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Otherwise Than Being, or, Beyond Essence
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 20 January 2013
Otherwise than Being is probably Levinas's most difficult book. Indeed it is probably the most difficult book that I have ever read. But this should not deter the most determined readers.
It requires some acqaintance with his other works, particularly Totality and Infinity and the papers that come in between (Most of them in Collected Philosophical Papers, Basic Philosophical Writings or Entre Nous).

The book's central argument is that ethics, as Levinas has conceived it in Totality and Infinity (the interruption of the sponaneous ego by the face of the Other) requires that we rethink the nature of subjectivity. This is done by way of a reconception of the oneself as ethical subjectivity. Such a oneself is 'prior' to the self as consciousness reflecting on itself. It is a passivity which is obsessed by the Other person to the point of persecution. It's as if the self were taken hostage by the Other before it has time to recuperate itself.

This oneself at the heart of subjectivity is an outpouring of the self toward the needs of the Other, it is driven out by the presence of the Other always already there, traumatising the subject. As such ethical subjectivity, in its movement toward the Other 'against all good sense,' is a movement otherwise than being (since being is understood by Levinas as beings preservation in their being) and beyond essence (where essence is understood as the being of beings in Heidegger's sense). It is a rethinking of the body as a passivity more passive than the passivity of matter, wherein, accused by the Other, the subject is in a skin too tight to contain it.

If this sounds obscure it is because the book is extremely difficult. And I have only touched upon one of the many strands of this book. I have not said anything for example about the crucial distinction that Levinas draws between the saying and the said as it arises in language.

I recommend the close study of Levinas for all of those interested in ethics or Continental philosophy, and this is his final magnum opus.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 28 February 2012
I must say at the outset that I am not a big fan of the Levinasian approach to philosophy/cultural aesthetics as it seems to me Levinas ends up accepting the very problems he is so committed to overturning; namely, essence/appearance and other Hegelian traps of logic. However, if you are going to purchase just one of his works, this one is it. Clear, passionate, timely.
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