Levinas and the Anticolonial

Patrick D. Anderson

Abstract


Over the last two decades, the various attempts to “radicalize” Levinas have resulted in two interesting and often separated debates: one the one hand, there is the debate regarding the relationship between Levinas and colonialism and racism, and on the other hand, there is the debate regarding the relationship between Levinas and Judaism. Whether scholars interested in issues of colonialism disregard Levinas's Judaism or use his "subaltern" identity to challenge European hegemony, they do not take seriously the Jewish content of Levinas's thought. In this essay, I challenge the prevailing postcolonial orinetation of the Levinas-colonialism conversation, approaching Levinas's phenomenology from an anticolonial perspective. I will use Frantz Fanon’s dualistic understanding of the colonial world to evaluate the adequacy of Levinas’s phenomenology in describing the ontological structure of the colony and the historical experience of the colonized within it. Levinas’s incomplete understanding of the Holocaust as colonialism contributes to his failure to recognize the dividing line of colonial ontology, the zone of nonbeing, the non-human status of the colonized, and ultimately contributes to the insufficiency of his phenomenology to describe the colony. Because my purpose is not to reject Levinas’s thought in general but to encourage a new approach to his work, in the conclusion I will gesture toward the need for an anticolonial reading of Levinas’s project for Jewish education. 


Keywords


Frantz Fanon; Emmanuel Levinas; anticolonialism; Jewish Philosophy; Africana Philosophy; Phenomenology

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5195/jffp.2017.721

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