Journal of Romance Studies

Out from Huis Clos: Sartre, Lévinas and the debate over Jewish authenticity

Journal of Romance Studies (2006), 6, (1-2), 155–168.

Abstract

This essay addresses Emmanuel Lévinas’s critique of the Sartrean idea of authentic selfhood. It begins with a discussion of Sartre’s idea of ‘authenticity’ as developed in the philosophical treatise, L’Être et le néant, and in the analysis of anti-Semitism in Réflexions sur la question juive. Next, it provides a short excursus on Lévinas’s philosophical notion that the subject is constituted in and through its relation to the Other, so as to emphasize the strong contrast between the Sartrean and Lévinasian models of the subject-other relation. Finally, it examines two short essays written by Lévinas in response to Sartre’s Réflexions: first, the June, 1947 introductory remarks, ‘Existentialism and Anti-Semitism’, and second, the 1947 essay ‘Être juif ’ (‘Being Jewish’). The essay takes up Lévinas’s critique of ‘authentic’ or self-constitutive selfhood and concludes that the Lévinasian subject, as constituted through alterity, is never ‘authentic’ in the Sartrean sense. In fact, Lévinas’s philosophy would appear to offer a welcome corrective to Sartre’s politically fraught choice between abjection and self-assertion: Lévinas invalidates the dream of Jewish authenticity.

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Author details

Gordon, Peter E.