The acknowledgement of transcendence: Anti-theodicy in Adorno and Levinas

Philosophy and Social Criticism 37 (3):273-294 (2011)
It is generally recognized that Adorno and Levinas should both be read as urging a rethinking of ethics in light of Auschwitz. This demand should be understood in terms of the acknowledgement of transcendence. A phenomenological account of the event of Auschwitz developed by Todes motivates my use of Cavell’s distinction between acknowledgement and knowledge. Both Levinas and Adorno argue that an ethically adequate acknowledgement of transcendence requires that the traditional concept of transcendence as represented in theodicy must be rejected. This rejection takes the form of a rejection of theodicy (Levinas) and a negative theodicy (Adorno). I argue that Adorno’s response is superior because it is a response to the specificity and particularity of the event of Auschwitz as the destruction of, rather than merely the denial of, the humanity of both perpetrators and victims
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