Ethical Dwelling and the Glory of Bearing Witness

Levinas Studies 10 (1):221-248 (2015)
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This article addresses the notion of bearing witness and the responsibility bore by the witness, by a careful reading of Emmanuel Levinas's writings. According to Levinas, one of the major experiences of modern man, is the preference of being a "witness" than being a "participant." The phenomenological investigation of bearing witness reveals the witness's involvement in the act and the occurrence that he witnessed. My aim here is to better understand the modern human condition, in which the encounter between the subject and reality takes place through the mediation of technology. To this end, we consider both the philosophy of Martin Heidegger, which concerns itself with the condition of the Dasein, its sense of being out-of-place in the world, and the authentic manner in which it seeks to overcome this feeling, and that of Levinas, who offers a different perspective focusing on issues of the ethics and responsibility stemming from the encounter between the person and that which lies beyond him. To understand how man uses technology to mediate reality we also consider the enlightening phenomenological and sociological work of Susan Sontag, which, in its exposure of the passion to bear witness, provokes reflection on various aspects of control, curiosity, and involvement. All this facilitates a better understanding of Levinas's conception of bearing witness and the manner in which he demands responsibility and ethicality of the individual not merely as a witness to reality but also–by virtue of his bearing witness–as a partner to it.



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Hanoch Ben-Pazi
Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan

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