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Of Hospitality

Of Hospitality

by Jacques Derrida, Anne Dufourmantelle, Rachel Bowlby (Translator)

These two lectures by Jacques Derrida, "Foreigner Question" and "Step of Hospitality/No Hospitality," derive from a series of seminars on "hospitality" conducted by Derrida in Paris, January 1996. His seminars, in France and in America, have become something of an institution over the years, the place where he presents the ongoing evolution of his thought in a


These two lectures by Jacques Derrida, "Foreigner Question" and "Step of Hospitality/No Hospitality," derive from a series of seminars on "hospitality" conducted by Derrida in Paris, January 1996. His seminars, in France and in America, have become something of an institution over the years, the place where he presents the ongoing evolution of his thought in a remarkable combination of thoroughly mapped-out positions, sketches of new material, and exchanges with students and interlocutors.

As has become a pattern in Derrida's recent work, the form of this presentation is a self-conscious enactment of its content. The book consists of two texts on facing pages. "Invitation" by Anne Dufourmantelle appears on the left (an invitation that of course originates in a response), clarifying and inflecting Derrida's "response" on the right. The interaction between them not only enacts the "hospitality" under discussion, but preserves something of the rhythms of teaching.

The volume also characteristically combines careful readings of canonical texts and philosophical topics with attention to the most salient events in the contemporary world, using "hospitality" as a means of rethinking a range of political and ethical situations. "Hospitality" is viewed as a question of what arrives at the borders, in the initial surprise of contact with an other, a stranger, a foreigner. For example, Antigone is revisited in light of the question of impossible mourning; Oedipus at Colonus is read via concerns that also apply to teletechnology; the trial of Socrates is brought into conjunction with the televised funeral of François Mitterrand.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Of Hospitality provides us with a glimpse of Jacques Derrida as not only the brilliant thinker and writer readers have long admired but as the masterful lecturer and pedagogue his students have long known. . . . Of Hospitality should find a welcome audience not only among faithful readers of Derrida but among all those who are open enough to hear the knock at their borders or their doors."—L'Esprit Créateur

"Both lectures [in the book] 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."—Symploke

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Stanford University Press
Publication date:
Cultural Memory in the Present Series
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Product dimensions:
4.25(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.70(d)

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By Anne Dufourmantelle


Copyright © 2000 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8047-3405-9

Chapter One


Anne Dufourmantelle

"An act of hospitality can only be poetic." —Jacques Derrida

It is Derrida's poetic hospitality that I would like to invoke in these pages, including the difficulty of giving its due to the night—to that which, within a philosophical kind of thinking, does not belong to the order of the day, the visible, and memory. This is to try to come close to a silence around which discourse is ordered, and that a poem sometimes discovers, but always pulls itself back from unveiling in the very movement of speech or writing. If a part of night is inscribed in language, this is also language's moment of effacement.

This nocturnal side of speech could be called obsession. A forger can imitate a painter's brush stroke or a writer's style and make the difference between them imperceptible, but he will never be able to make his own their obsession, what forces them to be always going back toward that silence where the first imprints are sealed. Derrida's obsession, in this philosophical narrative woven around that fine theme of hospitality, takes its time in drawing the contours of an impossible, illicit geography of proximity. A proximity that would not be the opposite of an elsewhere come from outside and surrounding it, but "close to the close," that unbearable orb of intimacy that melts into hate. If we can say that murder and hate designate everything that excludes closeness, it is insofar as they ravage from within an original relationship to alterity. The hostis responds to hospitality in the way that the ghost recalls himself to the living, not letting them forget. To the pacified reason of Kant, Derrida opposes the primary haunting of a subject prevented by alterity from closing itself off in its peacefulness.

When Derrida reads Sophocles, Joyce, Kant, Heidegger, Celan, Levinas, Blanchot, or Kafka, he not only accompanies their texts, giving them a second echo, he "obsesses" them with the theme he is working on, and which thus acts like a photographic developer. Witness that moment where, in a seminar commentary on the final scenes of Oedipus at Colonus based on the idea of the hospitality given to death and the dead, Derrida stresses its absolute contemporaneity, while the necessity of that strange "visitation" of Sophocles' tragedy is imposed on his listeners. The summons he addresses to dead or living authors to roam around with him on the edges of a theme doesn't make him turn his back on "the matters of urgency that assail us at this end-of-millennium," as he puts it himself. On the contrary, he supports confronting them.

There is in this seminar a precision that can be heard. And that comes, I think, from the intimate agreement of thought and speech—their rhythmic agreement—and from the thematic analysis which is the obsession of philosophical reflection; but also from Derrida's taking it to the limit when he works over a concept up to the point of its turning back toward the enigma that bears it.

That is why it seemed important to us to convey a fragment of the seminars without altering anything. In them you hear that singular rhythm of Derrida's spoken reflecting; so different from the writing, of which he is a patient artisan. And we thought it feasible to single out two seminars because the whole problematic of hospitality was already present in that "enclave" (as a work is included in each of its fragments), as was also the spacing of measured violence and friendship that gives this thinking its uniqueness, its particular genius.

Derrida has himself spoken of the difficulty of taking account of the open speech of the seminar as it relates to hospitality. "What I don't want to say or cannot, the unsaid, the forbidden, what is passed over in silence, what is separated off ... —all these should be interpreted," he stressed. "In these regions we rediscover the open question of the relationship between hospitality and the question, in other words of a hospitality beginning with the name, the question of the name, or else opening up without question...." And also: "One could dream about what would be the lesson of someone who didn't have the keys to his own knowledge, who didn't arrogate it to himself. He would give place to the place, leaving the keys with the other to unlock the words from their enclosure."

It is this "giving place to the place" that, I think, is the promise kept by these words. They also make us understand the question of place as being a fundamental question, founding the history of our culture and unthought in it. It would be consenting to exile, in other words, to being in a relationship to place, to the dwelling, that is both native (I would say almost maternal), and yet in transit, if thinking occurred to the human. Derrida's meditations on burial, the name, memory, the madness that inhabits language, exile and the threshold, are so many signs addressed to this question of place, inviting the subject to recognize that he is first of all a guest.

Foreigner Question: Coming from Abroad / from the Foreigner

Question d'étranger: venue de l'étranger Fourth seminar (January 10, 1996)

Jacques Derrida

Isn't the question of the foreigner [l'étranger] a foreigner's question? Coming from the foreigner, from abroad [l'étranger]?

Before saying the question of the foreigner, perhaps we should also specify: question of the foreigner. How should we understand this difference of accent?

There is, we were saying, a question of the foreigner. It is urgent to embark on it—as such.

Of course. But before being a question to be dealt with, before designating a concept, a theme, a problem, a program, the question of the foreigner is a question of the foreigner, addressed to the foreigner. As though the foreigner were first of all the one who puts the first question or the one to whom you address the first question. As though the foreigner were being-in-question, the very question of being-in-question, the question-being or being-in-question of the question. But also the one who, putting the first question, puts me in question. One thinks of the situation of the third person and of justice, which Levinas analyzes as "the birth of the question."

Before reopening this question of the question from the place of the foreigner, and of its Greek situation, as we had said we would, let us limit ourselves to a few remarks or a few readings by way of epigraph.

Back to places we think are familiar: in many of Plato's dialogues, it is often the Foreigner (xenos) who questions. He carries and puts the question. We think first of the Sophist. It is the Foreigner who, by putting forward the unbearable question, the parricide question, contests the thesis of Parmenides, puts in question the logos of our father Parmenides, ton tou patros Parmenidou logon. The Foreigner shakes up the threatening dogmatism of the paternal logos: the being that is, and the nonbeing that is not. As though the Foreigner had to begin by contesting the authority of the chief, the father, the master of the family, the "master of the house," of the power of hospitality, of the hosti-pets which we have talked about at such length [in earlier seminars].

The Foreigner of the Sophist here resembles someone who basically has to account for possibility of sophistry. It is as though the Foreigner were appearing under an aspect that makes you think of a sophist, of someone whom the city or the State is going to treat as a sophist: someone who doesn't speak like the rest, someone who speaks an odd sort of language. But the Xenos asks not to be taken for a parricide. "I will beg one more thing of you," says the Xenos to Theaetetus, "which is not to think of me as a parricide." "What do you mean?" Theaetetus then asks. The Foreigner: "It is that in order to defend ourselves, we will necessarily have to put to the test the thesis (logon) of our father Parmenides and, forcibly, establish that non-being somehow is, and that being, in its turn, in a certain way is not."

This is the fearful question, the revolutionary hypothesis of the Foreigner. He defends himself against the accusation of parricide by denial. He would not dream of defending himself against it if he did not feel deep down that really he is one, a parricide, virtually a parricide, and that to say "non-being is" remains a challenge to Parmenides' paternal logic, a challenge coming from the foreigner. Like any parricide, this one takes place in the family: a foreigner can be a parricide only when he is in some sense within the family. In a minute we will recover some implications of this family scene and this generational difference, indicated by every allusion to the father. Theaetetus's response here is weakened by translation. It registers well the truly polemical, even bellicose character of what is more than a debate ("debate" is the conventional translation for Theaetetus's response) when he says Phainetai to toiouton diamacheteon en tois logois: it is obvious, it appears obvious, it certainly seems that that is where one has to fight, diamacheteon, engage in a heated combat, or that is where one has to carry war into logoi, into arguments, into discourses, into the logos; and not, as it is peacefully, pacifically put in the Dies translation: "There, obviously, is where we must have the debate" (241d). No, more seriously: "It does seem that that is where there must be armed war, or combat, in discourses or in arguments." The war internal to the logos, that is the foreigner's question, the double question, the altercation of father and parricide. It is also the place where the question of the foreigner as a question of hospitality is articulated with the question of being. We know that a reference to the Sophist opens [Heidegger's] Sein und Zeit as its epigraph.

We ought to reconstitute practically the whole context, if that were possible, and at any rate reread what follows, the sequence that links to the Foreigner's reply. It evokes at once blindness and madness, a strange alliance of blindness with madness.

Blindness first of all. To Theaetetus's response ("It seems obvious, phainetai, that we must have a war around that"), the Foreigner replies in his turn, to raise the stakes: "It is obvious, even to a blind person." He says it in the form of a rhetorical question; it is the simulacrum of a question: "How would this not be obvious and, as one says, obvious even to a blind person, kai to legomenon dè touto tuphlo?"

Now for madness. The Xenos says he is too weak for this kind of combat, for the refutation of the paternal thesis, in view of a possible parricide; he does not have the necessary confidence in himself. How indeed could he have, a parricide Foreigner, so a foreign son? Let me insist on the blinding and maddening obviousness: a "foreign son," for a parricide can only be a son. In truth, with the question he is getting ready to put, on the being of non-being, the Foreigner fears that he will be treated as mad (manikos). He is afraid of being taken for a son-foreigner-madman: "I am therefore fearful that what I have said may give you the opportunity of looking on me as someone deranged," says the translation (literally, mad, manikos, a nutter, a maniac), "who is upside down all over (para poda metaballon emauton ano kai kato), a crazy person who reverses everything from head to toe, from top to bottom, who puts all his feet on his head, inside out, who walks on his head)."

The Foreigner carries and puts the fearful question, he sees or foresees himself, he knows he is already put into question by the paternal and reasonable authority of the logos. The paternal authority of the logos gets ready to disarm him, to treat him as mad, and this at the very moment when his question, the question of the Foreigner, only seems to contest in order then to remind people of what ought to be obvious even to the blind!

That the Foreigner here figures, virtually, a parricide son, both blind and super-seeing, seeing in the blind place of the blind person—here is something that is not foreign to a certain Oedipus we will see crossing the border in a moment. For it will be a question of the arrival of Oedipus, this will be the question, from the arrival of this blind Foreigner leaning on Antigone—who sees for him. It is Oedipus, upon his arrival in the city, whom we will summon to appear when the time comes.

In the meantime, to stay a little bit longer with Plato, we could also have reread the Statesman. There again a Foreigner takes the initiative with the fearful, even intolerable question. The Foreigner is moreover warmly welcomed, apparently, he is given asylum, he has the right to hospitality; Socrates' first words, from the first sentence of the dialogue, are to thank Theodorus for having introduced him to Theaetetus, certainly, but also, at the same time, the Foreigner ("hama kai tes tou xenou"). And the question that the Foreigner will address to them to open this great debate, which will also be a great combat, is nothing less than the question of the statesman, of man as a political being. Better, the question of the political person, of the statesman, after the question of the sophist. For the dialogue the Statesman (Politicos) would come, in time and in logic, in the chrono-logic of Plato's oeuvre and discourse, after the Sophist. Now the Foreigner's leading question in the Statesman, after the question of the sophist, is just that—the question of the statesman. The Xenos says (258b): "Well then, after the sophist, it's the statesman (the political man, ton politikon andra) that we are going to have to seek out (diazètein). So tell me, should we classify him among those who know (ton epistemonon)?" Yes, replies the young Socrates, the other Socrates. The Foreigner concludes from this that it is therefore necessary to begin by distinguishing between forms of knowlege as we were doing, he says, when we studied the previous character, in other words the sophist.

Sometimes the foreigner is Socrates himself, Socrates the disturbing man of question and irony (which is to say, of question, another meaning of the word "irony"), the man of the midwifely question. Socrates himself has the characteristics of the foreigner, he represents, he figures the foreigner, he plays the foreigner he is not. In particular he does it in what is for us an extremely interesting scene—of which Henri Joly reminds us at the start of the fine posthumous book I recommended you read: La question des étrangers [The Question of Foreigners] (Paris: Vrin, 1992).

In The Apology of Socrates (17d), at the very beginning of his defense, Socrates addresses his fellow citizens and Athenian judges. He defends himself against the accusation of being a kind of sophist or skillful speaker. He announces that he is going to say what is right and true, certainly, against the liars who are accusing him, but without rhetorical elegance, without flowery use of language. He declares that he is "foreign" to the language of the courts, to the tribune of the tribunals: he doesn't know how to speak this courtroom language, this legal rhetoric of accusation, defense, and pleading; he doesn't have the skill, he is like a foreigner. (Among the serious problems we are dealing with here is that of the foreigner who, inept at speaking the language, always risks being without defense before the law of the country that welcomes or expels him; the foreigner is first of all foreign to the legal language in which the duty of hospitality is formulated, the right to asylum, its limits, norms, policing, etc. He has to ask for hospitality in a language which by definition is not his own, the one imposed on him by the master of the house, the host, the king, the lord, the authorities, the nation, the State, the father, etc. This personage imposes on him translation into their own language, and that's the first act of violence. 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? This is the paradox that we are going to see become clearer.)


Excerpted from OF HOSPITALITY by Anne Dufourmantelle Copyright © 2000 by Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Excerpted by permission of STANFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Jacques Derrida was Director of Studies at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris, and Professor of Humanities at the University of California, Irvine. Stanford has published eight of his books, most recently a joint publication of The Instant of My Death (Maurice Blanchot) and Demeure: Fiction and Testimony (Derrida). Anne Dufourmantelle is a philosopher and psychoanalyst in Paris and the author of La vocation prophétique de la philosophie.

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