Category Archives: Deleuze

Kierkegaard, Levinas, and an Inwardness Higher Than Itself

One cannot (probably) have too much Kierkegaard on his birthday. This is a great bit from Mary-Jane Rubenstein on Kierkegaard that wraps up all sorts of Kierkegaardian themes as they work themselves out in response to a critique by Levinas:

illustrator © Archipictor Ossi Hiekkala

illustrator © Archipictor Ossi Hiekkala

Emmanuel Levinas claims that the Kierkegaardian subject, as radically inward, is egocentric: “Kierkegaard very powerfully rehabilitated the topics of subjectivity, uniqueness, and individuality.  He objected to the absorption of subjectivity into Hegelian universality, but he replaced it with subjectivity that was shamelessly exhibitionistic.” In order to demonstrate this self-important selfhood, Levinas refers to the Abraham of Fear and Trembling, the most offensive instance of “a subjectivity raising itself above the ethical to the level of the religious.”103 Yet Levinas makes such subjectivity far too easy.  The self thus constituted by repetition does not precede repetition itself, but emerges through it, and is thoroughly infused with the God-relationship. This subjectivity, then, is relational rather than identical and, insofar as the religious subject is constantly in a state of becoming, thanks to what Gillian Rose calls “the eminence of futurity at the intersection of eternity and time,”104 dynamic rather than static.  Repetition, as Deleuze reminds us, is always a gift and, as such, a scandal; the subject cannot merely summon repetition and constitute himself qua subject.  Kierkegaardian subjectivity, I would argue contra Levinas, does not raise itself above the ethical; rather, it is raised above the ethical. Between the two there is an absolute difference. And the subject that emerges through the madness of repetition is not a self-identical individual, alone in inwardness; it is rather a subject related at every turn to the eternal.  The highest form of this selfhood is only selfhood insofar as it exists in the God-relationship—inwardness, in other words, gives rise to something infinitely higher than inwardness (Mary-Jane Rubenstein, “Kierkegaard’s Socrates: A Venture in Evolutionary Theory,” Modern Theology 17, no. 4 (2001), p. 467).

Emphasizing the paradoxical nature of such an inwardness, Rubenstein says, “The very locus of the subject’s self is beyond him. In other words, this subjectivity, which cannot be considered by itself but only repeated, is profoundly ecstatic” (ibid).

103. Emmanuel Levinas, “Existence and Ethics” in Kierkegaard: A Critical Reader, Jonathan Rée and Jane Chamberlain, eds (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), pp. 26-38; p. 34.
104. Gillian Rose, The Broken Middle: Out of Our Ancient Society (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992), p. 99.