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The Community of Those Who Have Nothing in Common

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"... thought-provoking and meditative, Lingis’s work is above all touching, and offers a refreshingly idiosyncratic antidote to the idle talk that so often passes for philosophical writing." —Radical Philosophy

"... striking for the clarity and singularity of its styles and voices as well as for the compelling measure of genuine philosophic originality which it contributes to questions of community and (its) communication." —Research in Phenomenology

Articulating the author’s journeys and personal experiences in the idiom of contemporary continental thought, Alphonso Lingis launches a devastating critique, pointing up the myopia of Western rationalism. Here Lingis raises issues of undeniable urgency.

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The Other Community

ePub

from the beginning, philosophical thought, unlike the wisdom of the sages of pre-Socratic Greece, India, Persia, and China, was linked to the cause of building community. The rational form of knowledge produces a common discourse that is integrally one and a new kind of community, a community, in principle, unlimited.

Rational science is not distinguishable from the empirical knowledge of the great sedentary civilizations of India, China, the Mayas, the Incas, or from that of the nomads who have survived for centuries in their often harsh environments, by its content of observations. Claude Lévi-Strauss, in The Savage Mind, showed that the Amazonian Americans had elaborated a representation of their environment that was rigorously empirical. Their procedures scrupulously distinguished effective knowledge from hearsay and approximation. Their identification of the species, properties, and uses of the natural substances and living things of their environment was often far more comprehensive than that now contained in the data of our botany, zoology, and pharmaceutical science. Their representations were equivalent to ours in the exigency for empirical rigor in observation and verification; its realization was limited only by the limits of the region to which they had cognitive access and by the technological limits of their tools for exploring and experimenting. Nor were their bodies of knowledge inferior to our botany, zoology, geology, meteorology, and astronomy in the intrinsic coherence and consistency of their patterns of organization.

 

The Intruder

ePub

kant isolated and elucidated the imperative to give a reason which the rational subject obeys. This imperative is not simply an order observed outside, in the practice of a certain kind of society. The rational subject obeys an imperative that, Kant set out to show, weighs immediately on the mind of the individual. The rational community takes form as a result of this prior subjection to an imperative which each thoughtful subject discovers in himself.

Kant conceived the rational community as a republic of autonomous agents, each obeying the order that commands the others by obeying the order he legislates for himself. But when we examine how, in Kant’s analysis, the rational agent encounters the other, we find that the figure of the other, rationally comprehended, doubles up into an image of sensuous suffering and mortality. In this double visage of the other, we can see a double contact with him and a double community taking form.

Thought, conceptual thought, is the practice of conceiving for sensory patterns we perceive; for the masses, forces, and resistances we manipulate; for the looks, vocalizations, and gestures of others, consistent and coherent conceptual terms. Rational thought is the practice of formulating, for observations, the laws of nature, formulating, for actions and operations, technical rules, and formulating, for encounters with others, the order of society. Thought represents the shifting sensory patterns of our environment with consistent and coherent empirical concepts and represents the environment as a whole comprehensively with the laws of nature. Thought represents the forces and resistances of the field about us with the means-end order of practicable reality. Thought represents the looks, voices, and gestures of others about the thinker with the economic, juridic, and political rules of the social order.

 

Faces, Idols, Fetishes

ePub

modern epistemology set out to rigorously distinguish the real appearance of a thing from its perspectival deformations; its appearances in positions set askew or upside-down; obscured or confused appearances due to the poor lighting, the intervening medium, or the distance—to segregate the real appearances from illusory ones. Then it set out to demarcate the appearance given and perceived in a here-and-now presence from the traces of its appearance, retained by memory, of a moment before and from the anticipations of its appearance in a moment later. It set out to isolate the here-and-now given from the relationships between past, present, and surrounding appearances elaborated by the synthesizing operation of the sensibility that identifies something selfsame in a series of appearances extending across a span of time. This epistemology seeks to separate, in the multitude of appearances a thing extends in time and space, what is due to the reality of the thing from what is due to the intervening medium and what is due to the mind. It set out to inventory the pure data and to identify in the retinal imprints what is due to the thing itself.

 

The Murmur of The World

ePub

we communicate information with spoken utterances, by telephone, with tape recordings, in writing, and with printing. With these methods we communicate in the linguistic code. We also communicate information with body kinesics—with gestures, postures, facial expressions, ways of breathing, sighing, and touching one another. The communication here too uses abbreviations, signs, and conventions.

To make drawn lines into writing, we have to conform with the convention that dictates that certain strokes correspond to a certain word and notion. Even those among us with excellent manual dexterity, good training, good health, and alertness make slips in our penmanship and our typing. There are always typos in the many-times copyedited critical editions of classic authors. There is no speaking without stammerings, mispronunciations, regional accents, or dysphonias. Typing and printing are designed to eliminate the cacography, yet in every book we have seen some letters and words that are so faintly impressed that they are inferred rather than seen. Recording, and radio and television transmission, are designed to eliminate the cacophony, but there can be static, cut-offs, and jamming; there is always hysteresis, the lagging of transmission due to shifting in the electromagnetic field; and there is always background noise.

 

The Elemental that Faces

ePub

one is called to the deathbed of a parent, and one, facing her, does not know what to say. Yet one has to say something.

The other has arrived at the limit—the limit of her life—when she can do nothing more. But she has yet this to do: to die. It is something she has to do, alone, and without any experience to appeal to, any means or resources. It is something she, nevertheless, has to do and will do well or badly, bravely or in collapse, resolutely or cowering. She has always known she will have to do this, has often thought of it, has often willed to die the one way or the other. For every time she did something bravely, or cowardly, it was an anticipation of this final confrontation. Aristotle, who wrote the first treatise in the West on rational ethics, listed courage first of all the virtues. It is not simply first on the list of equivalent virtues; it is the transcendental virtue, the condition for the possibility of all the virtues. For no one can be truthful, or magnanimous, or a friend, or even congenial in conversation, without courage. And every courage is an act done in risk: of one’s reputation, of one’s job, of one’s possessions, of one’s life.

 

Carrion Body Carrion Utterance

ePub

every discourse among interlocutors is a struggle against outsiders, those who emit interference and equivocation, who have an interest in that the communication not take place. But in the measure that communication does take place and that statements are established as true, it designates outsiders as not making sense, as mystified, mad, or brutish, and it delivers them over to violence.

What can be true is a statement that can be integrated into the common discourse. Statements can be true, and meaningful, only in the discourse of an established community that determines what could count as observations, what degrees of accuracy in recording observations are possible, how the words of common language are restricted and refined for different kinds of cognition and for practical or technological uses, and what could count as an argument. Truth requires a community with institutions that set up and fund exploration, research, and laboratories to gather information and observations according to community standards of accuracy and repeatability; institutions that determine the grammatical and rhetorical forms in which theoretical or technological research is to be reported, and its conclusions formulated; and institutions that establish what counts as argument and what counts as evidence in logic, physics, history, literary criticism or Biblical scholarship, economics, penology, jurisprudence, and military strategy. Truth requires institutions that select researchers, teach them the paradigms of successful research, and train them to repeat and apply that research to batches of other material selected by institutional criteria; it requires institutions that certify and evaluate their researchers and technicians. It requires institutions that select what research is to be published and how it is to be judged. All these institutions recruit and train their members and are funded and controlled by institutions that regulate the command posts by which the established community monopolizes and elaborates its power.

 

Community in Death

ePub

we call society the forms of commitment, sealed in the handshake that marks an agreement, in which we associate in the exchange of messages, resources, and services. In these exchanges, the common discourse of science and culture can form and collective works be undertaken in which we communicate in the possession and production of something in common.

Something else is communicated in the handshake that associates after the agreement is conceived and assented to: the recognition of kinship. Our language, which identifies things and persons with generic terms and formulates general imperatives for individuals, is the language of our bodies whose kinship we recognize. In kinship, the genus is re-presented, corporeally reduplicated, in the reproduction of individuals. The common words, with which we designate the resources we separately know and the project we separately understand, find their warrant in the commonality of the genus incarnated in our bodies. In the recognition of kinship, the mutual commitment to the common language and the reciprocal commitments in the forms of exchange are confirmed. The monster is one who, in his acts, impugns the claim of the genus in other individuals and in his own organism. With the handshake that seals an agreement, each one renounces the monster in the individuality of his or her body and its concupiscences.

 

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