Levinas “Substitution”

Some of the vocabulary items we’ll unpack:

  • the Good
  • the trace
  • meontology
  • ipseity
  • proximity
  • ego/self/creature
  • recurrence
  • psyche
  • justice


All quotes are from Otherwise Than Being, chapter IV: “Substitution.” Trans. Alphonso Lingis. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press. 2000. (Original publication Autrement qu’être, ou au-delà de l’essence, 1974).

Page 100-101 (proximity/obsession)

The relationship of proximity cannot be reduced to any modality of distance or geometrical contiguity, nor to the simple “representation” of a neighbor; it is already an assignation, an extremely urgent assignation—an obligation, anachronously prior to any commitment. This anteriority is “older” than the a priori. This formula expresses a way of being affected which can in no way be invested by spontaneity: the subject is affected without the source of the affection becoming a theme of representation. We have called this relationship irreducible to consciousness obsession. (100-101)

Page 114 (recurrence)

Responsibility for another is not an accident that happens to a subject, but precedes essence in it, has not awaited freedom, in which a commitment to another would have been made. I have not done anything and I have always been under accusation persecuted. The ipseity in the passivity without arche characteristic of identity, is a hostage. The word I means here I am, answering for everything and for everyone. Responsibility for the others has not been a return to oneself, but an exasperated contracting, which the limits of identity cannot retain. (114)

Page 118 (self as hostage)

[To be substituted is to be] outside of any place, in myself, on the hither side of the autonomy of auto-affection and identity resting on itself. Impassively undergoing the weight of the other, thereby called to uniqueness, subjectivity no longer belongs to the order where the alternative of activity and passivity retains its meaning. We have to speak here of expiation as uniting identity and alterity. The ego is not an entity “capable” of expiating for the others: it is this original expiation. (118)

Page 102 (persecution)

The consciousness is affected, then, before forming an image of what is coming to it, affected in spite of itself. In these traits we recognize a persecution; being called into question prior to questioning, responsibility over and beyond the logos of response. It is as though persecution by another were at the bottom of solidarity with another. (102)

Page 108-109 (body)

It is as though the identity of matter resting in itself concealed a dimension in which a retreat to the hither side of immediate coincidence were possible, concealed a materiality more material than all matter, a materiality such that irritability, susceptibility or exposedness to wounds and outrage characterizes its passivity, more passive still than the passivity of effects. (OTB 108)

The expression “in one’s skin” is not a metaphor for the in-itself; it refers to a recurrence in the dead time or the meanwhile which separates inspiration and expiration, the diastole and systole of the heart beating dully against the walls of one’s skin. The body is not only an image or figure here; it is the distinctive in-oneself of the contraction of ipseity and its breakup. (109)

Page 114-115 / page 141 (psyche)

I exist through the other and for the other, but without this being alienation: I am inspired. This inspiration is the psyche. The psyche can signify this alterity in the same without alienation in the form of incarnation, as being-in-one’s-skin, having-the-other-in-one’s-skin. (114-115)

The psyche, a uniqueness outside that of concepts is a seed of folly, already a psychosis. It is not an ego, but me under assignation. . . . Here I am—is a saying with inspiration, which is not a gift for fine words or songs. There is a constraint to give with full hands, and thus a constraint to corporality. (141)

Page 157 (psyche)

If proximity ordered me only to the other alone, there would have not been any problem, in even the most general sense of the term. A question would not have been born, nor consciousness, nor self-consciousness. The responsibility for the other is an immediacy antecedent to questions, it is proximity. It is troubled and becomes a problem when a third party enters. (OTB 157)

Derrida, Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas:

the political and juridical content thus assigned remain undetermined, still to be determined beyond knowledge, beyond all presentation, all concepts, all possible intuition, in a singular way, in the speech and the responsibility taken by each person, in each situation, and on the basis of an analysis that is each time unique—unique and infinite, unique but a priori exposed to substitution, unique and yet general, interminable in spite of the urgency for the decision. (A 115)


Levinas, OTB, 159:

The contemporaneousness of the multiple is tied about the diachrony of the two. . . . justice remains justice only in a society where there is no distinction between those close and those far off, but in which there also remains the impossibility of passing by the closest. The equality of all is borne by my inequality, the surplus of my duties over my rights. (OTB 159)