Danielle Cohen-Levinas, Marc Crépon (dir.): Levinas-Derrida: Lire Ensemble

L Felipe Alarcón


Lévinas - Derrida : Lire ensemble Book Cover Lévinas - Derrida : Lire ensemble
Rue de la Sorbonne
Danielle Cohen-Levinas, Marc Crépon (dir.)
Éditions Hermann
Broché 28.00 €

Reviewed by: L Felipe Alarcón (École Normale Supérieure)

Let us begin by saying a few words on the title. From the very first pages of the book, editors warn us about the multiple meanings of this Read Together. Following Cohen-Levinas and Crépon, we can distinguish at least four: The first one is Levinas’ reading of Derrida, that should not be restricted to his explicit references such as the 1973 article “Derrida: Wholly Otherwise” or note 63 of Otherwise than being. As editors write, “the question of knowing how and to what point the dialogue that gathers them together has marked their paths is still open” (5). In Levinas’ case, does Violence and Metaphysics aske for a reconsideration from Levinas, that pushed him to write Otherwise than being? A resolution is not easy, it is even maybe impossible, and it demands at least an effort to understand what Derrida wrote about Totality and Infinity. This leads us to a second meaning, that is, Derrida’s reading of Levinas. From his seminal Violence and metaphysics (1963-64) to his very late texts (2003’s Abraham, the other, for instance), Derrida did not just write about Levinas but crafted what we can dare to call a “derridean reading of Levinas”, which is today one of the most popular approaches to Levinas work among American scholars. It is in fact starting out from the so-called ‘ethical turn’ in Derrida’s career that a set of interpretations of Levinas’ texts has been established. This is an important point, for almost all the essays on the collection challenge this very idea of ‘turn’, and it is eloquent (yet not surprising) that almost all authors have chosen Violence and Metaphysics as a main source. A third meaning would be the one concerning the reading of Heidegger that both Levinas and Derrida performed. This emphasizes not only their mutual admiration and many implicit and explicit crossed allusions but their reading-together (or together-reading) distant yet side-by-side, of a constellation of authors probably dominated by –not limited to– Martin Heidegger. This is probably the most ‘technical’ aspect of the cross reading, since a phenomenological expertise is required. The fourth meaning is this: today we must try to read Levinas and Derrida together, in the double sense of the sentence. Publishing a book that collects essays on both philosophers is certainly a way to share readings and therefore, in a sense, read them together. But it may also mean read them together, recognize their indissociability, the contact points (the simultaneity of distance and proximity) of their thinking. Perhaps these two senses are inseparable, and only together we can finally read them together. It is maybe what suggests Danielle Cohen-Levinas in Ils nous auront obligés. En guise d’introduction when she writes: “Between those two thinkers there was a chiasma. Chiasma, that is to say encounter, gratitude and admiration. There was a chiasma and more than a chiasma. A sort of hyperbolic philia (…). Such a philia certainly allows us to think of both œeuvres together, but always in a relation of asymmetrical singularity.” (9, 14). That “assymetrical singularity” of which Cohen-Levinas talks is the core of the ethics of the reading, here –in this book– as elsewhere.

  1. First essay, Sauver les phénomènes: Levinas, Derrida et la question du messianisme by Serge Margel requires to quote at full length a passage that seems to condense his argument: “… the experience of alterity, of which Levinas talks, as responsibility and advent of justice would have allowed Derrida to escape from history closures without falling again into the abyss of logocentrism. It would have given him the means to think of the failure of repression (refoulement) as the event of a deconstruction; and this event as the messianic coming of a justice that breaks-up history beyond its closure, or its end, and therefore beyond every arche and every telos, liberating language from discourse and thinking from concept –the saying from the said, according to Levinas” (29). Derrida would have then moved from deconstruction as de-sedimentation to deconstruction as event. Or, in other words, from a thinking of origins to a thinking of to-come through a modification of Levina’s idea of a messianic rupture of history.

How is it that Margel came to this interpretation? A short answer would be: by focusing on the phenomenality of closure that, according to Derrida, “has taken place” “within the metaphysics of presence” (Derrida 1973, 102). It is starting from Derrida’s “absolute belief ‘that such a closure has taken place’” (15) that Margel raises the two questions that will shape his essay: first, what is the phenomenal status of closure in the discourse of end of history? In Margel’s analysis, Derrida answered “in many ways, on many occasions but systematically by means of the arguments of what he himself called a ‘hegelianism without reserve’ of knowledge, mastery, achievement, accomplishment, fullness. (…) The logic of closure is, in this sense, a logic of saturation. Presence is itself a saturation” (16). A deconstruction of that closure became then inevitable for Derrida and it is only in this way that we can talk about “a sharing (partage) of voices, a truly scission in the core of Derrida’s thinking (…) Not two Derrida, first and second one, a division that – following a nebulous concept of evolution of thinking – some claim they can set up for many other thinkers, but the opening of the undecidable field of a thinking trapped by its own closure” (24).

We would like to highlight the fact that Margel talks about “sharing of voices” (partage des voix). We find this identical formulation in the title of a 1982 book on Heidegger by Jean-Luc Nancy, where it is said “… the thought of Heidegger, that is to say, the thought that interrogates the closure of metaphysics.” According to Nancy, Heidegger’s closure is the one of hermeneutic circle and, as a circle, “it closes and it opens itself, it divides itself (se partage) in the text of philosophy” (Nancy 1990, 212). What is interesting is not the allusion –that may or may not be a direct quote– but the fact that talking about closure seems to lead us to a thinking of sharing (partage)[i]. If it is so, one could ask Serge Margel if it is not the very way of outlining the question as closure (as circle then) that leaded to partage. In this sense, is spite of his eventual character, scission would have been –in a way– “programmed”[ii].

The second question, as Margel admits it, is a response to the first one and implies reading together Derrida and Levinas. We will quote him: “(…) how can we pass from a metaphysical closure of history, aimed at a systematical deconstruction of Western tradition, to a messianic rupture of history, for the unconditional coming of other’s alterity?” (17). Both distance and proximity between Levinas and Derrida rests thus on different conceptions of history, equally inspired by phenomenology. While Derrida talks – and needed to talk, as Margel demonstrates – about a closure of history, Levinas will talk about “the end of an entire philosophical orientation” (Levinas 1998a, 120). On the one hand, the end of history would finally reveal the origin –an origin without origin, strictly speaking– and open up the whole horizon of implicit determinations of Western metaphysics. On the other hand, the end “opens a new space for transcendence and liberates metaphysics from ontology, the thinking of being from identity, ipseity, and totality” (18). If both philosophers agree on historicity of history being constitutive of phenomenality of phenomena.

Now, the difference has to do fundamentally with considerations about phenomenality of phenomena. If Derrida will always affirm the closure but at the same time try to escape from it, this very acceptance would lead to “mourning, survival, specter or phantom” (24). It is the thinking of the end who commands all those operations. But again, if we don’t want to fall prey to closure, we must reconsider the phenomenality of the phenomena. Now, it is Levina’s messianic consciousness that will provide an exit, but with a (not so) slight difference: if Levinas’ trace is present on the Other’s face, Derrida will rather think of a trace of writing as the history of repression (refoulement) of writing. This will allow him to consider “every phenomenal appearance already as a disappearance, a lost (…) every presence is a resurrection” (30). An infinite mourning, then (and this must be read along with Jullien’s essay, the last one on the collection).

  1. In chapter two Gérard Bensussan discusses undecidability in Derrida’s work. Reversing, questioning the classic schema of sovereignty, Bensussan asks not about the place of decision, but for the place of undecidability. In order to do so, he develops what he calls an “ethics of floating,” based mainly on Derrida’s description in The Double Session, to wit: “the word floating suggests what Mallarme calls suggestion: barely revealing at all, on the point of disappearing, the indecision of that which remains suspended, neither this nor that, between here and there, and hence between this text and another”(Derrida 1981, 239). An ethics of floating would be then a suspension of ethics: not a lack but an excess of activity, somewhat in the sense of Blanchot’s worklessness or Derrida’s “two with no one.” At the same time, and for the same reason, its place is undecidable for it is in somewhere “between here and there,” that is to say neither here nor there.

It is, we believe, the sense in which Bensussan writes that “undecidability dislocates in being itself a continual auto-division” (33). Consequently, the place of undecidable cannot be but a non-place. And this, again, is not in a subtractive sense: if we cannot fix a place is because we cannot decide for just one, the place of decision being always multiple, more than one. Undecidability undecides itself as it divides itself: it is a continual movement. But, Besussan states, this non-place –or rather place-out-of-place– is neither a capital place (chef-lieu) as in Heidegger, nor a place of passage as in Hegel. Dislocation does not lead to a stabilization or to an original place that the Western would have forgotten. As Besussan writes: “dislocation is only possible if it displaces itself to a certain sense-less or even to a temporalization of the time of undecidable decision”, and this is because “only meaning (sens) is undecidable and decision is only about sense and in time” (37).

By considering time, Bensussan makes possible the irruption of the other. This is an important point because it connects with Levinas, who wrote “time is not the achievement of an isolated and lone subject, but the very relationship of the subject with the Other” (Levinas 1987, 39) . By this means, Bensussan introduces not just time but the other: time would always come from the other, and therefore “’my’ decision obeys to a wholly other thing than my freedom, my capacity for initiative, my anticipatory consciousness”. (40) In a way, a true decision –an undecidable decision– is always taken in front of the other, or even commanded by the other. Still, what is commanded is not the content but the instance. And this, we can state, because “only the meaning (sens) of the other is irrecusable, and forbids the reclusion and reentry into the shell of the self. A voice comes from the other shore. A voice interrupts the saying of the already said” (Levinas 1998b, 183). Now, what the other commands for Bensussan is “something as a hope (espérance)” for the undecidable to come (43). An ethics of flotation would be then an ethics of hope (espérance), that takes place in a time to come. But, again, for the time of undecidable decision cannot be calculated it can only come from the other.

In an interesting turn, Bensussan remembers his uncle’s answer to a governmental officer who asked his nationality: “variable!”. By doing so, León Bensussan, “one of the Algerian Jews from the same generation as Derrida”, declared to be neither French nor non-French, neither Algerian nor non-Algerian. It is again rather an affirmation of multiplicity than a rejection of a particular place or position, nationality for instance. Like this, ethics of flotation becomes also an ethics of domination, or an ethics of marrano that, as Bensussan states, is an “impatient, ironical ethics, [that] stands for a certain rejection –directly on [à même du] language and its unattended shifts– to validate forced and intuitionally framed options, that is, a rejection of exclusive affiliations, choices, alternatives between concepts (…) Subsequently, there is no place for “choosing his own camp” and his sedentary” (39). Political implications of Bensussan’s argumentation may not be neglected: unlike other philosophers, he does not ‘apply’ Derrida’s philosophy to politics but extracts its consequences for political thinking.

  1. Probably the first thing to say about the third essay is that Brezis understands différance as waiting or deferral. From this point of view, its positions may seem similar to Bensussan’s, but a closer reading will show some major dissimilarities.

Let us begin by saying that the keyword in the debate is “economy”. Going back to Violence and Metaphysics, Brezis identifies Levinas with an ‘aneconomic’ relation with the Other, while for Derrida that relation cannot be but an economic one, that is a relationship of difference and discretion (and this, we would add, invites to a closer examination of the Levinas-Blanchot debate, if there is one). Of course this is not as simple as it seems and, and on the one hand Brezis recognizes that “in Totality and Infinity, Levinas still concedes the possibility of an economic folding back of the I [moi] on itself.” (48) On the other hand, Brezis shows how Levinas is in fact following the Talmudic tradition, particularly in his idea of “a fundamental connection between the rebalance induced by the third and deployment of philosophical thinking” (67). Now, summing up Brezis’ argumentation, the very rabbinic idea of “a balance between contraries” would have, historically speaking, “its source in Greek thinking” (67). There would always be a hybrid between Judaism and Hellenism, some sort of interbreeding or interfeeding, if we can say so, just as Joyce’s very well-known expression quoted by Derrida in Violence and Metaphysics “Jewgreek is greekjew. Extremes meet” (Joyce 1986, 411). On Derrida’s side, Brezis argues that if we can certainly recognize an inflection in his thinking, there is no modification of its utter structure: “from Violence and Metaphysics, he always insisted at the same time on the need and the impossibility of openness to Transcendence, on the double bind between two contradictory imperatives: the economic logic of the Same, in its unsurpassable circularity, and its unheard exceedance in a no return movement towards the Other” (49). It is starting from that double bind that Brezis will develop his entire analysis, and also the central question of his essay: “Isn’t it by preaching patience in the waiting of an always deferred end that Judaism opts for discretion? A detachment from present that, at least formally, would resemble to derridean concept of différance?” (49).

In fact, in Brezis’ analysis Levinas aimed to think a direct relation with Transcendence while Derrida longed for a deferral. This has been frequently said, either as a disagreement on the value of presence or as differences between Levina’s Messianism and Derrida’s Messianism without Messiah. Nevertheless, Brezis proposes to exhume Jewish-related concepts on early Derrida’s texts. And that in order to explicitly challenge the ‘ethical turn’ hypothesis. There would not be a “one-way road leading Derrida, originally reluctant to openness to the Wholly-Other, to become closer and closer to Levinas –and then Judaism– in favor of what we can call an ‘ethical turn’” (70). All along his article, Brezis will show that there is no ethical turn but rather two different interpretations of Judaism, to the point “we cannot decide who [Levinas or Derrida] has deeper affinities with Jewish thinking” (70). Derrida’s différance understood as deferral would be as Jew-thinking related as Levinas’ relation to Transcendence. With this purpose, he compares a Derrida-like interpretation with a Levinas-like interpretation of a few passages from Genesis.

We will not follow Brezis’ commentary on Biblical source for it is outside our area of expertise, but we would like to point out that it is Brezis who tries to set up an interpretation à la Levinas first and à la Derrida after. That work in itself is worth reading.

  1. In his Allergologies, Petar Bojanić skillfully examines the uses of the figure of ‘allergy’ in Levinas and Derrida. If medically speaking allergy is part of the strategies of auto-immunity, can we think of figure of ‘allergy to the otherness of the Other’ used by Levinas and the logics of auto-immunity developed by Derrida in a wider framework, that of illness and philosophical views on medicine? It seems to us that these are the kinds of questions that Bojanić’s essay invites us to think. What we may consider as its central question is indeed: “Does the protection of the other, the act of protecting him from me and my assimilation, presuppose (…) a consent of allergy, distance and prevention? Does it mean that immunity and allergy to the other only preserves the other from us?” (76) Bojanić proposes to rethink these questions in the light of illness, which is “the alpha and the omega of those intricate notions [of] unity, totality, State, community, organism, body” (76-77). In short, the very key-concepts of the ‘bio-analogy’ allows a passage from ‘sovereignty’ to ‘attributes of violence’. In order to do so, Bojanić proposes a classification into two types of considerations on illness: on one side Hegel and Rozensweig, “his moderator” (77); on the other side, Levinas and “his reader, sometimes his corrector and moderator, Jacques Derrida” (78). The author will compose and recompose these four elements, and propose for example two other classifications: either all four philosophers are moderators of what each one received from his predecessor, or one must separate Levinas and Rozensweig from Derrida and Hegel to show that their thinking is “the first and single truly event in the history of Western thinking”. That with them, and for the very first time, “justice, Law or order” may occur “without the use of violence, and without war” (78). We will not follow here Bojanić’s further elaborations on that subject, for its development requires a detailed explanation that we cannot allow ourselves in a book review. Anyhow, it has to be said, his ten-paged “construction” of a “[Hegelian] strategy gathering together war, violence, sacrifice, sovereignty, negation, enemy and the other” (81) is probably one of the most skillfully constructed that one may read today. Despite not having developed Bojanic’s exquisite argumentation, we will highlight one of his main conclusions: in the remark to §373 of Hegel’s Enzyklopädie we find a reference to homeopathy as a theory of a remedy able to produce illness on a healthy body, acting rather as a stimulant than as a poison. It is then an external element that, being incorporated, may boost a lethargic body without killing it. Homeopathy, writes Bojanic, “is an addition to the system and a change of paradigm, even if Hegel did not have the time to give it a particular status” (91). Yet it is not the only therapy considered by Hegel, “its specificity and its magic lies in the influence of the other (…). The problem is now the non-recognition and the un-distinction of the same and the other (…) the infinite production of the other, the negation of the other and the power, provided to the other, of holding negation” (92). Now, and this is one the most striking passages of the essay, there would not just be an affinity between this idea and Derrida’s pharmakon but also a way of understanding Levinas (and inscribe him into a wider framework): “allergy is for Levinas the perfect synonym of Hegel’s homeopathy (…) [but] by substituting allergy to homeopathy, Levinas reverses Hegel: what in Hegel is therapy, in Levinas is still illness” (101-102) Nevertheless, there is no simple opposition between homeopathy and allergy, and while the rejection of allergy in Levinas supposes the harmlessness and innocence of the other, homeopathy supposes its toxicity. Hegel was not exactly ‘allergic’ to the other, at least not if we consider what he wrote about homeopathy. On the other hand, the logics of auto-immunity as pharmakon may consider what Hegel said in the same remark to §373: hypochondria is the prototype of all illness.
  1. As her title revels, Marie-Louise Mallet discusses the role of the word ‘marvel’ in Levinas’ writings. And although she actually focuses mainly on it, her entire essay revolves then around the attention that Derrida paid to Levinas’ writing, for as Mallet recalls, already in Violence and Metaphysics Derrida wrote “… Levinas’ writing, which would merit an entire separate study itself (…) [I]n Totality and Infinity the use of metaphor, remaining admirable and most often —if not always— beyond rhetorical abuse, shelters within its pathos the most decisive movements of the discourse” (Derrida 2001, 397–398 note 7).

Now, Mallet’s essay has its origins on a marvelous intertwining of circumstances, and we find it hard to distance ourselves from the story behind it. In 1996 Mallet participated in the ‘Homage to Emmanuel Levinas’, organized by Danielle Cohen-Levinas at the Collège International de Philosophie. There, she “enumerated some of those ‘marvels’ [in Levinas’ writings], not going too far on a real consideration of the theme.” Some years after, while looking for a subject for her contribution, she went back to that word, ‘marvel’, but this time realizing that “the attention [she] paid to that theme cannot but come from Jacques Derrida” (111-112). And it was precisely in the Word of welcome pronounced by Jacques Derrida in that same 1996 ‘Homage to Emmanuel Levinas’ that she found this: “A whole study would have to be devoted to Levina’s exclamation points […] Like the word ‘marvel’, which often precedes the exclamation point” (Derrida 1999, 68). Mallet’s intervention followed the one by Derrida, so in a way Derrida’s attention to the word ‘marvel’ came first; but at the same time, as their interventions were almost contemporary, she could not just follow Derrida’s suggestion. Marvelous encounter, says Mallet. Her contribution to the present volume is then a double homage. Even if it is hard to summarize Mallet’s meticulous argumentation, since it is based on multiple commentaries of Levinas quotes, we will try to show its core.

After a quick reckoning of the occurrences of the word ‘marvel’ in Levinas’ writings, Mallet argues that “the marvel of the idea of infinity” is the ultimate marvel. Levinas indeed repeated different shades of that same formulation on numerous texts, and it is well known that the very idea of infinity as Levinas understands it comes from Descartes’ Third Meditation. Why is it then that Levinas qualifies it as a ‘marvel’? In this specific point, Levinas meets Derrida, who has also remarked the excess of the Cartesian cogito. But, for the latter, what exceeds Cartesian reason “has the unfigurable figure of evil genius, whose threat of ‘total madness’ cannot be totally rejected, not anymore” (122). In contrast, Levinas would think of infinity as a “marvel of giving” (Levinas 1996, 41), and consequently “the marvel of marvels is the strictly levinasian passage from “the idea of infinity” to Other [Autrui]” (124). The marvel as unexpected gift, being this gift what opens to Infinity. Now we can better understand Mallet’s title: “Gifts and Marvels”.

To finish, we would just underline one of the toughest finds made by Mallet: “It is remarkable that any of the marvels that marveled Levinas appear, that any of them phenomenalize itself” (126). Even if the semantic field of the word ‘marvel’ refers to vision, Levinas’ marvel does not appear. And, in this sense, we may talk of something as an appearance whithout ‘appearance’ (apparition sans apparaître). This connects with the next essay, at least in what is referred to representation and present.

  1. In the second to last essay on the book, and also the shortest, Élise Lamy-Rested compares Derrida’s notion of the other with the one developed by Levinas, and this with the aid of the notion of space that, as we will see, implies both history and death.

As the subtitle announces, the essay revisits Derrida’s Violence and Metaphysics in the aim of challenging the idea of an ‘ethical turn’. According to Lamy-Rested, it is in that seminal essay by Derrida that one can find the first indication of “that ‘hyperbolic ethics’ yet to come, which has little in common with levinasian philosophy of Alterity” (134). So rather than a levinasian influence on Derrida’s late work, we should talk of a disagreement or hiatus, already noticeable in 1964, when Derridas’ article was first published. The core of that hiatus would be the problem of space. In general outline –Lamy-Rested argues– Levinas would think the Other as out of space, or more precisely beyond space we add, while Derrida would think the Other as ‘spacing’ (espacement). This has many consequences, but we must highlight at least one: if for Levinas the Other is “out of space, it is without any mediation that he presents himself to me in a speech [parole] not composed by signs, but nevertheless an expression or an address” (140). Now, Lamy-Rested argues that if Levinas can say so and at the same time allow some kind of presence (“The face is presence, ousia”, as it is said in Violence and Metaphysics), it is because that “presence has nothing to do with Husserl’s Living-Present or with God’s presence as theology understands it” (139). There is a disjunction between representation and presence, so the Other may very well present itself without any representation, that is unmediated or immediately. On the other hand, it is precisely because the Other escapes representation that Derrida thinks that “he never presents himself directly. He ‘manifests himself’ through signs” (140). Following Derrida’s commentary-interpretation of Husserl’s Origins of geometry, Lamy-Rested argues that it is then through the signs that the Other may survive and be kept in mind. And, most important: “It is then manipulating signs that we renounce to violence, even if that manipulation is also violence, for it is indebted to death, mine and Others: manipulation differs, maybe in-finitely, the instant of irremediable destruction if others take it over” (141). There is an economy of violence, as there is an economy of death. And both are related to writing, for signs “are [for Derrida] an essential element of what he calls ‘writing’.” (140) This is a central point on Lamy-Rested argumentation, since she opposes Levinas’ hearing to Derrida’s writing (Levina’s face-to-face “is not a seeing, face is in fact a speech [parole],” she writes (139))[iii].

Even if it is true that we can find in both Derrida and Levinas something as a ‘hyperbolic ethics’, its meaning and reasons differ considerably. For Derrida space (and the Other as ‘spacing’) opens-up the possibility of inscription and then survival, but at the same time the possibility of disappearing and violence. The negotiation between violence and non-violence, death and survival is what gives its hyperbolical character to ethics: “… the irreducible violence of the relation to the other, is at the same time nonviolence, since it opens the relation to the other. It is an economy. And it is this economy which, by this opening, will permit access to the other to be determined, in ethical freedom, as moral violence or nonviolence” (Derrida 2001, 160). For Levinas, on the contrary, it is only if the Other is out of reach, out of space, that historical violence may stop. There is no such thing as an ‘ethical turn’ inspired by Levinas, even if Derrida seems to ‘levinasize’ his writing in his later work, the disagreement would have begun very early, and the so-called ‘ethical turn’ isn’t but a new modulation.

Finally, even when Lamy-Rested succeeds in showing how the hiatus –or chiasma, as Cohen-Levinas says in the first essay– may be interpreted as a disagreement on the notion of space, with all its consequences, there is little reference to Levinas’ writings outside Totality and Infinity, and then almost all interpretations depend on what Derrida wrote about Levinas. She does not conceal the fact, and is valid to just follow Derrida’s interpretation, but we ask ourselves if a re-reading of Levinas’ idea of ‘beyond’ (and not ‘out of’) space would not change the landscape (not to mention the reading of Levinas’ later work). Or even if there is not also an economy in Levinas, as Brezis’ essays seem to reveal.

  1. The last essay revolves around a disagreement –the disagreement if we follow Stanislas Jullien, its author– between Derrida and Levinas on “the place from which infinity must be approached, endured and welcomed” (147). While for Derrida that place can only be the “original finitude” as described in Violence and Metaphysics, Levinas would have never took finitude seriously. Consequently, the disagreement may be also articulated as an opposition between “an epiphanic regime of the trace leaned towards the alterity of the face, whose infinity would demand to acquit from the world and the writing” and a “regime of grammatology of the trace leaned towards the thingness [choseité] of the world, whose infinity would demand the archi-inscription of its phenomenalization” (148-149). As we have seen before, there is nothing new in opposing Levinas and Derrida for this. But, as for all the essays in the collection, this is just the starting point. Jullien’s central hypothesis is this: there were most scholars recognizing an approach towards Levinas, that is in the privilege of the death of the Other, the distance is in fact the greater. If the disagreement turns around original finitude, mourning would be the point of greater concentration of oppositions. In a very sophisticated turn, Jullien argues that “original mourning” confirms the differences that we may already notice in Violence and Metaphysics. And that because in Derrida there is a “thanatological performativity of finitude” that would be absent in Levinas’ thinking. Once again we are challenging the very idea of an ‘ethical turn’.

Now, “original” does not mean that finitude is a new origin, the ultimate origin. By “anarchizing the origin” Derrida would make possible the “utterly infinitisation” of finitude (152), that is, by transferring “the originality of finitude” from dying to original mourning he would introduce a mediation that “breaks the immanence of dying” (153). The origin is, in a way, ahead; it will come with the mourning, and in this sense mourning is “more original” than dying.  Finitude comes not from my death but from the Other’s death. But isn’t that precisely what Levinas has wrote? All Jullien’s effort in the second part of his essay are focused on demonstrating that there is a “manifest absence of mourning in Levinas” (158). Even if Levinas makes the death of the Other the center of his exposition, for example in Time and the Other, the lack of what Jullien calls a “thanatological performativity,” as well as the “ethical privilege of infinitude over finitude” (159) would reveal a profound unawareness of the very core of finitude. In short, Jullien argues that for Levinas infinity precedes mourning, so finitude does not precede mourning but comes-with it. For Derrida, on the contrary, “is the facticity of an openness to mortality of mortal other as strangeness [étrangété] or ‘foreignness’ [étrangèreté] of his nothingness [néantité] that precedes infinity” (164-165).

Yet problematic on several aspects, in particular in his reading of the difference between death and dying in Levinas’ writings, Jullien’s essay is one of the most well-articulated essays in the collection. It is worth a reading, if not a re-reading, especially from those interested in the role of death in Derrida’s thinking.

Only a few words to finish, taken from Margel’s essay that may be very well an epigraph to any philosophical work after Derrida: “To think or rethink the work of deconstruction as the economy of an infinite mourning is also, and maybe first and above all, for those of us who survive it, reconsider the limits of deconstruction, the limits of possible, or the possible limits of the impossible mourning of a history of philosophy, of which Derrida will say that is always already finished and yet more virgin than ever” (31).

Review bibliography

Derrida, Jacques. 1973. Speech and Phenomena, and Other Essays on Husserl’s Theory of Signs. Translated by David B. Allison. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.

———. 1981. Dissemination. Translated by Barbara Johnson. London: The Athlone Press.

———. 1999. Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas. Translated by Michael Naas and Pascale-Anne Bault. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

———. 2001. Writing and Difference. Translated by Alan Bass. London-New York: Routledge.

Joyce, James. 1986. Ulysses. Edited by Hans Walter Gabler. New York: Vintage.

Levinas, Emmanuel. 1987. Time and the Other and Other Essays. Translated by Richard A. Cohen. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press.

———. 1996. Proper Names. Translated by Michael B. Smith. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

———. 1998a. Discovering Existence with Husserl. Translated by Richard A. Cohen and Michael B. Smith. Northwestern University Press.

———. 1998b. Otherwise Than Being, Or, Beyond Essence. Translated by Alphonso Lingis. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press.

Nancy, Jean-Luc. 1990. “Sharing Voices.” In Transforming the Hermeneutic Context: From Nietzsche to Nancy, edited by Gayle L. Ormiston and Alan D. Schrift, translated by Gayle L. Ormiston, 211–59. Albany: The State University of New York Press.

Footnotes bibliography

Lyotard, Jean-François. 1984. “Jewish Oedipus.” In Driftworks, translated by Roger McKeon, 35–55. New York: Semiotext(e).

Ormiston, Gayle L., and Alan D. Schrift, eds. 1990. Transforming the Hermeneutic Context: From

[i] It is important to emphasize the ambiguity of the word partage. As Nancy’s Le Partage des voix translator recalls “its field of designation covers sharing, multiplying, distributing, and differentiating, as well as fate, destiny, and determination” (Ormiston and Schrift 1990, 35 n. 10).

[ii] Derrida developed the idea of a “program” from Of Grammatologie to Psyche. We cannot discuss here its implications, and we are not using the word in its fully technical sense.

[iii] Let us recall these few words from Lyotard’s essay Jewish Oedipus, that may well help us to understand what the issue is “In Hebraic ethics representation is forbidden, the eye closes, the ear opens in order to hear father’s word. The image figure is rejected because of its fulfillment of desire and delusion; its function of truth is denied (…). Thus one does not speculate, one does not ontologize, as Emmanuel Levinas would say.” (Lyotard 1984, 42)

Leave a Reply