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Inanimate Otherness
Graham Harman
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The frequent discussions of otherness or alterity in recent intellectual life can be traced primarily to the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas and his two major books: Totality and Infinity and Otherwise Than Being. In my view, Levinas was actually less interesting when he spoke of alterity than when he turned the picture upside down and focused on the immediacy of sensual enjoyment. Nonetheless, his ethical theory must be taken seriously, though I would stress two important problems that stem from laying too much weight on the Levinas of alterity. First, this is too often done by those who do not really wish him well: I speak of Derrideans who love to corral Levinas in alterity so that they can ambush him with Jacques Derrida’s “Violence and Metaphysics” essay, thereby allowing their hero to leave the scene repeatedly with Levinas’s scalp. Second, and more importantly, it is well known that Levinas is more interested in the human Other—which for him is the source of both ethics and time—than in any other sort of alterity.

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