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.

Poetry

Building home together

The only thing far away

In this country, Jamaica is not quite as far
as you might think. Walking through Peckham
in London, West Moss Road in Manchester,
you pass green and yellow shops
where tie-headwomen bargain over the price
of dasheen. And beside Jamaica is Spain
selling large yellow peppers, lemon to squeeze
onto chicken. Beside Spain is Pakistan, then Egypt,
Singapore, the world … here, strangers build home
together, flood the ports with curry and papayas;
in Peckham and on Moss Road, the place smells
of more than just patty or tandoori. It smells like
Mumbai, like Castries, like Princess Street, Jamaica.
Sometimes in this country, the only thing far away
is this country.

From Kei Miller’s collection of poetry, There Is an Anger that Moves