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Too much is governed by the recognizable, the reproducible, the interchangeable

Alphonso Lingis and Existential Genealogy
Forfatter: Alexander Hooke
Forlag: Zero Books (USA)
VIDEN / Where is it that, according to author Alexander Hooke, "does not fit into a familiar cultural epic pattern, opera, tragedy, romance, ballet, comedy, vaudeville, sitcom, or farce"?


In the wake of World War II, existentialism emerged as a movement whose worldview and art put words and images into the negativity of life, the anxiety, the emptiness, the meaninglessness, the absurdity. In the face of the climate crisis, the time has come to rediscover an existential thinking for the future, based on discovery, generosity and the ability to confirm the astonishing draft of any living existence. The encounter with the world does not begin with the rational discourse, but with the body, the power to influence and be influenced. Man has become the reactive animal characterized by fear and comfort. But in doing so, we have forgotten the essentials of life: the self-transcendence, the affirmation that transforms, connects, and opens.

Nietzsche, Levinas, Battle

The now retired American philosopher Alphonso Lingis broke early in his career with the disciplinary and institutional way of practicing philosophy. With his pen, his camera, his openness and his readability, he traveled to all corners of the world and created his own genre: a philosophical storytelling. With these narratives, he tries to break with the closed systems of reason that limit our vision and diminish our ability to connect with the things, forces, and people that could change our view of economics and way of life.

From Nietzsche he learned that all knowledge begins with an innocent play and a surprising encounter. From Levinas he learned that the encounter with the face is the beginning of our relationship to language, to truth, to belief. From Bataille he learned that the journey into the unknown is also associated with transgression and the sacred. What we lack is a more down-to-earth understanding of the wonders of life. A philosophy of existence should not have man as its center, but the earth, the energy, the cosmos and the surprising encounter. What sets a new knowledge in motion is the sensuous teasing of things and a break with the usual ways of learning to see the world.

Philosophical storytelling

According to Alexander Hooke's book on Lingis, the history of the individual is something other than a chronicle or a tale of a life. By telling each other stories, we replay, transform and develop the things that have happened in our lives.

The Chronicle or Common storytelling tend to emphasize the documented and provable events. Fiction can help to move the boundaries of what we think we know about our time and connect us with other ways of sensing and understanding. As Hooke writes: “The story I tell about myself and who I am is unlike any other story told. I find that my situation, my vision, the coincidences and coincidences that hit my path do not fit into a familiar cultural epic pattern, opera, tragedy, romance, ballet, comedy, vaudeville, sitcom, or farce. "

All knowledge begins with an innocent play and a surprising encounter.

The story of the individual is an attempt to seize certain coincidences, certain encounters, certain journeys, show phases and thereby cultivate a small section of the world. It is to use the place and the events to show the strange existence of this life and the marvelous way of connecting with the world.

Today's pragmatic depiction of history is an abstraction in which far too much is governed by the recognizable, the reproducible, the interchangeable. It is the singular, place-bound history that gives us insight into the irreplaceable and universal. Lingis calls it «First Person Plural».

The Beatles


Returning from Hamburg in 1961, they were still considering completely green John Lennon og Paul McCartney, according to Hooke, whether they should take the step from performers to music artists. Their manager Brian Epstein said: "Write some songs, practice well and show up at the studio on time." "This was the moment."

Jumped into the unknown, just like their trip to Hamburg was. Everyone who experienced Beatles in these landmark years, were swept along in a whole new way. Reality became greater, and for the first time, as Hooke writes, many had a sense of being alive. The Beatles event had an impact not only on "the feel", but "the quality of life".

Like the French philosopher Michel Foucault and his book series The History of Sexuality sees Lingi's lust, intimacy and foreign emotional experiments as a kind of art of living ("ars erotica"). But where Foucault goes back to the Greeks, Romans and Church Fathers, Lingis examines the unknown passions and foreign emotions that emerge in unexpected places and gives direction to something seemingly forgotten or repressed.

Hooke writes: "When the Beatles arrived in America, they transformed the music that their new-found audience was foreign to – but which was their own!" They sang their new audience 'forgotten', foreign passions and visions forth in their bodies and hearts: Chuck Berry, Little Richard, gospel, blues, in their own version. It was these alien forces that acted as an electrical impulse in the Beatles' creative unfoldment. This ars erotica was the same electric charge that created the collaboration between John and Paul. The interesting thing about brand new music, temples' break with everyday life, old stone churches, repeated rituals, foreign faces and cultures is not the exotic or worldly, but an abysmal trust that opens us to a new side of life, a break that intensifies a new experience and gives us a sense of being alive.


Lingis' own life has been an attempt to "transfer" this attitude to his own life practice as a traveling, writing philosopher. His books are collages that combine diaries, conversations, philosophical essays that «exceed their own ingrained beliefs and conventions». Through meeting and writing, he discovers another 'we', not the community as a mirror of self-affirmation, but a challenged we, that which prolongs reality. The attractiveness of others is what makes them different, not the exotic, but the erotic, an intimacy, a sensuous sensitivity. Through laughter, joy, tears and curses, one discovers something about each other. It is these dangerous emotions that break through and for a while make us seek out each other. “Through them we praise good works, curse despots, laugh at ourselves, and endure the tears of another's grief. They move us to respond, to explore, to investigate. "

Facing a time when everything is in motion, but where nothing is really changing, Lingis' bid offers a way of thinking that can actually change your life. Hooke's book is a great place to start.

Alexander Carnera
Alexander Carnera
Carnera is a freelance writer living in Copenhagen.

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