Levinas the Novelist

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The publication of the first volumes of Emmanuel Levinas's Œuvres reveals an unexpected side to his work. In his article ‘La Réalité et son ombre’ (1948) he condemns art for being obscure and mystifying. Nevertheless, his posthumous papers show that he had literary ambitions which persisted well beyond the end of the Second World War. Fragments of two novels have been preserved, both dealing with the experience of war. Taken together, his published and unpublished work indicates that, for him, literary and philosophical projects were both antagonistic and intertwined, at least during the key period of his development in the 1940s and 1950s. The publication of his great philosophical work of 1961, Totalité et infini, might appear to signal a definitive choice of philosophy over literature; yet that book also incorporates some aspects of Levinas's literary endeavours into its dense fabric, in particular the disruptive effects of war on meaning and ethics. The publication of Levinas's literary fragments reveals a hitherto unknown aspect of his work that complicates and renews our understanding of his philosophical endeavour.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)333-344
Number of pages12
JournalFrench Studies
Issue number3
Early online date19 May 2015
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2015

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