This essay consists in a Levinasian reading of Leo Tolstoy’s The death of Ivan Ilyich in an attempt to accomplish two objectives simultaneously. First, Tolstoy’s novella beautifully illustrates and therefore unlocks the complex dynamics at play in Levinas’s ethical metaphysics. Both Levinas and Tolstoy are concerned with the human condition, the human condition as it is most intensely lived and felt, i.e. life in the face of death. What happens to the dying Ivan Ilyich helps us to understand Levinas’s conceptualization of the event that happens when confronted by the Other/death and the ethical reorientation that it implies. What we hope to show, however, is that a Levinasian reading does not only underscore the standard interpretation of Ivan Ilyich but also augments it in a critical way. For Levinas also stresses that “economic” life cannot simply be dismissed as “not the real thing” as Ivan Ilyich does. Levinas shows that our egoist “economic” exploits in the world are a necessary condition for the ethical life. In short, I cannot be a self claimed by the other if I do not enjoy the world.
|Keywords:||Philosophy, Literature, Phenomenology, Ethics, Levinas, Tolstoy, The Human Condition, Death, Life, Suffering, The Other, The Self, Ethical Metaphysics, Tolstoy, Ethical Reorientation, Ethical Conversion|
Post doctoral fellow, Department of Philosophy, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa
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