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diacritics 35.1 (2005) 99-118

Klossowski's Alternative
Peter Canning

The sympathy that binds friends together into an extended family (a socius or community of allies), countering the impulse to tear each other apart, stops at the gate where the stranger is received with courtesy or turned away. Is it safe to let the other in, past the frontier of my territory, my extended Self? An ancient Greek proverb says that "a friend is a second self"—which echoes the reversible sense of the word guest in ancient Indo-European languages (*hosti-pets-, "guest-master"), which continues into modern French hôte, "host" or "guest." This reciprocity actualizes the inclusive "or": one is guest or host in a reciprocal relation of hospitality. The friend is another self in that each becomes master of the other's house when received by the other as guest. Nor is the relation of hospitality limited to friendship; for according to an archaic tradition the Other, the "stranger sent from god" (as Homer says) is also to be received as guest-master of one's house.

These are mythic and etymological conditions, probably idealized and in any case obsolete—what does the archaic institution of hospitality (supposing it was ever practiced in its ideal form) have to do with the crisis of social relation today?

In what follows I propose an extended Klossowskian response to this question. But as a preliminary abbreviation let us turn the question around: is any social relation, today or any other day, even possible without passing through—or holding open—the moment of hospitality, of reception of the other, friend or stranger?

When I let the other cross my threshold and penetrate the precinct of my home, my family, my own and proper extension of Self, when I give him my friendship and trust, it is then he becomes dangerous to me.1 Menelaus gave Paris his trust as an honored guest, whereupon his guest-friend abducted his wife, instigating the Trojan War.

What is the psychic situation conditioned by receiving the other inside my Self? Taken literally, topologically, it is that the other as stranger becomes a part of me, inside me, that is, outside my control. What is inside and what is out, who is me and who is not-me? What and where is the psyche; what is its topology? Does it have an interior and exterior separated by a border between? "To see in the human soul a place [lieu, locus]—no longer to regard the human person otherwise than cohabited by the powers that can take possession of it: exterior powers, autonomous, those evoked by the Gospel—the ornate house that awaits the visit of demons and which, visited, is the parable [End Page 99] of the soul of each among us; this mental topology . . . the pathos itself [being] only a topos" [Monnoyer 35].

Psyche and home are not only analogous or parabolic but the same situation, the same structure. Hospitality is a practice of that patho-logical identity, and a parable of psyche as locus of the Other.

* * *

Preliminary to entering further into this topic, it is necessary to raise another Klossowskian problem, of equal urgency (and intersecting that of hospitality): the place of perversion.

Rather than take space to justify Klossowski's numerous equivocal apologias for the "singular case" of Sade (or Nietzsche),2 theorist of perversion, rhetorician, metteur en scène anxious to infect others with his unspeakable visions (demonic forms of perversion itself) and provoke them to institute the secret cult and practice of his theories—let us take up directly the matter of a definition: what is perversion? More to the point: what is its logic?

Freud derives perversion from narcissism: to take one's own body as the object of the drive (or as object of desire), that is, as the object of eros and thanatos, self-love and self-destruction. But all drive passes by way of this loop from the body to itself—to the point that it becomes a question of how one is ever to get...


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