From Exile to Hospitality: A Key to the Philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas

By Doukhan, Abi | Philosophy Today, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview

From Exile to Hospitality: A Key to the Philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas


Doukhan, Abi, Philosophy Today


The question of hospitality and of the welcoming of otherness is central to the thought of Emmanuel Levinas. In his Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas, Jacques Derrida highlights the primordial role of the concept of hospitality in the philosophy of Levinas and goes as far as to call Levinas's Totality and Infinity "an immense treatise of hospitality.1 And indeed, numerous commentators have discussed this dimension of hospitality in the thought of Levinas.2 Few, however, have explored the exilic structure particular to that hospitality and that welcoming. And although many commentators have explored dimensions of exile in Levinas' philosophy-pertaining to his biography,3 his style,4 his vocabulary5-none has, to my knowledge, attempted to show the centrality of the concept of exile in the totality of Levinas's work, as well as the fundamental role this concept plays in articulating the structure of the hospitality of otherness. It is my thesis, however, that the philosophy of hospitality worked out in Levinas' thought is intimately connected to exile. While the theme of hospitality permeates the work of Levinas, it is articulated, at every step, in relation to the concept of exile. My goal in this essay will be to show this centrality of the concept of exile in Levinas, as well as how this concept illuminates the Levinassian thematic of hospitality.

We can distinguish two main trends in Levinas' treatment of exile. The first deals with the exile of the face with regard to the world of objects constituted by the self. According to Levinas, the face of the other is not another object in the world which the self can comprehend and dispose of at will. On the contrary, the face escapes all attempts by the self to grasp or objectify it, thus remaining exiled from its world. But this exile raises a number of questions. Must not the face be at some point be grasped as an object if a relationship with it is to be possible? If the face escapes all attempts on the part of the self to constitute it into an object of the world, if the face refuses to be encountered within the world of the self, how is an approach of the face to ever take place? An approach to the face is possible, according to Levinas, only at the price of a profound transformation of the structures of the self. The self must itself experience exile - a de-centering, a de-positing of itself as center of the universe-if an encounter with the exilic dimension of the other is to be possible. The approach to the face is thus itself structured as an exile, as a movement of the self outside of itself, outside of its situation as origin and foundation, into the realm of otherness. This is the second sense of exile in Levinas's work. But this exile also raises a number of questions. How can one account for this sudden shift in the structures of the self-of a self understood as the origin of the world to a self exiled, torn from its own world towards the other? What provokes this exile? And what's more, how can such an exile lead to hospitality? It is difficult to see how an exiled self, torn from its world, could become a source of hospitality.

It is these two problems that I want to address in this article: How is a hospitality of the exiled face possible and how can an exiled self offer such a hospitality? In both cases, the condition of exile seems to be the very antithesis of hospitality. It is difficult to see how the face which resolutely remains exiled with regards the structures of the self could ever lend itself to hospitality. It is also difficult to see how a self, itself exiled, could ever be capable of hospitality. In this essay I shall first deal with the problem posed by the exile of the face and after that with the problem posed by the exile of the self in an attempt to show how, ultimately, exile constitutes the very structure of hospitality of the face.

The Exile of the Face

The exile of the face is described by Levinas in a key passage in Totality and Infinity which reads as follows:

The epiphany of the face qua face opens humanity. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

From Exile to Hospitality: A Key to the Philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.