Levinas and the Postcolonial

Levinas and the Postcolonial: Race, Nation, Other (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2011). This book places Levinas’ work on difference and the ethical in conversation with postcolonial engagements with the same. Through readings of Spivak, Bhabha, Glissant, Marcos, and others, I argue that Levinas’ work is too dependent upon his idea of Europe. As well, I argue that notions of subalternity, hybridity, entanglement, and rhizome all imply a certain relation to the ethical that, through a decolonization of his thought, one can retrieve in Levinas’ work.

Godard cover

Godard Between Identity and Difference (New York: Continuum, 2008). This book situates a handful of Godard’s films from the late sixties and seventies within the debate between Levinas and Derrida. In particular, it asks how Godard’s conception and practice of cinematic language might intervene in the paradox of difference: that alterity must be brought to presence, even when that presence is a betrayal of difference.

sensibility and singularity

Sensibility and Singularity (Albany: SUNY Press, 2001). This book argues that the central influence and site of legitimation in Levinas’ work is Husserl’s phenomenology. Through close readings of Levinas’ work, I demonstrate how Husserlian phenomenology functions as the horizon in which Levinas’ work works, which in turn gives Levinas a language for legitimating what are, on first glance, a series of speculative assertions.

More words…

In my first book, Sensibility and Singularity (2001), I took on a modest task: demonstrate the importance of classical phenomenology – Edmund Husserl’s contributions, in particular – for Levinas’ work on subjectivity and ethics. I followed Levinas’ life-long engagement with Husserl and underscored how at each turn in his intellectual development, Levinas drew on phenomenology and phenomenological description. Beyond that modest, documentary task, Sensibility and Singularity laid the foundations for a robust philosophical account of what I simply call ‘the problem of difference.’ By ‘the problem of difference,’ I mean the question of how various kinds of difference – from the inner-workings of time and space to political and cultural questions of race and nation – transform the meaning and practice of philosophy. The narrow task of the book was to establish a phenomenological basis for Levinas’ work, and the broader task was to develop a cluster of concepts of time, space, embodiment, and subjectivity for the sake of a wider interrogation of the problem of difference. The book was given an exceptionally positive review in Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology by Will Large, has been cited often in Levinas scholarship, and remains to this day the only systematic treatment of Levinas and phenomenology.

Godard Between Identity and Difference (2008) takes up many of the same issues found in Sensibility and Singularity, but with an aim more closely attuned to my current research. I treat a handful of Jean-Luc Godard films in order to stage an intervention in debates about the limits and possibilities of a theory of difference in Levinas’ and Derrida’s work. I ask how cinematic language – the complex possibilities of image and sound – might work as a philosophical language of difference, and how Godard pushes cinematic representation to its limits in treatments of sexual difference, the racial-national other, and historical catastrophe. What emerges from this book is an extension of Sensibility and Singularity: an increasingly complicated and productive conceptual language of difference. The book was given a positive write up in Choice and received an extensive, very interesting review in Jadaliyya (focusing on my chapter on Godard’s Ici et ailleurs, a film about the 1970 Palestinian uprising).

My recent (2011) book Levinas and the Postcolonial puts the conceptual language of the first two books into play and explores the limits and possibilities of Levinas’ work in a trans-national context. The first task of Levinas and the Postcolonial is methodological; I develop a notion of ‘incarnate historiography’ – an original idea that accounts for the history of race and nation in our embodied presence to the world – in order to prepare the ground for what I call ‘decolonizing ethics and politics.’ Through comparative readings of Levinas with Fanon, Gayatri Spivak, Homi Bhabha, Glissant, and Subcommandante Marcos, I argue that key features of Levinas’ work – and so, by extension, much of post-structuralist ethics and politics – fall away in the transnational critique and that the force of the ethical remains crucial for many elements of postcolonial thinking about space, place, time, and subjectivity.

I am currently at work on three interrelated book-length projects. I have fully drafted (75,000+ words) a book on Glissant and philosophy entitled Abyssal Beginnings, which is currently in final revisions and will be shopped around for publication in fall 2012. With SUNY Press, I have contracted to re-translate Jean Bernabé, Patrick Chamoiseau, and Raphael Confiant’s Éloge de la créolité, complete with three interviews and a lengthy (25,000 words) critical introduction. The manuscript is due at the end of 2012 and is on schedule for delivery to the publisher. Beyond these two projects, I have begun preliminary writing on a project tentatively titled Baldwin and the Black Atlantic, which reads James Baldwin’s work alongside key black Atlantic theorists from Césaire and Fanon to Glissant and Paul Gilroy. In that book project, I take up questions of language, history, memory, race, embodiment, and home. My essay ‘Affect and Revolution’ is a first exploration of these ideas.


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