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CULTURAL POLITICS 98 JOHN ARMITAGE 99 REPRINTS AVAILABLE DIRECTLY FROM THE PUBLISHERS. PHOTOCOPYING PERMITTED BY LICENSE ONLY© BERG 2009 PRINTED IN THE UK CULTURAL POLITICS VOLUME 5, ISSUE 1 PP 98–117 CULTURAL POLITICS DOI 10.2752/175174309X388509 TOWARDS AN ONTOLOGY OF FETISHES An Interview with Alphonso Lingis JOHN ARMITAGE Alphonso Lingis (1933– ) is an American continental philosopher and translator who is currently Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Pennsylvania State University.1 Associated with the phenomenology, existentialism, and the ethical philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Lingis’s philosophical influences also encompass the literary works of Pierre Klossowski and Yukio Mishima, Michel Tournier, and the postpsychoanalytic theory of Jean-François Lyotard, Jacques Lacan, Gilles Deleuze, and Félix Guattari. Lingis’s philosophical concerns are thus similar to those of major continental philosophers such as Immanuel Kant and Friedrich Nietzsche, Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, and Michel Foucault, and with whom he often engages in sustained dialogues on everything from sensuality and anthropology to travelogue, the human body, inanimate objects, the elements, and perception. > CULTURAL POLITICS 100 JOHN ARMITAGE The translator of Levinas’s Totality and Infinity (1969), Collected Philosophical Papers (1998), Otherwise Than Being, Or, Beyond Essence (1999), Existence and Existents (2001), Merleau-Ponty’s The Visible and the Invisible (1969), and Klossowski’s Sade My Neighbor (1991), Lingis is in addition the author of over a dozen books, including Excesses: Eros and Culture (1984), Libido: The French Existential Theories (1985), Phenomenological Explanations (1986),Deathbound Subjectivity (1989),The Community ofThoseWho Have Nothing in Common (1994a), Abuses (1994b), Foreign Bodies (1995), Sensation: Intelligibility in Sensibility (1996), The Imperative (1998), Dangerous Emotions (2000), Trust (2004), and Body Transformations (2005). Through these widely praised philosophical translations, books, and related critical articles on topics involving language and community, eroticism, and the emotions in scholarly journals, and as a global philosopher at large, Lingis’s works are currently influencing debates within the cultural politics of desire, the ethics of respect, and the moral philosophy of responsibility or our susceptibility to the sufferings of the Other. Wolfgang W. Fuchs and Alexander E. Hooke’s edited collection,Encounters withAlphonso Lingis (2003), for instance, is a wide-ranging study of Lingis’s key philosophical themes, inclusive of singularity and death, rationality, the face, and the sacred. Presently, however, Lingis’s writings concentrate on an examination of the human subject and of human subjectivity as articulated by way of embodiment, the passions, and, above all, as the creation of a dynamic being. Consequently, in this interview, Lingis discusses his most recent book, The First Person Singular (2007), and contemporary continental philosophy, with John Armitage, who teaches media and communication at Northumbria University, UK. SUBJECTIVITY AND THE FIRST PERSON SINGULAR John Armitage: Professor Lingis, although you were born in America, your parents, as I understand it, were Lithuanian immigrant farmers who settled in Crete, Illinois. Can I begin this interview by asking about your own human subjectivity, that is, about the relations, if any, between your family background and your initial interest in philosophy? In other words, at what point in your own development did specifically philosophical questions become important for you and what kinds of questions were they? Alphonso Lingis: The journeys that my father and my mother had each taken in their youth to come to America had a profound effect on me; as soon as I could,I started going to far-off places. Academics have the whole summer free. I never had any scholarly project for a trip; I would just pick the place that seemed furthest from my experience hitherto and go there. I never wanted to read anything CULTURAL POLITICS 101 TOWARDS AN ONTOLOGY OF FETISHES about the place until I got there; I did not know a single fact about Botswana when I went there and learned the name of one city there when I bought the air ticket. I wanted to be ready for encounters and events that could only happen there. From the first philosophy class I took as a college freshman philosophy absorbed my interest and displaced other subjects. I no longer remember what it was about the subject – it was logic! – or the professor that so captivated...


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