Artworking Emmanuel Levinas’ Totality and Infinity
‘To approach the Other in conversation is to welcome his expression, in which at each instant he overflows the idea a thought would carry away from it. It is therefore to receive from the Other beyond the capacity of the I, which means exactly: to have the idea of infinity. But this also means: to be taught. The relation with the Other, or Conversation, is a non-allergic relation, an ethical relation; but inasmuch as it is welcomed this conversation is a teaching. Teaching is not reducible to maieutics; it comes from the exterior and brings me more than I contain. In its non-violent transitivity the very epiphany of the face is produced.’
—Emmanuel Levinas, ‘Totality and Infinity’
I frequently read the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas as I would poetry. This is not to belittle his ideas… quite the opposite. One of the reasons I enjoy him is because I can see his struggle, his need. The Romanian poet and artist Gherasim Luca once wrote of his own work that it aimed at ‘dissolving the oedipal complex in order to liberate love’. While this was not Levinas’ explicitly stated aim, there is the sense that at the heart of his writing sits a need to give love wings, to make it central to ‘the victory over death’. It’s not about whether he succeeds, philosophically, it’s the beauty of the attempt, and it’s why I will always return to Levinas.