Annals of Ethics
Online ISSN : 2434-4699
Development and Transition of Levinas’s Anti-Historical Theory
Masami ISHII
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JOURNALS OPEN ACCESS

2021 Volume 70 Pages 147-160

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Abstract

 Emmanuel Levinas emphatically reiterates his caustic critique of historiography in Totality and Infinity(1961). For Levinas, “[historiography]rests on the usurpation carried out by the conquerors, that is by the survivors,” and to him, it is a violence of totality that ignores the particularities of the individual and reduces them into a narrative convenient to the victors.  In this paper, we first take up the text of Totality and Infinity, where Levinas most explicitly declares his critique of history, and lay out why history is the violence of totality. In doing so, we demonstrate that both ethics and fecundity are deployed as resistance to the violence of history. Secondly, we analyze how Levinas addresses the difficulties that the theory of history in Totality and Infinit faced, in his later works including Otherwise than Being and Beyond Essence( 1974). We summarize our engagement with the other found in the dimension of “trace,” focusing especially on discussions of “survival” and “books.” We then analyze the path of change in Levinas’s strict attitude toward history and the other in the past.  The outcome of this series of readings that this paper gains is, first, to show that for Levinas, history and its violence were not just an example of totality to be critiqued, but an important concern closely linked to ethics. Secondly, by analyzing his later writings, this paper illustrates that wary of the violence of historiography, Levinas was seeking a positive relationship with the past and history and that he was once again grappling with the difficulties of the debate faced in Totality and Infinity.

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