Pure Indetermination, 2


“Every relation or possession is situated within the non-possessable which envelops or contains without being able to be contained or enveloped. We shall call it the elemental.”1

“It unfolds in its own dimension: depth, which is inconvertible into the breadth and length in which the side of the element extends. To be sure, a thing likewise presents itself by but one unique side; but we can circle round it, and the reverse is equivalent to the obverse; all the points of view are equivalent. The depth of the element prolongs it till it is lost in the earth and in the heavens. ‘Nothing ends, nothing begins.’ To tell the truth the element has no side at all. One does not approach it. The relation adequate to its essence discovers it precisely as a medium: one is steeped in it; I am always within the element.”2

“The element presents us as it were the reverse of reality, without origin in a being, although presenting itself in familiarity—of enjoyment—as though we were in the bowels of being. Hence we can say that the element comes to us from nowhere; the side it presents to us does not determine an object, remains entirely anonymous. It is wind, earth, sea, sky, air. Indetermination here is not equivalent to the infinite surpassing limits; it precedes the distinction between the finite and the infinite.”3

“The element I inhabit is at the frontier of a night. What the side of the element that is turned toward me conceals is not a ‘something’ susceptible of being revealed, but an ever-new depth of absence, an existence without existent, the impersonal par excellence … We have described this nocturnal dimension of the future under the title there is. The element extends into the there is.”4

there is this void itself. It does not exist by virtue of a play on words. The negation of every qualifiable thing allows the impersonal there is to arise again, returning intact behind every negation, whatever be the degree of negation.”5

“In driving out darkness the light does not arrest the incessant play of the there is. The void the light produces remains an indeterminate density which has no meaning of itself prior to discourse, and does not yet triumph over the return of mythical gods. But vision in the light is precisely the possibility of forgetting the horror of this interminable return, this aperion, maintaining oneself before this semblance of nothingness which is the void, and approaching objects as though at their origin, out of nothingness. This deliverance from the horror of the there is is evinced in the contentment of enjoyment … Vision is a forgetting of the there is because of the essential satisfaction, the agreeableness [agrément] of sensibility, enjoyment, contentment with the finite without concern for the infinite.”6

“The absolute indetermination of the there is, an existing without existants, is an incessant negation, to an infinite degree, consequently an infinite limitation. Against the anarchy of the there is the existent is produced, a subject of what can happen, an origin and commencement, a power.”7


  1. Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority, 1961, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press, 1969), 131. 

  2. Levinas, Totality and Infinity, 131. 

  3. Levinas, Totality and Infinity, 132. We must emphasize the “as it were,” here. The element is not the reverse side of being, because being has no reverse side. But, insofar as the indetermination of the element “precedes the distinction between the finite and the infinite,” the not that the element expresses appears as it were to be not of being

  4. Levinas, Totality and Infinity, 142. 

  5. Levinas, Totality and Infinity, 190. 

  6. Levinas, Totality and Infinity, 190-191. 

  7. Levinas, Totality and Infinity, 281. 

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