Alphonso Lingis  

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Alphonso Lingis (born November 23, 1933 in Crete, Illinois) is an American philosopher, writer and translator, currently Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Pennsylvania State University. His areas of specialization include phenomenology, existentialism, modern philosophy, and ethics.



Lingis attended Loyola University in Chicago, then pursued graduate study at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium. His doctoral dissertation, written under scholar Alphonse de Waelhens, was a discussion of the French phenomenologists Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Jean-Paul Sartre. Returning to the United States, Lingis joined the faculty at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, quickly gaining a reputation as the preeminent English translator of Merleau-Ponty and Emmanuel Levinas. In the mid-1960s he moved to Penn State University, where he worked diligently at his translation projects and published numerous scholarly articles on the history of philosophy. During this period, he also began the habit of wide-ranging world travel that leaves a deep stamp on all of his work.

His debut as a book author came in 1983, with Excesses. It combined anthropological scenes with numerous references to the history of philosophy, and marks the emergence of his mature writing style, which alternates between lyrical and dark. In The Imperative (1998), his most systematic book, Lingis offers his own original criticism of phenomenology. In his view, phenomenology is excessively dominated by holism, overemphasizing the interconnectedness of all regions and objects in the world. By contrast, Lingis holds that the world is made up of numerous self-contained and mutually external levels, to which humans must adjust their perceptions and ideas. He also argues that phenomenology is dominated by the Gestalt psychology model of figures appearing against a background. Fusing Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology of perception with the ethics of Levinas, Lingis contends that ethical imperatives come not only from other humans, but also from animals, plants, and even inanimate objects.

Lingis has had wide success as a public lecturer due both to his captivating style of writing and also the performance art atmosphere of his lectures. During public talks he generally appears in costume or speaks amidst strange background music or recorded screams, often in total darkness. For example, on 20 Jan 1997, he delivered a lecture on animal metaphors for human behavior at a small gallery in the center of Kyoto, Japan, dressed as a Geisha before a screen of alternating projections of images of ablutions at the River Ganges, Jean Cocteau's film "La Belle et la Bête" and improvisations on the shamisen by Katagiri Mamoru. The venue, staging and costumes were provided by the Kyoto-based neo-Dadaist group Phylloxera (Beatrix Fife, Mamoru Katagiri, Michael Lazarin). The lecture was attended by philosophy professors and graduate students of Kyoto University as well as the general public. Throughout his years at Penn State, he was also well known as a classic college town cult celebrity, welcoming students to a strange home filled with rare birds, dangerous fish and insects, and numerous third world artifacts. In this period his travels shifted increasingly from Europe to the developing world, with especial bases in Bangkok and Rio de Janeiro, and most recently Africa. In recent years he has also renewed contact with his ancestral heritage, reaching a certain degree of prominence in Lithuania. Now retired from Penn State, Lingis lives near Baltimore, where he continues to write books similar to his earlier works. His books have been translated into French and Turkish, among other languages. In the spring of 2004 the first college course on Lingis was offered at Towson University in Towson, Maryland, taught by Wolfgang W. Fuchs co-editor of "Encounters with Lingis" (2003).


  • Excesses: Eros and Culture (1983)
  • Libido: The French Existential Theories (1985)
  • Phenomenological Explanations (1986)
  • Deathbound Subjectivity (1989)
  • The Community of Those Who Have Nothing in Common (1994)
  • Abuses (1994)
  • Foreign Bodies (1994)
  • Sensation: Intelligibility in Sensibility (1995)
  • The Imperative (1998)
  • Dangerous Emotions (1999)
  • Trust (2004)
  • Body Transformations (2005)
  • The First Person Singular (2007)
  • Wonders Seen in Forsaken Places: An essay on the photographs and the process of photography of Mark Cohen (2010)
  • Contact [photographs] (2010)
  • Violence and Splendor (2011)

Translated the following key texts into English:

  • Levinas, De l'existence à l'existant (1948)
  • Levinas, Totalité et infini: essai sur l'extériorité (1961)
  • Levinas, Autrement qu'être ou au-delà de l'essence (1974)
  • Merleau-Ponty, Le visible et l'Invisible (1964)
  • Pierre Klossowski, Sade, mon prochain (1947)

See also

Further reading

  • “The Philosopher and the Geisha: Alphonso Lingis and the Multi-Mediated Performance of the Philosophical Text.” Discourse 22.2 (Spring 2000): 92-103.

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