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HOSPITALITY / Vol. 89, No. 1 (Spring 2022)

Though ancient Hebrew, Greek, and Indian texts tell tales of generous people rewarded for offering hospitality to strangers, particularly to gods in disguise, these strangers often subject their hosts to many torments. And the ancient mythology of hosts and guests tricked or forced to eat their own children suggests that the widespread laws enforcing hospitality to strangers were needed to counteract a basic human tendency to fear such guests, a fear that the mythology validates.

With a focus on the unique combustibility of German antisemitism, this essay asks whether the road to the Nazi genocide can be understood in terms of a displacement onto the Jews of intra-Christian, Protestant-Catholic enmity and anxiety, and thus as a narcissism of major differences. Did the “othering” of Jews displace intra-Christian differences that had divided Germany since the Reformation and Thirty Years’ War? Did hospitality and its successor paradigms occlude the aporias of Heimat? Via a deep dive into Wagner’s nineteenth-century imposition of a new national mythology onto the peculiarities of cultural fragmentation, the essay finds elements of the political libido that ultimately sustained the cultural hatred capable of genocide.

This article reads Athenian tragedy within the discourse of hospitality to argue that tragedy functions as an institution of political theorizing. Onstage the drama of undecidability at the heart of hospitality plays out on foreign soil and at the threshold of identity and difference, enabling the Athenian audience to participate in the imaginative and ethical decision-making concerning its democratic identity that such aporia produces. The formal components of Athenian drama (skene, door, mimesis) make it possible to enact scenes of hospitality onstage while the political and ethical issues that hospitality represents give continued and substantial meaning to the form.

Hospitality as a politics is ambivalent. The power of hosts, expectations of gratefulness and quiescence from guests, the temporariness of hospitality, and the hypocrisy and partiality of welcoming rhetoric raise doubts about the concept’s current revival. But hospitality has a heuristic role in migration studies. I reconstruct the main conceptualizations of hospitality to show how it produces useful knowledge across fields. Hospitality helps us evaluate social phenomena such as accommodation of migrants, the quality of welcome against organized hostility, justification of resistance to harsh border enforcement, construction of foreigners as guests, and religious and legal vocabularies of asylum.

Hannah Arendt argued that refugees lose the fundamental right to political interaction, contending they cannot “have an opinion” as no one is interested in what they have to say. In recent years, refugees incarcerated in the Australian detention system have spoken out through smuggled films, articles, and books such as Behrouz Boochani’s No Friend but the Mountains and Jaivet Ealom’s Escape from Manus. This essay analyzes these works’ reply to the host in their systemic critique of the experience of being a “guest” of such offshore “host” regimes that distort hospitality, are inhospitable, and create an inhospitable environment, in some ways beyond Derrida’s concept of conditional hospitality.

One major function of hospitality—understood, as Collin’s English Dictionary puts it, as a “kindness in welcoming strangers or guests”—is that of providing a way for negotiating the tensions that can exist between the fundamental human commitments to the establishment and maintenance of our own particular identities on the one hand and, on the other, to respect for all who share with us a common membership of the universal class of humanity as a whole. The status of guest provided by a welcoming offer of hospitality has thus to be recognized as being of an essentially temporary nature.

How can we share Earth with those with whom we do not even share a world? The answer is crucial to figuring out whether there is any chance for cosmopolitan peace through cultural diversity and the biodiversity of the planet. Inspired by Kant’s suggestion that political rights are founded on the limited surface of the earth, and Derrida’s suggestion that each singular being is not only a world, but also the world, I attempt to articulate an ethics of sharing the earth even when we do not share a world. This earth ethics is based on our shared cohabitation of our earthly home.

This essay addresses the ambivalences, limits, and possibilities of an ethics of hospitality. It argues for three claims. First, there is a significant disjuncture between an ethics of hospitality and a politics of hospitality expressed as cosmopolitan right. Second, a cosmopolitan right of universal hospitality does not, and cannot, fully capture our obligations to refugees. Third, there is a significant role of an ethics of hospitality in a form that has been modulated by the discourse of moral equality and human dignity in helping to sustain a just politics of refuge.

In this text on the practice of hospitality and hate, I adopt an autobiographical and intersectional perspective based on my experience. I was born in the city of Lublin, and for the last 20 years I have been involved in social and artistic activism to restore the intercultural traditions of this old Polish city. I have also noticed the intersectionality of hate practices that combine antisemitism, homophobia, and xenophobia. Let the testimony of Lublin and my artivism and research be an example of the fragility but also the persistence of and the need for hospitality in our times.

Recent science studies emphasize that knowledge is generated through transit and encounters. If so, knowledge production depends on forms and dynamics of hosting and hospitality. We suggest hospitability is a crucial factor shaping intercultural knowledge creation and transfer. Using results from a research project on Carl Linnaeus’s Laplandic Journey, we address the relationship between hospitability and knowledge construction. While in later reports Linnaeus created an image of Lapland, or Sápmi, as uninhabited and uncultivated, his journal documents encounters with state and church officials, reindeer herders, fishermen, settler farmers, and women with medicinal knowledge, many of them Sámi, on whose expertise and hospitality he depended.

1 Comment

Dale White
Dale White
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