Emmanuel Levinas “Useless Suffering”
Emmanuel Levinas begins this excerpt by discussing the phenomenology of suffering. He has many definitions for the concept of suffering such as something that is passive or evil or a “senseless pain”; however he refuses to acknowledge at any point reasoning behind this concept. The title of the essay really begins to jump out at the reader during the first few paragraphs of his phenomenology. Under all the metaphorical rhetoric lies a reoccurring theme of this ethical struggle to acknowledge suffering as anything more than a reality without rationality. He goes on to discuss pain in a physical and psychological light. It is a suffering so powerful it has the ability to “absorb the rest of consciousness” but lacks the ability to cross exteriority and thus renders someone else’s pain immeasurable to me. It seems as if Levinas only gives suffering a meaning when the person contemplating the evil is personally experiencing it, making it subjectively real and “making spirituality closer than confidence in any kind of theodicy.”
The theodicy of suffering is a theme that Levinas rips apart. Suffering as a means to a greater good manifests uselessness in its very definition. “It is not meaningful as a means with an end in which results from it?” Soul-Making, pain as a means for progress, original sin, and every other rational theodicy can never make a higher power or “God” an innocent entity or cover the historical evidence that good and evil are both imminent in worldly and human nature. The unpleasant adventures of life cannot find their roots solely in sin but are instead found on a larger scale of nothingness that we have no control over and must submit to. Levinas makes the ultimate challenge to those who take shelter under theodicy. The ultimate suffering that came on the vastest scale and under the most senseless of origins. The Holocaust, which served as genocide and evil for no apparent reason. There is not a lot of...
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