Date of Award

Fall 2021

Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Religion, PhD

Program

School of Arts and Humanities

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Oona Eisenstadt

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Tammi J. Schneider

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Ellie Anderson

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Kevin Wolfe

Terms of Use & License Information

Terms of Use for work posted in Scholarship@Claremont.

Rights Information

ã Copyright Changhyun Kim, 2021. All rights reserved

Abstract

This dissertation explores Levinas’s phenomenology of death in order to unveil the religious dimension in his ethical thought through examining the political moment of the third party. I argue that death is neither a pure phenomenon transparently intelligible in the noema-noesis structure of intentionality nor a mere non-phenomenon totally irrelevant to the phenomenological investigation. Rather, death is a para-phenomenon whose unfathomable feature calls into question Levinas’s two important philosophical precedents: 1) Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology, in a methodological sense, and 2) Heidegger’s ontological interpretation of death, in a thematical sense. On the one hand, Levinas faces in the para-phenomenality of death the failure of phenomenology in the sense that phenomenology fails to capture a para-doxical feature of death in terms of a noetico-noematic correlation. On the other hand, Levinas ceaselessly contests Heidegger’s ontological thematization, which neutralizes the para-phenomenality of death and thereby reduces the enigmatic mystery of death into the heroic mastery of death; in sum, the para-phenomenality of death is subsumed under the doxical architecture of ontology. By appealing to the para-doxical character of death, this dissertation claims that the architectonic structure of Heidegger’s ontology dissimulates or covers up a more primordial and exigent signification of the death of the other than the ontological mineness [Jemeinigkeit] of death. Therefore, Levinas’s phenomenology of death justifies its raison d'être not in its adroit achievement to thematize death but rather in its failure to thematize and make sense of it since the ethical meaning of death emerges from the miscarriage of the doxical-ontological thematization of death. In order to disclose the ethical signification of death that remains concealed, obscured, and suppressed in the “Sein-topped" architecture of ontology, Levinas endeavors to uncover what ontology has covered up—i.e., the brutal nakedness of being [être] that is concretized in the ethical encounter with the other who commands: “Thou shalt not kill.” This primordial interdiction obsesses and overwhelms me [moi] more than the anxiety [Angst] for my death does, as if the death of the other would matter to me even more than my own. The ethical signification of death comes from the primordial call inscribed in the face of the other, which makes me vigilant, restless, and non-indifferent to the death of the other. However, the advent of the third party puts into question my exclusive, unconditional, or unquestioned responsibility for the other and orders what the other orders: “Me voici.” Nevertheless, the political interrogation of the third party never compromises the ethical structure but, on the contrary, makes it possible for ethics to remain ethical without relapsing into an impotent, silent, or angelic form of ethics, which entails violent, apolitical, and anti-ethical rapprochements. This dissertation insists that the radical peculiarity of Levinas’s phenomenology of death culminates in his para-doxical conception of religion, “rapport sans rapport,” in which the ethical rapport always remains as a question par excellence within the political context. To be religious does not require an ontological question of “to be or not to be,” of being or non-being; rather, it is otherwise than being, beyond essence, or beyond the conatus essendi, in which Levinas recognizes the primordial signification of death, such as substitution, sacrifice, or dying for others.

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