Alphonso Lingis, Trust

Review by Vindra Dass

Alphonso Lingis. Trust (Theory Out of Bounds, Vol. 25). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004.

[1] For countless generations traveling has been the way one discovers more about the world, in terms of politics, economics, spirituality and history. Along with learning global intricacies, it has also been a method used to find one's self. American philosopher, Alphonso Lingis, is currently Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Penn State University and the author of thirteen texts, inclusing Excesses: Eros and Culture (1982), Foreign Bodies (1994), and, most recently The First Person Singular (2007). In Trust, Lingis ushers the reader through the world, while offering his insights into the high-minded issues of philosophy and politics.

[2] In keeping with the travelogue tradition, Trust draws the reader in as Lingis offers intricate details of his travels. Through the reading, one treks along with Lingis as he visits remote regions, such as Mali's Tombouctou, Haiti's Port au Prince, Syria's Hama, Ethiopia's Addis Ababa, and Lima's Nazca. Lingis's writing reminds the reader of a personal note jotted down in one's journal and allow the reader a view into the inner musings of an eager traveler. For example, in the chapter entitled "Typhoons," Lingis takes a trip to Madagascar, in which he joins a friend on a walk into the jungle. As the walk begins, he notes:

We left Antananarivo in a taxi-brousse, descended to the coast, and went to the end of the road, then by dugout canoe to the beginning of the river. We trudged through muck, then up and down rocky mountains in the rain. It was exhilarating, but I lagged behind my friend, he so full of vigor and determination (60).

The essay goes on as the author explains his implicit trust in a 20 year-old Malagasy, who he charges with the chore of guiding him out of the jungle after he decides against continuing on with his friend. It is during Lingis's journey with this young man that the text truly ties in with its title; here, without actually speaking to the young man, due to language restraints, the author asks for guidance and protection in order to escape the unknown jungle. Lingis recognizes the oddity of the situation, especially for those of us bred in Western civilization, in which the unknown individual often heightens our need for security:

In my backpack I had an expensive camera and six hundred dollars in cash. Were I he, sitting somewhere ahead or behind with that backpack, I surely would not resist the temptation to look in it. He could do whatever he wanted with my backpack, and with me, with impunity. I knew his name was Javalson, but where he lived I had no idea (61).

Lingis welcomes the challenge of the jungle walk, one that he later finds too arduous, then begins along an equally dangerous path, in which he trusts his security and life to a stranger. Lingis relys upon unconventional means to navigate his way through his region of choice, instead of depending upon maps, travel guides, or tours. During his travels, the author often takes the reader off the beaten path, which can lead to well-known historical monuments and artifacts, but he also introduces the reader (at least this reader) to new and unknown treasures of the world.

[3] Along with fantastic accounts of his worldwide travel, Lingis also offers the reader highly philosophical moments. In his chapter "Songs of Innocence," he offers a quick glimpse into the lives of Nancy Gilvonio, and her brothers, Americo and Raul. The essay focuses on their shift from quiet members of a rural village in Tarapoto, Peru, to members of a rebel movement, who sought to liberate the country from the capitalistic influence of North America in order to establish a communist state in Peru. Lingis's account of these three individuals is tragic and heart wrenching – as he implements an intrinsically personal writing style – which encourages sympathy from the reader. He furthers this mission of creating a oneness and understanding with these individuals as he writes, "The sky overhead unites all who breathe under its seamless space, uniting us to all who are born and shall be born under the sky – you and me and Nancy and Americo and Raul Gilvonio" (97). Here, Lingis invokes ancient philosophy as he cites the oneness of all souls under the vast and limitless sky. Lingis's admiration for the natural world comes beaming through in Trust, much like in "Reticence," when he speaks of the giant sequoias: "We go to California just to see the giant sequoias. They make us stand tall and we open our hearts to them. The grandeur of the giant sequoias diminishes our sense of ourselves; especially it renders derisory and shameful any initiatives we could conceive to subordinate the trees to our uses" (197). The author recognizes the splendid nature of these giants, but not without criticizing our destructive behavior in an attempt to promote political and economic feats.

[4] Throughout this collection of travel essays, Lingis touches upon various issues currently plaguing our world such as AIDS, mentioned in "Love Junkies;" extreme poverty in "Breakout," "Sao Paulo," and "Addis Ababa;" political unrest in both "Vodou" and "Songs of Innocence," and racism in "Typhoon." The author does not assume a prophetic tone, and certainly does not dole out suggestions to correct the wrongs currently blanketing the world. Instead, in his last essay, "Reticence," he concludes as he defines truth: "Truth means seeing what exceeds the possibility of seeing, what is intolerable to see, and what exceeds the possibility of thinking" (199). Lingis's Trust offers multitudes of truths, as through his eyes the reader observes great wonders of the world, glimpses intolerable pain and suffering, and encounters happenings we have never imagined possible.

[5] Lingis's Trust is more than the musings of a fervent traveler. The book offers the willing reader unconventional views from various corners of our globe, often framed or enhanced by theorists, such as Kant, Freud, Nietzsche, and Bataille. Aside from the wonderful travel anecdotes, incisive use of theory and psychoanalysis, and insightful comments regarding the state of the world around us, it is Lingis's voice which remains most appealing to this reader. The author's style of writing aptly conveys his passion for travel, and serves as a wonderful connection to the willing reader.