Fear of Primitives, Primitive Fears

Edith Wyschogrod

in Crossover Queries

Published by Fordham University Press

Published in print June 2006 | ISBN: 9780823226061
Published online March 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780823235148 | DOI:

Series: Perspectives in Continental Philosophy

Fear of Primitives, Primitive               Fears

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In a trajectory that leads from man in the state of nature to the emergence of the primitive in the science of anthropology, the generalizations of ethnography have infiltrated the philosophical discourses of Martin Heidegger and Emmanuel Levinas. In a series of complex mimetic gestures and equally complex unsayings, each has appropriated the work of his anthropologically minded predecessors. Levinas identifies the Being of beings with Lucien Lévy-Bruhl's primitive sacrality, thereby unsaying Dasein understood in terms of its originary structure. The implications of anthropological tropes for Levinasian discourse are considerable. His depiction of the primitive points to the Janus face of some motifs in Totality and Infinity, as lying beneath and beyond representation and cognition. The primitive, when identified with the il y a as sensory inundation, replicates the uncontainability and excessiveness of the infinite. More originary than the temporalization of separated being, it repeats the non-time of alterity.

Keywords: man; primitive; anthropology; ethnography; Martin Heidegger; Emmanuel Levinas; Lucien Lévy-Bruhl; sacrality; alterity; infinite

Chapter.  6585 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Religion

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