sarahpessin@sarahpessin.com

Phenomenological / Political

Books in Progress…

Pause and Pardon: Early Levinas on Embodiment, Effort, and Excess (book in progress)

Focusing on his 1947 Existence and Existents, this project explores Levinas’ early phenomenological approach to embodiment as a “pausal subjectivity” rooted in a hope for pardon related to effort’s giving way to excess. These dynamics are engaged through a four-fold logic of pause, pardon, past, and paradox not generally associated with Levinas.

By exploring this lesser-studied and mostly unknown early Levinas lexicon, the book helps us think through in new and better ways Levinas’ later oft-cited and oft-misunderstood ethical notion of “transcendence in immanence” without relying on rote turns of phrase (e.g. infinite responsibility; the face of the other; substitution of myself for another; etc.).

Approaching Levinas through a new set of terms helps us gain deeper understanding of Levinas’ ethical logics, including deeper understanding of the phenomenological and embodied underpinnings of ethical excess. We arrive, in other words, at a sense of “ethical transcendence” that is much more immanent than some of the incorrect theological readings many readers wind up importing, and much more transcendent than some of the incorrect materialist readings that other readers wind up importing.

In its consideration of Levinas on pardon, the project also includes a new reading of his famously cited claim that it is “difficult to forgive Heidegger.” And the project ends with a consideration of the “covenant-evental” implications of Levinas’ view, including its implications for a politics of “trembling agency” and including its implications for a non-Schmittian, non-Pauline/Badiouan, and non-Deleuzian sense of the political.

Uncomfortable Virtues: Seven Paths to Responsible Coexistence (book in progress)

Drawing on an interdisciplinary and intercultural range of texts and traditions, this book explores the following simple (but of course, not so simple) claim: In a pluralist democracy, while we need to fight racism and dismantle inequitable status quos, we also need to feel protective of even neighbors whose views and values we hate.

The project in this sense explores the ways in which we are called in good politics into something of a split-persona: We need to be tolerant and intolerant, flexible and resolute, inclusive and non-inclusive, protective and anti-protective–depending on the situation and context at hand.

The oddly uncomfortable result is a kind of civic responsibility that is more important than the warmer goal of friendship when it comes to better political futures. And it takes the form of seven “uncomfortable virtues.”

Hope/less Pardon (book in progress; Panui Press)

Written in accessible prose for a general readership, this study invites readers to explore a sense of pardon that is far more vulnerable than the more confident approach to pardon that dominates contemporary culture. Where we often find ourselves certain that others should forgive us and even that we can, if we so desire, forgive others, Hope/less Pardon draws on a wide range of traditions to help readers to a more fragile point of view: Ethical life is about living with the reminder that we are not the kind of creatures who can forgive at will and (relatedly) we are precisely the kinds of creatures who can often not be forgiven. Drawing on figures from Kierkegaard to Martin Luther King, Jr., Maria Anzaldua to Judith Butler, Franz Kafka to Franz Rosenzweig to Frantz Fanon, and Martin Buber to Emmanuel Levinas, Hope/less Pardon reminds us that real hope is a kind of fragile hope-in-hopelesness, not an upbeat sense of bright-eyed optimism that can often make our relationships with our neighbors worse not better.

Hear Sarah’s 4 minute clip on Levinas

Click to see Sarah present on Levinas’ “covenant-evental pausality” as part of a conversation with Ben Noys on “Pausal Politics” for The New Polis series Critical Conversations (10.27.20) / [24:15-53:16]

Also underway:

The Miracle Option in Interfaith: From Literacy to Liturgy (website, guide-book, and webinar/workshop; in progress)

In this project–aimed primarily at religious and spiritual practitioners, though ending with a chapter for atheists, agnostics, and others who don’t identify as religious/spiritual–I reframe interfaith work by highlighting the mysterious and miraculous element that is often overlooked. Doing so involves a practical shift from interfaith work to INTRAfaith work, and from work primarily centeredon (1) improving literacy and (2) meeting as many people from other religions as possible to: liturgy.

I speak of ‘liturgy’ in two senses: (1) Prayer: I call on congregations to engage in INTRAfaith prayers and sermons that highlight the miraculous nature of interfaith encounter by using resources strictly from within their own thought/action traditions. (2) Works: Focusing on the etymology of “liturgy” (lit. people-work), I connect The Miracle Option to doing concrete works together in the world. While this second point (albeit not under the header of ‘liturgy as people work’) is much more common in existing interfaith frameworks, MANY important differences emerge when the spirit of working together is recast within the context of prayer itself understood as the main appropriate response to an inter-human miracle.

In the end, while I think there is a place for increased religious literacy, I recommend giving new (and higher) priority to approaching interfaith relations under the primary sign of the miracle. Our work in interfaith in this way becomes more intra-group focused as we embark on the delicate and risky (and uncomfortable) task of precipitating, fostering, and revering the miracle of encounter with someone whose form of life is nothing like our own.

Celebrity: A Phenomenology & Politics of Fame

(book in progress)

Recently published…

“Kenosis, Emancipation, Pastness: Reflections from a Jew,” The Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory (JCRT) (Spring 2019) 18:2: 214-223

http://www.jcrt.org/archives/18.2/Pessin.pdf

“America’s Love Problem: How Oprah’s Call to Friendship Feeds Bannon’s Call to Racism (or: On Three Strains of Liberal Lovesickness),” Political Theology Network, Love and Politics Colloquium (August 2018)

[https://politicaltheology.com/americas-love-problem/]

“Kenosis, Charity, Love: On the Mystical Element in Greco-Judeo-Islamic Thought,” English Language Notes (special issue on mysticism, ed. Nan Goodman), 56 (1), April 2018: 139-152.

“Khoric Apophasis: Matter and Messianicity in Islamo-Judeo-Greek Neoplatonism,” in Negative Theology as Jewish Modernity, ed. Michael Fagenblat, 180-197. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2017.

“From Mystery to Laughter to Trembling Generosity: Agono-Pluralistic Ethics in Connolly v. Levinas (& the Possibilities for Atheist-Theist Respect),” International Journal of Philosophical Studies, Nov. 2016

DOI: 10.1080/09672559.2016.1248128: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09672559.2016.1248128

Also published in: Phenomenology and the Post-Secular Turn: Contemporary Debates on the ‘Return of Religion’, eds. Michael Staudigl and Jason W. Alvis, 171-94 (Routledge, 2018)

See Late Ancient & Medieval Philosophy Research