Ethics of Breath: Derrida, Lévinas and Irigaray

  • Lenart Škof
Part of the Sophia Studies in Cross-cultural Philosophy of Traditions and Cultures book series (SCPT, volume 10)


In this chapter the ethics of breath is discussed by reading the excerpts from Derrida’s, Lévinas’ and Irigaray’s writings. Based on previous elaborations on breath in its mesocosmic constellation, and also on Feuerbach’s and Heidegger’s philosophies of the elements, this chapter introduces a possibility for an ethics that reaches beyond the empirical-transcendental divide. Firstly Derrida’s thinking on breath is presented: we refer to On Spirit, the essay on Lévinas (“Violence and Metaphysics”) and The Animal That Therefore I am. Then we proceed towards Lévinas and Irigaray where we really become aware of the possibility for an ethics of breath. In our reading, Lévinas’ philosophy first testifies for an extreme sensitivity not only for the Other but also for the phenomenon of breathing. But especially important are final sentences from Otherwise than Being, or Beyond the Essence, where Lévinas hypostasises lungs to an ethical organ. We interpret this as a newly invented “material” phenomenology—now thought of as pneumatology of the other, based on breathing. This chapter ends with Irigaray’s rich elaborations on breath and breathing as a key topic in the third phase of her work. Irigaray’s idea for the Age of the Breath is analyzed and presented and here feminist based philosophy of breathing is analyzed from the viewpoint of a new theory of intersubjectivity as proposed in the book.


Derrida Levinas Irigaray Breath Intersubjectivity Nature 


  1. Atterton, Peter, and Matthew Calarco, eds. 2008. Animal philosophy: Essential readings in continental thought. London: Continuum.Google Scholar
  2. Benso, Silvia. 2006. Psyché, pneuma, and air: Levinas and Anaximenes in proximity. Athena 1(2): 16–28.Google Scholar
  3. Bojanic, Petar. 2010. From an analogy of sovereignty (Hegel) to attributes of violence (Levinas). In Hegel und Levinas: Kreuzungen, Brüche, Überschreitungen, ed. B. Keintzel and B. Liebsch, 145–175. Freiburg/Munich: Verlag Karl Alber.Google Scholar
  4. Cappelørn, Niels J. 1996. Die ursprüngliche Unterbrechung. Søren Kierkegaard beim Abendmahl im Freitagsgottesdienst der Kopenhagener Frauenkirche. Kierkegaard Studies: Yearbook 1996 315–388.Google Scholar
  5. Caputo, John D. 2013. The insistence of God: A theology of perhaps. Bloomington/Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Celan, Paul. 1990. Atemwende. Vol. 7 of Werke, Historisch-kritische Ausgabe, I. Abteilung, Lyrik und Prosa. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.Google Scholar
  7. Celan, Paul. 2002. Poems of Paul Celan. Trans. M. Hamburger. New York: Persea Books.Google Scholar
  8. Craig, Megan. 2010. Levinas and James: Toward a pragmatic phenomenology. Bloomington/Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  9. De Vries, Roland J. 2008. Sharing air: Becoming two in the spirit. In Teaching, Luce Irigaray, ed. L. Irigaray and M. Green, 142–155. London: Continuum.Google Scholar
  10. Derrida, Jacques. 1991. Of Spirit: Heidegger and the Question. Trans. G. Bennington. Chicago/London: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  11. Derrida, Jacques. 2008. The Animal That Therefore I am. Trans. D. Wills. New York: Fordham University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Derrida, Jacques. 2009. Writing and Difference. Trans. Alan Bass. London/New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  13. Ettinger, Bracha L. 2006a. From proto-ethical compassion to responsibility: Beside-ness and the three primal mother-phantasies of not-enough-ness, devouring and abandonment. Athena 1(2): 100–135.Google Scholar
  14. Ettinger, Bracha L. 2006b. What would Eurydice say? Emmanuel Levinas in conversation with Bracha Lichtenberg Ettinger. Athena 1(2): 136–150.Google Scholar
  15. Grafenauer, Niko. 2000. Odtisi [Imprints]. Ljubljana: Mladinska knjiga.Google Scholar
  16. Irigaray, Luce. 1996. I Love to You: Sketch for a Felicity Within History. Trans. A. Martin. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  17. Irigaray, Luce. 1999a. Le temps du souffle. Trilingual edition (French, German and Italian). Rüsselsheim: Christel Göttert Verlag.Google Scholar
  18. Irigaray, Luce. 1999b. The Forgetting of Air in Martin Heidegger. Trans. Mary Beth Mader. Austin, TX: The University of Texas Press.Google Scholar
  19. Irigaray, Luce. 2004a. An Ethics of Sexual Difference. Trans. C. Burke and G. C. Gill. London: Continuum.Google Scholar
  20. Irigaray, Luce. 2004b. The age of the breath. In Key writings, ed. L. Irigaray, 165–170. London: Continuum.Google Scholar
  21. Irigaray, Luce. 2004c. What other are we talking about. Encounters with Levinas, ed. Tom Trezise, special issue of the journal Yale French Studies 104: 67–81.Google Scholar
  22. Irigaray, Luce. 2005. Between East and West. Trans. S. Pluháček. Delhi: New Age Books.Google Scholar
  23. Irigaray, Luce. 2008a. Sharing the world. London: Continuum.Google Scholar
  24. Irigaray, Luce. 2008b. The Way of Love. Trans. H. Bostic and S. Pluháček. London: Continuum.Google Scholar
  25. Irigaray, Luce. 2010. Il mistero di Maria. Milano: Paoline Editoriale Libri.Google Scholar
  26. Irigaray, Luce. 2011a. Marijina Skrivnost. Trans. A. Mlinar. Novo mesto: Goga.Google Scholar
  27. Irigaray, Luce. 2011b. Una nuova cultura dell’energia. Torino: Bollati Boringhieri.Google Scholar
  28. Jonas, Hans. 1985. The imperative of responsibility. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  29. Jones, Rachel. 2011. Irigaray: Towards a sexuate philosophy. Cambridge, UK/Malden, MA: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  30. Jullien, François. 2007. Vital Nourishment. Trans. A. Goldhammer. New York: Zone Books.Google Scholar
  31. Kramer, Samuel Noah. 1956. Sumerian theology and ethics. The Harvard Theological Review 49(1): 45–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Levinas, Emmanuel. 1985. Ethics and Infinity. Trans. R. A. Cohen. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Levinas, Emmanuel. 1991a. Otherwise than Being, or Beyond the Essence. Trans. A. Lingis. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.Google Scholar
  34. Levinas, Emmanuel. 1991b. Totality and Infinity. Trans. A. Lingis. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.Google Scholar
  35. Levinas, Emmanuel. 2000. God, Death, and Time. Trans. B. Berto. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  36. McKirahan, Richard D. 2010. Philosophy before Socrates: An introduction with texts and commentary. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing.Google Scholar
  37. Olkowski, Dorothea. 2010. Kore. In Rewriting difference: Luce Irigaray and “the Greeks”, ed. E. Tzepis and A. Athanasiou, 33–50. Albany: SUNY Press.Google Scholar
  38. Rosenzweig, Franz. 1964. Das Büchlein vom gesunden und kranken Menschenverstand. Düsseldorf: Joseph Melzer Verlag.Google Scholar
  39. Schelling, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph. 1989. Philosophical Inquiries into the Nature of Human Freedom. Trans. J. Gutmann. La Salle: Open Court.Google Scholar
  40. Shusterman, Richard. 2008. Body consciousness: A philosophy of mindfulness and somaesthetics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Škof, Lenart, and Emily A. Holmes (eds.). 2013. Breathing with Luce Irigaray. London/New Delhi/New York/Sydney: Bloomsbury.Google Scholar
  42. Stone, Alison. 2006. Luce Irigaray and the philosophy of sexual difference. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. The Holy Bible: The New Revised Standard Version. 1990. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.Google Scholar
  44. Upaniṣads. 1996. Trans. Patrick Olivelle. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  45. Wu, Kuang-ming. 1997. On Chinese bodily thinking: A cultural hermeneutics. Leiden/New York/Cologne: Brill.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lenart Škof
    • 1
  1. 1.Science and Research CentreUniversity of PrimorskaKoperSlovenia

Personalised recommendations