Introduction

Volume 4 ~ 2011

On 'Hosting the Stranger'1

On January 14, 2009 Richard Kearney of Boston College and Gloriana Davenport of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology inaugurated a series of lectures at Boston College, several of which have been adapted for this collection, on the theme of 'hospitality.' They called their endeavor ‘The Guestbook Project.’2 As Professor Kearney mentioned on more than one occasion, this was a venture with risks, indeed a kind of Pascalian wager; for the guest, the stranger can bear the gift of death as easily as the gift of life. From its linguistic roots in hostis, which gestures simultaneously toward hostility and hospitality, to our contemporary world of suspicion, background checks, and war, hospitality, when offered to the stranger, to the other or the unknown, is frequently delivered (and sometimes received) only with a frown, or with strings attached, or behind a metal detector. Indeed in an important sense, on our planet seven billion strong, we have abandoned, at least ‘temporarily,’ the very project of hospitality. Instead of hosting the stranger we have opted for a different — if no less archaic — vision of community, a dark heaven of gated communities and nations, of dreams (and even realities) of electrified fences stretching hundreds and thousand of kilometers across boarders, out into space, from here to eternity.

So why try to be hospitable, why attempt even to discover or invent its possible language? Only to assuage our guilt? To essay the impossible? To alleviate our solitudes? The obscure and perhaps even dark reasons for this encounter matter less than the necessity of the activity. What is certain is that the other isn’t going away – she never left. As the essays, articles, poems, images and videos gathered here bear witness, the other, the foreigner, the stranger, is everywhere -- both intriguing and repulsive, frequently at the same time. Why won’t the dame à la licorne once and for all reveal her meaning to us? What is she hiding? How can our religious traditions both command hospitality to the stranger and tolerate, and at times even encourage, the demonization (or as in the cases of the Book of Kings and the French town of Loudun, maim and kill) those who don’t (or even do) worship the same God that we do? Why does poetry, the pride of our tongue, insist on making our own language strange to us? Could it be that the otherness of our own selves is the most welcome, the most terrifying of strangers? While the materials gathered here don’t present final answers to these questions, they do attempt to create a ground on which they can be asked, face to face.

— Thomas Epstein


Footnotes.

  1. After a several year hiatus New Arcadia Review returns with an act of hospitality and an expression of gratitude: to and for Richard Kearney, whose ongoing project, religiously ecumenical, philosophically pluralistic, politically engaged, far-flung geographically and more than open to the arts, inspires this gathering of spirits.
  2. For a full picture of the many activites associated with the project, please visit www.bc.edu/guestbookproject
  3. This special number of The New Arcadia Review has been co-edited by Thomas Epstein and Kascha Semonovitch.