Les effets-Levinas, by François Laruelle
trans. by Timothy Lavenz
Pointless to talk about and comment upon Levinas, an enterprise he does not tolerate very well and, besides, there are colloquia for that. In the most decisive part of his work, he himself does not comment upon a tradition of philosophy. Husserl and Heidegger only serve him as foils. It’s not even certain that he does a reading of phenomenology in the rabbinical style. He does something that some philosophers do but with many mediations and ruminations of style, of which Derrida gave us an idea. He registers and “translates” as closely as possible, annulling the translation, the trauma of the Shoah, echoing it immediately “with” or rather “in” the means of a language whose intelligibility is no longer classic, even if these means are paradoxically the effects or affects of a globally ontological mode of intelligibility. If we don’t want to think ourselves capable of appropriating him in an erudite commentary, we also have a duty to simply register some Levinas-effects, which are those of a text as inadmissible as it is irrefutable. Levinas is impossible: there it is, without delay, i.e., without différance, the point of the situation. He will have persecuted us, we philosophers. Regarding this Levinas-persecution, here are some traits:
1. He provided, for the first time, a conceptuality that seems to have the virtue of being mediating and rational, the clearest conceptuality possible for us “modern” philosophers who can now access a certain non-degrading intelligence of Judaism. He gave us a common language, created a language that was not the vernacular language of philosophers but a language of intellectual commerce between the Jews and others. The social, economic, and therefore also ethical exchange is what unites us on both sides of Socrates and Christ. He created a way of speaking, a language perhaps, apparently mixed but without there being any mediation between these two faces. Logos and Torah are not recto and verso; they do not form a Möbius band. He who knows no mediation in fact gave us the Torah, but he had the skill to present it to us in a form that was acceptable for us. Between Jews and Greeks, there is a problem of indirect and even impossible communication, but he found a Judaic solution for it.
2. He put Judaism back on an equal level, even an equal level of competition, which it had not had for a long time, with the Greco-philosophical problematic; and he connected it up with our kind of problems in a way that Spinoza and Maimonides, for example, could not. Suddenly he fecundated every philosophy and ethic and tore them from their numb idleness; compelling us to crucial questions, he crucified Greek ontology. Thanks to him, the Moderns took new measure of the seriousness and originality of Judaism in thinking, and he rendered obsolete the ancient problematics of integration, assimilation, and Enlightenment, at the risk of authorizing a new philosophical communitarianism.
3. He has made a clear and intelligible work. Levinas, like Althusser and Lacan, is the translator and introducer of thoughts that had remained obscure to us. In Marxism, in psychoanalysis, and in Judaism, there has always been an opaque depth that gives rise to violences, persecutions, and resistances, but which their lucid work helped dissipate, in preparation for a “dialogue” which had remained very limited and full of misunderstandings. After these heralds of the “return to…” (is Levinas himself perhaps the herald of philosophical rationality’s return its source, the Torah?), philosophers who always manifest the same rejection against these three experiences of thought inherit the burden of proof—and it would be better if it were not a proof of their ignorance or bad faith.
4. Christians asked how to philosophize in Christ, with Christ. Levinas asks how to philosophize in the Torah, with the Torah. He is a religious thinker (an expression used for Lutherans like Hamann, Jacobi, and Kierkegaard) with the all-encompassing authority and primacy of religion, against the primacy of philosophy (and not only against some conceptuality proper to its system). He took advantage of the Logos in order to implant another word in it, another hyperbolicity, in excess or in exception: the affect of infinity. This effect is particular to a broader tradition of thinkers who use Christianity, Lutheranism, and/or Judaism to challenge the “great rationalism” of philosophical systems. Hamman is Kant’s protesting genius, Jacobi Fichte’s, Kierkegaard Hegel’s; but Levinas is the religious genius who hounded the whole of philosophy.
He therefore summons a double language, Logos and Torah, the one quite ontological, the other quite spontaneously ethical. He orders philosophy to the Torah, Logos to the Law. He showed that by subordinating philosophical language to the Torah it was possible to shake off the yoke of philosophy, not to think without philosophy but to think without its authority. He taught us to create this difference that philosophers don’t, and this opening is for us one of Levinas’ most enduring achievements. But he obviously did not deliver us from the Torah itself. Since he doesn’t much want to name “God” anyway, what is essential is the Torah and the Talmud, which are absolute representatives, not really intermediaries; it cannot be said that they mediate God or the Other for man. They are a milieu of exteriority, legality, sociability, perhaps of “presence,” which is enough to make us fear God, not to sense him, even less to anticipate him, but to fear him, the true content of the face to face, from the face to infinity [du face à l’infini]. Nothing in philosophy corresponds to this situation.
Derrida marks a regression in relation to Levinas, a return to a certain englobing authority of philosophy. His deconstruction of Levinas comes from there, and it almost is one but in a bad way, because it effaces Levinas’ violence by making it appear (same goes for Lacan). At the same time, it is a useful work. Derrida showed how problematic it was to liquidate not only philosophical materiality but even the simple authority of philosophy.
Derrida works with very complex presuppositions. He substitutes the Logos for the Torah or treats the philosophical text like a Talmud (Talmud of Athens…), but he remains within Judaic transcendence. In a sense, he is more of a philosopher than Levinas (he stays within the immanence of the text-Logos) and at the same time more Jewish in the Logos than him (the Logos is understood as letter or text or writing, which Levinas does not do). Derrida tightens the interval between Logos and Transcendence become archi-writing. Levinas treats the Logos as Logos, respects it and in a sense takes it as Logos; Derrida in fact treats it like the Talmud, while saying that it is the Logo, subjecting it to an initial violence. This is why, on the basis of this decision, he can claim to deconstruct Levinas. He supposes a common-being to the two discourses, to Levinas and to the Logos, a signified wherein they would recognize or agree with each other, as if Levinas’ “faith” was an affair of language or text in the sense that Derrida understands these words. The paradox is that the Torah is never a text; it is not valuable like a text comparable to other texts of philosophy; it is actually the Law, the absolute medium. What will become in Levinas a text of combat, somewhat comparable to the philosophical text, is the Talmud. The combat with the Logos will be engaged through these two “texts.” The need for two mediations-without-mediator, Law and Talmud, is perhaps what extreme transcendence or the infinite wants.
5. There is a general problem of the limit or leap in relation to a common plane of experience, whether it be in the absolute leap of philosophy, or in the leap of infinity in Judaism, or again in the radical but not absolute leap of non-philosophy. All of this must be distinguished. Philosophy is always impregnated with religion and crowned by theology, but the point is that it is always armed to regain the upper hand, to rework the accounts and draw once more the final stroke that will lead transcendence to immanence. But here with Judaism that was not possible, and philosophy was subordinated to ethics and Judaism; the latter was planted in Greek soil, but it tears the subject and tears itself beyond the ego in the violent mode of exception and election. Levinas exploited every power of transcendence, in a certain way he recreated the famous leap by passing to the limit, but “within” the limit as transcendence. He stiffened the neck of thought and the exception as universal. But this is a leap that isn’t one, except for someone who has put his faith in the Logos. Unless it’s a leap backwards [à rebours ] into my own responsibility, if this formula makes sense, and Levinas demands from us such a leap backwards, which does not annul the indefinite Platonic transcending but embeds it in an actual transcendence. This transcendence is special in that, by definition, it is always opening itself more, indefinitely, but Levinas makes the leap by “deciding” that the infinite is actual or is “One” and that it is what separates backwards. It resolves [régle] once and for all, perhaps one time each time, the neo-Platonic drift or hyperbolicity. It seems like the formula “beyond essence” is, in reality, ill-suited for Levinas, for it does not let the Judaic leap be made . There is a danger and something a bit derisory in wanting, like Derrida, to re-logicize by re-textualising the absolute leap, particularly if it is made backwards, to want to bring it back within the text. It must be admitted that it is impossible to persuade a religious mind philosophically. Faced with infinity, Deconstruction remains a dead letter.
Hence in Levinas the extraordinary torsion of language where the metaphor is constantly summoned and destroyed by the very phenomenology that destroys the Face. Philosophy has always moved in this torsion, following a course of thought that folds back over itself, and the Christian-religious thinkers accentuated this violence. But Levinas adds ex-position to the torsion, he exposes, tearing the natural torsion of the concept. It’s a coup d’état in philosophy that is a double coup d’état here: the first is naturally philosophical and pertains to the philosophers of the Absolute, who are at bottom religious, this is a reversal; but the second is specifically Jewish, no longer an infinite reversal but an inversion in reverse where it is the infinite that inverts. The hyperbolicity of the process is ultimately backward. There is almost something more convincing in the texts of Difficult Freedom and the Talmudic Readings, which correspond better to the style of rabbinical and Jewish thought. The larger works often contain a forced allure. But the point is to create new effects through them in an old thinking. Without Levinas, without Lacan either, without Derrida following their trail, philosophy would have been very boring. We would have had to be content with the tasteless Christians, the irenic insipidness of Catholicism, the ecumenical blandness of Protestantism.
The thinker of extreme transcendence, but also the thinker of radical immanence, the Jew and the non-philosopher, are therefore opposed to philosophy, which only jumps at the indefinite end of the limit (and Derrida returns here); they direct every approach or process to an absolute or an actual leap that inverts their sense; they think against the current. But it must be seen later how the non-philosophical leap distinguishes itself from the Judaic leap and opposes itself to it as much as to the philosophical leap.
6. Levinas and Derrida divide up the realm of transcendence, that is to say, there is a lack or an absence in Levinas. No more than Michel Henry did with his ordering of radical immanence, and no more than thinkers of the extreme or the radical do in general, Levinas did not do the work of demonstrating this possibility of shaking up philosophy by using it and its means without its authority. It is Derrida who made this theory of Levinas, yet by refusing to abandon this authority and, as a result, deconstructing it. But Derrida did not keep Levinas’ promises and led him back to Reason. It is the measured revenge of philosophy, but it is indeed a revenge or a resumption of authority. Our problem is to create from these two halves, which have split contemporary philosophy, one single and unique thought that, consequently, would be neither a philosophy nor a separated religion, neither a Logos nor a Torah.
The problem is not to know if Levinas’ gesture is possible in a traditional philosophical sense, which would be to remain closed within philosophy (and at any rate, it is not possible), but to know to what extent and in what form it can help us, affect us enough to attempt a different gesture and a different leap outside of the Logos, but perhaps for it. However, it is not a matter of copying his rupturing effect. Generally, Judaism ought to be, like Greek paganism or Christianity, a model for the concrete, empirico-historical interpretation of non-philosophy. It is not the only one, since all philosophies are.
Non-philosophy is the practical theory that transforms, on the one hand, the revolutionary or imperialist overthrows, the philosophico-religious violence of the leap into the Absolute, and on the other hand, their textual digestion, their quasi-smoothing via deconstruction which, left to itself, truly became much too academically comfortable. It uni-fies them in an immanent way and thus unilaterally. Levinas has a liberating function, as we’ve said, for we who are enclosed within philosophy or in its “end” (which is the same thing). But the textual prudence and almost rabbinical meticulousness of Derrida tempered it, the one freed from philosophical authority, the other nuancing this liberation. They do not complete each other any more than other thinkers among them do; they make possible another thinking of which they are not the premise but simply the symptoms which have finally appeared. To make it intelligible that one can be set free in this way, bringing to the light the strongest reason why philosophy lets us justly free ourselves from the authority though not from the materiality of philosophy, this leads to a “dualysis” of philosophy, which owes more to these two authors than to psychoanalysis itself, even if it too leads very close to it.
7. The transcendence of the Other, the Face, is not a problem, it’s the most real point. It is not to be debated or, even worse, commented upon. The Other is an-hypothetical, but through itself, through the infinite or through God. Non-philosophy is a different choice. It crosses paths with Levinas, universalizing him not by inverting him a second time, since he already does that himself, but by leading the backward transcendence back to the heart of radical immanence. This transforms the axis of backward transcendence, which goes from the Other Man or from God to me, into an axis of immanence, it too backward, which goes from Man-in-person to the subject as Stranger or Messiah. Whether the Real is the infinity of God or the Other, or the intrinsic, radical finitude of Man-in-person, both are foreclosed to representation, thence a transcending backwards, which is the effect or consequence of a leap into the Real.
How do the One and the Other combine in these two cases, in the Other man as Autrui in the one, and in Man-in-Person as subject-Messiah in the other? The first articulates it in terms of a transcendence that “denies itself” in one point, while maintaining itself and inverting itself; the second articulates it in terms of an immanence for which transcendence is already denied and already given a priori by Man-in-person. It appears like the One is first, but in Levinas it is helped by the transcending that annuls itself in the leap, but which maintains itself as a religious link or as my responsibility; it is directly constitutive of me, indirectly of the Other, so this is still a unitary thinking. In non-philosophy, the One is helped by a transcending that also annuls itself but that, if it is maintained, is maintained as Other-in-reverse or as a priori, and furthermore as an objective appearance reduced by this a priori. Transcending is reabsorbed into the One in both cases, either Infinity or One-in-One, but it is refound either as Transcendence or separation backwards, as Torah for the Same, or as dualized in an a priori of the in-reverse and in a transcendental appearance. There is always a given, be it the Torah or the Logos, which adds itself to the non-relation between the Absolute and the ego, the Radical and the subject. Radical transcendence of infinity, radical immanence of Man-in-Person, this radical character separates Transcendence and Immanence from the world or their mixture. But a supplementary element is always necessary. The Torah gives shape to the world of humans, the Logos to the world of subjects.
8. From the Leap to the Coming. Transcendence is the philosophical law of the world. To be realized, it demands a supplement as leap into the Absolute, whether it is ontologico-classical or Judaic. To attain radical immanence, it demands, relative to philosophical transcending, a half-leap into the immanence of Man-in-person. Transcending only passes to the Absolute, as with all transcending, with a leap. But transcending only passes into radical immanence with a half-leap required by the non-place where Man-in-person has never jumped. Man-in-person is a without-jump [hors-saut] that only leaps for philosophy and its transcending, and only for it, “for” meaning in the eyes of transcendence as one says, “in the eyes of the world.” It is impossible to leap into immanence or into the radical like one leaps into the Absolute. Something like a half-leap has no meaning and is only possible when measured by transcendence. Similarly, what is given to the eyes of philosophy as the reverse of transcending is an inversion in Judaism, but the Inverse-without inversion in non-philosophy. In both cases the leap is a messianism, but we will oppose to the transcending messianism of Judaism the immanent messianity of Man-in-person as Coming or as grace. Because Man is given in one fell swoop, not as a leap but as a half-leap or grace in reverse, the subject-Stranger is at most unifacial for the world. Immanence is not given in the face-to-face, like the fear of God or responsibility. Man-in-person is not a God for the subject-Stranger, and the latter is not in a face-to-face with him but is instead the unique face that Man turns toward the world. Non-philosophy, delivering us from the responsibility for the Other as God, frees us as a responsibility for the world and the “Others” who sojourn there from afar. Released from the fear and trembling of the face-to-face such that they deduce themselves from Man-in-person, who is entirely in coming [tout de venue], subjects are the messiahs or Christs who consume/complete the world.
François Laruelle, May 30, 2006
from his Non-Philosophical Letters (2006-2010)
trans. Timothy Lavenz, April 2017
 I have chosen to translate à rebours with “backwards” and “in reverse,” depending on the context. This locution, however, has a wide semantic register, potentially meaning, “the wrong way,” “to the contrary,” “in the opposite direction,” and “against the grain.” Suffice it to say, non-philosophy’s reduction or weakening of transcendence has precisely to do with this “counterintuitive” sort of (non-)transcendence. Elsewhere, Laruelle refers to as a “simple transcending” which does not fold over itself or return to itself or form a circle with itself or transcend itself, but is simply immanence transcending itself to itself, one time each time, in-immanence. Recall also that in non-philosophy the Real is sometimes spoken of as the immanence of the Other-than…, thus radicalizing extreme transcendence but “locating” it in immanence. Aside from this note, we refer the reader to the book Philosophy and Non-philosophy for a fuller treatment of these issues.
 Laruelle implies that the “beyond” in the title of Levinas’ final major work, Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence, effectively recalls and echoes a forward-leaping, and thus philosophical, transcendence. His contention is that the Judaic, “backwards” leap at stake in Levinas has nothing to do with the philosophical leap-forward or leap-into. [Trans.]