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date: 20 February 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This article argues that Jacques Derrida and Emmanuel Levinas’s intellectual relationship was marked by a complex and contradictory exchange. As has been long understood, Levinas’s 1974 Otherwise Than Being can be seen in part as a response to Derrida’s criticism in the 1964 essay “Violence and Metaphysics.” At the same time Derrida’s understanding of the “trace” was shaped by his reading of Levinas’s use of the same term in his 1963 essay, “The Trace of the Other.” This mutual reading, however, did not bring the two thinkers closer together. In particular, Derrida’s reading of Levinas’s trace led him to reformulate his arguments in ways that informed his later criticism of Levinas’s ideas. Instead of promoting an “ethical turn” in his work, as has often been asserted, this essay suggests that Derrida’s encounter with Levinas unsettled the ethical imperatives that had initially motivated his thinking.

Keywords: Jacques Derrida, Emmanuel Levinas, phenomenology, the trace, deconstructive ethics, “Violence and Metaphysics”

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