12 December 2012

Author Judith Barry

This Right of Hospitality as vested in strangers arriving in another State, does not extend further than the conditions of the possibility of entering into social intercourse with the inhabitants of the country. In this way distant continents may enter into peaceful relations with each other. These may at last become publicly regulated by law, and thus the human race may be always brought nearer to a Cosmo-political Constitution.
Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch, Immanuel Kant, (1795), from Principles of Politics, trans. W. Hastie (Edinburgh: Clark, 1891).
See perpetualpeaceproject.org

When you think about hospitality, or 'the unexpected guest', do you think about peace?

Probably not. Yet the concept of hospitality is at the core of the Kant's canonical text. Could Kant's text on perpetual peace be a form of 'Radical Hospitality'? Written in 1795 at a moment when Kant was considering the formation of the nation-state and its juridical reach, this text seems oddly prescient, as many of the issues Kant was addressing are even more relevant today. How might we consider immigration, migration, and refugee status in relation to questions of citizenship and the reach of the state during times of continuous civil war?  His text also raises questions for artists participating in international exhibitions as in its 'euro-centric vision' it speaks to the complicated relationships that artists have within their host communities as they resist, and simultaneously invite, categorization alongside many other groups of people not endowed with the mantle of 'artist': the other strangers, unexpected guests, guest workers, migrant workers, immigrants, refugees, state-less citizens, and those without a state. But to artists, hospitality has already been offered, and we have crossed that invisible border, the 'border in the mind' of our host. How can or should we make use of our special status as artists?

Kant's essay on perpetual peace was recently the centerpiece of a collaborative project between several institutions including Slought Foundation, Syracuse University Humanities Center, European Union National Institutes of Culture, International Peace Institute, and United Nations University. As discussed on their website, the aim was to use Kant's text to launch a series of discussions about the possibilities of peace which would take different forms including exhibitions, films, lectures, symposia, conversations, newspapers, blogs, and so on, and which would extend long after their last events had been staged. Hence, my interest in presenting this project here at the Liverpool Biennial.

On their site you will find the group's discussion of Kant's text, a down-loadable version of his entire text, and a series of video extracts from longer video interviews made in collaboration with writers, philosophers, and activists who consider Kant's text from the vantage point of the present --- all of which have a great deal to say about the notion of a 'radical hospitality' today.

Kant's text begins with the title, The Perpetual Peace and he continues, "Whether this satirical inscription on a Dutch innkeeper's sign upon which a burial ground was painted had for its object mankind in general, or the rulers of states in particular, who are insatiable of war, or merely the philosophers who dream this sweet dream, it is not for us to decide. But one condition the author of this essay wishes to lay down. The practical politician assumes the attitude of looking down with great self-satisfaction on the political theorist as a pedant whose empty ideas in no way threaten the security of the state, inasmuch as the state must proceed on empirical principles; so the theorist is allowed to play his game without interference from the worldly-wise statesman."

Reading Kant's text again, I am reminded that even in 1795, the idea of perpetual peace had to be presented somewhat ironically with the philosopher already conceived as separated from the state. Frederic Jameson's 'negative utopianism', discussed in Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions,
as potentially transforming our own present into the determinant past of something yet to come is also a possible interpretation of Kant's text especially in regards to the rights of refugees and citizenship. That said, a more useful approach might be to consider how Kant's ideas about hospitality have been discussed in contemporary philosophy. Jacques Derrida explicitly takes up the notion of hospitality as an 'interruption of the self',
a theme that is also echoed in several of the video interviews.

For Derrida, culture itself is hospitality and governs all human interactions, and as such operates above and outside the juridical. Derrida explores this concept in both On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness, and earlier in, Of Hospitality. As Mark Westmoreland discusses, "Absolute hospitality can only exist as unlimited, as not being within the parameters of laws and concepts. The conditions for such hospitality are both the conditions for its possibility and its impossibility…. A new arrival or guest stands at the door, at the border, and is welcomed inside without condition…. For Derrida, 'we thus enter [the house] from the inside: the master of the house is at home, but nonetheless he comes to enter his home through the guest -who comes from outside.'"  At that instant of welcoming the guest, the self is suspended.

This interrupted self as described by Derrida, this master, who in the act of welcoming the guest, also interrupts his mastery of his domain, and simultaneously allows for both possibilities and impossibilities alongside of any attendant consequences to be present in the moment where the relationship between the guest and the master is unclear, is the enactment of the form of radical hospitality. Further, and as Derrida points out, this notion was always implied within Kant's initial concept of hospitality. The master is suddenly a guest in his own home. Remembering this is perhaps one answer to the question I asked above about how we as artists might make use of our special status -
as we often embody both of these roles - that of the guest as well as that of the master.

Below are some highlights from the videos.

Achille Mbembe

"Kant's notion of hospitality is the cornerstone of imagining a cosmo-political constitution in which the stranger epitomes the nature of the relationship. The stranger, not an enemy, yet not a citizen, underscores the tension between the right to hospitality qualified by the need to obey the rules of the state. A radical hospitality would translate [this] into the right to citizenship where ever we happen to be."

Helene Cixous

"Every human being is entitled to dream of peace… Perpetual Peace was an action on Kant's part to remind and reactive the desire for peace. The idea of peace may be an ideal, a dream that is beyond the ordinary limits of human achievement, but if we did not have this dream we would [need to] repeat, recede, and regress…Desire is the real power of humanity and all these dreams and hopes make for a second reality… Democracy, like peace itself, is a 'dream world' where we have to work, insist, repeat, invent and never give up our efforts to change and improve."

Greg Lambert

"In recognizing the irony in Kant's text on Perpetual Peace, as death, and, as next to a grave yard, Kant also notes that the image of peace is the practice of hospitality itself… and that peace must always be qualified [thought about] as a living thing."

Jean-Marc Coicaud

"Kant's proposal for Perpetual Peace is both a practical manual and an imaginative treatise in which error and failure are allowable. Nation-states must be at peace internally before they can be at peace with other nations. For the diplomat today, on a purely practical level, error is lethal [and not allowable], and [this] inhibits philosophical inquiry."

Gérard Araud

"The world has become less hierarchical as the social order has been replaced by a kind of individualism that resists giving authority [over] to any other [individual or other authority], hence it is often difficult to know whose interests are really being represented."

Saskia Sassen

"We must move beyond popular terms such as hospitality and globalization, whose ubiquity inhibits clarity of thought. The concept of the cosmopolitan citizen comes from Kant's Perpetual Peace Project as does the longing for a universal citizen and a culture that might transcend specific issues. Yet today, individuals are often caught up in local differences, divisions, and fights. Yet, these informal networks of individuals also constitute a conscience, a political commitment, and a global social movement."

Edward Luck

"Nation-states have a responsibility to protect people within their borders regardless of nationality.... If Africans landing on Italian beaches deserve the same degree of hospitality and human rights as Italian citizens, then a radical re-conceptualization of nation-state sovereignty is required…. as well as what it means to be a citizen."

Boris Groys

"The figure of the philosopher has no role in the nation-state. Kant's acknowledgement of this reality, in which practitioners do not consider the maxims of philosophers at all, led him to redefine the role of the philosopher altogether…. After Perpetual Peace was published, Kant envisions, a philosophical discourse as a neutral space of conversation about peace and conflict… one in which the philosopher speaks from a kind of intra-national or immaterial space of critique."

Richard Sennett

"The first image Kant provides is of a public inn, and throughout his text Kant engages the idea of a public right to hospitality." In his remarks Sennett reflects on his experiences as a student of the philosopher Hannah Arendt and her suspicions about Kant's political philosophy as well as her interest in this text. He proposes that we, "…think of perpetual peace not on the level of the nation-state, but rather with regard to our individual circumstances."

Thomas Stelzer

"The United Nations is the only global institution where 192 nations can sit together and come to consensus about matters of international concern."  He notes that the cost of stationing one US soldier in an Afghan village, at roughly $1 million  per year, could be used to finance the well-being of that entire village for a lifetime. Such a re-allocation of priorities and resources would be a much more effective way to facilitate sustainable peace.

Rosi Braidotti 

"There is a euro-centric idea of cosmopolitanism in the history of philosophy, as well as resistance to Kant's work within French philosophy. These 'anti-Kantian' developments have detracted from the actual value of his text." She argues that the spirit of cosmopolitanism lends itself to what we negatively today think of as a multicultural society, and which so many populist [conservative] parties in Europe and elsewhere are turning against. 

Peter Szendy

"Kant was interested in how ideas produce effects, and suggested that ideas such as peace do things simply by being said, and that these effects cannot be controlled by attempts to determine their program in advance or calculate their effects…. Peace is always beginning in the here and now, in everyday life, and, as soon as we begin talking, agreeing, and disagreeing. Peace is already underway and always at stake in these discussions which constitute a proto-political way of talking about peace."

Thanks to Ken Saylor for bringing Jacque Derrida's work on hospitality to my attention.