On the Horizon of Hospitality

By Potter, Thea Madeleine | Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, January 2015 | Go to article overview

On the Horizon of Hospitality


Potter, Thea Madeleine, Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy


THROWING STONES

When Edward Said visited Lebanon he picked up and threw a stone across the border to Israel, for this act he was barred from attending certain institutions. During the French revolution it was stones, the humble cobble, that were thrown against the troops and piled high to form the barricades. Again, in England, during the suffragette movement women wrapped stones in paper, tied a string to them and threw them at public offices, drawing the string to retrieve them. During the Al-Aqsa intifada in Palestine it was an iconic image of a young boy throwing stones, later killed by the Israeli army, that attracted the attention of the international media. In a simple protest in Athens against education cuts in 2008, it was a youth throwing stones who was killed by police and caused a general revolt. In Egypt during the recent uprising it was stones that littered the streets even as the military was sending in tanks.

Must we be satisfied in agreeing with Blanqui that the stone is the principal article in urban battles because it is most ready to hand? (1) Or has the stone gathered this reputation for insurgency on account of history's momentum, resurfacing every time because of its presence in the former revolt? As Lacan said, perhaps the stone has become an object petit a for the revolutionaries. (2) For although we employ stones, crushing them down, piling them up, in the construction of buildings, roads and walls, here the stone, its content and form is in every way subordinated to the increasingly hostile environment we are building around us, blocking out strangers, ensuring swifter means of progress and limiting in every possible way the direct confrontation and interaction with our fellow men. And yet there is one place where the stone returns to its base material, and with it binds us in a direct relation with one another. That is, in insurrection.

But what if the symbolism of the stone is not limited to these more recent acts of historical insurrection? What if the stone itself already marks out our responsibility to struggle for what we know to be right? What if the stone actually stands as a testament to what we cannot see in the immediate world around us but recognize nonetheless as presenting a most substantial challenge to the status quo exactly because something has been missed, overlooked, or simply lost?

In the Ancient Athenian polis boundary stones proliferated. These stones can be identified from other stones by their inscription. They read HOPO[SIGMA]. The word horos ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) means 'landmark', 'boundary-stone', 'boundary', 'limit', 'term', 'definition', 'measure', 'rule', 'time', 'gravestone'. But that does not mean that horos ceases to be a simple stone, a stone that is simultaneously inscribed and described by the matter of language. Found in many contexts, from archaeology to philosophy, this word confounds any singular attempt to translate it or define it. It is at once the word for boundary and the name of the stone: a name that marks the distinction between word and matter. Although the horos marked a boundary, it was not for all that adamant. On the contrary, horos stood as a bond between one side and the other. It was meant to be read and therefore recognised as marking a boundary even though it never foreclosed the possibility of transgression. For in its stony presence, it always already raised the question of definition as a question of substance. Here we are working on the implicit hypothesis that words and things not only endure in a relation, but that the horos actually stands in for this relation as a boundary and limit, a point of division, simultaneously relating matter and language, the 'stone' with the word for 'boundary', and providing the very material basis for their distinctions. The word itself refuses its abstraction from the material dilemma of the boundary, or, to be more precise, it raises the problem of the difference between word and material by always remaining between them and bringing them into distinction. …

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