Phenomenologies of the Stranger: Between Hostility and Hospitality

Phenomenologies of the Stranger: Between Hostility and Hospitality

Phenomenologies of the Stranger: Between Hostility and Hospitality

Phenomenologies of the Stranger: Between Hostility and Hospitality


What is strange? Or better, who is strange? When do we encounter the strange? We encounter strangers when we are not at home: when we are in a foreign land or a foreign part of our own land. From Freud to Lacan to Kristeva to Heidegger, the feeling of strangeness-das Unheimlichkeit-has marked our encounter with the other, even the other within our self. Most philosophical attempts to understand the role of the Stranger, human or transcendent, have been limited to standard epistemological problems of other minds, metaphysical substances, body/soul dualism and related issues of consciousness and cognition. This volume endeavors to take the question of hosting the stranger to the deeper level of embodied imagination and the senses (in the Greek sense of aisthesis). This volume plays host to a number of encounters with the strange. It asks such questions as: How does the embodied imagination relate to the Stranger in terms of hospitality or hostility (given the common root of hostis as both host and enemy)? How do we distinguish between projections of fear or fascination, leading to either violence or welcome? How do humans sensethe dimension of the strange and alien in different religions, arts, and cultures? How do the five physical senses relate to the spiritual senses, especially the famous sixthsense, as portals to an encounter with the Other? Is there a carnal perception of alterity, which would operate at an affective, prereflective, preconscious level? What exactly do embodied imaginariesof hospitality and hostility entail, and how do they operate in language, psychology, and social interrelations (including racism, xenophobia, and scapegoating)? And what, finally, are the topical implications of these questions for an ethics and practice of tolerance and peace?



What we desire, more than a season or weather, is the comfort
Of being strangers, at least to ourselves.

—Mark Strand

This volume plays host to a number of texts that serve as “phenomenologies of the stranger.” Who is the stranger? When and how does the stranger appear? And why does the question of the stranger matter so much, to philosophers and non-philosophers alike?

From the perspective of these authors situated in North America and Europe, responding to strangers matters a great deal. We belong to nations and cultures embroiled in debates about borders, immigration, and cultural assimilation. Our world calls on us to improve our capacity to respond responsibly: to learn to offer hospitality or to assess hostility.

So what exactly do we mean by “Stranger” ? The Stranger, as we understand it, is not identical with the “Other” or with the “Foreigner.” We shall use capitals to signal the three categories. These distinctions are facilitated somewhat in English by the fact that we have separate words for “stranger” and “foreigner,” whereas in many other languages there is but one: l’étranger, xenos, hostis, der Fremde, and so on. The three terms Other, Foreigner, and Stranger are similar at times, but they are not the same. They command precise and prudent readings. But such readings are performed at dawn or dusk, in half-light. Our inquiries are in demitones. Careful descriptions are called for. Among the three, the Stranger will be the focus of our hermeneutic study.

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