Adorno and Levinas: From Freedom to Peace

In this essay I attempt to sketch out the possibility of a response to the problem of the relation between ethics and politics in Emmanuel Levinas’s philosophy. Levinas’s ethics as first philosophy is revolutionary, and promising, but it leads to a gap between ethics and politics. This is a genuine problem, since depending on how one problematizes this gap and responds to it, one may end up with different, even opposing, views of Levinas’s thought, ranging from the right side of the political spectrum to its very left. In order to respond to this problem, I examine the possibility of a constructive dialogue between Levinas’s ethics and Adorno’s negative dialectics. In particular, I approach the relation between ethics and politics in Levinas from the standpoint of the question of history.

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Telos 174 (Spring 2016): Philosophy, Literature, Theory

Telos 174 (Spring 2016): Philosophy, Literature, Theory is now available for purchase in our store.

In this issue, Telos turns to a diverse set of philosophers, contemporary and classical, and questions, concerning ethics and politics on the one hand, and literature and aesthetics on the other. More often than not, those distinctions turn out to be difficult to maintain. A case in point is the opening essay, which examines how statements by Levinas have been subjected to political readings in order to impute to him positions that he did not hold. What are the ethics of intentional misreadings? In their meticulously argued analysis, Oona Eisenstadt and Claire Elise Katz demonstrate how the philosopher’s comments in a 1982 radio interview, in the immediate aftermath of the massacres in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon, have been subjected to increasing degrees of misrepresentation, culminating in false accusations that he justified the killings. These insinuations involved fabricating quotations to put words in his mouth. Eisenstadt and Katz expose the poor philology and tendentious politics implicit in such distortion.

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Gillian Rose and Theology: Salvaging Faith

Gillian Rose began as a sympathetic interpreter of Adorno. This essay considers the abiding strength of Adorno’s thought, from her point of view, by contrast for instance with that of Heidegger; but also the rationale of her eventual move beyond Adorno, and back to Hegel. Fundamentally at issue, in this move, is the Hegelian notion of “Absolute Knowing,” as a systematic re-opening of the most purely rationalistic philosophy, toward theology. That is, the sense in which it represents an ideal “salvage” strategy, with regard to religion: neither over-reductionist in the manner of Kant, or of Feuerbach, nor inadequately critical in the manner of Schleiermacher; but, rather, an approach precisely focused on the ineradicable ambiguity of all religious utterance—as a potential medium for “Spirit”—even whilst fully acknowledging religion’s unsurpassable potential virtues as a non-elitist mode of communication. Rose, it is argued, quite rightly sees beyond Adorno’s caricatural misreading of Hegelian grand-narrative “theodicy”: which is by no means, in fact, the intrinsically de-sensitizing mode of ideology he supposes it to be, but is, instead, a therapeutically “comedic” impulse, akin to Nietzschean amor fati, combined with a (not at all Nietzschean) concern for effective cosmopolitan solidarity-building.

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Book Review: Stephan Grigat on Zionism, the Israeli Left, and Iran

Die Einsamkeit Israels: Zionismus, die israelische Linke und die iranische Bedrohung (Israel’s Solitude: Zionism, the Israeli Left, and the Iranian Threat), by the German political scientist Stephan Grigat, is an important contribution to the overall debate on the Middle East, and it was published just in time, given the background of the Lausanne negotiations with Iran. Grigat dispels the current euphoria about the “breakthrough in Lausanne” and illuminates the many existing darker sides of the Lausanne deal. The present reviewer is of the opinion that, particularly in view of the special historical responsibility of Continental Europe, a careful reconsideration of the realities created in Lausanne and the considerable role played by the EU foreign policy machinery is necessary and that the other side in the conflict—the side of Israel—is also being heard.

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Negative Utopia as the Ground for Universality

In his Critique of Judgment, Kant explains how “subjective judgments” resemble theoretical claims about truth in that they claim universal assent, even though they do not have an objective basis for doing so. In other words, although they are subjective, they assert a strict sense of objectivity and claim a universal ground for truth. Therefore, the proof of the validity of these judgments cannot be found in a specific “observable feature” of the object, but rather in the “actual intersubjective agreement.” While truth in his third Critique is neither a matter of the intellect nor a thing reducible to conceptual realm, it seems that he offers a different sense of truth that influenced the major trends in continental philosophy. One can trace this sense of truth as it provides a ground not only to “test the limits of our historical era” but also “to go beyond them.”

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Schmitt, Hamlet, and Aesthetic Idlers

In his essay “Political Aesthetics: Carl Schmitt on Hamlet,” David Pan puts forward an interpretation of the relationship between aesthetics and politics in Schmitt’s discussion of Hamlet. Today the question about the relationship of aesthetics and politics in the thought of German jurist is a widely discussed topic. According to one interpretation, which is best represented by a sentence of Jürgen Habermas, “Carl Schmitt’s polemical discussion of political Romanticism conceals the aestheticizing oscillations of his own political thought.” But according to Schmitt’s self-understanding, this interpretation could not be further from the truth.

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