Random thoughts

Homelessness as ethical and aesthetic normativity

Shahram KhosraviBeing at home means belonging, but it also means constructing borders and excluding the other. Any kind of group identification constructs the social category of the other. Homes are primarily sites of exclusion, not inclusion. The notion of the home nourishes racism and xenophobia. The German Jewish philosopher Theodor Adorno, himself exiled by the Nazis, believed that ‘it is part of morality not to be at home in one’s home’ ….

It is only in homelessness that genuine hospitality becomes possible. Homelessness means not recognizing anywhere as home. […] Homelessness as a paradigm, as a way of being in the world, as a lifestyle, as ethical and aesthetic normativity opens the door to accepting the other as she is, not as we want her to be.

Shahram Khosravi, ‘Illegal Traveller’: An Auto-Ethnography of Borders; the reference is to the German Jewish philosopher Theodor Adorno’s work Minima Moralia.

These are radical words by someone who has himself experienced what it means to be homeless. Is Khosravi right that genuine hospitality is possible only in homelessness? It would be all too easy to take issue with this, arguing that it goes several steps too far.

However, looking at it from a Christian perspective, one is reminded of Paul’s words to the Philippians, who are told that ‘our citizenship is in heaven’ (Philippians 3:20). The letter of 1 Peter, in turn, is addressed ‘to God’s chosen strangers in the world of the diaspora’ (1 Peter 1:1), who are described as ‘immigrants and strangers in the world’ (2:11). Homelessness, indeed, was the chosen state of the one whom Christians profess to follow and who once said of himself that he had ‘no place to lay his head’ (Luke 9:58).

Khosravi’s are radical words indeed, but they need to be taken with utmost seriousness if we are concerned about genuine hospitality and accepting the ‘other’ as they are.

Art · Random thoughts

Giant Picnic

JR, Giant Picnic, 2017

On October 8, 2017, the anonymous installation artist known only as JR held a picnic at an enormous table constructed on both sides of the border fence that separates the Mexican city of Tecate from Tecate, California. He had painted the table with a pair of eyes, one positioned on either side of the border.

This communal act of radical hospitality came the month after President Donald Trump had provisionally rescinded the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood ­Arrivals) program that had allowed ‘Dreamers’, undocu­mented migrants who had entered the country as children, a path to US citizenship. As JR was organizing the picnic, Trump had renewed calls for a wall to be built along the Mexican border.

‘Hundreds of guests came from the United States and Mexico to share a meal together,’ wrote JR. ‘People gathered around the eyes of a Dreamer, eating the same food, sharing the same water, enjoying the same music (half of the band on each side). The wall was forgotten for a few moments.’ JR is known for his dramatic, epic-scale works of art, which he has installed in divided communities across the world. More of his work can be seen at jr-art.net.

From Plough no. 18 (Autumn 2018)

Random thoughts

What is sacred in democracy

MaaloufWhenever the political climate becomes racist, totalitarian or based on the notion of unity through community, the role of democrats everywhere is no longer to support the preferences of the majority but to see that the rights of the oppressed are respected, if necessary in the face of numerical superiority.

What is sacred in democracy is not mechanisms but values. What must be respected, absolutely and without concession, is the dignity of human beings – all human beings, men, women and children, whatever their beliefs or their colour, and whether they are many or few.

Amin Maalouf, On Identity

Random thoughts

Living in a place cluttered with our emptiness

Here are a couple of quotes from Luce Irigaray’s brilliant book Sharing the World.

The first one is a beautiful reminder of the gratuity of nature:

proxy.duckduckgoThe light of the stars, the music of the winds, the song of the birds … do not force us to do anything; rather they give assistance to our existence, put a surplus of life at our disposal, remind us of what or who we are.

I was also struck by her thoughts on the emptiness that clutters our place:

The place in which we live … is cluttered with our objects, our projections, our repetitions, our habits and tautologies. It is both enclosed and partly cluttered with our own emptiness.

The whole book is a gem, full of wisdom and insights, not least concerning how we (ought to) engage with the Other, wisdom and insights our contemporary Western world would do well to heed.

Random thoughts

Wisdom’s game

Commenting on Wisdom, which in Proverbs 8 is said to be playing in the world and before God at all times, Thomas Merton, in New Seeds of Contemplation, writes:

We do not have to go very far to catch echoes of that game, and of that dancing. When we are alone on a starlit night; when by chance we see the migrating birds in autumn descending on a grove of junipers to rest and eat; when we see children in a moment when they are really children; when we know love in our own hearts.

Random thoughts

Life is on our side

Albert Pinkham Ryder, Resurrection
Albert Pinkham Ryder, Resurrection

Life is on our side. The silence and the Cross of which we know are forces that cannot be defeated. In silence and suffering, in the heartbreaking effort to be honest in the midst of dishonesty (most of all our own dishonesty), in all these is victory. It is Christ in us who drives us through darkness to a light of which we have no conception and which can only be found by passing through apparent despair. Everything has to be tested. All relationships have to be tried. All loyalties have to pass through the fire. Much has to be lost. Much in us has to be killed, even much that is best in us. But Victory is certain. The Resurrection is the only light, and with that light there is no error.

Thomas Merton in a letter to Czeslaw Miłosz, as quoted in The Merton Journal 22.1 (2015)

Poetry · Random thoughts

My silence is my salvation

I enjoyed reading a fascinating article on silence in the poetry of Thomas Merton and T. S. Eliot (in The Merton Journal 22.1 [2015]). The author, Sonia Petisco, quotes Merton as follows:

My life is a listening, His is a speaking. My salvation is to hear and respond. For this my life has to be silent. Hence my silence is my salvation.

Also, these lines from Eliot’s poem ‘Little Gidding’ spoke to me:

… pentecostal fire
In the dark time of the year. Between melting and freezing
The soul’s sap quivers.

Petisco herself offers some interesting insights into Merton and Eliot’s work, noting, for instance, that ‘with their poetry they were implicitly hinting at the dethronement of man as the owner of Logos, so that things around us can recover their own speech and engage in a (sic!) honest dialogue beyond the objective/subjective dichotomy. … awakening in us a new sacramental awareness of the mystery of Life’.

And some brilliant lines from Eliot’s ‘East Coker’:

In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.

And from Merton’s Cables to the Ace:

Waste. Emptiness. Total poverty of the Creator: yet from this poverty springs everything. The waste is inexhaustible.

Eliot again, this time some well-known words from ‘Burnt Norton’. For, addressing the limitations of language, he is all too aware that his words:

… strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
will not stay still.

‘History’, Merton suggests in The Tower of Babel, is ‘going inevitably forward / by the misuse of words’. The current public discourse around refugees and asylum seekers comes to mind. What both, Merton and Eliot, are aiming for, Petisco suggests, is ‘a theology based on the regenerative Word of God as the only antidote to the word of fear ruling the contemporary world’. However, that word can’t be heard because there isn’t enough silence in the world. Again, what is needed is ‘a Word which decentralizes man as the owner of Reason, restoring the lost dialogue between “I” and the otherness’. And, with silence being the key, Merton prays:

Let me seek, then, the gift of silence, and poverty, and solitude, where everything I touch is turned into prayer: where the sky is my prayer, the birds are my prayer, the wind in the trees is my prayer, for God is all in all’.

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