Academic journal article Melbourne Journal of Politics

Travelling with Lingis: An Interview with Alphonso Lingis

Academic journal article Melbourne Journal of Politics

Travelling with Lingis: An Interview with Alphonso Lingis

Article excerpt


Alphonso Lingis is currently professor of philosophy at Penn State University. Lingis was born of Lithuanian emigrant parents, he studied in Belgium and continues to travel extensively throughout the world. His early publications included English translations of Maurice Merleau-Ponty's Visible and Invisible and Emmanuel Levinas' books, Totality and Infinity and Existents and Existence. His own publications include Excesses: Eros and Culture, Libido: The French Existentialist Theories, Phenomenological Explanations, Deathbound Subjectivity, The Community of Those Who Have Nothing in Common and Abusues and Foreign Bodies. We interviewed Professor Lingis on the 7th August 1995 between sessions at the "Sexuality and Medicine" Conference at Melbourne University.

While Lingis is obviously well versed in the language of Continental Philosophy, he was not interested in expounding his or others' theories in academic language. The interview developed into a conversation rather than a formal interview about philosophy, politics or anthropology. For this reason, we have chosen to dispense with the questions that prompted these anecdotes and travel stories and let them stand as monologues. Professor Lingis' stories were captivating and often illustrative of the limits of academic language. We have attempted to retain the voice of the speaker as closely as possible for we feel it conveys the sincerity and honesty of his thought.

Lingis works from the idea that the world is not a spectacle that is to be absorbed and known, but that the speaker (or author) is in the world and a living part of it. This is an ethical stance that Lingis develops from his reading of Levinas: prior to existential anxiety is our sensuous contact with the material world. This sensual perception of the world prevents the existential ideal of an isolated consciousness without responsibility for any exterior being. Lingis recognizes our responsibilities as a living being within the world, rather than merely an observer of the world: "Responsibility is coextensive with our sensibility; in our sensibility we are exposed to the outside, to the world's being, in such a way that we are bound to answer for it." (The Sensuality and the Sensitivity)

Following Emmanuel Levinas, Lingis adopts the position that the other faces me in a relation of absolute heterogeneity. Within his work is the implicit critique of the particularly Western philosophical position that perceives the individual as a functional unit, interchangeable with any other. Such thinking often translates politically as the fear of foreign bodies, fear of an alterity of which we know nothing and against which we have no power.

For Lingis, communication serves no useful function. Communication is an excess that escapes rational discourse, vibrations of intensity that issue forth from the singuarity of the other who speaks, an exclamation, a cry, an ejectulation, a burst of laughter. These are discharges without return, forces that squander energy. There is no exchange of information from point A to point B. Against our rational economy of equalibrium, Lingis proposes Bataille's solar economy of expenditure without return.

With such a revised notion of communication, community must also be considered in a different way. Lingis proposes a community of exposure to the unknown other: "One enters into community not by affirming oneself and one's forces but by exposing oneself to expenditure at a loss, to sacrifice. Community forms a movement by which one exposes oneself to the other, to forces and powers outside oneself, to death and to the others who die." (Community of those ... p. 12) In this interview, Lingis assumes a contentious position in the contemporary theoretical climate. He exposes his notion of responsibility to speak for those who cannot speak, those who are spoken for as interchangable economic units, "Third World" statistics consumed by our colonizing cultures and languages. …

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