Levinas's Wounded Speech

  • Bernardo Andrade (Speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentationScientific


Talk at the North American Levinas Society

Levinas quotes Isaiah: “Before they call, I will answer” (Is 65:24). This obedience prior to the hearing of the order is a constant theme in Levinas’s late magnum opus, Otherwise than Being. But how can the answer precede the call, all the while remaining an answer and not a mere enunciation or statement? And what need would we have of a call that comes after its answer? We seem not to be dealing with temporality in a straightforward sense. Could there be an immemorial call to which I answer even before hearing the call which incarnates it in the present? Levinasian ethics, it seems to me, is centered on a call that occurs at two different times: the concrete call ascribed to the face of the neighbor presupposes a more originary call by which my ears are made open to hearing him. The Other’s call resonates in its truly ethical depth only on the condition of a prior violence which has inflicted an originary wound (vulnera) upon my narcissism. Wound, as the etymological root of the word vulnerability, points to the very constitution of the ethical subject for Levinas.

My goal in this presentation is, first, to analyze the notion of diachrony in Levinas’s philosophy of time (§1). This notion receives its most insightful account, I think, in Levinas’s reading of Descartes’s Meditations, which I examine in detail (§2). These sections allow me, at last, to gesture towards an understanding of the call-and-response structure which highlights the inherently wounded nature of all human speech. (§3).
PeriodJul 2019
Held atDrake University, United States
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • Levinas
  • Descartes