I just started reading about Derrida’s philosophy of hospitality, via a link from Scott Johnson. I have not read Derrida himself, but this article Scott posted in a comment on my blog.
The basic idea of the impossible, unachievable unconditional hospitality is one in which the host gives of their home and of themselves to the guest unconditionally. In reality, the host often imposes their own conditions on the guest, and even statements like “welcome” and “make yourself at home” entail expressions of power as to whom is hosting, a reminder of whose rules apply in this context, and the guest is a stranger who gets the sense of having to be careful about these.
I received the ideas of that article on three different levels:
A. The postcolonial, literal level of hospitality and treatment of immigration
B. The way I had first heard of the concept, via a podcast on rhetoricity and how we listen, receive, and respond to things we hear, how open we are to the ideas and thoughts and rhetoric of another – so hospitality to others’ ideas
C. The online visitor/resident metaphor, and wondering about how openness and blogging and MOOCing changes the landscape of hospitality and the interpretation of visitor/resident and so on
Man, I don’t know Derrida much but I have a feeling he’d like my multi-layered disorganized post coming up – so buckle up 🙂
I was particularly struck by something that has plagued me for quite some time, and which i allude to in an earlier post on visitors/residents where i talk about Mexicans in Texas.
The idea here is this: Western media of previously colonizing countries is inhospitable in the extreme towards immigrants (illegal as well as legal ones to a lesser extent). When people are surprised by terrorists who grew up in the West who turn against Western governments, they completely ignore the amount of hostility immigrants go through. It’s not a justification for terrorism, that’s not what I am saying; but I am saying that Western governments and populations should not speak about immigrants and their children as if the West had done them a favor; the West is indeed not only (generally) treating them inhospitably NOW, the West’s former colonial practices and current neocolonial practices are the reason these people had to flee their country of origin in the first place; the West is partly to blame for supporting the currently oppressive regimes ruling these countries. The West is not solely to blame for any of this, but it is partly to blame. More importantly, as Ben Jelloun suggests, the former colonies had welcomed the French on their soil and allowed them to take and now France does not wish to reciprocate. With a great big difference: the colonizers entered by force, with power, and took to their heart’s content (or whatever); and now,the formerly colonized try to immigrate to the former colonizer in a weak position seeking asylum. The asymmetry is tremendous.
How dare the British talk in the media about how tiny their country is, and how there is no space for immigrants in it, when for years and years they imposed upon my own country and took of its goods unconditionally and oppressed my people in their own homes. I don’t need lessons in history to say this. It’s an abomination. And it continues in this. In my existence of a scholar only in the English language; only through studying at English-language institutions, only through teaching in English. That I can now only understand my own culture through Western eyes, as I now read Derrida’s ideas as understood by someone else and I read them in English, to communicate about them in English.
America is the land of illegal immigration. Everyone who went there first way back when, immigrated and imposed upon the natives living there. And now they’re upset about illegal immigrants. Really…(shaking my head)
The part where Derrida talks about unconditional hospitality as allowing the guest to deprive you of your home… Hello, Palestine?
Western societies now treat immigrants as parasites, when in reality, those same Western societies were the ultimate parasites on our countries first.
End of rant. [Added later: And no, I’m not talking about you (my Western friends), I’m talking about other people in history and in society who embody the practices I’m talking about. I’m not generalizing about everyone]
This post gets lighter, and less angry, I promise 🙂 But I hope I got the point across.
Side note, the author of this article Kevin O’Gorman critiques Derrida and Ben Jelloun for writing about hospitality without directly/explicitly discussing their own status as immigrants to France. I am curious about this fact, but also, though I have not read much Derrida, in this article itself Ben Jelloun himself is quotes for saying something about how he feels when encountering incidences of racism. I’m not sure of the context of what he’s saying, but that sounds pretty straightforward to me. Unless the author here wanted Ben Jelloun to talk about incidences that occurred to him personally, in which case I don’t know if Ben Jelloun has done so. The author mentions political bias, says he isn’t accusing them of it, but that lack of discussing it leaves room for doubt. Err, doubt about what? Their positionality is explicit by their identity. Sure, it’s great to be explicit about how one’s identity shapes one’s views, and I do it as explicitly as I can all the time… I don’t know how common it is in other fields, but not all scholars do it in the same way.
B. On Rhetoricity
So a shift now. To thinking about hospitality to new and foreign ideas. This is something I would like to delve into further, but maybe when I read the original Derrida and listen again to that podcast on rhetoricity. I am thinking about the connection between this and concepts of narrative imagination and empathy and now we receive the ideas of others. How, as Derrida says, hospitality always includes some hostility. When exposed to the ideas of another, we are always faced with an inner resistance to this foreignness. Rosello is cited for mentioning how guest and host must accept “the painful possibility of being changed by the other”. And this reminds me of a recent post I was talking about change and humanity. I got some really insightful comments on that one that I need to get back to. But basically what Rosello is talking about here, this openness to be changed by another… That’s powerful. It’s an attitude and a willingness that we can switch off, but can we switch it on at will? Can we teach it? Is it desirable? I don’t know…
C. On the Online Visitor/Resident Metaphor
This one… This could be fun to play with.
I first thought of the part where Derrida says using the word “welcome” is already an exertion of power, and I remembered how in some MOOCs, when someone new comes in and i say welcome or i welcome them, i give the appearance of it being my home, even when i am not actually a co-facilitator of that MOOC. It occurred to me once that i shouldn’t do that, so i changed it to saying things like “looking forward to learning with you” (whether or not i am a co-facilitator, because it’s true),
I then thought about my blog and wondered if it was a space of unconditional hospitality. After all, it allows anonymous others to read it and look at it and reciprocity is not required (Derrida seems to suggest these conditions are impossible, so i am suggesting they’re possible via open scholarship and blogs). However, I thought about it a bit more and realized it is not completely unconditional. Reading, receiving, linking, quoting, even plagiarizing from my blog is unconditional from my side; however, comment spamming, trolling, etc., are things I try to put limits to, and have the power to moderate via my blog’s back end. Also, I would not open myself completely to having someone else impersonate me and write on my blog for me, so if is a very conditional openness – open to read but not t write. So it’s not that open, after all.
I’ve been wondering recently how much I should engage with #rhizo15. I don’t want new people to feel they’re joining an already-establised fortress and community that they can’t join; and yet I want to help make their experience better (knowing full well that I could make it worse). Do censor myself going forward, behave in a particular way or behave as I am? And this already becomes the situation where:
1. I do not even know if i am host or guest in this case
2. I am letting the upcoming entry of guests affect how i think i should behave, though i am unsure if i am guest or host even…
It’s worth thinking about…
I’m tired now, so I’ll stop here and try to read the full Derrida. Eventually.