An Imaginary Library On Hospitality
How do we survive abroad? If we are given a place unquestioned, writes Jassem Hindi in his inventive essay
Editing, like curating, is at once an exercise in expertise and a personal choice. Elena Philipp, the editor of tanzraumberlin magazine, and myself, Astrid Kaminski, her freelance colleague, often exchange ideas about our choices and try to reflect our personal tastes to each other. In this issue, Elena offered me the possibility of parahosting a text. Considering this, I thought, "What could be more timely and fitting than asking the philosopher, author, performer and sound artist Jassem Hindi for his thoughts on hospitality?”. In his philosophy workshop "The Concept and the Idiot” at this year’s ImPulsTanz Festival in Vienna, Jassem mentioned what a vital role the concepts of hospitality play in his own practises along with those of fellow artists in Berlin – and how they have even proved to be a means of surviving. This statement really resonated with me, but without Elena’s invitation I would hardly have dared to ask him to expound on this – yet, I did just that. Here’s Jassem Hindi’s answer: an expression of his poetics of essayistic imagination introducing quotes from unwritten books.
As bits and pieces go, here are the gifts I made for you, in the form of excerpts. Hidden in here, and in fragments, is a definition of hospitality. Why hidden? Because hidden is where we rest. Because in this tale, hidden is where hospitality is. It is in fragments, always on the verge of breaking, of being interrupted. These aphorisms partake in a collective intuition around hospitality, as a textile more than a gesture, as a haunting more than a housing. Hospitality a possible strategy in order to survive as a stranger, as a marked name, in this town, or another.
"A quote is always a lie”
Arab proverb, supposedly
"And to endure otherness as a royalty placed on our bodies, and posited by others.
Those who have been vowed to otherness by otherness itself share a likeness with kings. They are the thaumaturgic powers of society. Their curse is to heal all others. They will be hated for that. But their bodies are nothing but laughter.”
Strangers and magic in the Middle East
"Secondly, hospitality is a landscape, not a custom. As Alice H. says about Gertrud Stein: ‘one does not need to empathize with a landscape, as it won’t guide you anywhere else: it’s there, you are welcome to it, but it’ll give you nothing but an invitation to enter.’ If hospitality behaves like a landscape, then it is also shaped by so many forces that it is impossible to let it rest upon a stable definition. Neither landscapes nor hospitality can be contained. Just like the sum of all that is known about a landscape cannot describe a landscape, the sum of all that is known about hospitality cannot define hospitality. It seems obvious that it doesn’t work to just add folk stories+geological facts+historical data and voilà, I give you Beyrouth, or Sommarøy. You can only navigate between various metaphors and condensations, without resting upon one defining point or the other. Just like a landscape, hospitality’s metaphorical power is too vast for anyone to rule over it, or to fully know it. Stein suggests that landscape/hospitality is nothing but an invitation to enter. This means that the land is a gesture. That Hospitality is a gesture. This means that there are no static laws of hospitality, that it is a dynamic practice and transformative field. And if hospitality is nothing but an invitation to enter, then it means that once hospitality has been initiated, once we have entered the landscape, anything can happen – think of Pasolini’s Teorema. Hospitality as a radical gesture is about hosting what is unknown, it is about giving place to the radically strange. We say: hospitality has a lot more to do with haunting than with hosting. Haunting is that which roams unseen and quiet upon the land, and signals that what is not here is moving us. This unseen that moves us marks hospitality. Hospitality is the political unconscious of the land. Watch how they host and you will know what haunts them.’’
A treaty on landscapes and hospitality
"I will refuse the euro-american obsession with cohesive thinking and I will find other ways to build my house of knowledge. A house built, so that others can come and visit, play, transform and die. A house that rose from the ground long before me and will stay standing long after I die. I welcome my death as a condition for a shared transmission of knowledge and for kindness to persist. For too long it was thought that a collective survival technique was to imitate the masters of the West, to pretend to be them, to talk and write like them. For nothing. We have gained nothing from this, but the pleasure to hear our bones crack. My bones. This is not the dialectic I will engage in. I will joyfully ignore my enemy and dance my way to death. There are no masters of the land. Only masters of the words. Only a power to name the land, quickly, furtively, which makes this poison of naming grow stronger and stronger – like blowing on dead embers, slowly but surely giving rise to the fiery master that will break our bones.”
Against our masters, an essay on oracle poetry
"They are confused, as our work in arab futurism is not about the future, but about the very fabric of time. A linear representation of time, as it is being imposed, is the most dangerous game. Defining what time is once and for all is the oldest trick in the book of the master. Ask Marx, or the sci-fi author Le Guin. ‘Encapsulate humans and plants and animals in time, and you will have them at your mercy’. We claim that maintaining a good life is associated with maintaining a multiplicity of definitions of time. How do we maintain effectively different representations of time in order to maintain a good life? By being the most discreet and most generous host to otherness. By practicing the most radical kind of hospitality to time.”
Time and hospitality
"In order to enslave them to your will and to your discourse, you must make them loose the very joy of their life: the art of telling stories, and their sense of humor.”
The art of laughing
"One historic racist cliché is the analysis which states that what separates western civilization (sometimes also just called ‘civilization’ for that matter) from others is a specific relation to truth. Placing rationalism on one side and confabulation on the other. The distinction once made by Claude Lévi-Strauss was: the engineer and the tinkerer. The engineer knows what he is doing beforehand, and the tinkerer just tinkers his way through life and objects, associating tooth of shark with petals of flower and skin of bear, hoping for a ‘result’ that is anything but incidental. The engineer, rather, operates following a coherent set of determined, repeatable operations, oriented towards a specific, repeatable result. If he fails, he can modify such or such moment in the operation, and the process is supposedly always transparent to him.
One possible way to circumvent this entire cliché distinction is to dismiss the entire distinction between rationalism and ‘magic’ as the mere struggle of a child to understand the world. Would we bother arguing with a child? The result of that conversation would most certainly lead us to our collective doom. Just ignore the child and keep working.”
My struggle with struggling monkeys
But hear, my last raging gift to you:
"We have not come here to take prisoners
But to surrender ever more deeply
to life and to joy.
We have not come into this exquisite world
to hold ourselves hostage from love
run my dear
that may not strengthen
your precious budding wings
run like hell my dear
from anyone likely
to put a sharp knife
into the sacred, tender vision
of your beautiful heart
we have a duty to befriend
those aspects of obedience
that stand outside our house
and shout to our reason:
‘O please O please come out and play’
For we have not come here to take prisoners
Or to confine our wondrous spirits
But to experience ever more deeply our divine courage.”
Hafez, mistranslated by El Hindi, mistranslated by another idiot before him
As Derrida used to put it, the foreigner comes to the house as a question. Stranger, the one to whom the question is addressed. What is your name, where are you from? The foreigner is the being-in-question. What then, is hospitality? It is the fact of giving place for the question to exist, simply, as a question. With no desire for an answer. To let it unfold quietly. There are many other ways to understand what lurks under this definition of the foreigner as a being-in-question. Darkness arises here, and for those of us who are strangers, darkness is never far. But hospitality is a revolutionary operation, where the foreigner, the being-in-question, the being-as-a-question, is hosted. The foreigner is given place, and the question they carry is given place. It is maintained as a question. And another darkness comes. A more peaceful one this time.
Berlin – Telemark 2018
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