I've read a handful of book by or about Levinas, but some time ago and without notes. IIRC his central ethical theme is that other people are not an aspect of the self, that our obligation to them exists in their being irreducible to ourselves.

E.g. you have this by Zahavi

[Self awareness and Alterity[1]

i.e. that alterity is originarily an ethical relation, so that its call to conscience is more important that any aspect of comprehension: and so (it seems to me) independent of how we seem to exist as individuals.

Against these enigmas, every mode of comprehension runs aground.... The other person is an event I can neither predict nor control.


Assuming that is a fair definition of "radical alterity", I wondered if there has been any attempt to apply a similar concept to aesthetics (rather than its usual place of obligation).


3 Answers 3


The idea of applying radical alterity to aesthetics is a partial theme of the work of Jean-Luc Marion.

He calls these sorts of things saturated phenomenon.

For him, these reach their culmination not in art but in religion, but he does talk about art as saturated phenomenon. See for instances Crina Gschwandtner book.

  • would you expect marion's religion would be a stumbling block to a perhaps fairly gauche atheist, in asking what sense art has?
    – user6917
    Dec 27, 2015 at 5:43
  • 1
    I'm not grasping the use of "gauche" there but there's some other contemporary phenomenologists who are not theists who do similar projects. Their names escape me.
    – virmaior
    Dec 27, 2015 at 6:07
  • if you can think of it it would help me :) !
    – user6917
    Dec 27, 2015 at 7:35
  • btw i just meant "unsophisticated" nothing more
    – user6917
    Dec 27, 2015 at 7:36
  • do they use the term "saturated phenomena"?
    – user6917
    Dec 29, 2015 at 17:06

I might only suggest that this might be better answered by revisiting Kant than by looking for "the latest."

The good,old "thing in itself" is a very precise, well-developed idea of "radical alterity." It is not static. It feeds the "new."

Since Kant was the first to bring aesthetics into philosophy, I would suggest that his idea of purposefulness without purpose is very close to the mechanically repeated "avant guard" that 20th century art became.

Radical alterity is not, as far as I can see, an advance on the Kantian noumenal. Nor can a morality ever advance without the "radical alterity" of someone not "oneself," yet also treated as an end.

  • 1
    hi i'm a little skeptical about the overlap just on the grounds that i thought phenomenology was pretty antithetical to Kantian noumena. an inline reference or something would be neat
    – user6917
    Dec 27, 2015 at 10:50
  • Admittedly, an off-the-cuff, purely associative answer... or non-answer. I do think there is something in it, and when I get the time I'll try to think it through a bit and seek out references. The "noumenal" comes in for a lot of interpretation, so I don't think it is necessarily ruled out by versions of phenomenology as kind of "absence" or indeed "other sidedness." Anyway, I'll try to follow up. Wouldn't have mentioned, except there were few answers. Dec 27, 2015 at 18:06

I don't have a good answer for you; but taking account Levinas's notion of the face:

The way the other presents himself, exceeding the idea of the other in me, we name the face

And also his orientation as a phenomenologist, and therefore on the encounter; then the notion of an aesthetics situated on this site seems ideal in rethinking the figure, the portrait as an encounter; thereby foregrounding the relation.

Perhaps too, landscapes, pastoral and urban as the face of the place; when haunted by traces of presence.

Then an aesthetic of alterity, should be, it seems revelatory of a moment of alterity, as an other recognised; but not as exotica, if one is to align with Levinas's ethics of alterity.

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