Deconstructing Hospitality: Just How Welcoming Are We? Part 3.

“You’re probably surprised to find us so inhospitable,” said the man, “but hospitality isn’t a custom here, and we don’t need any visitors.”

‘If this quotation from Kafka’s Castle seems strange to us, it is because we cannot believe that there is a culture, a society or “a form of social connection without a principle of hospitality. But what is left of this principle of hospitality today, or ethics in general, when fences are erected at the borders, or even “hospitality” itself is considered a crime?’

(Gerasimos Kakoliris)


How hospitable are you? Let us know how you feel about this subject in the comments box below.


‘Trump’s Wall.’

Being hospitable has traditionally been seen as a noble quality, an indicator of a generous and civilised culture. However, this image of hospitality has been eroded and, in our contemporary society, the forbidding face of exclusion, racism and inhospitable attitudes is showing itself.

What is lacking in all this is the quality of empathy. Much of this approach entails a ‘failure of empathy,’ discussed in a previous post. Instead, an ‘us and them’ attitude often prevails.

Newspaper headlines such as the following reflect this:

WHEN IN ROME’ All immigrants must be forced to take language classes if they don’t speak English on arrival in UK, MPs say’ (The Sun 5.1.17)

Britain’s migration revolution: Home Secretary Sajid Javid unveils the biggest immigration reform for decades – vowing to end EU free movement, give no preference to European workers and insist that firms try to hire Brits first (Daily Mail 1.10.18)

Strong border control is a moral obligation




Obviously, as history shows, such attitudes are age-old. As if in prophetic response to this Derrida asks:


‘That is where the question of hospitality begins: must we ask the foreigner to understand us, to speak our language, in all the senses of this term, in all its possible extensions, before being able and so as to be able to welcome him into our country? If he was already speaking our language, with all that that implies, if we already shared everything that is shared with a language, would the foreigner still be a foreigner and could we speak of asylum or hospitality in regard to him?’ (Derrida)



Should we realistically expect immigrants who do not speak English to learn our language when they arrive? If so, is this because we cannot abide people who are not like us? Perhaps there is a sense that speaking our language would  make immigrants more like ‘us’, more understandable, less ‘other?’

Yet can we ever ‘understand’ how hard it might be for some to arrive in a new country with a ‘strange’ culture and have to learn a foreign way of speaking? If we have not experienced being a refugee, can we even imagine how awful it would be to feel so dispossessed?

Arrested refugees - Fylakio Detetntion Center, Thrace, Evros, Greece.

Wikimedia Commons

In the U.S., immigrants were assaulted because they were overheard speaking their own language.

It may, indeed, ideally be easier in some ways if immigrants were able to speak English. However, there are so many other pressures on immigrants; the complexities and commitment of language learning may be unmanageable and unrealistic. Perhaps we could find it within ourselves to welcome distressed and traumatised people here without imposing further stipulations on them.

However, even the most hospitable people will have limits. Derrida postulates an extreme position in his deconstruction of the notion of hospitality:

‘… absolute hospitality requires that I open up my home and that I give not only to the foreigner (provided with a family name, with the social status of being a foreigner, etc.), but to the absolute, unknown, anonymous other, and that I give place to them, that I let them come, that I let them arrive, and take place in the place I offer them, without asking of them either reciprocity (entering into a pact) or even their names.’

Derrida knows that this is degree of hospitality, this total altruism, is an impossibility, yet he believes he has defined pure hospitality in its full meaning and this is important.

His deconstruction of the term down to its ‘purest’ form makes us think; he does not offer solutions, he is aware there are no answers to this paradoxical issue, but perhaps it might encourage us to stretch previous hardened boundaries.

He is aware that it is impossible to offer hospitality without it involving even a modicum of power and control. We cannot truly and totally anonymously or altruistically give to another, but his deconstruction reminds us that perhaps we might be able to try harder:


Conditional hospitality is not ‘true’ hospitality because it is given only on expectation of a return or offered out of decorum and therefore without responsibility. Unconditional hospitality, which is the ‘truest’ hospitality, is at the same time impossible because in practice one can always be more generous, more welcoming and give more of oneself and one’s home until there is complete self-effacement.



Global Justice Now. GJN Banner. Flickr.

Could you open up your home and offer hospitality to a stranger or have you already done so? Please share your views and experiences in the comments below. Thanks! Linda.

Letting in The Other: What does Hospitality Have in Common with Poetry? Part 2: Thinking, Difference and Empathy.

‘I do not ask the wounded person how he feels, I myself become
the wounded person.’

Walt Whitman. Leaves of Grass.


The Good Samaritan. Ronald Rae. Wikimedia Commons

This second post of three represents a temporary focus on hospitality and poetry; however, these concepts are also highly relevant to psychotherapy. In therapy, allowing another person in to one’s inner world and showing empathy are crucial.


How can a person let another into their world if they feel no empathy towards them? This holds true for both poetry and hospitality, It would be difficult to offer hospitality to another without having empathy for that person.

The poet also needs empathy in order to describe the spectrum of the human condition with which the reader can identify. The poet needs to see the self in the other, to recognise human commonalities.

At this point we can fruitfully refer back to a previous post; here, we have seen that the poet can contain and express difficult feelings for us.

In his book The Poetry Pharmacy  , William Sieghart takes this concept of poetry as containment even further; he actually prescribes certain poems for a variety of problems. What a delightful concept!




He comments in the book:

‘Suffering is the access point to poetry for a lot of people: that’s when they open their ears, hearts and minds. Being there with the right words for someone in that moment- when something’s happened, when they’re in need- is a great comfort…..’


This quotation highlights graphically the theme of this post: the hospitality of the poetic endeavour. The words ‘access’ and ‘open’ emphasise the act of entering into another’s world. The quote continues to bear witness to the fact that poetry, like hospitality,  is about giving and receiving. In this case, poetry is seen as a balm, a comforter, very like the offer of succour or a room for the night when in dire need of accommodation.

Both poetry and hospitality involve feelings and emotions.  I think this is what Derrida was referring to when he spoke of hospitality being poetic.

In the poetry extract below, see how Wordsworth becomes a kind of host, offering hospitality and kinship in terms of openness to other voices and into thoughts and feelings.

Through verse, the poet allows an emotional bonding, a connection, a kind of interaction with the ‘guest’, the reader. It is also a prime example of the poet’s recognition of the universality human experience, his knowledge of the ‘self in the other,’ mentioned above:

For I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
The still sad music of humanity,
Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue.—And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.




Van Gogh. Enclosed field with setting sun.

Thus the meaning of hospitality can be extended, to describe the poet’s attitude, as well as that of the hospitable host. By means of emotional and linguistic fluency, poetry can demonstrate a willingness to be vulnerable and let others into that vulnerability, allowing the poet to be seen and recognised, sharing perspectives.

Both poetry and hospitality are reflective, thoughtful. The invitation is to share in something inner. Poetry offers us a special kind of nourishment, it gives us ‘food for thought.’

Hospitality has connections with both poetry and with thought. Without a particular kind of thinking, we will not be able to host others into our own physical, psychic or poetic space. We will be unable to think in terms of the other, to think ourselves into the other’s skin. This might be called empathy, but it might involve more than that.

It entails something more poetic, a transcendent quality that is related to the idea of becoming other. It is a celebration of difference.

‘1. Let brotherly love continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. 3 Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them; and those who are ill-treated, since you also are in the body.’ Hebrews 13:1-3

Acknowledging this and identifying the fact that the ‘stranger’ is not only outside of ourselves, but also within is crucial. The process of trying to becoming one with all aspects of the self, rather than scapegoating others, is surely the most creative way of thinking:

‘If this elephant of mind is held on all sides
by the cord of mindfulness,
All fear disappears and happiness comes.
All enemies: all the tigers, lions, bears,
serpents, elephants…
and all the keepers of hell; the demons and the horrors,
All of these are contained by the attention of your mind,
and by the calming of that mind are calmed,
Because from the mind are derived all fears and unmeasurable





Image: Peter Clarkson. Unsplash.

Letting in The Other: What does Hospitality Have in Common with Poetry? Part 1.

‘An act of hospitality can only be poetic.’ Jacques Derrida.


Image: Unsplash. Artem Bali.

Do you have a special poem that seems to invite you in and stays with you? If you do, please tell us about it in the comments at the end of this post. Thank you, Linda.


How does hospitality connect with poetry and what can we learn from this connection?

They may at first seem quite different ideas and we might wonder what Derrida, in the quotation above, meant by linking them.


The statement ‘An act of hospitality can only be poetic’ might initially seem to be a conundrum; it can have many interpretations. Derrida makes us work hard as readers, grasping at meaning and trying to understand.

However, when you really think about it, there are many links between the two concepts. What are these links?

First, both poetry and hospitality invite you in to their world. They do so in an emotional way. Poems attract you in through the power and beauty of their language, their offer of a story, word-pictures, their creativity. Hospitality involves an invitation, a loving offer to enter into, to share, to experience.

Hospitality and poetry offer a kind of service to others and aim to meet some of their needs. They are giving a gift to another, of their time, their consideration, their feelings.

Both take us, the stranger, into their world, one that it different from our own. Both ask us to see that world from their point of view and open themselves up to us, to show us who they are. There is a way in revealed to us; the one shows us a place unlatched, unbarred, maybe a country allowing entry, passage. The other is a poetic path to disclosure, a letting drop of boundaries, a release, a declaration of the poet’s inner feelings, impressions and thoughts.

This representation of an opening of things might perhaps take the form of a door, a perimeter, a soup kitchen, an opinion, an idea.


Old door of secret room in Church of

Saint Martin in Třebíč.

By Jiří Sedláček – Frettie – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,




Both hospitality and poetry necessitate an understanding of another’s needs and we can feel grateful for both. They involve an offering of the self, and reflect our personality and our world view. Sometimes it might seem as though that world view goes against reason and possibility; it might come across as implausible and unrealistic to us.

Poets and those offering their hospitality allow another person into the depths of their soul, their inner world, no matter how eccentric, unconventional or bizarre that might appear to the other.

Both are involved in a relationship with the other. Hospitality signifies a considered letting in of the other, a beckoning, a reflective, generous, non-hierarchical act of admittance, perhaps to a home or country. That home might be very odd to the incoming stranger, yet it has been offered without regard for the manner in which it is received.

Poetry represents an opening up through words, a welcoming in of the other to one’s world, of other voices, other ideas.

Poetry and hospitality each need another person to receive and accept the offer to ‘enter’ into their world.

These are the first lines of two beautiful poems and they, quite literately invite us in.

‘Let us go then, you and I,

When the evening is spread out against the sky’  (T.S. Eliot)


‘Come live with me and be my love,

And we will all the pleasures prove,’ (Marlowe)

What wonderful invitations!

Poetry can still be inviting even when the hospitality is not quite so evident:

What draws us in is the identification with the poet, the descriptions, the lyricism, the beauty of the lines.  This still applies even when the subject is trivial:


This Is Just To Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox
and which
you were probably
for breakfast
Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold


The poet is making a confession. He has eaten the plums. We are very much invited into his private world. We can identify with his desire to devour them, even though they were not his. We can almost taste them, so vivid is his description.

We can also identify with the guilt of being unable to resist what was not his to eat. Along with the guilt is a modicum of humour, of mischief, to which we can all relate. The tone- and the title – of the poem imply that the poet knows he will be forgiven for his transgression.

Our attention is captured by the unusual, and perhaps eccentric nature of the subject matter; snaffling someone’s plums from the fridge! The boundaries of the poetic are stretched here into a rather eccentric subject for a poem. Yet the poem is still strikingly effective.

We are offered hospitality by the poet in two ways: he invites us into his kitchen, into the trivia of his life. Simultaneously we witness his rather embarrassed state of mind.

This post continues next week, with a further look at hospitality in the light of empathy, poetic thinking and the celebration of difference.

Don’t forget, if  you have a special poem that seems to invite you in and stays with you, please tell us about it in the comments below.


(Alan Sheffield. Chilean Black Plums. Flickr.)



A Christmas Present: the Best of 2018. Thinking Quotes to See You into the New Year, Part 2.





Further quotations from the pick of the posts in 2018:

…the effort to try to feel happy is often precisely the thing that makes us miserable. And that it is our constant efforts to eliminate the negative- insecurity, uncertainty, failure, or sadness- that is what causes us to feel so insecure, anxious, uncertain, or unhappy.


Blog Post:Does Positive Thinking Work?


Did something disappoint you? Did something sadden you? The school of life wanted to teach you an important lesson through that experience.

(Haemin Sunim . Zen Proverb)

Blog Post:Does Positive Thinking Work?


‘The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.’

F. Scott Fitzgerald

Blog Post: Thinking twice about Relationships: How Can we Learn to See the Whole Picture?


‘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.’

(Derrida,J. and Dufourmantelle A.)

‘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.’


Blog post: How Can We Learn to be Really Hospitable? Thinking Other, Becoming Other.


The next blog post will be published on Tuesday 8th January 2019:

‘Thinking, Waiting and Not Knowing Part 2 : In Psychotherapy.’



How Can We Learn to be Really Hospitable? Thinking Other, Becoming Other.



‘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.’

(Derrida,J. and Dufourmantelle A.)

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.’

1024px-William_Holman_Hunt_-_The_ScapegoatThe 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.