The Present Personal: Philosophy and the Hidden Face of Language

The Present Personal: Philosophy and the Hidden Face of Language

The Present Personal: Philosophy and the Hidden Face of Language

The Present Personal: Philosophy and the Hidden Face of Language


Is philosophy deaf to the sound of the personal voice? While philosophy is experienced at admiring, resenting, celebrating, and, at times, renouncing language, philosophers have rarely succeeded in being intimate with it. Hagi Kenaan argues that philosophy's concern with abstract forms of linguistic meaning and the objective, propositional nature of language has obscured the singular human voice. In this strikingly original work Kenaan explores the ethical and philosophical implications of recognizing and responding to the individual presence in language.

In pursuing the philosophical possibility of listening to language as the embodiment of the human voice, Kenaan explores the phenomenological notion of the "personal." He defines the personal as the irresolvable tension that exists between the public character of language, necessary for intelligibility, and the ways in which we, as individuals, remain riveted to our words in a contingently singular manner.

The Present Personal fuses phenomenology and aesthetics and the traditions of Continental and Anglo-American philosophy, drawing on Wittgenstein, J. L. Austin, Kant, Kierkegaard, and Heidegger as well as literary works by Kafka, Kundera, and others. By asking new questions and charting fresh terrain, Kenaan does more than offer innovative investigations into the philosophy of language; The Present Personal, and its concern with the intimate and personal nature of language, uncovers the ethical depth of our experience with language.

Kenaan begins with a discussion of Kierkegaard's existential critique of language and the ways in which the propositional structure of language does not allow the spoken to reflect the singularity of the self. He then compares two attempts to subvert the "hegemony of content": the pragmatic turn of J. L. Austin and the poetic path of Heidegger. Kenaan concludes by turning to Kant and discovering an analogy between the experience of meaning in language and the aesthetic experience of encountering beauty. Kenaan's reconceptualization of philosophy's approach to language frees the contingent singularity of language while, at the same time, permitting it to continue to dwell within the confines of content.


The Present Personal was written in Tel Aviv between 2001 and 2003. These opening years of the twenty-first century failed to fulfill any of the hopes raised by the advent of a new millennium. Living in Tel Aviv, in Israel, it has been impossible to alleviate or even pretend to alleviate the darkness of this period, one during which violence, hatred, intense human suffering together with the growing indifference toward the suffering of others have become the form of daily life.

This period has not been a very conducive one for the writing of a philosophy book. Indeed, The Present Personal was composed in— and despite—an atmosphere that ultimately renders any form of reflection not specifically connected to the political context irrelevant, a situation in which the need for radical and even subversive action on the part of individuals is so pressing that it threatens to leave the engagement with humanistic work bereft of any genuine value.

The Present Personal is a philosophical attempt to think the depth of the possibility of listening to the other person. This ethical possibility belongs to the heart of our human interaction, and yet it typically remains so inconspicuous and undemanding that philosophy can ignore it altogether, as if it did not exist. This possibility . . .

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