International Studies in Phenomenology and Philosophy

Series | Book | Chapter


The gift and the skin

Derrida and Levinas on language, metaphor and subjectivity

Arthur Cools

pp. 31-43


In this article, I discuss the ambiguous role of metaphor in the philosophies of Emmanuel Levinas and Jacques Derrida. In line with Heidegger's criticism of metaphor as a means of metaphysical thinking, both relate language to an otherness that exceeds any ontological clarification. However, both reintroduce basic metaphors in order to be able to address the question of subjectivity: the skin in Levinas' analysis of substitution in Otherwise than Being, the gift in Derrida's writings, in particluar his readings of Plato's pharmakon. In focusing on these two metaphors, I have a double intention: to show that they are indeed "basic' and that they reveal the different orientation of both philosophies in an irreducible way. My main argument in order to achieve this goal is rather paradoxical: it consists in arguing that the appearance of the metaphor of the skin in Levinas' philosophy and that of the gift in Derrida's are dependent upon the way each of them conceives the non-metaphorical relationship of language to otherness, that I call "otherness by excess" in the case of Levinas and "otherness by default" in the case of Derrida.

Publication details

Published in:

Foran Lisa, Uljée Rozemund (2016). Heidegger, Levinas, Derrida: the question of difference, Springer, Dordrecht.

Pages: 31-43

DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-39232-5_3

Full citation:

Cools Arthur (2016). The gift and the skin: Derrida and Levinas on language, metaphor and subjectivity, in L. Foran & R. Uljée (eds.), Heidegger, Levinas, Derrida, Dordrecht, Springer, pp. 31-43.