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The Listening Eye: Nietzsche and Levinas

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Nietzsche's recognition of existence as an ever-shifting play of surface appearances presages his "revaluation of all values," his response to those who would stabilize becoming by metaphysically reifying it as being. Nietzsche arguably provides Levinas with his deepest ethical challenge. Consequently, Levinas himself undertakes a similar revaluation of the ground of traditional values and of the subject. Both put forth heterodox notions of subjectivity insofar as the subject is constituted by a radical exteriority that is paradoxically realized as such interiorly. However, Levinas repudiates the post-modern conception of the subject as an empty, fragmented phantasm (a position often attributed to Nietzsche), the hollow legacy of a now debunked and defunct modernist project, characterizing his ethical philosophy as a "defense of subjectivity." Nietzsche and Levinas simultaneously invert and intertwine the traditional hierarchical relation between seeing and hearing. In doing so, they reveal essential dimensions of the ethical relationship that would appear to be contradictory, self-negating, or at least incompatible. However, they also have their sights set on a similar site - that of the "eye that listens." This essay interrogates the role that the metaphor of the "listening eye" plays in determining their respective conceptions of subjectivity and ethics. Both employ this provocative and necessarily ambiguous metaphor to emphasize the radical role that teaching plays in their philosophies.


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