The prestige of Alphonso Lingis as a translator and his very personal philosophical voice may explain why the philosophical community has not yet recognized the radical reorientation of phenomenology that has been taking shape under Lingisâ€™ pen for the last twenty years. Our hope is that by dedicating our first issue of Singularum to his invention of another phenomenology, this oversight can be corrected, and a new appreciation or education of the senses can get underway.
What distinguishes Lingis’ phenomenology is his resistance both to the theoretical bias of phenomenologyâ€™s Husserlian roots and to the pragmatic bias of phenomenologyâ€™s Heideggerian developments. His ambition, as he puts it, is to â€œelaborate a phenomenology of the levels upon which things take form, the kinds of space, the sensuous elements, and the night.â€ (The Imperative 1998, p. 5) This is another phenomenology. A phenomenology that resists the pragmatic reading of our experience that we owe to Heidegger and to many of his American interpreters trained by Hubert Dreyfus. The sensuous elements of the earth beckon us to sensual arousal. They draw us from the comfortable worlds organized by our practical posture to the dangers and delights of the sensual earth revealed to a dissolute posture.
Lingis moves toward the sensual earth along two not quiet differentiable dimensions, which might once have been called the phenomenologies of the body and of language. Along both dimensions Lingisâ€™ other phenomenology explores the earth in advance of its organization by the practical purposes of our linguistic and perceptual lives. The sensual elements of the earth should not be confused with Heideggerâ€™s dark romantic earth, twinned as it is with the world, nor should it be confused with potting soil. Lingisâ€™ earth is alive with the activity of sensual elements. What Levinas called the elemental.
This other phenomenology is a phenomenology of levels, and what the more familiar phenomenology recognizes as the lived body is here presented simply as how our worlds organize when our sensory-motor activities follow the directives of the beckoning level. Lingis is interested in something else: â€œwe set out to recover a substantive conception of our bodies given to excitement and lust.â€ (Sensation, 1996, p. x) As Lingis tells the story, we can enjoy our bodies in this other way when we move levels, the passage between the levels. It is at this point that Lingisâ€™ work resonates with what Deleuze, in his appreciation of Francis Bacon, called the logic of sensation.
What are levels? Levels are understood in terms of relations of forces and qualities that emanate from things, as imperatives or directives. This helps to initiate an aesthetics, â€˜beauty is imperativeâ€™, and an ethics, â€˜emotions are also forcesâ€™, forces of the earth or the sensuous. (Trust 2004: 111; Dangerous Emotions 2000: 16) Furthermore, it points in the direction of a philosophy of nature congruent with the insight, which we owe to Deleuze and Guattari, that the true nature is unnatural. The unnatural here figuring itself as the trans-substantiating passage between levels.
Lingisâ€™ well-known itinerancy, his wandering wonders, are not, therefore, ancillary to, but a condition of, his philosophy. â€˜The nomad is summoned not by distant things fixed on one equator, but by multiple spaces, multiple ordinances.â€™ (The Imperative, 1998: 116) Lingis writes, as a philosopher, from the earth he explores. His descriptions, the simple cadence of his prose, attest to his corporeal encounters, encounters that traverse philosophy itself. In the conclusion to Gilles Deleuzeâ€™s short presentation at Cerisy-la-Salle, Nomadic Thought, Deleuze inspires â€˜who are todayâ€™s nomads, who are todayâ€™s Nietzscheans?â€™ (Desert Islands and Other Texts, 2004: 260) Our response is direct: Alphonso Lingis.
We imagine an issue of Singularum provoking, at last, an attempt to understand Lingisâ€™ difference in phenomenology, and the difference this phenomenology of levels makes to Lingis’ appreciation of aesthetics, education, ethics, ontology, and perception.
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