Continental Philosophy Review

, Volume 51, Issue 2, pp 193–210 | Cite as

The joy of Desire: Understanding Levinas’s Desire of the Other as gift

  • Sarah Horton


In this paper, I argue that if we understand Levinas’s Desire of the Other as gift, we can understand it as joyful—that is, as celebratory. After presenting Levinas’s conception of Desire, I consider his claim, found in Otherwise than Being, that the self is a hostage to the Other, and I contend that, paradoxical as it may seem, being a hostage to the Other is actually liberating. Then, drawing on insights Richard Kearney offers in Reimagining the Sacred, I argue for understanding Desire as a gift that is the condition of possibility for joy. If I offer hospitality to the Other, I thereby accept the gift that makes joy possible, and this joy is not egoistic but is the proper response to the gift. Finally, I ask whether Desire can be joyful in practice, given that the pure gift is an originary condition and never a historical one, and I conclude that imperfect joy remains possible. Moreover, this imperfect joy is better than any solitary enjoyment I might experience in the total absence of the Other.


Desire Gift Hospitality Joy Levinas 



I wish to thank Dr. Miguel de Beistegui and Melissa Fitzpatrick for their comments on earlier versions of this paper.

Compliance with ethical standard

Conflict of interest

The author declares that there is no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Boston CollegeBrightonUSA

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