Adam has posted a brilliant reflection on A. Lingis’ words about words. A few highlights:

  • “…words act as objects in the world and the manner by which they act is ecological. Words transform not just the environments which they disclose, but also feedback upon the one who uses them, transforming the subjectivity of the speaker in an ongoing and recursive way.”
  • “Words and worlds are indeed linked as independently existing, interactive actualities. The ontology which describes this relation is object-oriented. The ethics which organize the goals of such an inquiry are cosmopolitical. The way forward is ecological.”
I haven’t read much of Lingis’ work myself, but I’ve already been convinced, by Adam and others, that he is a luminary. He seems to me to have successfully melded art and science into cosmological poetry, in a way not unlike that other telluric poet, David Abram (see Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology). While I agree with Adam that words and worlds are co-enactive actualities, and that the earth and cosmos ought to be the model for our civilization, I am drawn more to the process-relational metaphysics of Alfred North Whitehead and the powers ontology of Schelling than I am to the contemporary object-oriented ontologies of Bryant or Harman (Tim Morton’s version, which to me seems closer to the Romantic spirit of Schelling and Whitehead, is another story, but again, I haven’t yet been able to delve into his writing). I would seek a metaphysics that is no more object-oriented than subject-oriented. I would seek a metaphysics oriented toward the Absolute, toward God, that which is both subject and object and neither subject or object; a metaphysics open to Being itself, the IS!, the I AM!, at the root of all things. This is, after all, what language itself would tell us. The Big Other, the thing that every word in our language ultimately signifies if you trace its definition back far enough, is God, YHWH, the I am, which is also the Itself. Language is the creator of subject and object, of self and world, of word and reality.
The cosmopolitical issue, if we can call it that, is one of awakening to the mutual penetration of individual creativity and infinite universality. How am I to live in a city of people, like myself, in a universe so much older and wiser than we are? Not only does this require an ecological re-orientation, so as to bring modern humanity, organized according to the needs of empire, closer to the organization of ancient egalitarian kinship societies; the cosmopolitical task also requires a re-engagement with the deep wisdom of the cosmos, which consists of not just spiritual revelations regarding the eternal divine but scientific discoveries regarding the 14-billion year history of the visible universe.
Indisputably, the way forward is indeed ecological. Logos must be re-minded of and re-embedded in the Bodies within which it was born and into which it will die. Philosophy must become symphilosophy, as Schlegel suggested; our symbols must be made symbionts with the growing earth, seeds for its further flourishing.

“While persons brought up within literate culture often speak about the natural world, indigenous, oral peoples sometimes speak directly to that world, acknowledging certain animals, plants, and even landforms as expressive subjects with whom they might find themselves in conversation. Obviously these other beings do not speak with a human tongue; they do not speak in words. They may speak in song, like many birds, or in rhythm, like the crickets and the ocean waves. They may speak a language of movements and gestures, or articulate themselves in shifting shadows. Among many native people, such forms of expressive speech are assumed to be as communicative, in their own way, as the more verbal discourse of our species (which after all can also be thought of as a kind of vocal gesticulation, or even as a sort of singing). Language, for traditionally oral peoples, is not a specifically human possession, but is a property of the animate earth, in which we humans participate. Oral language gusts through us–our sounded phrases borne by the same air that nourishes the cedars and swells the cumulus clouds. Laid out and immobilized on the flat surface, our words tend to forget that they are sustained by this windswept earth; they begin to imagine that their primary task is to provide a representation of the world (as though they were outside of, and not really a part of, this world). Nonetheless, the power of language remains, first and foremost, a way of singing oneself into contact with others and with the cosmos–a way of bridging the silence between oneself and another person, or a startled black bear, or the crescent moon soaring like a billowed sail above the roof. Whether sounded on the tongue, printed on the page, or shimmering on the screen, language’s primary gift is not to re-present the world around us, but to call ourselves into the vital presence of that world–and into deep and attentive presence with one another. This ancestral capacity of speech necessarily underlies and supports all the other roles that language has come to have. Whether we wield our words to describe a landscape, to analyze a problem, or to explain how some gadget works, none of these roles would be possible without the primordial power of utterance to make our bodies resonate with one another and with the other rhythms that surround us. The autumn bugling of the elk does this, too, and the echoed honks of geese vee-ing south for the winter. This tonal layer of meaning–the stratum of spontaneous, bodily expression that oral cultures steadily deploy, and that literate cultures all too easily forget–is the very dimension of language that we two-leggeds share in common with other animals. We share it, as well, with the mutter and moan of the wind through the winter branches outside my studio. In the spring the buds on those branches will unfurl new leaves, and by summer the wind will speak with a thousand green tongues as it rushes through those same trees, releasing a chorus of rustles and whispers and loudly swelling rattles very different from the low, plaintive sighs of winter. And all those chattering leaves will feed my thoughts as I sit by the open door, next summer, scribbling and pondering. These pages, too, are nothing other than talking leaves–their insights stirred by the winds, their vitality reliant on periodic sunlight and on cool, dark water seeping up from within the ground. Step into their shade. Listen close. Something other than the human mind is at play here.” -p. 10-12 from Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology (2010) by David Abram