Thursday, February 21, 2013

Levinas on Totality and Infinity

Many if not all of Levinas’ distinctions can be subsumed under the headings of “totality” and “infinity”.  These headings represent an inner dichotomy, or split, in how we relate to the world and our fellow man, the Other.  Much of civilization is founded on our ability to totalize.  Physics, chemistry, biology, political science, economics, all rely on man’s ability to make order out of chaos—to bring everything into a lawful system.  Every discipline defines the boundaries and scope of its purview—by defining the limits we gain the ability to know and control.  Yet, 
somehow, we always feel a separation, a gap, a rift, a rupture, never a feeling of completeness, harmony, perfect unity, communion—never a feeling of “totality”, rather always a feeling of “infinity”—of desires that are infinite, questions that always open out endlessly, yearnings that are never quenched. (Veling, 1999, p. 278)
The infinite is ever present and lies at the edges of our consciousness.  Levinas aims to return infinity to its rightful place at the forefront of our consciousness—to let it form the basis of society and not be just an afterthought.
Veling, T. A. (1999). In the name of Who?: Levinas and the other side of theology. Pacifica, 275 292.

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