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Otherwise Than Being: Or Beyond Essence [Paperback]

Emmanuel Levinas
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Levinas' best work, but not easy to understand March 29 2005
Format:Paperback
Much though I am fascinated with Levinas, I do find it nearly unreadable. His text is so dense, it requires (but definitely merits) slow reading.
Although it might be helpful to have read earlier Levinas, this book takes a bit of a departure from the philosophy he espoused in his younger days. I don't believe it is such a radical departure so much as a reorientation and increased sophistication, but that's a topic for another discussion!
I highly recommend this read if you are familiar with phenomenology, particulary Husserl and Heidegger, and Kant. I believe they are essential to understanding his arguments.
If you are willing to put in the time and mental effort to unpack this, it is a very rewarding book. For some additional explanation, a good companion is Beyond by Peperzak.
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Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
60 of 68 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars otherwise than self Oct. 22 2000
By Eli Schonfeld - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
"Otherwise Than Being" is one of the only metaphysical text that seriously revise and rehabilitate the notion of the subject after Heidegger's deconstruction and critique of it. Proposing a "de-nucleated" subject, a subject that is non-indifferent to the other, Emmanuel Levinas continues the intuitions he first draw in "Totality and Infinity". But rather than simply continue directly and without revision the acquisitions of "Totality and Infinity", Levinas integrates Derrida's critique (drawn in his important article on Levinas,"Violence and Metaphysics") of the still to ontological/phenomenological discourse of "Totality and Infinity". Therefore, in "Otherwise than Being", his second Masterpiece, Levinas is developing a completely new style, a radically new way-of-thinking. Being not committed anymore neither to phenomenology nor to ontology, Levinas offers us an exercise of post-heidegerrian metaphysics that doesn't fall under the critique of philosophy as onto-theo-logy. The pre-original dimension of psychism, the an-archic dimension of the Self, or subjectivity as "other-in-the-Self" are themes breaking the classical metaphysical discourse without abandoning the primacy of the subject, or of ethics. Finally, "Otherwise than Being" is the first important challenge to Nietzsche's parricide, the first (and maybe only) text that tries to re-hear the authentic signification of the word (or name?): God.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Levinas' best work, but not easy to understand March 29 2005
By Red Jenny - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Much though I am fascinated with Levinas, I do find it nearly unreadable. His text is so dense, it requires (but definitely merits) slow reading.
Although it might be helpful to have read earlier Levinas, this book takes a bit of a departure from the philosophy he espoused in his younger days. I don't believe it is such a radical departure so much as a reorientation and increased sophistication, but that's a topic for another discussion!
I highly recommend this read if you are familiar with phenomenology, particulary Husserl and Heidegger, and Kant. I believe they are essential to understanding his arguments.
If you are willing to put in the time and mental effort to unpack this, it is a very rewarding book. For some additional explanation, a good companion is Beyond by Peperzak.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Profoundly disturbing Jan. 3 2012
By D. R. Greenfield - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Initially, I did not think it would be possible to read and understand this work; I had read excerpts from it numerous times over the last several years and found it impenetrable. However, after purchasing the book and carefully reading Lingis' Introduction, it was much easier than I had thought. All in all, it took three month's of close and careful reading to complete, spending about one or two hours per day, usually first thing in the morning. I don't think this is the hardest work I read -- I failed miserably and eventually gave up on Deleuze's Difference and Repetition after about 140 pages -- but certainly it was the most profound, and disturbing.

Unlike Totality and Infinity, which dealt in depth with a number of different but related ideas, Otherwise Than Being (OB) is really much narrower in its scope. It deals specifically with subjectivity. Levinas uses an idiosyncratic terminology throughout this work. The word 'essence' in this work does not denote essence in the Aristotelian or the Husserlian sense. For Levinas it means simply 'being'. Another possible point of confusion is the word 'anarchy' which in OB does not have any political connotation; it means simply an-archic, or untimely, beyond time. The word 'interest' (or French, interesse) in OB means an inwardness of essence, the depth of the subject's inwardness in essence, or belongingness to being.

There are some rather extraordinary claims in this work: Most importantly the claim that subjectivity itself is constituted by the exposure to the other in proximity. An even more extraordinary claim is that coherent rational discourse dissimulates transcendence, and "owe[s] its coherence to the State, which violently excludes subversive discourse" (p. 170). The work is extremely unsettling in this regard, for the anarchy of responsibility for the other is not to be confused with some project or intention willingly taken up by the subject. It is a hostage situation that is entirely passive, "an anachronous birth" in me, which I cannot except myself from. Over and over throughout the text this point is belabored: that this is not, not, not to be confused with self-sacrifice or being a do-gooder or asceticism. It is a phenomenological description of how subjectivity is constituted.

Whether one in the end accepts Levinas' claims in this work, or brushes it off as nonsense, one will have to face the question of whether the Otherwise than Being is true. For Levinas, there two (several) truths: there is the beyond essence, and there is essence, just as there are two times, the past that was never present, and the present. This work is profoundly disturbing because it is claimed that there is no escape from the Good beyond being; dismissing the book as nonsense does not exempt you from the anarchy of responsibility.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Retrograde Ahead Sept. 12 2012
By Michael H. Shenkman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The reviews that precede mine are all to the good and locate Levinas' work superbly. I simply wish to add what I consider to be my responsibility with regard to this work to the mix.
I respond to this work as I do to the story of an epic pioneering expedition come to its end, a Moses halt outside the promised land, an encampment made too soon. Levinas breaks new ground in "Otherwise Than Being," and I am the better for having that ground tilled. He drives into thickets barely ever before found in order to find the "source" of a great landscape.
He drives, that is, to find a way that our living takes shape as something compelling and inextricably at stake for us, beyond the dry or hyposticized ruminations of Reason and Being, that is, metaphysics. He undertakes this journey, it seems to me, in the spirit of being Husserl's disciple, and as one who felt the sting of Heidegger's "betrayal" (a major motif throughout the book), and then saw the eclipse of the master in its shadow. Levinas here does not defend Husserl's notions of "givenness" or "intuition" but here goes right into the teeth of that primacy, which Husserl continually missed or evaded, so as to bring it to voice.
Levinas, in my estimation well establishes that "signification" arises out of a confluence in the most seminally initiating moments occurrence of self and other; and it is this confluence of an encompassing "oneself" that the ego has for material to render as thing, law, principle, reason and Being. Part of the difficulty of the book arises, of course, from being among the first to happen upon this territory and then instead of doing an anthropology or Freudian translation (without attribution), attempts to give it voice, its own voice. This is a strange voice, one that sounds, says, but does not make itself heard: it shapes the site of hearing prior to any "said" being rendered.
Still, my responsibility compels me to sense the retrograde in this work: a striving so hard to get back to this state of affairs before "being" has taken over, has had its say, that it overestimates what can be accomplished here. He remains a Kurtz, ensnared in his new found land, and exclaims at us, "The Horror," or, in his own words, the "betrayal."
The ego, even being, it seems to me, has not betrayed the one for the other, and it has not abandoned the one/other because of a third party. The ego, even as Heidegger himself struggles beyond it, offers a site, not only of technology or social parsing of justice, but a way that aspirations are given shape so that no pirmal state of oneself has to be claimed or saved or revealed by any god or God. It is the territory into which the oneself has taken us, and that journey is far from complete; and it is good, indeed, to be reminded of that oneself in which we gathered into singularity out of the great and indifferent onwarding milieu, and in such a manner, stance, attitude and strength as to have our way at stake.
The exploration has begun. And, along WITH Heidegger (sorry EL) the opening to the way has been cut. But circling back around to some Edenic state of irremissible responsibility, elided by a presumptuous substitution, is just one aspect; Levinas recites the tale of that place, its story to be told, the new story of that place that indeed needs to be told, and that telling binds us to a commune and a tribe of originating inspiration. All to the good.
But the tale's telling ends. We must forge onward, through and by means of that egoic shape of our way. And not so as to return, recursively to that original givenness and intuition, but toward a more expansive and more encompassing way to engage the fantastic multiplicity and complexity of what now sprawls out before us. The new land is no destination, it is, yes a responsibility above all, yes it calls us before any said in a silent saying beyond all hearing. The new land saturated with being, like it or not, calls for an affirmation a "yes, yes, come" that we have to learn to hear and bring ourselves to, toward, onward. And here, my friends Levinas and Heidegger, no gods can save us. Here we are with each other, responsible and unknowing, affirming for that toward which we can only give, which, as Derrida makes clear, means we must depart and be absent, so the second "yes," is prepared for, and in that we then find ourselves and speak, maybe as Levinas teaches us, of what has already occurred.
But, we have to give way again, for it comes, it gives...
Levinas, I feel, never leaves the circle of the tale told around the fire. I listen with amazement and take it in; but when I depart, I don't feel he can guide me. But Derrida, Nancy, Caputo and others, of the same heart, are ready at the circle's edge.
5.0 out of 5 stars essential for reading "LEVINAS AND THE GREEK HERITAGE" April 4 2014
By Gary Moore - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is the text that inspired Narbonne to write LEVINAS AND THE GREEK HERITAGE that he assumes is the culminating text in Levinas' career. Reading it conjointly with Narbonne would be mutually beneficial!
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