Sensibility and Subjectivity: Levinas’ Traumatic Subject

Rashmika Pandya


The importance of Levinas’ notions of sensibility and subjectivity are evident in the revision of phenomenological method by current phenomenologists such as Jean-Luc Marion and Michel Henry. The criticisms of key tenants of classical phenomenology, intentionality and reduction, are of a particular note. However, there are problems with Levinas’ characterization of subjectivity as essentially sensible. In “Totality and Infinity” and “Otherwise than Being”, Levinas criticizes and recasts a traditional notion of subjectivity, particularly the notion of the subject as the first and foremost rational subject. The subject in Levinas’ works is characterized more by its sensibility and affectedness than by its capacity to reason or affect its world. Levinas ties rationality to economy and suggests an alternative notion of reason that leads to his analysis of the ethical relation as the face-to-face encounter. The ‘origin’ of the social relation is located not in our capacity to know but rather in a sensibility that is diametrically opposed to the reason understood as economy. I argue that the opposition in Levinas’ thought between reason and sensibility is problematic and essentially leads to a self-conflicted subject. In fact, it would seem that violence characterizes the subject’s self-relation and, thus, is also inscribed at the base of the social relation. Rather than overcoming a problematic tendency to dualistic thought in philosophy Levinas merely reverses traditional hierarchies of reason/emotion, subject/object and self/other.


Article in: English

Article published: 2010-03-15

Keyword(s): Levinas; Sensibility/Affectivity; Comprehension/Reason; Subjectivity; the Other; Violence

DOI: 10.3846/coactivity.2010.02

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Coactivity: Philosophy, Communication / Santalka: Filosofija, Komunikacija ISSN 2029-6320, eISSN 2029-6339
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