Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Levinas and Poe's Raven

I'm sitting in on an Emmanuel Levinas class this semester, simply for personal edification. And in reading his Existence and Existents (written while he was a prisoner of war) for the first time, I'm amazed at how largely the concept of the "there is" figures into Levinas's early, pre-Totality and Infinity work. There is not, however, any trace of what will become the fundamentally Levinasian notion of the face-to-face. But it's filled with literary references and illusions -- Rimbaud, Shakespeare, Racine, Baudelaire, Homer, Blanchot -- that, for me, ground an otherwise dense work. One subtle reference to Edgar Allen Poe is particularly intriguing, and must have been personally resonant for Levinas, as he sat as a prisoner of war:

"If death is nothingness, it is not nothingness pure and simple; it still has the reality of a chance that was lost. The 'nevermore' hovers about like a raven in the dismal night, like a reality in nothingness. The incompleteness of this evanescence is manifest in the regret which accompanies it. . . " (77).

Even death, it seems, for Levinas, is too nuanced to be simply "nothingness."


nedric said...

Wow. Perfect timing for that post... The nothingness of death still bears a trace of possibility. And this possibility is revealed in the consequent regret, and - I would like to add if at all possible - a communally effervescent (in a Durkheimian sense) regret.

Monica said...

Nice addition, Nedric.