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Altered Reading

Levinas and Literature

How might the ethical philosophy of the renowned French thinker Emmanuel Levinas relate to literature? Because his philosophy addresses the very opening of ethical experience, it cannot be applied readily as a critical method to literary texts. Yet Levinas’s work, studded as it is with literary sources and quotations, demands a literary account.

With an attitude at once respectful and interrogative, closely attentive to Levinas’s texts while in dialogue with readings by Derrida, Blanchot, and Bataille, Altered Reading shows how the thread of the literary leads directly to the internal tensions of Levinas’s ethical discourse. Jill Robbins provides a comprehensive critical account of Levinas’s early and mature philosophy as well as later key transitional essays. In an invaluable appendix, she includes her own translation of an important, previously untranslated essay by Bataille on Levinas.

Altered Reading will interest philosophers, literary critics, scholars of religion, and others drawn to Levinas’s work.

200 pages | 6 x 9 | © 1999

Literature and Literary Criticism: General Criticism and Critical Theory

Philosophy: Philosophy of Religion

Religion: Judaism, Philosophy of Religion, Theology, and Ethics

Table of Contents

Part I - Literature in Levina’s Ethical Philosophy
1. On Call from the Other: Ethical Language in Totality and Infinity
Discourse and Gift
Metaphysical Asymmetry
Rhetoric and the Face
2. Tracing Responsibility
Absolutely Toward the Future
The Face
Tracing an Absolute Past in Levinas and Derrida
The Trace of God
3. Facing Figures
The Literary Question
The Claims of Figural Interpretation
Lacking Figure
Too Many Figures
Losing Face
Turning Away from Art
4. Visage, Figure Speech and Murder in Totality and Infinity
Just Speaking
Speaking Face
Speaking Murder
And Cain Said to Abel
Part II - Levinas and the Aesthetic
5. Aesthetic Totality and Ethical Infinity
Poetry and the Ethical
Theorizing the Work of Art
6. Art, Philosophy, and the Il Y A
Allusions and Abridgements
Bataille on Description and Cry
Jean Wahl’s Existentialisms
Cries and Lacerations (Kierkegaard)
Levinas Reading Kierkegaard
7. Citation and the Art of Totality and Infinity
The Alibi of Metaphysics
Levinas Reading Rimbaud
The Alterity of Literature
8. Exceptions
The Frozen Face
The Knots of Agnon
Improper Naming
Levinas Reading Dostoevsky
The Example of Blanchot
Appendix Review Essay, "From Existentialism to the Primacy of Economy," by Georges Bataille

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