Levinas and the Night of Being: A Guide to Totality and Infinity

Levinas and the Night of Being: A Guide to Totality and Infinity

Levinas and the Night of Being: A Guide to Totality and Infinity

Levinas and the Night of Being: A Guide to Totality and Infinity


Can we say that metaphysics is over? That we live, as post-phenomenology claims, after "end of metaphysics"? Through a close reading of Levinas's masterpiece Totality and Infinity, Raoul Moati shows that things are much more complicated.

Totality and Infinity proposes not so much an alternative to Heidegger's ontology as a deeper elucidation of the meaning of "being" beyond Heidegger's fundamental ontology. The metaphor of the night becomes crucial in order to explore a nocturnal face of the events of being beyond their ontological reduction to the understanding of being. The deployment of being beyond its intentional or ontological reduction coincides with what Levinas calls "nocturnal events." Insofar as the light of understanding hides them, it is only through deformalizing the traditional phenomenological approach to phenomena that Levinas leads us to their exploration and their systematic and mutual implications.

Following Levinas's account of these "nocturnal events," Moati elaborates the possibility of what he calls a "metaphysics of society" that cannot be integrated into the deconstructive grasp of the "metaphysics of presence." Ultimately, Levinas and the Night of Being opens the possibility of a revival of metaphysics after the "end of metaphysics".


Jocelyn Benoist

There is no doubt that Raoul Moati’s Levinas and the Night of Being represents a turning point in Levinasian exegesis. This is first and foremost, and in a way that is perhaps obvious, because Moati departs from the teleological illusion of reading Levinas’s early work against the backdrop of the late material—as if the “truth” of the former somehow lies hidden within the latter. Against this tendency, Moati rather simply takes up Totality and Infinity and reads it for itself. There is nothing arbitrary about that choice, however, and Moati’s work is not, for all that, simply a monograph on Totality and Infinity. Rather, if the text is studied for itself and, as it were, rendered more autonomous in relation to the rest of the Levinasian corpus (notably in its final developments), it is because Moati recognizes the irreducible originality of a project from which we may garner certain insights that are to some extent lost with Otherwise Than Being. For my part, I will not come down either way on this point, the full evaluation of which would require a more detailed analysis of Otherwise Than Being than either this book or I myself am capable of here.

That being said, however, it is clear to me that Moati is quite correct about the interest and richness particular to the project of Totality and Infinity, and he delimits his hypothesis and arguments in terms that are, if novel, quite convincing. Indeed, the great originality of his intervention consists in the systematic and precise elucidation of the ontological character of Levinas’s project in Totality and Infinity. in fact, from a certain perspective, it can be said that Moati takes the traditional reading, which insists that the structure and content of Totality and Infinity is dependent on that of Being and Time, very much at its word. in that reading, it is taken for granted that the former text constitutes an ongoing critique of Being and Time, and that one must, step by step, refer the phenomenological analyses of Levinas to their counterparts in Heidegger, which they directly oppose.

This latter point is certainly true. However, we will never actually be able draw out its full implications if we continue to believe that Levinas treads the same ground as Heidegger—in treating the same kinds of . . .

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