Phenomenologies of the Stranger: Between Hostility and Hospitality

By Kascha Semonovitch; Richard Kearney | Go to book overview

15
Between Mourning and Magnetism
Derrida and Waldenfels on the Art of Hospitality

CHRISTOPHER YATES

My royal king Menelaus—welcome guests here,
sons of the great as well! Zeus can present us
times of joy and times of grief in turn …

—Homer, Odyssey IV

Plutarch recounts a scene in the life of the Athenian lawmaker Solon (sixth century BC), when another Greek sage, Anacharsis, has come to visit: “Anacharsis, coming to Athens, knocked at Solon’s door, and told him, that he, being a stranger, was come to be his guest, and contract a friendship with him; and Solon replying, ‘It is better to make friends at home,’ Anacharsis replied, ‘Then you that are at home make friendship with me.’ ”1 In his Les Misérables (1862), Victor Hugo describes the moment in which Jean Valjean, a convict, arrives unexpectedly at the home of Monseigneur Bienvenu, the bishop of Digne. After receiving his wayward guest, Bienvenu remarks:

This is not my house; it is Christ’s. It does not ask any guest his
name but whether he has an affliction. You are suffering; you are
hungry and thirsty; you are welcome. And don’t thank me; don’t
tell me that I am taking you into my house. This is the home of no
man, except the one who needs refuge. I tell you, a traveler, you are
more at home here than I; whatever is here is yours.2

In what follows, I will consider the manner in which two recent thinkers, Jacques Derrida and Bernhard Waldenfels, take up threshold scenes

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