Levinas, Adorno, and the Light of Redemption: Notes on a Critical Eschatology

Dylan Shaul


This article brings Levinas and Adorno into conversation as an experiment in a broader effort within critical phenomenology to integrate phenomenology and critical theory . Both thinkers’ central concern with a redemptive or messianic futurity provides the basis for a shared critical eschatology, in which Levinas and Adorno mutually illuminate and enrich one another’s thought. In particular, I argue that Levinas’s and Adorno’s respective critical eschatologies share three key features: a fundamental ethical responsibility toward that which exceeds systematization or totalization (the Other and the non-identical, respectively), a refusal of philosophical theodicy in view of the historical catastrophes of the 20th century, and a foregrounding of “‘the light of redemption”’ as the key methodological tool proper to the recognition of the preceding concerns.

Peer review process: Guest edited


Levinas; Adorno; critical phenomenology; critical theory


Adorno, Theodor W. 1973. Negative Dialectics. Translated by E. B. Ashton. New York: The

Seabury Press.

———. 2003. The Jargon of Authenticity. Translated by Knut Tarnowski and Frederic Will.

London and New York: Routledge.

———. 2005. Minima Moralia: Reflections on a Damaged Life. Translated by E. F. N. Jephcott. London and New York: Verso.

———. 2013. Against Epistemology: A Metacritique. Translated by Willis Domingo.

Cambridge: Polity Press.

Allen, Amy. 2017. The End of Progress: Decolonizing the Normative Foundations of Critical Theory. New York: Columbia University Press.

Belmer, Stephanie. 2019. “Emmanuel Levinas and Theodor Adorno on Ethics and Aesthetics.” Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities 24 (5): 29-43.

Benjamin, Walter. 1969. “Theses on the Philosophy of History.” In Illuminations: Essays

and Reflections. Edited by Hannah Arendt. Translated by Harry Zohn. New York: Schoken Books.

de Vries, Hent. 2005. Minimal Theologies: Critiques of Secular Reason in Adorno and Levinas. Translated by Geoffrey Hale. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Bernstein, J. M. 2001. Adorno: Disenchantment and Ethics. Cambridge: Cambridge University


Descartes, René. 1996. Meditations on First Philosophy, with Selections from the Objections and Replies. Translated and edited by John Cottingham. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Eisenstadt, Oona. 2006. “Levinas and Adorno: Universalizing the Jew After Auschwitz.” The Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy 14 (1-2): 131-51.

Fagenblat, Michael. 2008. “Levinas and Maimonides: From Metaphysics to Ethical Negative Theology.” The Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy 16 (1): 95-147.

Freyenhagen, Fabian. 2013. Adorno’s Practical Philosophy: Living Less Wrongly. Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press.

Gordon, Peter. 2016. Adorno and Existence. Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press.

Guenther, Lisa. 2012. The Gift of the Other: Levinas and the Politics of Reproduction. Albany:

SUNY Press.

———. 2013. Solitary Confinement: Social Death and Its Afterlives. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press.

———. 2020. “Critical Phenomenology.” In 50 Concepts for a Critical Phenomenology. Edited by Gail Weiss, Ann V. Murphy, and Gayle Salamon. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.

Hegel, G. W. F. 1975. Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, Introduction: Reason in History. Translated by H. S. Nisbet. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kafka, Franz. 1958. “The Coming of the Messiah.” In Parables and Paradoxes. Edited by

Nahum N. Glatzer. New York: Schoken Books.

Leibniz, Gottfried (1990). Theodicy: Essays on the Goodness of God, the Freedom of Man, and the Origin of Evil. Translated by E. M. Huggard. Edited by Austin Farrer. Chicago: Open Court.

Levinas, Emmanuel. 1969. Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority. Translated by Alphonso Lingis. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press.

———. 1995. The Theory of Intuition in Husserl’s Phenomenology. Translated by André

Orianne. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.

———. 1998a. “Useless Suffering.” In Entre Nous: On Thinking-of-the-Other. Translated by

Michael B. Smith and Barbara Harshav. New York: Columbia University Press.

———. 1998b. Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence. Translated by Alphonso Lingis.

Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press.

———. 1998c. Discovering Existence with Husserl. Translated by Richard A. Cohen and

Michael B. Smith. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.

Malka, Salomon. 2006. Emmanuel Levinas: His Life and Legacy. Translated by Michael Kigel

and Sonja M. Embree. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press.

Meskin, Jacob. 1993. “In the Flesh: Embodiment and Jewish Existence in the Thought of

Emmanuel Levinas.” Soundings: An Interdisciplinary Journal 76 (1): 173-90.

Müller-Doohm, Stefan. 2009. Adorno: A Biography. Translated by Rodney Livingstone.

Cambridge: Polity Press.

Nelson, Eric S. 2020. Levinas, Adorno, and the Ethics of the Material Other. Albany: SUNY


Oliver, Kelly. 2001. Witnessing: Beyond Recognition. Minneapolis and London: University of

Minnesota Press.

———. 2020. “Witnessing.” In 50 Concepts for a Critical Phenomenology. Edited by Gail

Weiss, Ann V. Murphy, and Gayle Salamon. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.

Plato. 2003. The Republic. Translated by Tom Griffith. Edited by G. R. F. Ferrari. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Portella, Elizabeth. 2019. “Mediation and Its Shadow: Ethics and Politics in Selected Works of Levinas and Adorno.” Philosophy Today 63(2): 427-445.

Saches, Carl B. 2011. “The acknowledgement of transcendence: Anti-theodicy in Adorno and Levinas.” Philosophy and Social Criticism 37 (3): 273-94.

Salamon, Gayle. 2018a. “What’s Critical about Critical Phenomenology?”. Puncta: Journal

of Critical Phenomenology 1: 8-17.

———. 2018b. The Life and Death of Latisha King: A Critical Phenomenology of Transphobia. New York: NYU Press.

Smith, Nick. 2006. “Adorno vs. Levinas: Evaluating Points of Contention.” Continental

Philosophy Review 40: 275-306.

Stauffer, Jill. 2018. Ethical Loneliness: The Injustice of Not Being Heard. New York: Columbia University Press.

Truskolaski, Sebastian. 2020. Adorno and the Ban on Images. London: Bloomsbury.

Wolosky, Shira. 2017. “Two Types of Negative Theology; Or, What Does Negative Theology Negate?” In Negative Theology as Jewish Modernity. Edited by Michael Fagenblat. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Full Text: PDF


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2021 Dylan Shaul

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.