chapter  4
15 Pages

Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence

Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence was published as a book in 1974 but is based on lectures and articles dating back some seven years. It therefore continues with some implications of the major moral programme outlined in Totality and Infinity. Here the asymmetrical tensions between Being and Other are presented dramatically through intense phenomenological examinations of our subjectivity, temporality, responsibility and infinitude. Once again, then, Levinas is contesting a vision of Western philosophical closure that he feels culminates in Heideggerian Being. But on another level, Otherwise than Being radically disrupts many of the premises still intact within Totality and Infinity. This has to do with a number of logical consequences arising from the earlier work, such as its self-defeatingly successful presentation of the unthematizable, as well as the key paradox which Derrida exposed in his lucid critique, concerning how an attempt to undo conceptuality ends up by retaining it. It is in part for these reasons that Otherwise than Being can seem such a strangely expressive and even violent text that hardly resembles philosophy at all. This chapter tries to clarify the main ideas of Otherwise than Being, works through its difficult language and radical terminology, focuses especially on the issues of saying and passivity, and follows Levinas’s subsequent debate with Jacques Derrida about the difficulties and even impossibilities inherent in such a radical project.