Judaism, this life included non-Jewish books, which he believed expressed a similar concern or a similar responsibility—a concern for the meaning of life. This list of such books includes Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear, The Miser, and The Misanthrope, in addition to the novels of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky.
In Levinas's view, these novels are not exercises of philosophy per se; as mentioned above, they express the same concerns that occupy philosophy, but they express these concerns in a different idiom. They do not offer a philosophical argument; instead, they use figurative language and literary narrative to convey their messages. By drawing this distinction between philosophy and literature, Levinas appears to have divided the written word into two categories: philosophy, on the one hand, and literary texts, on the other. Yet readers of his philosophical work cannot help but notice his frequent references to literary sources.

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