Ethics of the Image

Levinas Studies 1:119-138 (2005)
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In March 1956 there appeared in Monde Nouveau a relatively short piece by Emmanuel Levinas called “Maurice Blanchot et le regard du poète.” It is an extended review of L’Espace littéraire, published by Gallimard the previous summer, which is also laced with a polemic against Heidegger. Levinas observes that Blanchot is close to the Heidegger of Vorträge und Aufsätze (1954), almost to the point of immediate intellectual intuition, but he is just as quick to register the distance between the two on a decisive issue: on Blanchot’s account of literature we are led away from the world of dwelling and rootedness that Heidegger affirms in his meditations on art. Here as elsewhere, Levinas is profoundly disturbed by Heidegger’s slighting of ethics and, in turning to show that his friend finds a way beyond the primacy of Sein, he observes parenthetically that Blanchot “also abstains from ethical preoccupations, at least in explicit form.” A little later he remarks, more pointedly, that Blanchot’s concern with “authenticity” must one day “herald an order of justice” if it is to be more than “a consciousness of the lack of seriousness of edification, anything other than derision” (137; SMB 24). Clearly, Levinas is uneasy at the proximity of his friend to the Heidegger of Sein und Zeit (1927) and beyond, having freed himself from “the climate of that philosophy,” starting in “De l’évasion” (1935) and then more completely in De l’existence à l’existent (1947) (EE 19; DEE 19). The invitation is for Blanchot to render his ethics explicit. Levinas’s review even hints at how this can be done. Other essays by Levinas, later collected in Sur Maurice Blanchot (1975), return to the prediction or hope registered in this review that someone will express “the latent meaning” of his friend’s novels and récits (133; SMB 17), and there is no doubt when reading his reflections on L’Attente l’oubli (1962) and La Folie du jour (1973) that for Levinas their manifest meaning is ethical, at least in part.



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