Ethics, Still: Levinas in the 21st Century (Roundtable)


Comparative Literature / Cultural Studies and Media Studies

Callie Ingram (SUNY University at Buffalo)

The philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas begins with one gesture: before all other philosophies, theories, or forms of knowledge, we have an ethical encounter and obligation to the other. This “ethics as first philosophy” has influenced many contemporary scholars, including Jacques Derrida’s theories of hospitality and Judith Butler’s work on shared precarity, and offers a way of conceptualizing the epistemological conditions of violence that undergird the real-life violences occurring in social and political life.

The NeMLA 2019 convention theme, “Transnational Spaces: Intersections of Cultures, Languages, and Peoples,” speaks to the concerns of relationality: how do we intersect with one another? What are the ethical and epistemological conditions of our social life? Starting from Levinas’ claim of “ethics as first philosophy,” our shared precarity and responsibility to one another that founds our intellectual and political life, this session will negotiate the complicated ethical-aesthetic processes at work in these “intersections” as they are represented and enacted in 21st-century literary and cultural works.

The goal of this session is to investigate how Levinas’ ethical orientation (and its afterlives in the work of Butler, Derrida, and others) can be used to disrupt or augment the major methodological debates and texts of the day: postcritique, neoliberalism & multiculturalism, ecocriticism, intersectionality, metamodernism, new formalism, etc. Ultimately, forefronting Levinas’ thought in our literary and cultural scholarship will allow us to mark the ethical mechanisms and boundaries extant in current methodologies, literatures, and cultural productions.
This session will explore engagements with the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas across literary and cultural studies of our contemporary moment. How do we understand an ethics of alterity in relationship to contemporary literary and cultural representation, and how might we expand on or intervene in Levinas’s philosophy in order to suggest new approaches to scholarship, literature, or the act of reading itself? Papers that combine theoretical approaches influenced by Levinas or his interlocutors with readings of 21st-century literary and cultural works are especially welcome.