Page 122 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 51

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
a model for the ethical response of offering oneself to the other.
Levinas also discusses the reproduction of responsibility in one’s
child, the one for whom I am responsible no matter how he
acts. And he discusses a fraternity and equality of all through
the ethics of the face-to-face.
RELATING TO THE OTHER
The book is a world in total, complete with intricacies and
questions beyond the interest of all but the scholar. But its re­
ception was widespread in Europe. Theologians, philosophers,
literary theorists, political theorists, and others, read and ad­
dressed the fundamental challenges of the book, exploring the
possibility that the other, the excluded, was in fact the one to
teach us. Levinas’s second major work,
Otherwise than Being,
has
not been as widely influential. While the first text is philosoph­
ical and complex, the latter is still more dense. Levinas now
dwells exclusively on the moment of the face-to-face, and con­
siders it as a
proximity
to the other.
Proximity
is a play with the
words for approach, near, and neighbor in French, but there
is a subtext that links this to the words for nearness and sacrifice
in Hebrew. Levinas interprets the way that I give myself to the
other as a passive becoming hostage, and again argues that this
relation is the central one. I am responsible for what the other
does, suffering and expiating for his sake. Speaking and per­
ception are located in this relation of proximity, and the ques­
tion of how I can be bound to the other before I can choose
dominates the text. The claims are now excessive, purposefully,
in order to show just how little control we have over what we
ought to do. Levinas recognizes that we will not respond as
we should, but he is concerned to see how we become bound.
This text is rewarding, especially for philosophers, because
of the way that thought itself is made to emerge from respon­
sibility. Levinas keenly analyzes the way that the reflection upon
this moment of proximity will itself step away from responsi­
bility, and he interweaves the awareness of the need for speak­
ing, for thought, for reasoning, even for philosophy, with the
risk and the betrayal that all will impose. Levinas can neither
do without thought nor trust it, and so the ongoing disruption
o f thinking, the appeal to an other, and the need to respond
to an interruption are key features of his thought. This com­