Emmanuel Levinas and the evils of category thinking: anthropology in a stateless vein
(St. Andrews University)
Paper short abstract:
For Levinas, the 'secrecy of subjectivity' is a foundation of both knowledge and morality, preceding states of cultural classification. This talk suggests a solution to Levinas's challenge: a cosmopolitan anthropology writing the individual life imaginatively and the human species systematically.
Paper long abstract:
The philosophy of Levinas poses a challenge to anthropology. For Levinas, the 'secrecy of subjectivity', the absolute incomprehensibility of one individual to another, is the fundamental fact of human being. It is also the foundation of any moral society, acknowledging the irreducible mystery and integrity of individuality as preceding any claim to knowledge, any state of culturo-symbolic construction. This talk briefly outlines some of the major tenets in a Levinasian metaphysic and traces their biographical origin in Levinas's experience of the Holocaust, and their intellectual origin in a reading of the Old Testament where Abraham answers 'Here I am' to a divine presence of which he has no possible experience. According to Levinas, each owes to the human Other the same 'inspired' response as to the incomprehensibility of divinity. The talk moots a passable solution to the Levinasian challenge: a cosmopolitan anthropology that looks to write the individual life _imaginatively_ while writing the human species _systematically_.
States beyond states