Graduate Summer 2024: Huaiyuan Susanna Zhang

Eros beyond Ethics: A Platonic Key to Levinas’ Totality and Infinity

Department of Philosophy; Department of Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies

Her dissertation, Eros beyond Ethics: A Platonic Key to Levinas’ Totality and Infinity, theorizes Levinas’ reversal of Plato’s scala amoris down to earth by uncovering the form of the Good [le bien] in quotidian kindness [la bonté] towards the Other. The concept of love as intrinsic to, a vehicle for, and a prototype of Levinas’ ethics remains underexplored. Chapter One broaches Totality and Infinity through the pathway of desire, standing ground for a subject of desire not only subjected to eros but also constituted as a subject by eros. Chapter Two identifies the problematics of eros in an other-regarding ethics as set up in Chapter One, encompassing narcissism, the impotence to love, and love’s relationship to desire, fecundity, and femininity—all converging on the meaning of erotic transcendence. Chapter Three tracks Levinas’ panoply of Platonic references regarding the classical concepts of love, need, and desire. Through elaborating on erotic temporality, it unveils implicit counterpoints between Plato’s views on time and eternity and Levinas’ notions of infinite time and messianic future. Chapter Four leverages Levinas’ Platonica from Chapter Three to navigate the challenges discussed in Chapter Two and reconstruct Levinas’ erotic ethics, which achieves a transcendence from the unique self to the unique Other by laying bare the ruptures that affect the self.