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Hutchens, B.C. (2007). Is Levinas Relevant to Psychoanalysis?. Psychoanal. Rev., 94(4):595-616.

(2007). Psychoanalytic Review, 94(4):595-616

Is Levinas Relevant to Psychoanalysis?

B. C. Hutchens

Owing to the considerable reputation of the ethical philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas, many psychoanalyts are poised to adopt an alternative view of personal relations. After all, his work appeals in particular to those who would privilege affect over drive, relations of persons over psychic models.

Be that as it may, there are two immediate difficulties with any appropriation of Levinas into the psychoanalytic scheme. First, in excellent work, students of psychoanalysis who seek resources in Levinas tend to race straight for the affective face-to-face relation and ignore the technicalities of the phenomenological method of which this relation is the result.1 Hyperbolic and repetitive as Levinas's work mostly is, this relation cannot be lifted from its phenomenological basis any more than, say, Kant's categorical imperative can be removed from its transcendentalist background.

Furthermore, noting parallels and convergences between Levinas and psychoanalysis, many commentators have failed to acknowledge Levinas's unremitting hostility to the entire psychological enterprise in any form.2 Generally speaking, from his earliest critical introduction to the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl to his last monumental work, Otherwise Than Being or Beyond Essence, Levinas has offered a synoptic critique of theory itself, not excluding psychological theories. Not only does he directly and indefatigably challenge the presumptions of psychological theory, he also offers a multiform critique of its metaphysical, rationalist, and ethical presuppositions. Inspired by ethical concerns and armed with a revised phenomenological method, he categorically rejects the psychological notions of ego, self, mind, psyche, and experience.

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