Facing the Infinite : Ethics according to Levinas



… This is why through the face filters the obscure light
coming from beyond the face, from what is not yet,
from a future never future enough, more remote than the possible …

A Reading of Totality and Infinity

When Totality and Infinity comes out in 1961, Emmanuel Levinas has achieved a mastery in his craft : the prose of a modern mystic ; striking formulations, at last, for his core intuition. Levinas, who migrated from Lithuania in his youth, adopted France, its culture and its language, but soon he fell for the growing field of phenomenology, visiting Germany to learn directly from its very masters Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger. Decade after decade, however, a discomfort grew. Levinas set to resolve it, preserving the inescapable lessons of phenomenology, while rescuing its limitations, by appealing, among others, to an long stream of ancestral Jewish wisdom. With Totality and Infinity, a destination has been reached, and the methods of phenomenology — a free assessment of the phainómenon, “that which appears” — are pursued and applied, but this time the object of enquiry is new, and paradoxical : the Other. Levinas writes, and he invites us to accompany him for this unique journey, opening the eyes, discovering an oddly familiar figure, coming face-to-face and finally initiating a rapport with this Other : the other person, living, human being exposing at once and instantaneously its utmost importance and its boundless vulnerability. The Other, then, becomes a gate, a channel onto the infinite, indescribable, ungraspable — and thus, closing the doors of the centuries and millennia of a philosophy always ill-at-ease with the unknown, and incapable to control its reflexes to reduce differences and alterity into sets of totality. And thus, along the face of the Other, opens, Levinas tells us, the mysterious realm of Ethics. With Totality and Infinity, Levinas attempts the impossible : writing on that which escapes all language, all ideas, forever.

How this course works

As we read Totality and Infinity today, half a century of renown has passed, and Lévinas has become synonymous with a few key concepts, and a certain reputation. But be it 1961 or 2017, the text remains an enigma demanding time and patience. And passion — if we want to crack its code and finally delight in the prose of the author, unprecedented in many respects, confusing more than once, but always different, enlightening, opening us to another world. This course — avoiding endless commentarial and analytic temptations — proposes, modestly, to aim at guiding the participants through their own reading of this beautiful piece of philosophical and mystic literature. For a little under two months, the group meets via videoconference once a week, as we go back to some key passages of the sections allotted for each session. All the participants are invited to share their reactions, their questions and remarks on the text, its propositions and its language. Samuel Buchoul, the instructor of this course, is a native speaker in French, so certain passages may be read in the original, to offer more layers of understanding, and supplementary reflections on translation.

There is no strict requirement expected from applicants in order to register this course, but a general knowledge of the main traditions of western philosophy may help — in particular, the main ideas of Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger, in the traditions known as phenomenology and existentialism (brief and sufficient introductions can be read on the website Philosophy Basics). Alternatively, Levinas can also be approached by any amateur of poetry, as his philosophical voice is distinctly aesthetic, and undeniably attempting, through its unique form, to convey a sensibility that would have been cancelled and reduced by the classically affirmative, objective voice, of philosophical treatises. A sensibility to poetry, as a reader and/or a writer, may thus also be sufficient in order to enter the world of Levinas’ text.

In the course of the second month of this course, the study of Levinas’ Totality and Infinity is complemented with CineWords, our participative exchange of movie interpretation, based on Absent God (Y. Ron, 2016) (more details here), selected by the guide in relation to the course. This participative session takes place through a group Skype.

Finally, also during the second month of this course, the group connects for a live Questions & Answers session with the instructor. The session is optional, and based on the questions of the participants.

Term Course

Duration : 8 weekly sessions of 90 minutes each
Dates and Times : decided with the participants
Modality : Skype Videoconference
Open to : All · No pre-requisites

At IST, a new edition of each course is organised upon 3 confirmed participants


Totality and Infinity



The session dates for the next edition of this course will be set
based on the common availability of the registrants.

Session 1

Introduction to Levinas and to this course.

Discussion of passages from the Preface (11 pages)

Session 2

Textual Analyses, Questions and Discussions on excerpts from :

I. The Same and the Other

Metaphysics and Transcendence (20)

Separation and Discourse (29)

Session 3

Textual Analyses, Questions and Discussions on excerpts from :

I. The Same and the Other

Truth and Justice (20)

Separation and the Absolute (6)

II. Interiority and Economy

Separation as Life (13)

Session 4

Textual Analyses, Questions and Discussions on excerpts from :

II. Interiority and Economy

Enjoyment and Representation (19)

I and Dependence (9)

The Dwelling (23)

Session 5

Textual Analyses, Questions and Discussions on excerpts from :

II. Interiority and Economy

The World of Phenomena and Expression (11)

III. Exteriority and the Face

Sensibility and the Face (7)

Ethics and the Face (26)

Session 6

Textual Analyses, Questions and Discussions on excerpts from :

III. Exteriority and the Face

The Ethical relation and time (34)

Session 7

Textual Analyses, Questions and Discussions on excerpts from :

IV. Beyond the Face (33)

The Ambiguity of Love

Phenomenology of Eros


Subjectivity in Eros

Transcendence and Fecundity

Filiality and Fraternity

The Infinity of Time

Session 8

Textual Analyses, Questions and Discussions on excerpts from :

Conclusions (20)


Participative discussion on the following film, with open interpretations and cross-analyses with the text of the course.

Absent God (Y. Ron, 2016) (details)

The participants will be shared a link to watch the movie online. They are expected to watch the movie on their own before joining the discussion.

Questions & Answers

Questions & Answers session.

Open discussions based on the questions of the participants.


Samuel Buchoul

Samuel Buchoul

Instructor & Coordinator

Experience with the Text of this Course : 5 years

House of mirrors. The Face-to-Face, impossible mirror : Levinas tells us that the relation to alterity, to my other, is “unilateral” : it is my other — but I should not let my reductive habits deduce that, in turn, I am its other. Impossible mirror : a house of mirrors with distorted images, impossible reflections — face-to-face with the other, reflection and philosophy made impossible, moment of the piercing cry, of the final silence ; a house of mirrors reflecting till infinite this other unlike me, a figure familiar and yet never circumscribed. But philosophy had certainly reached its own impossibility, the impossible reflection, already, for Levinas to come in the picture, and offer through this sensibility, this unique, mystic writing, at once a response and a movement of transcendence through and away from the comfort zones of the phenomenological method, and of existentialist reflexes, in our minds and mentalities of the 20th century. Face-to-Face, encounter of the Other — and Levinas was a central encounter to me, the discovery of a feeling breaking my earlier categories, indication of a direction, of a voice, of a style unexpected and yet long awaited. Levinas, a model and inspiration in thoughts and writing ; model for a philosophical voice knowing it cannot and should not deny itself, and yet, one that should strive to leave a few doors open, a breach or two, a houseful of mirrors not all dirtied by time and habits, to permit one day, perhaps, a salvaging encounter.

Samuel Buchoul is the founder and coordinator of IST.
Discover his courses and blogs here.



The financial contribution is open
beyond a minimum amount of

59.00 $

or the equivalent in your local currency
Check the conversion rates here

8 Sessions of Textual Analysis
1 CineWords Discussion
1 Questions and Answers session
Reading Material in soft copy
Instructor’s Notes for each session
HD Audio Recordings of the sessions


A new edition of this course will be organised
upon 3 confirmed registrations