|Meaning and Melancholy in the Thought of Emmanuel Levinas|
2014, 192 S, Kt, (V&R)
Although considered as one of the 20th century most central ethical thinkers, Emmanuel Levinas claimed that his task was not to construct an ethics, but to seek the meaning of the ethical. This claim is the point of departure of the present study, which asks how ethics could be regarded as meaningful at all in light of the crisis of meaning that according to Levinas is inherent to being. Ethical meaning is for Levinas sought otherwise than being or beyond essence in terms of a radical responsibility for the Other. At the same time, it is questionable whether the ethical may be said to represent an overcoming of the crisis of meaning. This is visible in Levinas rather harsh descriptions of the ethical situation, involving not only the meaningless, but also feelings like melancholy, trauma, and shame. As the study shows, such feelings can for Levinas not be seen apart from their religious significance, although Levinas does not rely on conventional theology, but rather understands transcendence in a deeply sensible manner. This is shown in the radical passivity and self-emptying to the point of messianism of the responsible subject, which is the only way the meaning of the ethical may be rescued. The study also discusses how the utopian aspect of such a position is problematic in practical life, and why Levinas therefore admits the need for the ethical to be betrayed in ontology, which also implies an involvement with aesthetics as ontological par excellence.