Vaclav Havel’s Levinas: Timely remarks on humanism

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Abstract

The paper explores Václav Havel’s encounter with Emmanuel Levinas’ essay ‘Without Identity’, which Havel read while in prison. The discussion of this encounter will demonstrate the importance of this encounter for solidifying the humanist elements of Havel’s thought, whilst also demonstrating the pre-existing humanism in Havel, evidence itself of his large debt to Czechoslovak humanist thought. What emerges is a demonstration of the richness and timeliness of Havel’s writing on responsibility. The paper makes a case for rejecting popular Heideggerian interpretations of Havel’s oeuvre. Havel’s deep affinity for Levinas’ thinking demonstrates that Havel’s humanism, informed as it is from the Czech tradition as well as through his encounter with Levinas, is at odds with Heidegger’s essential anti-humanism.

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