Monthly Archives: June 2013

QA 42. Notes on “Useless suffering”

LevinasA brief reading of the essay by Emmanuel Levinas


What is the lived experience of suffering? To an extent, it’s like any other sensory experience, like seeing green or tasting sweet. What sets suffering apart is the way it is too much to bear. We can’t get on top of it or get hold of it. It’s an experience of frustrated revulsion or rejection. Levinas describes it a “quasi-contradictory structure” – suffering is given to us as a sensation that we can’t take – which is categorically ambiguous: suffering is “at once what disturbs order and this disturbance itself”. Suffering shows the profound vulnerability and passivity of our sensibility: all we can do is undergo it (and we can’t even do that). Suffering is “precisely an evil” for the way it rips into us and overwhelms our humanity. It is an impasse, an absurdity. It is utterly useless.

And yet.

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