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Dangerous EmotionsReview - Dangerous Emotions
by Alphonso Lingis
University of California Press, 2000
Review by Constantinos Athanasopoulos, Ph.D.
Jan 31st 2001 (Volume 5, Issue 5)

"When we, in our so pregnant expression, make love with someone of our own species, we also make love with the horse and the dolphin, the kitten and the macaw, the powdery moths and the lustful crickets." (Chapter on Bestiality, p.37)

There are books which are based on argument (sound or seriously flawed); they are easy to read for academics and students, and a critique on them is equally "easy" and swift: if their argument is valid and true you just say that they are so, and if their argument is not valid nor true, you also can characterize it appropriately. But there are also books such as Professor Lingis' that are difficult to read and even more difficult to evaluate for any academic (of the Anglo-American tradition). I suppose the same can be said for the first time that Freud presented his theories to his scientific community, or for that matter, even Einstein to his own. Of course a hasty judgment is always easy to make: "it is too verbose", "it is filled with frivolous observations about human and animal behavior", "it is characterized by the overabundant use of hasty generalizations" etc. These are all too obvious to see, just too annoying to anyone with a strict and rigorous academic training.

Professor Lingis' book seems to belong to the recent post-phenomenological, post-structuralist, de-constructivist tradition of the Derridean twist of French Philosophy. His book is an esoteric and quite idiosyncratic account of emotions. In instances throughout his book, his general remarks are followed by or follow references to his own life experiences, with no pointers or no warnings. It is as if in this way he warns the reader that what he says about emotions are about all humans, but are applied differently in cases, and that certainly in his case it was different than the application they can have for others. The book is filled with experiences and memories of the author's extensive travels and journeys to the far ends of the world: Easter Islands, India, Peru, Turkey, Nepal, Japan are just some of the places he describes. His accounts of human emotions are just as far-reaching: the hero, the prostitute, the bourgeois yuppie with his Mercedes, the Christian monk in the cave of the East, the torero of Peru, the revolutionary guerrilla, the natives of Africa and Asia, are all analyzed and interpreted on the basis of their behavior and their capacity to experience emotions. There are also references to more traditional figures in philosophy (Socrates and Plato, Aristotle, John Locke, David Hume, Friedrich Nietzsche, Immanuel Kant, Kierkegaard, Hegel, Husserl); their arguments are summarily presented and accurately (in most cases) discussed (see for example his very interesting critiques of Hume's notion of causality, Kant's notion of beauty and Hegel's views on morality in p.128, 143-6, 87, just to name three).

However, the most interesting are the influences on the book and its author from sources which he carefully never reveals: I identified at least 5 references to Sartre and the hermeneutic circle (the most notable being to p.93: "Language, where all the words are common words, is not a means for the ego to be recognized as a pole of unity and also uniqueness, is not a means for my peculiar identity to be confirmed, attested, and certified"). Also all of chapter 6 (on Violations) must have been inspired after reading the Blue and Brown Books and the Philosophical Investigations of Wittgenstein (see p.85: "What proves to me that the figures I see in the street outside my window are not hats and coats covering robots driven by springs is the fact that, taking the sounds they make to be intended as words, I find a coherent meaning in them."). Finally, in his remarks on laughter (Chapter 10: Joy in Dying) we see tremendous influences from Derrida, on his remarks on culture and politics we see influences from Foucault, Guattari and Deleuze, on human sexuality influences from Baudelaire and Bataille (the last four recorded by the author in his endnotes). The value of the book however, is not in its being quite a fascinating exercise in recognizing influences from most of the most important philosophers. In Lingis' descriptions of our innermost emotions, pulls and drives, one can find both an imaginative and an accurate description of what we feel, what we think and what we do when we have strong emotions. One can even sympathize with the way the book describes the emotions a majority of people may never wish to experience (the strong emotions of the homosexual transvestite, or the pederast). And one certainly recognizes one's innermost impulses and repressed sexual drives in his/her everyday life in the strict confines of the office work or in general the life in the city.

But the real discovery in reading Lingis' book is his ecological awareness and the way he ties human emotions with the pulls and drives of the other inhabitants of the planet earth. With frequent anthropological and ethnological discussions he points to similarities between humans and animals, fish, insects and trees, and explains quite profoundly why the humans can place their lives at serious danger to protect their non-human natural friends (from the free swimming dolphin to the gigantic sequoias of California). In some instances, he reminds one of the rudimentary analyses of emotions of the medievals (who spoke of tumors and fluids as being responsible for most of the strong emotions) and certainly he is influenced by them not only in his analysis of emotions, but on the issue of rejecting the much celebrated in the medieval times "principle of individuation" (p.27).

However, even if one accepts quite reassuringly the indeed valid point of the book that without the other inhabitants of our planet we will eventually starve emotionally to death and shall thus be soon extinct (and good riddance I might add!), there are some minor points which are put forward by Lingis that are quite difficult to accept. Take for instance the following claim: "We cannot think of the condemned one without feeling a subterranean yearning to denude ourselves before him or her and to cover him or her with all we have of kisses and caresses" in the final paragraph of the book. Now, it may be that as he himself claims when a serial killer is executed at death row is under our power and helpless, but surely most of the people would never dream to caress and kiss him. And on the other hand, in the analyses offered in the book it is not proven (nor described) how we must feel this emotion on someone who is under our power and not for the one who is in power over us! And I will assure Lingis here from the many accounts of the revolutionaries against the Greek junta (1967-74) which are made public for the last 20 years here in Greece (at least) there is nowhere a description of such strong emotions towards one's torturers.

From the above it is evident I think that the book is invaluable to all serious students of human emotions (philosophers and psychologists alike). In addition, it provides quite a good reading for all interested (not by profession, but by their problematic forcefulness of their emotions) in studying what it is that makes us tick or even kill our wife/husband when she/he is caught cheating on us. And even though a quite an esoteric and difficult text, it is quite invaluable to the mindless international military organization public officials who accept as their policy of preserving their notion of peace and justice that with the horror of their radioactive bombs can squash the strong emotions of loyalty and faithfulness to one's nation and religion.


Dr.Constantinos Athanasopoulos has a Ph.D. from the University of Glasgow (on the topic of The Metaphysics of Intentionality in the Philosophy of Language and Mind of Sartre and Wittgenstein). He has also studied philosophy, psychology and religion at Brandon U., Canada, and Moral Philosophy at the University of St. Andrews. Currently he writes books for the Greek Open University (one on Medieval Philosophy and another on Byzantine Civilization) and teaches part-time philosophy courses at the University of Athens and Patras, Greece. His many research interests include metaphysics, philosophy of mind and language, Continental and Analytic, and Medieval and Byzantine Philosophy, moral psychology, ethics, environmental philosophy and ethics, political philosophy, philosophy of education, philosophy of psychology and psychiatry. Parallel to job-hunting his other hobbies include Byzantine Music, Orthodox Theology and going to the movies.


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