The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

Breaking Analogy: Levinas, Maimonides, and Contemporary Language Theory

Levinas’s philosophy of radical transcendence has been critiqued by contemporary theorists in ways that restage longstanding critiques of transcendence in Jewish tradition, such as those made by Aquinas against Maimonides’ negative theology. At issue are the possibilities of analogy as a shared ontology bridging an eternal, unchanging reality and the temporal, material, temporal world – analogical bridging that Levinas, like Maimonides, rejects. What Levinas offers is language rather than ontology as opening a trajectory from the human to transcendence without claiming analogy between them: that is, respecting radical distinction while opening relationship beyond ontology, “unrelating relation” in Levinas`s oxymoron. Levinasian language theory in his “Notes on Metaphor” and elsewhere develops the positive power of what Maimonides calls equivocation, as a path in discourse from the human to transcendence beyond analogy.