Page 125 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 51

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philosophical work, one stands out:
Face to Face with Levinas
Many of the essays in this volume were in Levinas’s French
Festschrift. They include im po r tan t con tribu tion s by
postmodern thinkers and by Levinas scholars. They do not,
however, explore his relationship to Judaism. There are discus­
sions by Lyotard, Blanchot, and Irigaray, that show how im­
portant Levinas has been for the development of French
thought in the last twenty years. Other essays locate Levinas
in relation to Derrida, to the tradition of phenomenology of
Husserl and Heidegger, and to Kant and Hegel. There is also
a helpful interview with Richard Kearney, which in some ways
is more substantial than the one with Nemo, although it is not
as programmatic.
Levinas’s impact on philosophy itself has multifold impor­
tance for Jewish thought. First, it signifies the possibility in mod­
ern France for a Jewish philosopher to achieve recognition as
a significant thinker. Second, Levinas succeeds in making phi­
losophy correlate with Jewish thought: he is able to contribute
to change in several central philosophical concepts. This act of
altering philosophy must be seen in a philosophical context, but
it signifies a possibility for Jewish thought reaching beyond pro­
vincial borders. The possibility for this change in philosophy
has been prepared for by philosophy itself, even as the pos­
sibility for the reception of a Jewish thinker also requires a prep­
aration by European culture. But the philosophical preparation
points in the direction of a third point. Philosophy can now
learn from Judaism because philosophy has had to abandon
the modern claims for self-sufficiency and completeness.
Thought on its own can no longer govern itself nor legitimate
all other discourse. The collapse of modern projects of the sub­
ject and of self-authenticating reason signify a great change in
the weather for philosophy. But they are more than merely
a break in the clouds for Jewish thought and themes. They
also blow through the study of Judaism and of Jewish thought
in particular. I f I have discussed the philosophical side of
Levinas at some length, it is precisely because of the changes
he has wrought there must also ‘come home’ to Jewish studies,
Face to Face with Levinas,
ed. Richard A. Cohen. Albany: State University
o f New York Press, 1986.