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(2009) Radical passivity, Dordrecht, Springer.

Radical passivity in Levinas and Merleau-Ponty (lectures of 1954)

Bettina Bergo

pp. 31-52

This chapter explores the relationship between Levinas's approach to radical passivity — which grounds intersubjective connections before questions of kinship or the biological metaphors of common blood — and Merleau-Ponty's multiple perspectives on passivity, from that of being caught up in history, to that of somnolence and dreaming, and finally to the delirium staged in Jensen's novel, Gradiva, as analysed by Freud. For Levinas, as for Merleau-Ponty, passivity consists of layers and facets; it is not directly thematizable without incurring paradoxes. Yet passivity is a kind of whole, an abyss from which meaning arises. In each case drawing on Husserl's work on passive synthesis, from the consciousness on internal time to association, Levinas and Merleau-Ponty investigate the conditions under which passivity can be approached. They are quite aware that a thematization of passivity reinserts it into intentional consciousness, which reestablishes it in its dualism with activity. Their goal is to evince the phenomenological priority of passivity, before it is set into dualisms of interiority-exteriority, "man and things' (Merleau-Ponty), individuation-indeterminacy. The other-in-the-same is undergone passively before it is represented; as an ethical and in some cases aesthetic phenomenon, it proves unheimlich and retro-active; yet the quality of this radical passivity must be approached philosophically, in the light of regional ontologies (Merleau-Ponty) and the intersubjective and value sources of what unfolds as ethical life, and thus as an an-archic principle of hope (Levinas). This contribution develops these two approaches to passivity, in their common roots and their ultimate divergence.

Publication details

DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4020-9347-0_3

Full citation:

Bergo, B. (2009)., Radical passivity in Levinas and Merleau-Ponty (lectures of 1954), in B. Hofmeyr (ed.), Radical passivity, Dordrecht, Springer, pp. 31-52.

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