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David Michael Levin

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  • David Michael Levin

    I am reading my third book by this philosopher. He is a rarity in America, a professor of philosophy who subscribes to the approaches of the Continential school, which essentially means phenomenology. Specifically, his focus and expertise is on the work of Heidegger, and crucially not merely to explicate the master's work, but to critically engage and creatively develop it.

    The first book I read by him was The Body's Recollection of Being. This laid out what is a major focus of his phenomenology, the ontological ethics of embodiment and existential encounter in what Merleau-Ponty dubbed "the dimension of the flesh." This is consistent with the phenomenological emphasis and development "the middle world," the world of lived experience, the unity and cohesion of which is defined by intentionality: that consciousness is always consciousness of something. In the realm of human being, we are our selves always in relation to others: never do we exist in a barren realm void of others. The story of each and every human being is one of being-with-others, even if at various points there is the proverbial solitude of the person on the mountaintop. That person did not get there from no one, nor indeed survive in the world in a monadic envelope. Levin moves from this consideration, which he develops along with a critique of contemporary anomie and estrangement produced by the "ego-logical" self (as distinct from the "eco-logical" self), the societal insistence on atomistic identity (and derivative dysfunction) defining and afflicting modern, "advanced" (sound the gongs of irony here) nations.

    His project is to unfold a liberatory self from the tortured origami of the ego-logical mode of being. He includes and proceeds upon the shoulders of this work in The Listening Self, a volume that explores the focus and preponderance of Western philosophical (and much other) thinking on the sensory mode of sight. In considering the structure and limitations of this dominant mode, Levin examines this emphasis as a significant element in the character of ego-logical being.

    He counterposes to this the mode of hearing, and specifically of listening. Rather than the control-at-a-distance that we have come to associate with technology, tyranny, and objectification of human (and nonhuman) Others, he offers the potential in the more feminine and relationally open mode of aural perception and understanding.

    The third book by him--the one I'm currently reading--is The Philosopher's Gaze: Modernity in the Shadows of Enlightenment. I'm only about a fourth of the way through, and it is more challenging than the previous two volumes because he uses many Greek and German words that he sometimes defines only once, and in the case of the Greek words, sometimes not at all in a direct way. Perhaps this is an academic conceit, or perhaps there is some other good reason for it; in any case, it makes reading even by those with a fair amount of familiarity with both his work and that of Heidegger, more challenging than it otherwise would be.

    That complaint aside, the content of his book is stimulating and original, as were his other works. Recounting and continuing with his critique of occulocentrism in Western thought (and philosophy in particular), he looks at the limitations of both the phenomenological "absolute science" achieved by "bracketing" the common-sense "natural attitude," examining both the value and the limitations of this frame developed by its originator, Edmund Husserl. He relates this to the theme of enframing in Western culture's way of perceiving and thinking about reality, an enframing named and critically analyzed by Heidegger.

    The import of this is that the way we think about things is not the only possible way, and indeed much of the crisis in which we find our world and selves is existentially attributable to major aspects of our prevailing enframing mode of thought.

    Obviously, I've not laid out all the currents of his thinking: my intent is only to adumbrate his work and recommend it as valuable to anyone willing to achieve a more than passing familiarity with Heidegger's thinking. That's really a precondition for appreciating Levin's writing--something that is, in my own experience, well worth the effort.