Levinas, Law and Literature

One cannot effectively approach Emmanuel Levinas’s philosophical works without recognizing the importance modern literature plays in his writings. From Baudelaire to Dostojevski, from Blanchot to Celan, and from Kafka to Grossman, the references to major modern and  contemporary writers are manifest throughout Levinas’s reflections. Whether as a source of inspiration or as metaphoric expression of his thoughts, these references mark a constitutive element of the articulation and development of his own philosophy. This is all the more astonishing given that Levinas has many reasons to distrust the ambivalences of literary works. Indeed, his entire philosophy intends to overcome the tragic model (with its origins in Aristotle) so as to understand being; moreover, he rejects the idea that mimetic representation constitutes a modality for adequate description of the human condition. Levinas states that the meaning of the ethical commandment exceeds all metaphoric and poetic expression, and, at crucial moments in his philosophy, he quotes Talmudic verses as if they are philosophical arguments.

It would seem that Levinas is, in his own way, challenging the Western concept of literature. It may be that he agrees with Jacques Derrida’s idea of the Biblical origin of this concept, yet questions remain as to how Levinas understands this idea and how his philosophy transforms the concept of literature. Answering these key questions will be the general aim of a three-day conference organized by the Institute of Jewish Studies in collaboration with the Center for European Philosophy.

Special attention will be given to the poems, novel fragments, and reflections on metaphor and literature in the recently published volumes of the Oeuvres Complètes.


Wednesday 20 January 2016

14.00-14.30  Welcome and introduction

14.30-15.30  Keynote lecture: Levinas and the Sun
                        Richard Cohen (University at Buffalo)
                        Respondent: Arthur Cools (UAntwerpen)

15.30-16.00  Coffee break

16.00-17.30  Session I: Levinas and the Concept of Literature
                        Chair: Arthur Cools (UAntwerpen)

16.00-16.30  If Hölderlin is allowed, why not the Talmud? The Significance of the
                       Talmud in the Philosophy of Levinas

                       Marcel Poorthuis (Tilburg School of Theology)
16.30-17.00  Ethical Interpretation of Literary Works. Literal Reading of
                        Levinas's Writings on Ethics

                        Hanoch Ben Pazi (Bar Ilan University)
17.00-17.30  The Literary Consciousness: from il y a AND from/to the Other
                        Rossitsa V. Borkowski (University of Amsterdam)

20.00  Keynote lecture: A World without Contours: Levinas’s Critiques of Literary

            Sarah Hammerschlag (University of Chicago Divinity School) 
            Respondent: Vivian Liska (Institute of Jewish Studies, UAntwerpen)

Thursday 21 January 2016

09.00-10.00  Keynote lecture: L'écriture du survivant
                        François-David Sebbah (Université Paris Ouest Nanterre)

10.00-10.30  Coffee break

10.30-12.30  Session II : Levinas and Poetry
                        Chair: Luc Anckaert (KU Leuven)

10.30-11.00  “Call it poetry or whatever” – On the Relation of Art to Poetry in

                        Akos Krassoy (KU Leuven)
11.00-11.30  Enigma vs. Metaphor
                        Shira Wolosky (Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
11.30-12.00  Langage poétique et langage prophétique dans l'oeuvre de
[sous réserve]
                       Eric Hoppenot (Université Paris Sorbonne-ESPE)
12.00-12.30  Levinas et la parole poétique
                       Annelies Schulte Nordholt (Leiden University)

12.30-14.00  Lunch

14.00-16.00  Session III: Levinas and Rhetoric
                        Chair: Vivian Liska (IJS, UAntwerpen)

14.00-14.30  Levinas's Literary Style
                       Annabel Herzog (University of Haifa)
14.30-15.00  Totality and Infinity as Philosophical Prose: The Literary Aesthetics
                        of Emanuel Levinas' Argumentation

                        Orr Scharf (The Open University of Israel)
15.00-15.30  "le vrai Jugement dernier": Levinas and Benjamin on Theory,
                        the Poetic Word, and the Event in Proust

                        Ashraf Noor (Universität Düsseldorf)
15.30-16.00  de l'Eros au discours sur la mort de Dieu
                        Michaël de Saint-Chéron (Histara/Ecole Pratique des Hautes

16.00-16.30  Coffee break

16.30-17.30  Parallel session – Emerging scholars panel

16.30-17.00  Toward a Literary Judaism: A Contemporary Case in Literary Ethics
                        Jonathon Catlin (KU Leuven)
                        Le "bourgeois" dans la pensée d'Emmanuel Levinas:
                        un héritage littéraire

                        Yoann Colin (Université de Strasbourg)
17.00-17.30  "Poems are laws grown feral": Messianism and Literature in

                       Michael Saunders (Kingston University)
                       The Destitution of Words - The Aporia of Writing in Totality and
                       Jakub Kowalewski (University of Essex)

18.00  Conference dinner (speakers only)

Friday 22 January 2016

09.00-10.00  Keynote lecture: Emmanuel Levinas. La littérature comme expression
                       de l'altérité et de la rencontre

                       Christian Godin (Université Blaise Pascal, Clermont-Ferrand)                      

10.00-10.30  Coffee break

10.30-12.30  Session IV: Levinas and Talmud
                        Chair: Dennis Baert (IJS, UAntwerpen)

10.30-11.00  The Genesis of Totality and Infinity: Biblical Narrative as
                        Transcendental Ontogenesis

                        Michael Fagenblat (Open University of Israel)
11.00-11.30  Levinas's Hermeneutics – A Modern Midrash
                        Elisabeth Goldwyn (University of Haifa)
11.30-12.00  Testimony as Description: The Phenomenological “Justification” of
                        the Biblical Verse in Levinas

                       Cameron Doody (Camilo José Cela University)
12.00-12.30  “Until the rains fall down on the corpses…” Reading Gender in
                        Levinas’s “Toward the Other”

                        Claire Katz (Texas A&M University)

12.30-13.30  Lunch

13.30-15.00  Session V: Levinas and the Social
                        Chair: Arthur Cools (UAntwerpen)

13.30-14.00  Goodness without Hope. Hope without Promise. Emmanuel Levinas
                        and Vasily Grossman

                        Luc Anckaert (KU Leuven)
14.00-14.30  Levinas, Derrida and the Politics of Reproduction
                       Mihail Evans (Institute for Advanced Study/New Europe College)
14.30-15.00  L’action humaine et l'oeuvre littéraire - Levinas, Bloch et Kosik
                       Jan Bierhanzl (Institute of Philosophy of the Academy of Sciences
                       of the Czech Republic)


Click here to register for this conference.

Conference brochure

Click here to download the conference brochure.


The conference takes place in Hof van Liere:

On 20 and 21 January in the Elsschot room, Prinsstraat 13b, 2000 Antwerp.
On 22 January in the Prentenkabinet, Prinsstraat 13, 2000 Antwerp.

Call for papers (closed)

Call for Papers: international conference "Levinas, Law and Literature"
January, 20–22, 2016, Antwerp

Organized by the Institute of Jewish Studies (University of Antwerp) and the Center for European Philosophy (University of Antwerp)

Abstract submission deadline: 20/09/2015

Call for papers

The organizing committee welcomes submissions that address the role and the meaning of literature as it can be discovered in or derived from Levinas’s philosophy.

Proposals may address themes such as the following:

  • What is the place of literature in Levinas's philosophy?
  • How does Levinas read a specific literary work or writer?
  • What is the concept of literature that Levinas implicitly addresses?
  • How does the ethical commandment, so central in his philosophy, relate to literature?
  • How do the Talmudic references in his texts contribute to a specific (Western?) understanding of literature?

Please submit your abstract, in either French or English, of approximately 500 words (including the paper’s title, the author’s name, institutional affiliation, mailing address, and email address) together with a short bio-bibliography to ijs@uantwerpen.be BEFORE 20/09/2015. Notification of acceptance will be given by 20/10/2015.

Regular fee: 40 € (includes reception, two lunches, coffee breaks and conference map)
Student fee: 30 €
Conference dinner: 40 €

Organizing committee: Prof. dr. Vivian Liska (Institute of Jewish Studies, University of Antwerp), Prof. dr. Arthur Cools (Center for European Philosophy, University of Antwerp), Dr. Michaël de Saint-Cheron (Histara/Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris 3), Prof. dr. Luc Anckaert (KU Leuven)
Scientific committee: Prof. dr. Vivian Liska (Institute of Jewish Studies, University of Antwerp), Prof. dr. Arthur Cools (Center for European Philosophy, University of Antwerp), Dr. Michaël de Saint-Cheron (Histara/Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris 3), Prof. dr. Luc Anckaert (KU Leuven), Prof. dr. Eric Hoppenot (ESPE, Université Paris-Sorbonne), Prof. dr. Johan van der Walt (Université de Luxembourg)