chapter  3
12 Pages

Totality and Infinity

Totality and Infinity (1961), subtitled An Essay on Exteriority, is the first of Levinas’s two most famous and sustained texts. Placing the terms of the title initially in opposition to one another, Levinas advances an explicit critique of the whole of Western philosophy based on ontology, which he sees as having an inherent tendency to generate totalizing concepts of being. This approach is insistently linked by Levinas to the early and late philosophy of Martin Heidegger. In a set of sweeping and reiterating passages, sustained by key arresting images, Levinas repeatedly rejects the synthesizing of phenomena in favour of a way of thinking that supposedly remains open to the other.