Hillhurst Review Editor-in-Chief, Ryan Bell, has joined a group of bloggers at The Spectrum Blog to reflect, chapter-by-chapter, through Christina M. Gschwandtner’s book Postmodern Apologetics? (Fordham University Press, 2012). His post on chapter 2, “Emmanuel Lévinas and the Infinite,” is online now. Read it below and join the conversation at The Spectrum Blog.
Just over two years ago I got a tattoo on my left forearm. It is a single word in Hebrew: hineni. In English, hineni means, “Here I am.” It is what Abraham says to God when God calls his name, asking him to sacrifice his son, Isaac. It is what Samuel says after discovering that it is God, not Eli, calling his name. It is what Isaiah says when he is overcome by the glory of God in Isaiah 6—“Here I am.” In Lévinas’ native French, it is easy to see that the expression is in the accusative. The speaker is not the actor but is rather the acted upon, the called upon, the “accused.”
For Lévinas, this is the appropriate response when we are encountered by the other. He departs from Heidegger in a fundamental way in his approach to phenomenology. For Heidegger, the emphasis was on the knowing subject, concerned with Being and apprehension of the things themselves. Lévinas argues that this desire to apprehend and understand objectifies the other—particularly the human other—and reduces them to “the same.” This approach to philosophy collapses what Lévinas sees as the irreducible alterity of the other. This difference must be maintained, otherwise we do violence to the other.
In a telling statement, Gschwandtner writes:
What is other or different or strange or incomprehensible is scary, unsettling, and fearful. The stranger has always been a threat on some level. So what do we do when something or someone is “strange” or “different”? Either we destroy: try to eliminate the scary stranger, to wipe out anything that induces fear. Or we assimilate, comprehend (encompass), make like us—so the stranger really becomes merely another version of the self. Lévinas calls this “reducing the other to the same” (42).
Read the rest here.