Where Nothing Happened: The Experience of War Captivity and Levinas’s Concept of the ‘There Is’

Social and Legal Studies 26 (2):230-248 (2017)
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This article takes as its subject matter the juridico-political space of the prisoner of war (POW) camp. It sets out to determine the nature of this space by looking at the experience of war captivity by Jewish members of the Western forces in World War II, focusing on the experience of Emmanuel Levinas, who spent 5 years in German war captivity. On the basis of a historical analysis of the conditions in which Levinas spent his time in captivity, it argues that the POW camp was a space of indifference that was determined by the legal exclusion of prisoners from both war and persecution. Held behind the stage of world events, prisoners were neither able to exercise their legal agency nor released from law into a realm of extra-legal violence. Through a close reading of Levinas’s early concept of the ‘there is’ [il y a], the article seeks to establish the impact on prisoners of prolonged confinement in such a space. It sets out how prisoners’ subjectivity dissolved in the absence of meaningful relations with others and identifies the POW camp as a space in which existence was reduced to indeterminate, impersonal being.
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Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life.Nikolopoulou, Kalliopi; Agamben, Giorgio & Heller-Roazen, Daniel
Totality and Infinity.Levinas, Emmanuel
Ethics and Infinity.Lévinas, Emmanuel & Nemo, Philippe

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