Hospitality and Its Other(s): The Animal in Derrida
Dr. David Clark
Monday December 19th, 2005
"Discourses as original as those of Heidegger and Levinas disrupt, of course, a certain traditional humanism. In spite of the differences separating them, they nonetheless remain profound humanisms to the extent that they do not sacrifice sacrifice." 1
“You know, I often use a quote from Rosenweig or even from Levinas which says that the “yes” is not a word like others, that even if you do not pronounce the word, there is a “yes” implicit in every language, even if you multiply the “no,” there is a “yes” … And then one day Heidegger said “yes, but there is something even more originary than questioning, than this piety of thinking,” and it is what he called zusage which means to acquiesce, to say “yes,” to affirm.”2
For me, and I would argue for Derrida too, the question of hospitality seems to be a question of saying this “yes.” This “yes” seems to speak to the promise and the potential of hospitality, the need that to be hospitable to the other, one must say “yes” to the other, one must be infinitely open to the other, one must surrender – “acquiesce” – to the other. This sense of surrender is difficult in regards to the fact that hospitality, at its core, always holds a kind of violence. If “I” am hospitable to “you” (for example), I perhaps am inhospitable to “her” (for example). Does this sense of hospitality, then, always speak a word about hostility as well? Derrida acknowledges this aporia definitively and repeatedly in his work on hospitality, in just one place he says, “there is also no hospitality without finitude, sovereignty can only be exercised by filtering, choosing, and thus by excluding and doing violence” (Of Hospitality 55). The aporia of hospitality is essential to the question of animals as well, a question I will address later in the course of this paper. Can "you" or "I" (for example) be hospitable to the animal other? Does hospitality have room for the animal? By hospitality’s very definition, it seems it should be able, though, also by that definition, the concept of hospitality does violence. Have animals been the “others” that have been infinitely excluded? And if so, should not, at least in theory, the animal be considered the other par excellence?
First, The Question of Hospitality
I want to dwell here on hospitality, the contradictions and possibilities of the concept, the difficulty of hospitality’s place. Derrida argues that “pure hospitality consists in leaving one’s house open to the unforeseeable arrival, which can be an intrusion, even a dangerous intrusion, liable even to cause harm” (For What Tomorrow 59). For me, this concept of hospitality is particularly interesting: keeping one’s house open to the “unforeseeable arrival” is twofold: one, we keep ourselves open to the other – we keep our door open – and in keeping this door open to the other, there is the always already foresee-ing of the unforeseeable because “the arrival of the other is always incalculable” (For What Tomorrow 58). Two: the arrival of the other is incalculable – unknowable, difficult, an intrusion above and upon and beyond all intrusions – the arrival of the other, if the other is infinitely distant from us (the one, the “subject”); this is where the concept of hospitality takes the other and moves it into its abrupt account. We open ourselves infinitely to the other even though the other is unknowable to us – this is where hospitality becomes difficult: we do not know what might occur in hospitality’s wake; this said, hospitality demands us to respond. How else could/can we account for the other’s abrupt intrusion into our lives, into my life or your life, for example (if we consider the absolute singularity of ourselves and the other) aside from a hospitality that accounts for an inherent hostility – “since unconditional hospitality can also have perverse effects” (For What Tomorrow 59)? Thus, the fact that hospitality is also inherently hostile is apt here, this aporia is hospitality’s paradox and crux; this is also perhaps the joy and the difficulty of the opening ourselves to the other or the friend.3
To continue this theorization of hospitality one can consider that hospitality is “one of the names for what is in question here: to welcome, in an inventive way … the one who or which comes into one’s home, and comes to oneself, inevitably, without invitation” (For What Tomorrow 59, my italics). It is this “without invitation” that is most interesting here for me, and what seems to speak to this ultimate gesture of the opening up in hospitality, so that when the other is not invited, he or she is still accepted by the “I.” If the concept of hospitality is understood and responded to, then the “I” must and still accepts the other: this is hospitality par excellence, unconditional or pure hospitality. Also, what can we make of this welcome in an inventive way? For me, this idea of the inventive welcome speaks to the spontaneity that must be inherent in the hospitable response, and the improvisation that must occur when one is called to be hospitable. For hospitality to be beheld, it must be a kind of stretch for there is no hospitality that is undemanding or comfortable. Just like pure forgiveness can only be a forgiveness of the unforgivable (and thus, in the end, unaccomplishable, a kind of madness, even though we must continually strive to reach it), hospitality is not hospitality unless we welcome beyond our desire to welcome, unless we open our houses, our borders, our selves, beyond our perceived or actual capacity or threshold to do so. To this end, Derrida argues,
Yes, what arises unforeseeably, what both calls upon and overwhelms my responsibility, the event, the coming of the one who or which comes but does not yet have a recognizable figure … That is what an event worthy of the name can and ought to be, an arrivance that would surprise me absolutely and to whom or for whom, to which or for which I could not, and may no longer, not respond – in a way that is as responsible as possible. (For What Tomorrow 52, my italics)
This sense of response is important for a concept of hospitality, for Derrida, for in hospitality, “it is necessary to begin by responding” (Adieu 24, italics in original). Thus, if we are called – by the other, by the ghost, by the animal – we must be exceedingly hospitable to this unforeseeableness by responding to it. And, by this logic, the one to whom we are responding, responds to us; there is a response – response circumstance playing itself out in concert, both the “I” and the “other” participate in some kind of relational response exchange – both the “I” and the “other” communicate in this exchange of hospitality, what I am preliminarily calling the response – response circumstance. I argue that Derrida offers us an entrance to an opening toward the animal as other, for example, as one possible other in his theorization of hospitality. To this end, he also offers us the animal in his theorization of “pure hospitality” – the animal as the one possible other who “unforeseeabl[y] arrive[s]” (59).4 5
Let us look further into what Derrida has to say about hospitality, the question of the response, and how these two concepts are intertwined, “there is no first yes, the yes is always a response … the response begins, the response commands. We must make the best of this aporia, into which we, finite and mortal, are thrown and without which there would be no promise of a path. It is necessary to begin by responding” (Adieu 24, italics in original). This welcoming of the Other in terms of hospitality, the welcome of the other must be understood as the response to the originary response of lack of the first “yes.” Let me refer again to the words from Derrida that form the epigraph of this paper – “the “yes” is not a word like others, that even if you do not pronounce the word, there is a “yes” implicit in every language, even if you multiply the “no,” there is a “yes”” (my italics). Yes! This thinking complicates ideas around what constitutes language and what constitutes a response. If I am responding to the response of the other in my gesture of hospitality – if “this welcome [is] even a gesture” (Adieu 25) – then this response to the other is the originary response, the “yes” implicit in all every language, regardless of whether or not any constitutable word has been uttered. In consequence, does the Other, then, have some power over the One, in the sense that the one being hospitable is the one in the position of the most discomfort, the position of being made to make the gesture of welcome, the one in the position of being “overwhelmed” with responsibility, the one called, in the end, to respond? If the other’s response is the beginning point – “It is necessary to begin by responding. There would thus be, in the beginning, no first word. The call is called only from the response” (Adieu 24) – then perhaps there is no first language. If in fact the “yes” in the call and response is implicit, not necessarily said, could not this originary response be the response of the animal, if we agree that the animal does not necessarily have human language? This not having human language calls into question what language is in the first place, and as even Derrida wonders, in his brief discussion of Alice in Wonderland, what language does the human have: “In any case, isn’t Alice’s incredibility rather incredible? She seems […] to believe that one can in fact discern and decide between a human “yes” and “no.” She seems confident that when if comes to man it is possible to guess whether yes or no” (“The Animal That Therefore I Am” 378). Thus, language, even for the human, is hardly as precise as it might seem. Perhaps, like in the epigraph of this paper, hospitality (in the sense that I am using this word) is a saying “yes,” but more than a saying “yes,” it is an affirmation without words, an originary acquiescence to the other, beyond the linguistic.
I will conclude this section with a final word here on Derrida’s treatment of the concept of hospitality, and will note how it links to the concept of (infinite) responsibility. Interestingly, Derrida says that hospitality, “for it to be what it “must” be … must not pay a debt, or be governed by a duty: it is gracious, and “must” not open itself to the guest [invited or visitor] … ‘out of duty’ … if I practice hospitality ‘out of duty,’ this hospitality … is no longer graciously offered beyond debt and economy” (Of Hospitality 83). Hospitality, then, needs to be not tied to capitalism, or getting something out of someone (or getting something out of the animal); it needs to be totally unencumbered, unconditional, the host eminently “open.” While, in the end, it seems like the host in the hospitality dynamic holds the power – the host, after all, does have the dwelling with which to offer the one seeking refuge – in fact, the one intruding upon the host, without invitation or even perhaps without language is the one most in power, “This other becomes a hostile subject, and I risk becoming their hostage” (Of Hospitality 55). Hospitality leaves the host extremely vulnerable; this is hospitality’s satisfaction and its threat. In another place, Derrida says this of responsibility, “The surplus of responsibility of which I was just speaking will never authorize any silence. I repeat: responsibility is excessive or it is not a responsibility” (“Eating Well” 286). Both concepts here – hospitality and responsibility – speak to the idea that for the concepts to do the work they are meant to do one must go above and beyond the call of “duty.” In hospitality, the host must be totally receptive to the other, the ‘host’ needs to be kept open to the incalculability (the unknowability) of the absolute other; in addition, just like in responsibility, one’s action must be excessive, one must go beyond what one would conventionally feel comfortable doing or being responsible for, how else could one act if one were to be acting responsibly? If one does not open oneself to the other hospitably, and without an eye to redress, how is that hospitality – the infinite opening without the notion of paying a debt? If one is comfortable in ones responsibility, it is not responsibility for Derrida. David Wood argues this around Derrida and the concept of responsibility, “It is not that we cannot yet sort out or calculate our responsibilities. Rather, to believe that we could do this would be to fail to grasp a responsibility that exceeds all calculation” (“Comment ne pas manger” 27). It is this excessiveness – this “exceeds” – this is important here. Responsibility, like hospitality, is abrupt and interruptive of any solid boundaries of the Self. Derrida argues, in a move that strives to get past the human, “[This beyond of the question] situates a responsibility as irreducible to and rebellious toward the traditional category of ‘subject.’ Such a vigil leads us to recognize the processes of differance, trace, iterability […] and so on. These are at work everywhere, which is to say, well beyond humanity” (“Eating Well” 274, my italics). It is this ‘beyond the human’ that is most interesting: Derrida theorizes responsibility in a way that includes and excludes the animal, just as it includes and excludes the human. For Derrida, responsibility is as excessive as it must be “singular”6 (“Eating Well” 276), and thus, we must encounter our experiences with hospitality and responsibility in the singular, and thus, outside of any interaction with generality in the human, or in the “animal in general” (“And Say the Animal Responded” 122). The concepts of hospitality and responsibility can be linked here as the concepts taken together do the work of interrogating Derrida’s overall schemata in terms of how hospitality and responsibility relate to what is to come, the animal.
And Next, The Animal in Regards to Hospitality
David Wood in his article called “Comment ne pas manger – Deconstruction and Humanism” argues the following on the animal, “We might be able to say here, as elsewhere, and with apologies to Voltaire, that if animals had not existed it would have been necessary to invent them” (19). Wood acknowledges the seemingly inevitable anthropocentrism of human/animal relations in that no matter what the case, “It is perhaps worth considering a wholly pessimistic verdict at this point – namely that anthropocentrism in some sense is logically unavoidable … The logically unavoidable sense is this: that any account we come up with in “our” relation to “animals” will be from “our” point of view” (20). I agree with Wood here, though I also wonder at the almost too implicit practicality of his statement. Wood, I think, also questions this practicality when he goes on to say, “The challenge, however, remains to construct a point of view that is not just “ours”” (20). While Wood suggests, pessimistically he admits, that perhaps this sense of anthropocentrism is unavoidable, he also suggests that there is room for the challenge of rethinking this logicality; he says this, but even beyond that, his italicization of “logically” suggests that he understands the aporia of the claim he is making, the sense that even while the binary between the human and the animal seems in some way traditionally intact, on the other hand, we need to realize that animals are “importantly different” from the human, and that this difference need not involve only “the judgements of animals as only partial realizations of the human ideal, as subhuman” (20). Thus, Wood gestures in the direction of Stephen W. Laycock in terms of his desire to regard the animal as animal, and not as subsidiary to, or necessarily in comparison to, the human. Laycock, in his article aptly titled, "The Animal as Animal: A Plea for Open Conceptuality," convincingly argues this in the context of our regard at the animal,
'What is it like to be a bat?' - what that is, is it like for the bat (not for us) to be a bat? - has, for us [the human], no answer. I want to reject both the realist assumption that there must be something it is like to be a bat (the bat's 'subjectivity') - even though it is inaccessible to us - and the idealist proposal that what it would be like for us to be a bat is what it is like for the bat to be a bat - the astonishingly audacious and human-centered presumption that human experience is the measure, not only of all things, all subjectivity, but of all forms of subjectivity as well. (271 italics in original)
Laycock is arguing for a subjective position for the animal as animal that gets outside of or around the presumption that human subjectivity is the only subjectivity that matters, or the only subjectivity that can actually hold subjectivity. Like Wood's argument, Laycock seems to be saying: We need other ways in which to examine the human/animal divide. Or perhaps, we need to keep the animal as animal, to realize that the animal has its own worldly experience, one that the human cannot necessarily definitively, or even for that matter preliminarily, understand.
Thus for Laycock, as for Wood, and I think as for Derrida as well, answering the question "What is it like to be a bat?" is part and parcel of "stopping [the animal] up with an answer … [this is] an anthropocentric imposition - indeed, the phallocentric insertion of an idealism intent on stopping the leaks in human cognition with the putty of our own substance" (271-2). Laycock's authoritative wordplay aside, he makes a good point, one I think Derrida is also trying to get at in his writings on the animal: We need to conceptualize the animal differently than we have been, we need to acknowledge the animal as singularly other, and thus we cannot only seek to understand the animal in contrast to or with the human. Derrida wants to work to dismiss this sense of the “animal in general,” and I think, too, the sense of the human being able to know the 'animal experience' (Derrida “And Say the Animal Responded” 122). What if this bat, for example, has a different experience from that bat, for example, or from that cat, for example? While Derrida might not conclusively achieve this, I suggest that he does begin to gesture in the direction of the animal having its own subjectivity and its own experience in his discussion of whether or not the animal can respond,7 and in his discussion of the animal and its ability to suffer ("The Animal That Therefore I Am" 396). Too, Derrida seems to be suggesting that the animal experience can only be singularly other, and that this singular otherness is what constitutes the animal and thus, constitutes whether or not the animal can be the (absolute incalculable) other in the face to face of, for example, hospitality or responsibility. Derrida asks the following question: "How can an animal look you in the face? That will be one of our concerns … For everything that I am about to confide in you no doubt comes back to asking you to respond to me, you, to me, reply to me concerning what it is to respond. If you can" (The Animal That Therefore I Am (More to Follow" 377, italics in original). It is this question of whether or not the animal can look at the human in the context of the face to face that is interesting here. Derrida playfully destabilizes the sense that the human has any ability to respond after all, or even, really, in the first instance in his blunt statement, "If you can" (377). Derrida also suggests that perhaps, in fact, the animal can and does respond. This calling into question response in general mimics Derrida's push towards a singularity in approaching the animal that, in the end, is the work of deconstructing the strength and hold of anthropocentrism and phallocentrism in traditional philosophy.
There is an implicit and constantly perceived otherness of the animal for Lacan in psychoanalysis, so that for Lacan, as for other philosophers – Heidegger, etc – what this means is that the animal is other, yes, but not the kind of other to whom we could be hospitable, or responsible. The animal, thus, for traditional philosophy is not the kind of other that "we" [the human] can meet in the face to face. Derrida argues this about the animal in Lacan, “the passage through the mirror according to Lacan forever immobilized the animal within the snare of the imaginary, depriving it of any access to the symbolic, that is to say the law and to whatever is proper to the human” (“And Say the Animal Responded?” 122, my italics). Thus, only imagined, or imaginative, the animal remains metaphorical and not literal, for Lacan. Too, for Lacan, the animal cannot have attributes proper to the human, the animal cannot be in the same sphere as the human. This imagined animal outside of literal experience for Lacan is much different for Derrida: Derrida's cat, for example, is a real cat, not a metaphorical or symbolic construction of an imaginary animal with which Derrida can work, "'it really was a kitten, after all'" ("The Animal That Therefore I Am" 376). This is one of the first gestures that Derrida makes that suggests that the animal as singularly other can be the other (of hospitality, of responsibility, in the face to face), for if the animal is real, if the animal might be able to respond (and Derrida suggests it might be able to), then perhaps the animal can regard the subject (look at, gaze at) in the originary instance in the contexts of hospitality and responsibility. Interestingly, power structures are inverted in Derrida's discussion of his own cat; this female feline (a double inversion, in terms of gender and animality) "looks at you without moving, just to see," while "stark naked" ("The Animal That Therefore I Am" 372), the cat gazing, taking in, regarding, responding to. In fact, Derrida's configuration of animal/human relationality here gets at an issue even more interesting: What if the animal is the original subject in the contexts of hospitality and responsibility, the "host" in the hospitality dynamic, the one who does the receiving of the other who arrives without invitation? What if, when hospitality turns hostile, the animal is the one taken hostage, the host overtaken by the visitor? What if, in the animal's looking at the human, the animal is the one engineering the "exceed[ing of] every dialogical relation between host and guest" (Adieu 63), rather than the one received or acted upon? What if the animal's gaze makes the human the one powerless? These questions are the kinds of questions Derrida expounds on in his theorization of the animal, of his animal in fact, his female cat.
Derrida also suggests that Lacan argues this about the animal, “in the most dogmatically traditional manner [that the animal] only permits reactions to stimuli and not responses to questions” (124, italics in original). Further, Derrida notes Lacan’s argument that, “When bees appear to ‘respond’ to a ‘message,’ they do not respond but react; they merely obey a fixed program, whereas the human subject responds to the other, to the question posed by the other … Lacan expressly contrasts reaction with response in conformity with his opposition between human and animal kingdom” (125). Interestingly, Derrida goes on to complicate response and reaction in conversation with Lacan. Derrida seems to want to ask: What if the human "response" is actually just as programmed as the animal "reaction"? What if human is reacting, and the animal responding?8 What if "we" [the human] cannot know exactly what constitutes the animal response or reaction? Who says we can? All of this is to say and establish the fact that the human and animal worlds have been traditionally separated and made into a hierarchy in both philosophy and the sciences: humans on top, animals below. What is most interesting here, though, is Derrida’s focus on the reaction and the response, and his desire, it seems, to dismantle the entrenchedness of this hierarchal dichotomous divide. Derrida wants to complicate this easily made distinction between man and animal, between response and reaction, “My hesitation concerns only the purity, the rigor, and the indivisibility of the frontier that separates – already with respect to ‘us humans’ – reaction from response; and as a consequence, especially the purity, rigor, and indivisibility of the concept of responsibility that ensues” ("And Say the Animal Responded" 127). Derrida argues here, in my estimation, for a move toward dissolving the strict boundary between the human and the animal in his dissolution – or his move to dissolve – the strict border between reaction and response; in renegotiating the reaction and response dividing line, Derrida renegotiates the very line between “the human in general and the animal in general” ("And Say the Animal Responded?" 128, italics in original). What is also important here is Derrida's focus on how reaction and response link with responsibility. David Clark argues in his, “On Being “the Last Kantian in Nazi Germany”: Dwelling With Animals After Levinas,” on rethinking human/animal relations, “radical possibilities can be opened up when the reach of the ethical question who is my neighbour? is widened to include non-human acquaintances” (54 italics in original). This ethical question speaks in the end to a responsibility where “animals and humans dwell and summon each other into responsibility” (Clark 54). This argument links to Derrida and his work on the animal, and, in the end, Derrida’s question of whether or not the animal can have a face. Clark here, similar to Derrida, gestures toward a positioning of the animal as equal or equivalent to the “I” of the subject.
Alternatively, having the animal remain oppressed in the human/animal dichotomous divide means that the human can get away with cruelty toward animals (even though Derrida is hesitant around this phrase), violence against animals, incorporation of the animal other (but not in the context of hospitality or responsibility), and/or eating the animal without concern for the animal or its singularity or subjectivity. This for me is particularly important: if Derrida is in fact doing this deconstructive work, he might in fact be saying that the animal can respond, that the animal can occupy the space of the other; this, too, works toward a link to hospitality and, in the end, toward a hospitable animality, an animalistic hospitality, a hospitality for the animal and of the animal, or toward a hospitality that includes animality in its estimation of absolute otherness, in its estimation of the animal as being able to occupy the position of the one who "unforeseeably arriv[es]" (For What Tomorrow 59) or the one who is in the position of receiving the one who unforeseeably arrives (the host). In the end, Derrida gestures toward a hospitable relationship between the human and the animal that works to counter the animal’s general “disavowal” in psychoanalysis, popular culture, and traditional philosophy. Derrida’s discussion of the “disavowal at the heart of all these discourses on the animal” (“And Say the Animal Responded?” 128) is a sort of accounting for these discourses and a work to counteract them (another aporia).
Derrida argues very succinctly in his "Violence Against Animals" that "The relations between humans and animals must change" (For What Tomorrow 64, italics in original). Derrida’s move around suggesting that the animal might be able to respond suggests a different conceptualization of responding in general, one that, I argue, speaks to the idea of this necessary change.9 If the animal can respond – and perhaps in the sense of the animal suffering ("The Animal That Therefore I Am” 396), or in the re-conceptualization of what a response is, it can, if the response can begin outside of language (Adieu 24) – then it seems to follow that the animal must be accepted hospitably as the absolute of absolute otherness, par excellence. The animal is part of the concept of hospitality whether or not that part involves the animal being received hospitably (in its intrusion, without invitation), or whether the animal is the one doing the receiving. What happens when the animal is received with hostility, even considering that the animal’s role in the hospitality dynamic has traditionally been one of violence or unfriendliness? Hostility remains an integral part of the concept and practice of hospitality; it is the underside of one’s being hospitable, the underside of the concept of hospitality in general. This established, Derrida's deconstruction of response suggests a more ethical, I think, approach to animal/human relations and theorizations, one that calls the human to be responsible for and to the animal, in the same complicated way that the human is called to responsibility in regards to other humans, and that for matter, in regards to ghosts.
To conclude, I want to bring up a question or two, and some thoughts. Derrida asks: “Must not this place of the Other be ahuman” (“And Say” 134)? Correspondingly I ask: Would not this ahuman necessarily include the animal? And thus, would not this other then be a part of the “otherness” that one accepts into one’s self by intrusion, without invitation, when one is being hospitable? If the absolute Other is the one who is most Other, should not that be the Other to whom or for which we should be the most hospitable? I contend that Derrida is working to collapse the very strict boundaries between the animal and the human; also, I argue that Derrida is working to de-hierarchalize the human (as the one in power) over the animal (as the one oppressed). Perhaps Derrida is suggesting that we are more like the animal than we think, “It is less a matter of asking whether one has the right to refuse the animal such and such a power … than of asking whether what calls itself human has the right to rigorously attribute to man … what he refuses the animal …” (“And Say” 137). The animal “other,” as a rule, has been rejected in any traditional philosophical conceptualization of hospitality; this said, Derrida seems to want to “sacrifice” ("Eating Well" 279) this rejection in his discussion of the animal other, in a push toward the ‘animal to come,’ an animal received and not unilaterally made into the kind of other that cannot be “Other.” For Derrida, “Whosoever says “I” or apprehends or poses him- or herself as an “I” is a living animal” (“The Animal” 417); it is in these turns of phrase that Derrida’s reader notices Derrida’s hospitality – and in the end his responsibility – for the animal other, par excellence.
Section Three: Conclusion: Are We, or Can We, Be Hospitable to Derrida? – Ask Christina about the articles she said she would forward me about this, this can be my concluding gesture and the overarching idea I have about Derrida and this course on Derrida, and in the end really, the futures of Derrida and deconstruction (we must be hospitable to him, and it, I will argue). “Responsibility is excessive or it is not a responsibility”, (“Eating Well” 286)
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