International Studies in Phenomenology and Philosophy

Journal | Issue | Article

The destitution of words

the death of the author and the aporias of writing in Levinas's "Totality and Infinity"

Jakub Kowalewski

pp. 143-160

In this paper I examine the epistemological and the ethical consequences of what I call the belief in the death of the author. Drawing on Emmanuel Levinas’s Totality and Infinity, I argue that when separated from the writer’s intention, the written text becomes epistemically and ethically deficient. I then examine two aporias which emerge when the Levinasian analysis of writing is applied to Totality and Infinity qua a written text: if written signs are epistemically deficient, why should we trust Levinas’s written insights? Equally, if a written text is ethically flawed, how are we to understand the multiple accounts of Levinas’s commentators attesting to an ethical dimension of reading Totality and Infinity? I then suggest that the above aporias can offer a corrective to the epistemological and ethical consequences of the belief in the death of the author identified in the first part of the paper.

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