Derived from a series of seminars that Jacques Derrida conducted in Paris in January 1996, the two lectures gathered in this book, “Foreigner Question” and “Step of Hospitality/No Hospitality,” function in a responsive and illuminating relation to Anne Dufourmantelle’s “Invitation,” printed on the opposite pages. After setting the reader within Derrida’s frame of reference, Dufourmantelle elaborates on two concepts, madness and ghosts, which she effectively links to the topic of the seminars. The latter re-examine the philosophical, literary, and political definitions and practices of hospitality approached by Derrida via the pivotal question of the foreigner. One way of grasping the remarkable depth of Derrida’s reflections on this issue is to recast, as he does, the question of [End Page 198] hospitality as an ethical problem concerning “one’s dwelling place, one’s identity, one’s space, and one’s limits” (149); a question, in brief, involving an embrace, even a celebration, of difference as well as of our common humanity.
Because the foreigner is “the one who puts the first question or the one to whom you address the first question” (3), the question of the foreigner becomes, in Derrida’s view, “the question of the question,” the origin of all questions, and, implicitly, of philosophy itself. Therefore, his insightful rereadings of Plato’s Crito, the Statesman, and the Apology of Socrates center around the foreigner as an interrogative figure that unsettles certainties about human subjectivity: about what we are and what we fear; what disturbs and obsesses us; what we remember and what we would like to forget. Furthermore, since it is usually defined on the basis of birth, the foreigner also concerns the inseparability of burial and language, the indissoluble line between the maternal and death—-issues that Derrida takes up in relation to Sophocles’s Oedipus at Colonus and Antigone.
When revisited in light of pressing contemporary topics and events such as immigration, terrorism, the Internet and its censorship or surveillance by the State (police), civil wars, etc., these canonical texts reveal to Derrida the heterogeneous yet irreducible relation between a genuine ethics of hospitality and a politics of hospitality. Whereas absolute/unconditional/all-inclusive hospitality suggests a “law without imperative, without order and without duty” (83), the laws of ordinary/conditional/exclusive hospitality refer to the actual conditions of hospitality, its rights and duties, which preexist the subject and are inscribed in the social/political order (25). These political structures share a phallogocentric model that Derrida traces back to the Greco-Roman and the Judeo-Christian traditions. According to them, it is always a male figure of authority that, in laying down the laws of hospitality, testifies to the “violence of the power of hospitality” (149). Playing upon the ambiguity of the French word “hôte”—which can mean both “guest” and “enemy”—Derrida reflects on the paradoxical status of the host at the moment of his/her initial encounter with the xenos. This proximity between “host” and “hostage” also accounts for the nexus between hospitality and hostility, which Derrida turns to when he considers the false dualities of private and public, private law and public law.
Derrida’s careful analysis of the political uses and abuses of an ideal hospitality leads him to suggest that political action should take place in the space between ethics and politics. Digressive and informal, his discourse on hospitality is also rich in potentialities due to the deconstructive method through which he uncovers the mystery at the heart of the “naturally obvious” (136). In the sense that it expands, or, to quote Dufourmantelle, “takes to the limit” the “field of the thinkable,” the movement of Derrida’s “spoken reflecting” (10) is indeed “hyperbolic,” just as it constitutes an act of remembrance, in that it “revives questions held in forgetfulness and secrecy” (140). Thus both lectures deserve credit not only for representing a significant step in Derrida’s reflection on ethics and politics but also for prompting us to begin our own deconstructive work and rethink our identity...