The Exception of Testimony

Levinas Studies 1:73-97 (2005)
Abstract
There is witness, a unique structure, an exception to the rule of being, irreducible to representation, only of the Infinite (OB 146). It is with this excessive phrase that Levinas collects his thoughts on testimony. How are we to understand this excess? If the phrase is excessive, it is not an exaggerated phrase — not a phrase which, by its very exaggeration, would hold that testimony achieves its supreme signification in religious experience. It is not a question here of giving value to the primacy of religious experience over all other experience, but rather a question of showing that religion, understood as the relation to the holy, to what is absolutely separate, is not of the nature of experience — that is, not of the nature of comprehension and thematization, if experience means thematization. The religious manifests no primacy here, but rather an irreducible singularity, an exception. If there is a restriction, it is not to the benefit of an experience, but rather to that which escapes experience, to the benefit of what alone gives rise to no experience. The Infinite is not the witnessed par excellence, the supreme witnessed (the supreme witness falling to the supreme existent), but that to which we can only bear witness and which alone gives rise to a testimony: “testimony does not thematize that of which it is the witness, and as such it can be a witnessing only of the Infinite” (GDT 196–97). That one can bear witness only to the Infinite means that one can bear witness only to that which absolutely escapes experience, which consequently means that “testimony . . . does not presuppose an experience”(GDT 197)
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