The joy of Desire: Understanding Levinas’s Desire of the Other as gift

Continental Philosophy Review 51 (2):193-210 (2017)
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In this paper, I argue that if we understand Levinas’s Desire of the Other as gift, we can understand it as joyful—that is, as celebratory. After presenting Levinas’s conception of Desire, I consider his claim, found in Otherwise than Being, that the self is a hostage to the Other, and I contend that, paradoxical as it may seem, being a hostage to the Other is actually liberating. Then, drawing on insights Richard Kearney offers in Reimagining the Sacred, I argue for understanding Desire as a gift that is the condition of possibility for joy. If I offer hospitality to the Other, I thereby accept the gift that makes joy possible, and this joy is not egoistic but is the proper response to the gift. Finally, I ask whether Desire can be joyful in practice, given that the pure gift is an originary condition and never a historical one, and I conclude that imperfect joy remains possible. Moreover, this imperfect joy is better than any solitary enjoyment I might experience in the total absence of the Other.

Author's Profile

Sarah Horton
institut catholique de Paris


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