HOSTILE HOSPITALITY: THE CHAIN-REACTION
I encountered it first in this, Anglo-Protestant, 'west.'
No one, where I come from, ever said that to me, rarely to anyone (notwithstanding being berated for giggling midst wake). We made fun of everything that can be put into words.
And we put every goddamn thing into words. Every. Goddamn. Thing.
Especially the “Goddamned” things.
So it struck me as an odd brutality, at first. When she snapped at me, for all to hear, with her “That’s not funny.” [full disclosure: I think it was a remark about a bunch of “alpha” guys being sodomized/raped.]
It stood out, this remark. And my first impression reflected this: I felt targeted, bullied.
After having spent a while here, in this new world-ordering of the (western) Church, I learned, the hard way, how Monotheist judgments can be repurposed so as to vivisect the ‘Self’ to infinity, far beyond the original Jewish God’s wildest dreams.
And, most importantly, Christianity’s ‘Guilt’ ghettoes these judgments to remain silent, sequestered, by order of the humblest of Lords, to fester/suffocate (within) the self, at most to be imparted to one’s children (I sometimes see here such horrifying scenes of moral discipline that, to me, they looks like straight-up child abuse; or at least child torture).
This dynamic happens all the time, and if you look to social media today you will see it coming froth (sic) in full bloom: for, against this common denominator of silent judgments, a vocal one is always a risk, always stands out, threatening to damage the judge’s purported ‘humility’. We think: well, given this background – which is Christian (and not ‘neutral’) – this breaking of the rules itself calls out to be judged by those who witness it. After all, it was a public setting. In time I learned that most "good people" here would judge silently and "cancel" silently. And if ever they are forced - by you or circumstance - to make it vocal, they will resent you on top of that. I understand their frustration. I wouldn't do a better job of it had I been in their place.
N.B. What we see today with "Cancel Culture" is not a scene of expression, but an obscene acting-out of this Christian pathology. That's what happens following a morality whose entire ethos is founded on the askesis of self-cancellation. Wholly accepting the chains or wholly rejecting/vilifying them are of a similar ethical violence.
But the judgment is based on Guilt; and guilt, as Nietzsche showed, was always debt-based, always calculating. "Can this infraction be judged?" You weigh it out: on the one hand the “showing-up” of someone in public as a sinner; and on the other hand there’s the sinner’s sin...
What can my ‘Self’ afford Guilt-wise? THAT is the 'moral' question. For surely if I had murdered or raped someone such vocal judgment would be at least justified, if not necessary (pace the old rule of never yelling "Rape!" if you're raped, but "Fire!" (a point to whoever can guess which "culture" had (to have) thought it up). On the one hand I have a ‘Self’ that did not protect a person from public scolding/humiliation; but, on the other hand, there’s a ‘Self’ that treats rape as if it were not an untouchable, Absolute Evil. Something that can be laughing material.
N.B. Did you know that, as far as humor is concerned, Jews and Antisemites share an intimate space, just the two of them? Jokes about Jewish filth, about Jewish greed, about Jewish ugliness, perversions, OCD, Jewish smartass-ness and unpatriotic cowardliness, jokes of Jews being persecuted, tortured, burned, made into soap -- all those are part of a proud (yes, proud) Jewish tradition: mediating pain through words and laughter (and vice versa). Of course, the antisemites were asserting these pains as symbols (rather than words/signs), but hey, as Scholem once remarked, at least it's an ex-pression. (Cf. Theodor Reik's Jewish Wit).
So, against this “cultural background”, her response stood out; and she knew it would, and yet proceeded to risk it anyway – being an upstanding moral person (and I am NOT saying this facetiously – I like this woman). For, the underlying message of this expression, within this western context, was that “I am justified in my judging, potentially harmful, reaction against you.”
In all honesty, for I also live and breathe the same contextual poisons, it struck me as brutal, if not exploitative. This "I am openly hostile, but only concerning the suffering of others" shtick was suspect to me: it seemed like she was using me to feel good about herself, to feel moral, with the added bonus of letting out a bit of that good ol' justified aggression. Perhaps even breathe a bit of that sweet lynching air this society seems to miss so, so much (e.g. SJUs).
Because everything goes back to darkness after that: the judgments go back to being silent, diverted inwards as they have been at least since Saint Paul, and you’re left with that good ol’ negative speculation about being judged by others; which, in this place, meant judged in a way you can never directly address (unless you can get her crime to “outweigh” yours, and even then, it’s only an incomplete maybe). It's enough to drive one mad, or to perform some kind of self-lobotomy (the poor sods I meet here are usually the hapless victims of the second; those that cut off the organs that make them question what Professor Charles Taylor (ahm) called "moral ontology").
(With early Judaism, where there was only text and its hermeneutics for ethical conduct, this problem of infinite speculative vivisection of the 'Self' did not even think to appear.)
AND YET, her gesture did stand out. The Christian silent void of judgment was her context too, and she herself had to contend with the retaliations, within herself, of its infinite-moral-vivisection machine. Not to mention those of her "friends".
This took me time to realize. Everything I wrote above was only felt, but not known to me back then. How could it? All the good Christians around here are bound to the “judge not”, at least in facade. “There shall be a Christian and universal peace […]”.
And so, the more aware I became of this invisible judgment machine the more I appreciated that gesture. Or, at the very least, made me able to sympathize with her; a sympathy that, with more reflection, became gratitude.
Since laughing, by definition, cannot be fully "pre-programmed", I knew that she had to go through a process of internalizing this chain that she snapped towards me, cohering it with what she knows and thinks about the world and its "chainless" people. If she has enough pride to not wish to think of herself as a slave – which fortunately she did (and still does) – she will have been motivated to adopt it as an identity. It is the best moral spine a slave could ask for, since it assures itself the only way it knows how – by external forces (mirrored as internal, they follow the image, the imprint, of the forces she is a slave to).
If she felt something of the foreignness of this force compared to the intimate immanence of laughter, she no longer feels it. She is habituated to it like I am to my right hand.
For it is this foreignness-of-force that she conveyed to me, that she touched me with.
The slave, habituated to her chains, may become identified with them. And yet, this identification is never as total as the chains seem to assert. What this slave did, in our case, was use her chains to "tell" me of this undefined difference, creating a ripple on a line she cannot cross.
It is the small "play" between her and the chains - which is not exactly "freedom" and not exactly servitude - that allowed her to make this gesture in the first place.
N.B. Perhaps we can rethink the Christian flagellants in this light; punishing themselves for the very "play" that enables the whipping, for not being good enough slaves to God, for not having humiliated themselves enough (a "by what right do I mind the pain?" logic).
I consider it, after time and reflection, a gesture of hospitality. Hers was not an attempt at conditioning me, or enclosing me in the same prison – for somewhere the slave knows that this rule was imposed and not innate, that it is a chain adopted as an organ, and that she is a slave to it (i.e. not having written it, nor having no power to enforce it). This would have more likely been the case if I were her child; but we both knew (and were grateful) I was not.
That was hospitality. Those silent "judgers", those that judge and then judge themselves for judging – thinking that this is in some way “This is the right thing to (not) do” – they were the violent ones to my non-Christian eyes. Unlike what one may think, due to the Christianized mumbo-jumbo of "acceptance" and "toleration of the Other" (which historically is a precursor to some form of mass-violence), theirs was a refusal of hospitality par excellence. Their abysses do not speak, they only mutely swallow or annihilate. The "cancel".
But her, having no power over me, recognizing I was unbound by these chains - she chose to give me a gift. Perhaps because a dormant sense of pride was awakened in her. And I am positive that, at that little moment, she even felt a kind of freedom; what Levinas would call a “difficult freedom.”
An abyss is invoked here, provoked – made to speak. It is not polite, and not feel-good, and easily attributable to some moral trait; reprehensible (as it was by me), or other.
And this is precisely where morality departs from what I call here Ethics. Where morality, as Levinas once wrote, makes of us its "dupes".
For, ethically, it was a quintessential act of hospitality. It acknowledged the hostility, and communicated it, in a way that was non-annihilatory, that had a future.
And this post is part of that future.
For a methodological conclusion, await Part III…
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