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Thursday, July 19, 2012

How else to welcome and receive?

"Come, come, whoever you are.
Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving.
It doesn’t matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vow
a hundred times.
Come, yet again, come, come."
Ramadan begins tomorrow here in the Antipodes. Whenever it comes around, I'd be reminded of the aroma of a porridge that the local Muslim community in Singapore where I grew up would cook. They'd share it with the needy as they break their daily fast. I'd be coming home from school, and greedy me always wondered what it tasted like. I regret that I've not actually tasted it. I'm sure they would've generously shared it and more had I made the effort to ask about their faith. Anyway, a Muslim friend who extended hospitality to me at a difficult time of my life posted this by Rumi. To my limited reading a beautiful ode to what I've come to call—thanks to Derrida—unconditional unconditionality unconditionally.

I won't pretend to know Islam; wtf do I know? But I've certainly been hailed by the call of hospitality. And which culture, community, or self hasn't? For in assuming a culture, community, or self, hasn't one already acceded to the call of hospitality, presupposing as it must a boundary, a border which designates at once the impossibility and possibility of hospitality? Without this limit where would an opening be? How else to welcome and receive?

Viens, oui, oui, I believe, is what Derrida used to say. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

An impossible demand

“I am monolingual. My monolingualism dwells, and I call it my dwelling; it feels like one to me, and I remain in it and inhabit it. It inhabits me. The monolingualism in which I draw my very breath is, for me, my element. Not a natural element, not the transparency of the ether, but an absolute habitat. It is impassable, indisputable: I cannot challenge it except by testifying to its omnipresence in me. It would always have preceded me. It is me. For me, this monolingual ism is me. That certainly does not mean to say, and do not believe, that I am some allegorical figure of this animal or that truth called monolingual ism. But I would not be myself outside it. It constitutes me, it dictates even the ipseity of all things to me, and also prescribes a monastic solitude for me; as if, even before learning to speak, I had been bound by some vows. This inexhaustible solipsism is myself before me. Lastingly. [A demeure.]  
Yet it will never be mine, this language, the only one I am thus destined to speak, as long as speech is possible for me in life and in death; you see, never will this language be mine. And, truth to tell, it never was.” - Jacques Derrida. The Monolingualism of the Other. pp. 1-2

Was reminded of how on my recent trip, at certain tourist spots in London and Paris some of the staff appeared disappointed when my partner and I asked for an English audio guide, brochure, etc: 'But we have Chinese, Japanese, Korean....' In so doing, what was ostensibly a gesture of hospitality enacted its very opposite, inhospitality, demanding of us in the Name of Language what is not, but paradoxically, at once that which makes intelligible the self. Then of course in a different context, though occurring in the same space given the name 'the nation', it'd be 'Speak English or fuck off', or, 'Parlez-vous Anglais? Non.' And then there are such events as the one on my campus this week for students: 'Speed Language gives you the chance to learn common phrases in other languages from native speakers and have fun greeting other students in their language.' 
What does it mean to be hospitable if it is to welcome whoever or whatever arrives without imposing upon them a demand? Yet, even though one's own name is never of one's choosing, never ours to possess or own (otherwise would naming as such be possible?), to enter into a relationship with the other demands that we ask of them that impossible demand.

Still, if there's one thing I've learnt from Derridean deconstruction (and also Buddhism, such as for instance the bodhisattva vows of the Mahayana) is: that it is impossible is precisely why we can and must.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The two Capitals

Just returned from a trip to London-Manchester-Paris. Reposting something I wrote on Facebook three weeks ago in London.

In a week I'll be presenting in conference in Paris on the ideas of hospitality articulated by the late French thinker Jacques Derrida (oh, the nerve; je ne parle pas francais!), in-famous for his (bad?) writing and neologisms. He spoke of the linguistic-theological-metaphysical-ethical-political (<--look, bad academic writing) implications of 'globalatinisation', and warned against the two Capitals, la capitale (i.e. the hegemony of European 'culture' emblematised by capital cities like London and Paris) and le capitale (what Marx criticised in Das Kapital). The two Capitals are of course inter-involved. Perhaps embodied and enacted in the exchange between my partner and I, and the many Eastern Europeans here 

On the one hand, we could be considered the 'bastard descendants' of Queen Victoria who have invited ourselves to our other Motherland (btw, I not only live in Victoria, Australia now but also attended a Victoria School in Singapore with the Latin motto, Nil Sine Labore, Nothing Without Labour—what would the two very Jewish and messianic prophets Derrida and Marx say?). On the other hand, those Eastern Europeans have migrated 'West' to seek a better life, which is to say to allow their labour to be exploited under the conditions of the EU by working in hospitality (which makes it an exercise in inhospitality really). Both of us interacting only in the exchange of capital, the transaction of commodity and service, our eyes meeting very briefly as we communicate in the Latin-derived global language we share ('Hello. Two espressos please. Three pounds twenty. Thank you.'), before we both speak in hushed tones (my partner and I in Mandarin; the Eastern Europeans in their native language) to comment in secret on what we find so strange and foreign, alien and unknown about the other.