Unjustifying Pain: Levinas’s Philosophy Of Useless Suffering
Levinas’s philosophy provides a remarkably focused and prolonged attempt to present a singular idea. The suffering of the other person, he argues, renders me responsible without qualification, evasion, or limitation. All of his innovative ideas about time and language are developed in his ongoing attempts to articulate this singular and unique idea. His relentless return to suffering has made his work appealing to psychologists, whose work would be trivial and academic were it not for the very real events of psychological suffering. Patterned after medical models for healing, the language surrounding suffering has been dominated by attempts to comprehend the cause and purpose of suffering. Healing, in medicine, is often maximized by comprehensive knowledge of the injury. Levinas resists this model, and psychologists who read his work find themselves torn between two different worlds. He claims that both suffering and responsibility transcend words and understanding, but we must surely speak of suffering in order to engage in any kind of responsibility for it.
This seminar takes its orientation from Levinas’s article “Useless Suffering,” in which Levinas makes the striking claim that suffering can be “meaningful in me, useless in the other.” Our conversations will focus on the paradoxical problem of suffering and words we might use to label and address it. Levinas turns vehemently against the use of theodicy to justify suffering - or protect God from responsibility of it - but his point is not particularly theological. He’s out to undermine all efforts to apply meaningful labels or paradigms to the suffering of others. When it comes to speaking about suffering, or speaking with those who suffer, how might Levinas help us confront the pervasive and harmful legacy of psychological disciplines which operate under tremendous pressure to comprehend, explain, quantify, and treat human suffering?
Friday, June 9 at 1:00pm to 4:00pmVirtual Event