Monday, May 12, 2008

Davidson, Roger. "Thinkers: Face to Face." NEW HUMANIST 123.3 (2008).

Emmanuel Levinas spoke scathingly of the “stupidity” and “pathos” of any endeavour to relate his life meaningfully in a linear narrative. In his book Difficult Liberty, he briskly recounts a rough sequence of events that coloured his personal and intellectual development: reading Pushkin, Tolstoy, and the Hebrew Bible during his childhood in Lithuania; the Bolshevik Revolution; philosophical studies in Freiburg; captivity during the Second World War; distinguished professorships at Poitiers, the Sorbonne, and so on. Nevertheless, these loose threads were bound together by a single cataclysmic theme: “This disparate inventory,” he concluded, “…is dominated by the presentiment and the memory of the Nazi horror.” Nor was his most abstract philosophical thought unaffected. As circumstance would have it, the most profound intellectual influence of his life, the German thinker Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), would also happen to be a Nazi who saw himself as no less than the official philosopher of the Third Reich, at whose hands Levinas would remain imprisoned for five years while the systematic murder of his people was carried out across Europe. Despite his outward scepticism regarding biography, then, Levinas’s writings tell the extraordinary story of his quest to think his way free of Heidegger, and to bring human ethics back to the forefront of philosophy. . . . Read the rest here:

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