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Drichel, S. (2019). Emmanuel Levinas and the “specter of masochism”: A Cross-Disciplinary Confusion of Tongues. Psychoanal. Self. Cxt., 14(1):3-22.

(2019). Psychoanalysis, Self, and Context, 14(1):3-22

Original Article

Emmanuel Levinas and the “specter of masochism”: A Cross-Disciplinary Confusion of Tongues

Simone Drichel, Ph.D.

This article addresses persistent concerns within clinical contexts that Emmanuel Levinas’s ethics harbors a “masochistic”—or otherwise unwholesome—conception of subjectivity. Mobilizing Emmanuel Ghent’s distinction between masochism and surrender, and extending it into ethical terrain, I argue that Levinas instead offers us an ethics of surrender. What underpins this vital distinction, I propose, is a different orientation to the question of vulnerability vis-à-vis relational trauma. I argue that post-traumatic psychopathological formations (such as masochism or narcissism) defend against relational vulnerability—a defense that manifests as a form of “ethical impairment.” Levinas’s ethical for-the-other existence, by contrast, is predicated upon a defense of relational vulnerability—as the condition of possibility for ethical subjectivity. This crucial point of difference not only explains why Levinasian ethics is not moral masochism but also invests Ghentian surrender with a decidedly ethical dimension.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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