‘Let us say yes to who or what turns up, before any determination, before any anticipation, before any identification, whether or not it has to do with a foreigner, an immigrant, an invited guest, or an unexpected visitor, whether or not the new arrival is the citizen of another country, a human, animal, or divine creature, a living or dead thing, male or female.’
What is hospitality? It is surely about welcoming another into our space. Yet we may also ask ‘How is it that it is our space? And why?’
We share the world with others; it is not ours to own or claim. Thinking that we ‘own’ our country, or our national identity, exclusively, is a myth. Each of us is a blend of the other, a melange of races and cultures:
‘Ever since the first Jute, the first Saxon, the first Roman and the first Dane leaped off their boats and planted their feet on British mud, we have been a mongrel nation. Our roots are neither clean nor straight; they are impossibly tangled.’
In effect, we are all immigrants. Seeing others as alien, as strangers, is a result of insecurity and bigotry, and it produces scapegoats.
I have, in a previous post mentioned Kearney’s excellent book Strangers, Gods and Monsters. He describes the creation of scapegoats as a way of ridding oneself of aspects of the personality that may feel ‘bad.’
The Scapegoat. William Holman hunt.
‘Most human cultures have been known to deploy myths of sacrifice to scapegoat strangers. Holding certain aliens responsible for the ills of society, the scapegoaters proceed to isolate or eliminate them. This sacrificial strategy furnishes communities with a binding identity, that is, with the basic sense of who is included (us) and who is excluded (them). So the price to be paid for the construction of the happy tribe is often the ostracizing of some outsider: the immolation of ‘the other’ on the altar of the alien.’ (Kearney)
Instead of thinking in terms of creating outsiders and building fictional divisions, it is important to contemplate commonality. We need to make boundaries between self and another more elastic, translate across vernaculars, offer greeting, help, welcome, invitation. We need to practise creating spaces to meet, rather than devising methods of exclusion.
The Good Samaritan. Balthasar van Cortbemde
How could we learn to create an encountering, a kinship? How can we ‘think other’ and what might this mean?
Thinking other begins with changing attitudes, shifting towards dissolving boundaries between people rather than erecting them. Then one might be able to experience how feels to de-territorialize, to think ourselves into the other’s being, to somehow become other, believing that this will create harmony, rather than discord.
The hospitality of which Derrida speaks in the quotation at the beginning of this post links powerfully with the idea of becoming-other. (Deleuze) This mutually beneficial process involves an awareness that the boundaries between self and other can be regarded as permeable, that we can find new ways of entering into another’s world and inviting them into ours. This is doubtlessly a highly creative endeavour, a charting of new territory, an advancing into a potentially productive and yet unknown area:
…the problem is not to direct or methodically apply a thought which pre-exists in principle and in nature, but to bring into being that which does not exist…..To think is to create- there is no other creation- but to create is first of all to engender ‘thinking’ in thought.
Becoming other, according to Deleuze, involves thinking thoughts that are studied, analysed and original and which represent a radical diversion from fixed ways of thinking. (Semetsky). This process accords the other intense respect, care and consideration, confirming their identity and bringing out the ‘potential best in both oneself and another person, group or nation.’ (Semetsky)
Furthermore, this sense of hospitality, this creative way of thinking and being may also, as Derrida points out, be extended to all species, whether human or non-human. This fact inspired me to explore ways of thinking not only about human interaction but also about the animal; to think of the animal not as ‘the other’, but as ‘an other.’
Thinking of non-human animals in this way challenges some ingrained ways of seeing them. Next week’s post explores ways in which we might think of animals as different from us, but still sentient beings, sharing our world.