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Estetika: The Central European Journal of Aesthetics

Issue no.2 /2010


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Images and Shadows: Levinas and the Ambiguity of the Aesthetic    
Translated Title: Images and Shadows: Levinas and the Ambiguity of the Aesthetic
Publication: Estetika: The Central European Journal of Aesthetics (2/2010)
Author Name: Staehler, Tanja;
Language: English
Subject: Philosophy
Issue: 2/2010
Page Range: 123-143
No. of Pages: 21
File size: 163 KB
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Summary: Levinas’s comments on art appear contradictory. On the one hand, he criticizes art as
being disengaged from ethical concerns and constituting a possibility of moral evasion;
on the other hand, he engages quite closely and in a supportive fashion with some art,
such as Paul Celan’s poetry. Interpreters commonly argue that only one of Levinas’s
conceptions of art, either the affirmative or the negative, represents his true attitude
towards art. In this article the author seeks to make both statements compatible with
each other and thus relevant to Levinas’s conception of art. She focuses on his essay
‘Reality and Its Shadow’, where art is diagnosed as an ambiguous phenomenon. She
argues that full understanding of the ambiguity of art demands that Levinas’s different
statements about art are considered together; only thus can the complete picture of the
ambiguity emerge. Furthermore, it turns out that the very same feature which makes art
open to misunderstanding – namely, its precarious materiality – also allows an artwork to
sustain itself and to be revived. Art reveals a shadow, withdrawal, or resistance that
belongs to reality itself.
Keywords: Levinas E.; Celan P.; the aesthetic; ethics; art; ambiguity of art
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