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Vigilant Memory: Emmanuel Levinas, the Holocaust, and the Unjust Death

R.Clifton Spargo

4 ratings by Goodreads
ISBN 10: 0801883113 / ISBN 13: 9780801883118
Published by Johns Hopkins University Press
New Condition: New Hardcover
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Bibliographic Details

Title: Vigilant Memory: Emmanuel Levinas, the ...

Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press

Binding: Hardback

Book Condition: New

About this title


Vigilant Memory focuses on the particular role of Emmanuel Levinas's thought in reasserting the ethical parameters for poststructuralist criticism in the aftermath of the Holocaust. More than simply situating Levinas's ethics within the larger context of his philosophy, R. Clifton Spargo offers a new explanation of its significance in relation to history.

In critical readings of the limits and also the heretofore untapped possibilities of Levinasian ethics, Spargo explores the impact of the Holocaust on Levinas's various figures of injustice while examining the place of mourning, the bad conscience, the victim, and the stranger/neighbor as they appear in Levinas's work. Ultimately, Spargo ranges beyond Levinas's explicit philosophical or implicit political positions to calculate the necessary function of the "memory of injustice" in our cultural and political discourses on the characteristics of a just society.

In this original and magisterial study, Spargo uses Levinas's work to approach our understanding of the suffering and death of others, and in doing so reintroduces an essential ethical element to the reading of literature, culture, and everyday life.


"A marvelously lucid and interesting analysis of Levinas's notion of 'after Auschwitz.'"

(Contemporary Literature)

"This book provides an immensely engaging, rich, and contemporary analysis of Levinas's ethics."

(Gregor Schnuer Substance)

"Unique and indispensable for anyone engaged in scholarly treatments of ethics and politics."

(Claire Katz Shofar)

"Spargo's lucid analyses of Emmanuel Levinas's 'post-Holocaust' ethics make the compelling case that it is the consequences rather than the historical facts of the Holocaust that have profoundly and forever affected how individual human beings respond to their neighbors. As Spargo makes a strong case for a more expansive Levinasian ethics, he effectively links that ethics to the beginnings of political thought."

(Michael Bernard-Donals, University of Wisconsin, Madison)

"An intense and meticulous analysis of Levinas's attempt to redeem the force of ethical thinking from Nietzsche's charge of fraudulence. Spargo removes misconceptions (especially concerns about Levinas's belated relation to liberal thought and cultural pluralism), situates his reception in America, clarifies the impact on him of the memory of the Holocaust, and exposes the normative temptation by which moralists have evaded 'the imaginative vulnerability critical to ethics' through an over-objectifying or heroizing discourse. Almost every influential position held by contemporary thinkers on the study of death, which has always preoccupied ethical philosophy, is subjected to probing criticism. Spargo's book, a work of great intellectual energy, demonstrates a vigilance that leaves no aspect of Levinas, as philosopher or writer, untouched."

(Geoffrey Hartman, Sterling Professor Emertius of English and Comparative Literature at Yale University)

"Spargo patiently inhabits the ethical imagination, alert to the risks of ethical thinking as such (of Western self-legitimation as of vacuous piety), but demonstrating, over and over again, how productive the Levinasian understanding of responsibility can be. Just as he engages a host of conflicting claims (by Blanchot, Badiou, and Agamben, etc.), so too, with breath-taking precision, Spargo shows Levinas in conflict with himself, all the while tracking the 'force of sociality' that lingers within this body of work, the 'unrealized politics' that enable us to imagine ethics in history. We need to keep reading Levinas, and to read him with Spargo’s own kind of vigilance."

(Bill Brown, University of Chicago)

"An impressively well-documented, well-researched study."

(Megan Craig Bryn Mawr Review of Comparative Literature)

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