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First Person Singular

Lingis, Alphonso

Publication Year: 2007

Alphonso Lingis’s singular works of philosophy are not so much written as performed, and in The First Person Singular the performance is characteristically brilliant, a consummate act of philosophical reckoning.  Lingis’s subject here, aptly enough, is the subject itself, understood not as consciousness but as embodied, impassioned, active being.  His book is, at the same time, an elegant cultural analysis of how subjectivity is differently and collectively understood, invested, and situated.

Published by: Northwestern University Press

Series: Studies in Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy


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Part 1. Being Here

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pp. 5-22

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1. A Chance to Be

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pp. 5-6

A bacteria slipped into our porous bodies, multiplied. The infection spread. A virus—HIV, HTLV, Hantavirus, Marburg, Junin, Sabia, Mach-upo, Lassa, Oropuche virus, Ebola, Dengue, Rift Valley Fever—drifted in on a kiss and a love bite, on a sandwich we ate, a glass of water we drank, the air we breathed. Somewhere some cells of our bodies began twisting ...

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2. How I Come to Be Here

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pp. 7-11

How do I come to be here? How does a conscious individual arise in the We awaken and, finding ourselves supported, stir and move, our movements assured of the continuing support of the ground. We find ourselves immersed in light and darkness; air; warmth and cold; and in the ...

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3. Where I Am

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pp. 12-22

In the boundless expanses of light, air, and warmth where luminous and resounding substances extend over the supporting ground, we establish a site from which we depart and to which we return. Our home base is not simply a shelter for a collection of implements; it is a zone of intimacy...

Part 2. The Voice

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pp. 23-30

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4. The Voice That Makes Contact

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pp. 23-25

We woke up one Saturday and turned on the radio; our apartment was filled with the voice of the usual newscaster, a faceless voice that we don’t have to pay attention to or answer. We showered, boiled water for coffee, and fried eggs. Outside, the trills and calls of birds glittered in the dry autumn leaves of the trees. We decided to skip our aerobics hour in the ...

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5. The Exploratory Voice

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pp. 26-27

With motor and vocal refrains, and with words too, we stake out the territory. “Here, I see . . .” “Did you hear that report on the news yesterday that war is possible?” “Let’s get back to the point.” Such phrases establish a home base. We situate ourselves in our experience as an auto mechanic that stretches back fiffteen years. We station ourselves within the present ...

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6. Words that Organize and That Command

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pp. 28-30

Words order our action: they organize our environment by segmenting it and demarcating paths and instrumental connections and by invoking possibilities and predicting consequences. They signal what has to be safeguarded, nurtured, repaired, or built, and they sort out resources and urgencies. Our words are not only indicative or informative but also ...

Part 3. Word of Honor

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pp. 31-46

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7. The Important and the Urgent

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pp. 31-36

As we become intimate with persons, other animals, ecological systems, buildings, or artworks, we develop perceptual and conceptual sensitivity, logical acumen, breadth and depth of comprehension, and the capacity to distinguish the important from the trivial. Understanding is all that.“Importance” is one of those words that are clearer than any set ...

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8. I am a...

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pp. 37-46

When we speak about things, they become clearer; they break apart or connect up differently; words may well make things and situations first appear. Words also present the speaker. “Here I am!” “I saw, I heard, I did . . .” “I say, I tell you . . .” The “I” presents the speaker and maintains Linguistics has labeled the word “I” an empty “shifter”; it designates ...

Part 4. Visions

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pp. 47-52

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9. Our Visionary Body

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pp. 47-49

To see the door or the park bench, we have to position our body, focus our eyes, and circumscribe its contours with our look. To hear a friend’s voice in a restaurant, we have to turn our head toward him. To feel the give and softness of the velvet or the solidity and grain of a pine board, our hand strokes it with a corresponding pressure, rhythm, and range of ...

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10. Oracular Words

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pp. 50-52

Words have forms; they receive their sense and function from the contrasts they mark within a constellation of words. They are relays; they connect up with other words, articulating things and events in more detail, connecting them with things and events that explain them, mapping them on other situations and at other times. They exist in movement....

Part 5. The Story of the I

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pp. 53-66

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11. Chronicle and Story

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pp. 53-55

Once we have affirmed “I am a dancer” or “I am a mother,” we have some-thing to tell, which is not just the anonymous and haphazard course of events beginning with the dumb fact of our conception and birth....

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12. Fabled Places

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pp. 56-57

To see through the trees the village lights at the bottom of the valley is to see a half hour’s walk ahead. We edge closer to the fl y so that it cannot elude the speed of our hand and swatter. Places separated in ...

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13. Wounds and Words

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pp. 58-66

The process by which a wish, an insight, a feeling, even a negative thought or feeling, vocalized into song becomes a pleasure has, despite all its importance, thus far been beyond the reach of our neurology and psychology...

Part 6. Recognizing Others, Contacting You

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pp. 67-82

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14. Recognition

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pp. 67-69

In philosophy since Plato, “recognition” has been restricted to designate a cognitive operation by which a particular entity or event is subsumed under a category. Recognition would require a cognitive distance taken from that with which we find ourselves in contact. And, since Plato, philosophers have analyzed recognition in the operation of language. Yet a ...

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15. Contact

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pp. 70-71

Every day I realize that others looking at me and talking about me or to me are only addressing some role I occupy in a society, some work I am performing, the white collar, overalls, or tank top I am wearing: they see and address the...

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16. You

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pp. 72-75

To make contact with you whose physical body I see is not to grasp your identity conceptually and respect your boundaries and inner space. It is first by the tone of voice that we make contact. I catch on to your excited or bored, complicit or aggressive tone; your voice modulates my own. Greeting you with “Hey man!” the cocky tone of those words hail the ...

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17. Strong Bonds

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pp. 76-82

We act on the basis of our beliefs, “trusting” them, as we say, because we have reasons to believe they are true or probably true. The reasons arise from networks of knowledge in which we generally have confidence. Suspicion arises out of reasons to doubt. We doubt that what we see is really there—that what moved sinuously in the shadows of the library stacks is ...

Part 7. What We Have to Say

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pp. 83-106

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18. What Is Known

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pp. 83-89

We enter language by picking up what others say, what someone, anyone, says about the food, the furniture, the playground. We hear and repeat what others say about things and situations that we ourselves can see, what are plain truths. The talk formulates the main lines of recurrent situations in the environment. It presents the environment to the child, to the ...

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19. When I Have to Speak

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pp. 90-91

The established rational discourse of the sciences and technologies not only organizes the regions of observed nature, implements, societies, and histories with its empirical laws supplying reasons for observations and its theories supplying reasons for empirical laws, but it also orders the discourse of individuals. The rational discourse of the sciences and tech-...

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20. What I Have to Say to Myself

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pp. 92-96

I can see and report on the front of my body from my chest down, and with a mirror I can observe my face, my back, my stance and movements. I can note physical pains, itches, pressures, heat and cold. I can recall and report on actions I have undertaken, events that surprised me, moods that came over me, pleasures I have felt, thoughts and intentions I have ...

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21. What I Have to Imagine

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pp. 97-106

While the term “myth” in the polemics of positivists and in much current discourse designates the fantasies of a collectivity, in anthropology “myth” designates a discourse, common to a community, that arises out of and gives rise to ritual. Its categories appear as archetypal images or symbols; its narrative plot represents their relationships, conflicts, combinations, ...

Part 8. My Own Voice

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pp. 107-120

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22. Finding Our Own Voice

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pp. 107-111

A myth is not simply the particular way a particular community organizes the environment into a meaningful pattern. It is not simply a map of the environment using more concrete symbols than those used in modern economics, sociology, political science, history, biology, physics, and astronomy. Myths are also visions, visions of visionaries and seers. Visions ...

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23. The Representative Voice

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pp. 112-113

Every established discourse of the sciences and technologies enlists individuals who in impassioned experience have recognized the sublimity of the astronomic, biological, or microscopic realm their science is exploring and mapping; the significance of agricultural ...

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24. Eclipse

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pp. 114-115

The story of the I is not the whole story. I act on my own when I am visited by what is important, and it reveals how it has to be urgently safeguarded, nourished, repaired, or brought into existence, and I recognize I am the one who is there and who has the resources. I speak with my own voice not continually but at moments when others come to assist me or to con-...

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25. To Know and to Acknowledge

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pp. 116-120

The word of honor we put on ourselves is not a word addressed to anyone. It is not a response to a question or a demand others put to us. Yet the “I” of “I am a man,” “For my part, I think . . .” makes itself understood. With greetings, appeals, blessings, insults, and curses, in trust and courage, There are dangers we have to forestall. There are people we have to avoid ...

Part 9. Dishonor

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pp. 121-128

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26. To Thine Own Self Untrue

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pp. 121-122

Scientific work involves the possibility of a researcher devoting the exceptional powers of his or her mind and years, decades, of work on a mistaken hypothesis and faulty evidence. The most gifted statesmen devote their energies to secondary or diversionary issues. Not the common judgment nor the judgment of those taken as experts but our deepening ...

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27. Professional Dishonor

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pp. 123-124

Individuals passionately commit their resources, insights, energies, skills, and honor to what is identified as important in the rational discourse of a scientific discipline or technological practice or in the common language of their, or another, community. The established discourse discredits as incompetent and unfit those who do not represent well and with honor ...

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28. The Established Dishonor

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pp. 125-128

The discourse of a collective establishes what that collective takes to be true and what false. Every established discourse—established by watchwords, passwords, and prompts or established by the decrees of experts—deter-mines what observations and what arguments could be valid and those that are invalid. The discourse of scientific medicine has determined in ...

Part 10. Pariahs

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pp. 129-132

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29. Outcast Honor

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pp. 129-133

Incarcerated in an insane asylum, Daniel Paul Schreber wrote his Memoirs of My Nervous Illness1 to exclude in advance all the ways the court that was put in charge of his affairs and the psychiatrists who were put in charge of his mental state understood him. By entitling his account memoirs “of my nervous illness,” he excluded in advance all the ways we who do not ...


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pp. 133-144

List of Photographs

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pp. 145-

E-ISBN-13: 9780810161986
Print-ISBN-13: 9780810124127

Page Count: 156
Illustrations: 11
Publication Year: 2007

Edition: 1
Series Title: Studies in Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy

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