The Metaphysics of Love: Gender and Transcendence in Levinas
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Emmanuel Levinas is best known for having reintroduced the question of ethics into the Continental philosophical tradition. In The Metaphysics of Love, however, Stella Sandford argues that an over-emphasis on ethics in the reception of Levinas's thought has covered over both the basis and the details of his philosophical project - a metaphysics which affirms the necessity to think of an unqualified transcendence as a first principle. Sandford's book is at the same time a powerful feminist critique of both Levinas's gendered philosophical categories and the attempt to reclaim aspects of this philosophy for feminist theory.
'viril'. Capable of being translated into English as both 'virile' and 'masculine', rooted in the Latin for 'man' (vir\ the meaning of the French word retains its sexuate origin explicitly. When, therefore, Levinas constructs the self, le soi, as 'a virility, a pride and a sovereignty', 11 he constructs it as in some sense 'masculine', a tendency which persists, I will argue, throughout the whole of his career. Power (pouvoir), mastery, conquest, sovereignty, virility, activity and heroism are
enigma comes to us from Illeity. 56 Manifested as face, appearing in the order of this world, what prevents the Other from becoming a mere phenomenon for me, a representation in a system of the same, is illeity. The aspect of immanence which ineluctably comprises the appearance of the face within the order of the world is not fatal because the trace of illeity in the face survives as pure transcendence: Only a being that transcends the world can leave a trace. A trace is a presence of that which
same day he will live and flourish . . . and also meet his death; and then come to life again through the vigour that he inherits from his father. What he wins he always loses, and is neither rich nor poor, neither wise nor ignorant.' This latter quality assures Love a place as one of the class of lovers of wisdom: 'his father was wise and fertile in expedients, his mother devoid of wisdom and helpless.' Levinas's explicit remarks on the Symposium indicate that it is the double and contradictory
philosophy: love of wisdom) with the male or the masculine. The decreasingly negative character of Levinas's references to Platonic eros, and the increasing tendency to identify Aristophanes' speech as illustrative of a degenerate understanding of eros may be explained as the Aristophanesian lovers coming to represent for Levinas eros proper (erotic eros), once the distinction has been made in Levinas's work between eros and love. They represent not just eros considered in its negative aspect but
probably the most opaque moment in Levinas's philosophy. The appeal to Plato's brief references to the 'Good beyond being' helps little in clarifying what it actually means, as these are equally gnomic, and Levinas did not intend the appeal to be explanatory anyway. The problem is, of course, that of which Otherwise Than Being is a performative enactment: the attempt to say what cannot be said without betraying the saying, the attempt to articulate conceptually that which resists and is