the joys of hospitality


Traditionally, hospitality seems to be caught between the upright pole of duty and the weight of a constraint: by imposing his presence, the stranger seems to embody an obligation which is more ancient than politics, and which thus acts to restrict both the scope of politics and the joys it can provide. A politics detached from this transcendent perspective cannot simply bury the obligation of hospitality under orgies of sharing: we must re-examine the experience of the welcome, identify its curious joys — which mirror its very constraints — and derive from it the ethical and anthropological norms which will give new meaning to the laws of hospitality.

"Hospitality is less about feeding a guest, more about restoring the desire for food by re-establishing it as a need, within a mode of life in which it is possible to say, and to be ready to hear someone else say, ’Now, let us not forget to eat’. A glorious expression." — Maurice Blanchot

In a world which has lost its magic, it is unlikely that the unknown or destitute guest who has just been welcomed will be unmasked as a vagabond king, an unrecognised god, or an angel bearing news. It is far more likely to be an unknown visitor who will forever remain almost completely unknown, or a beggar who will never be able to return the hospitality received today. It is not so easy to invoke the ancient "laws of hospitality" in our day to justify a hospitable action, inasmuch as those laws presupposed only two possible outcomes: either that the weary visage of the wanderer concealed the presence of some superhuman being, or that a symbolic alliance would be established or renewed with a guest who could be expected to be able to reciprocate in future. When the Phaeacians welcomed the ragged Odysseus, a king was revealed and an alliance proposed through marriage to Nausicaa. When Philemon and Baucis welcomed Zeus and Hermes disguised as beggars, a new alliance with the gods was formed, providing protection for their hosts. The ancient alliance between the Jews and their god was concluded in the valley of Mamre, when three strangers arrived and asked for hospitality from Abraham and Sarah: one of them was the Lord, who promised them a son (Genesis 18). The Christian tradition includes not only the parable of the good Samaritan but also the two occasions on which Jesus appeared in disguise to his disciples, once on the way to Emmaus and once on the road to Jerusalem: each time, he was taken in and fed before revealing himself and "opening their hearts" so that they could go and spread the word of the new alliance with god throughout the world.

Who can believe any more in these revelations pregnant with new alliances? Who can be moved by the notion that universal laws of hospitality govern the meeting with the Other, at whatever time or place? Strangers and vagabonds are no longer what they used to be, now that we inhabit a world without gods, kings, or angels, one in which the unknown are already well-known (for we know them already, those Arabs, Blacks, Jews, Chinese — it’s a well-known fact), a neo-liberal world in which contracts are concluded between individuals, not families or tribes.

But nonetheless we dream of that older world. And when we do, we dream not of laws nor even of pleasures, but of joys. When the gods fell silent, when the archaic laws of hospitality were forgotten, or replaced by a series of trivial, somewhat hypocritical arrangements, there still survived the dream of the ultimate joys of hospitality. It hardly needs to be said that these joys have nothing to do with the pleasures of hospitality, given that neither welcoming the stranger nor being welcomed by strangers is really a cause for celebration, but mostly an inconvenience for the one and the acquisition of an infinitely large debt for the other. So where do these joys come from? Is it from an ethical injunction? Or is their source a more ancient, anthropological one?

the joy of escaping the self: a return to the ethical

It was Lévinas who most radically highlighted the initial "violence" of the experience of the Other in recognising it as a "violation", a breaking into the recesses of one’s innermost personhood — an experience which could thus more accurately be called a "trial". The Other, as a being who is radically and definitively other, collides with me, expelling me violently from "my" world, that is to say both from all my knowledge of that world and from all the delight I take in the self-satisfaction I feel within my own small domain — my health, my household, my set of familiar landmarks and references. In this sense, the Other forces me violently and painfully to expose myself to him, to leave my womb of knowledge and delight — to "denucleate", as Lévinas says — and through this exposure I become as ready to take care of him as I once was to kill him, to tend his wounds before reflecting upon them, to give him precedence over myself — in short, to offer him hospitality. Lévinas cites both the Ten Commandments, "Thou shalt not kill", and the book of Isaiah (chapter 58), "deal thy bread to the hungry ... bring the poor that are cast out to thy house". But this is not merely the trace of the transcendence of an ancient religious law, for this transcending of another is in effect revealed through the immanence of a uniquely ethical encounter: it is at a point prior to all knowledge, whether acquired or revealed, that the Other forces everyone, whatever their culture and faith, to welcome him and accept responsibility for his fate.

Encountering the other thus reveals an absolutely binding law, the injunction to "take care of the other" which bears all of ethics along with it. But wherein resides the joy? And where the politics? The account seems to get off to a shaky start, for the joy of hospitality is manifested initially by way of an image of hospitable femininity, expressing joyful welcome. In Lévinas’ view it is in effect woman who expresses the joyous power of welcoming and caring, or more precisely the ability to transmute the pain or discomfort of the Other into the joy of sharing intimacy and the communal meal. In Totality and Infinity he writes that "the Other whose presence is also a subtle absence, and through whom the highest form of hospitable welcome, commensurate with the domain of the intimate, is achieved, is woman". But everything about such an experience appears at first sight to be intolerable. Woman in effect is reduced alternately to the lower sphere, as a maternal figure imprisoned in the private realm of the household, and to the upper, as merely a face (the erotic object of a caress), an upper sphere which is in reality simply another lower sphere — in short, to sexist clichés which would be shameful if they were not so ridiculous: the welcoming female world of intimacy, whispered secrets and surreptitious favours... The description is almost unreadable.

Nonetheless, when one looks at it more closely, her exemplary role in the experience of hospitality means that only woman is capable of a kind of joyful synthesis — one which combines the "haemorrhaging" opening of oneself to the Other with the management of the household, the extra-ordinariness of the encounter with the ordinary responsibilities of daily life, the Law that prescribes care with the care itself. In this sense she is the primary, in fact the only, concretely ethical being. Man, by contrast, confined to the public sphere and hence to the ethical realm in which he feels pain for the Other, turns out in reality to be incapable of taking care of anyone or saving them from dying. Lévinas is thus wrong to suppose that it is man who receives the Law from the face of the Other, in the sense of "thou shalt keep alive". On his own argument, only woman is capable of doing this, while man is confined to the letter of the Mosaic law, "thou shalt not kill". In other words, while the ethical man is not a bad guy (he does no harm to anyone), he is good for nothing, because he is trapped in the radical passivity which the Other forces upon him. All he can do is, in Kafka’s phrase, "attentively observe the spectacle of the destruction of the world before getting back to work" — although this spectacle pains him far more than it did Kafka. And in yet other words, without woman not only is there no more joy and no more caring, there is no more ethics at all, since ethics is only sustained by its immediately practical nature, prior to theory. The truth of Lévinas’ ethics thus resides not in the face or the Law, but in hospitality, and such an ethics can only be purely female.

In one sense this is what will sustain Lévinas himself, at least implicitly, by radicalising his thinking in Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence. In effect, not only man but all of Western philosophy, indeed all of Western culture, seems to have been swept away by an extraordinary feminisation: exposing oneself to the Other is the primary form of sensitivity, understood as feminine receptivity by everyone (even in a sense by god), a receptivity that is absolutely passive yet at the same time capable of asserting itself in the very act of receiving. From man alone there arises only a passivity deeper than all other passivity, from which no act can come into being. As a result, the moral man has only two options: to become woman and hence joyful, or to remain man and forever surrender himself to the Other, forever be his powerless hostage. This joy is what Lévinas calls "lightness", "breath", or "peace": the lightness of no longer needing to be oneself but existing exclusively because of and for the other, being the host who can substitute himself for his own guest; the dual action of breath or respiration, performed with no prior decision — inspiration, breathing in, from, and for the other, and expiration, breathing out again, proffering this gift until one’s dying breath; and the peace of ceasing to participate in the immanent order of war, not by opposing it with a radical refusal (which would still be a masculine, warlike attitude), but by being willing in advance to submit to the Other. This lightness, respiration, and peace thus effectively stand for a joy which is no longer pleasure or enjoyment, but indeed a painful joy, the joy of freeing myself from the stage of enjoyment, of adopting a desire for the proximity of the Other which surpasses all pleasure and hence eliminates the possibility that pleasure will be frustrated.

But when we come to try to understand how politics enters the picture, the problem immediately becomes complex in another way. It may even be undecidable, given that exposing oneself to the Other is supposed to take place prior to any initiation of action or any decision-making. It’s true that by looking at this in reverse one could identify a purely negative political ethic or a personal politics — that is, as the denunciation, more absolute and less equivocal than that offered by classical humanism, of every form of inhuman treatment of others. Sensitivity, understood as being exposed and vulnerable to the Other, may be a better refuge from barbarity than is autonomous reason, which is always capable of rationalising the worst action by appealing to some principle on which it is "better", always capable of justifying the unjustifiable, the atrocities inflicted upon the Other. Moreover, we can recognise the extent to which this ethical position forces us to abandon all our fantasies of security through and under Law, since Law fundamentally counteracts security, destroying as it does any sense of identity, any sense of being at home, any sense of being "within one’s rights". Faced with the Law of the Other I no longer know who I am, I no longer know where I am (as Lévinas says, I am "committed to being outside"), and only the Other can boast of being "within his/her rights". All in all, such a personal politics cannot function as a politics in the true sense of the term. Firstly, because the relationship of hospitality is a dual relationship with the Other, which involves only my responsibility as a subject confronted by him or her, whereas politics always presupposes justice, which is to say a third party, and in so doing presupposes the neutralisation of hospitality’s infinite demands. Secondly, because if hospitality is confined to this dual relationship, then the utopia Lévinas speaks of is not only a purely ethical one but can only be so insofar as it renounces the political realm. In particular, it cannot be hospitality in Scherer’s sense, that is, a utopia of the classical type, fully in tune with the entire human community. Politics is in effect always a politics of being and in being. But for Lévinas being always means war. From this perspective, to engage in ethical experience necessarily means giving up legislating for anyone except oneself, and indeed giving up legislating in any way, because it means simply passively adopting the Law of the Other, which is a unique and fleeting law, incommensurate with any legal system. And lastly, because the very vocabulary of so-called personal politics, a language of denunciation, accusation, condemnation, is repugnant to such an ethic of hospitality and absolutely incompatible with it. How can one welcome the Other "infinitely" — that is to say, in his or her irrevocable otherness — if in the very act of welcome one does not renounce accusations and indeed any form of judgement whatsoever?

The Lévinassian position thus brings to the fore a Law of hospitality which has its own kind of joy, although that joy is radically different both from pleasure and from Spinoza’s definition of gaudium as an increase of potency. In this sense it turns out to be profoundly explanatory both of our dreams of hospitality and of many of our interior rebellions — but it acts to strip the dream of its blessed unreality and to stamp out both rebellion and scandal, distancing the ethic of hospitality once and for all from any possible rephrasing in terms of knowledge or of politics. The experience of hospitality is fundamental, but it does not form the basis for anything else, and indeed it denies the very possibility of such a basis. It is radically lacking in hands, in weapons, and in concepts. In other words, to accept the Law of welcome of the Other is to abandon any claim to the status of legislator.

the joy of no longer living with oneself: a return to the symbolic order

The real problem posed by a Lévinassian analysis is not caused by the untranslatability of the moral Law of hospitality into political laws. On the contrary, its untranslatability is its strongest point. On the political level, it reminds the politicians that whatever laws they pass, the infinite obligation to welcome the Other, whoever that Other may be, will always exist, and will outweigh all of the apparently justified restrictions which politicians may try to apply to it. On the emotional level, it is when direct face-to-face hospitality is offered, when the beautiful queen welcomes the vagabond king (Nausicaa), when the warrior receives his enemy (Achilles and Priam, Theseus and Oedipus), when the good son takes in and protects the delinquent son (Minelli’s film Home from the Hill), that the purest joys, morally and erotically speaking — or, more exactly, the joys instantaneously cleansed of second thoughts, anticipation, jealousy, and resentment — are revealed. Rather, the real difficulty with our attempt to read Lévinassian ethics as an ethics of hospitality is at once phenomenological and anthropological.

Phenomenologically, Lévinas gets off too easily, perhaps as a result of the redefinition we have proposed here of his phenomenology of woman as "hospitality par excellence". If in fact we are correct in saying that the law of the face of the Other is the absolute law of hospitality, then it is too facile to position the hospitable woman radically outside the man who speaks but then to allow her hospitable figure to be represented through his discourse. It is worse than too facile: it is a phenomenological error. In reality, the proper approach would be to begin with the effective ethical relationship, the face-to-face, and then show that it is in itself an experience of hospitality. In other words, the starting-point ought to be the hospitality of the single individual, not of the wife and the family. Now at this level, what do we find? When the Other arrives, the single person is sometimes with others, sometimes in the kitchen, sometimes receiving guests and expecting (symbolic) gifts, sometimes preparing and serving the meal; sometimes he leads others with him into the kitchen, sometimes with absolute pleasure he leaves the Other alone in the dining room with his double. In other words, to welcome others in a truly ethical dimension is not to displace one’s subjectivity outside oneself; it is rather to split and reduplicate one’s subjectivity, to people it with virtual third parties, and thus to subjectivise and desubjectivise oneself and also to describe this dual process as taking place at once within and outside oneself. We should therefore not identify woman as external to man and joy as external to pain, in a lightness experienced in retrospect; from the start we should identify woman in man and man in woman, and from the start acknowledge that the joy of welcoming or succouring is equal in immediacy to the pain or discomfort of the Other. Moreover, we must from the start incorporate not only man and woman but the servant and the master, class relations, language difficulties, problems of differing tastes and culinary taboos — in short, the whole of culture and politics — into each person. For no hospitality can be offered by one person to another unless both agree to spread and extend themselves across all their imperfect knowledge of the self and of the other and of the whole society which has brought them together. In a sense, what has to happen is nothing less than a fundamental renunciation of the entire phenomenological paradigm: ethical phenomena only permit themselves to be grasped on an anthropological basis, which in turn can be grasped not in a "pure" sensibility but in an impure one, half-sincere, half-factitious, where the factitiousness is composed of predetermined affects produced by the joys and discomforts of collective hospitality.

From an anthropological point of view, in effect, this description of my relation to the Other as a face-to-face encounter in which my enjoyment must give way to the demands of the other is an even less accurate account of the real experience and literal joys of hospitality. Anthropologically, from the outset hospitality involves at least three participants (three in the meaning Lévinas gives to the word, that is, not in the sense of one and only one specific other but in the sense of two plus n where n is greater than zero: that is to say, as in the meaning he gives to justice). There is the one who welcomes, the one who is welcomed, and the one (not necessarily female) who makes the preparations for everyone. In Le Sens de l’hospitalité, Anne Gotman observes that whenever hospitality is enacted, there are essentially three things which can undermine it: madness, the guest’s repeated infraction of the laws of hospitality, understood as laws of the separation of the domestic sphere, and the disintegration of the host family.

More precisely, within this (at least) tripartite organisation, in reality everything begins to lose its balance. Initially what emerges is an immediately plural kind of joy, the joy of the guest, which is the only thing that makes it possible to combine the separate joys of the two who receive him ("Do you think he was pleased?") — that is, the joy of the host (pride, prestige, self-satisfaction) and the joy of the one who makes the preparations and who is often pleased to be thus protected from violence on the part of the other by the shield of domestic duties. Beyond this, there emerges a mediately plural joy: as soon as there are three individuals, there is room for everyone. Space opens up, neighbours and other friends can join in as well. It is not the transcendence of the Other but the immanence of the political community which frees me from the dubious plenitude of my insignificant self. And further, the joy which courses through the assembled party is not radically distinct from pleasure and enjoyment, but rather a joy which is mingled inseparably with pleasures, expectations of enjoyment, dreams of happiness (though not satisfied by any of them), and which moves back and forth ceaselessly from one to another. For it is an increase of enjoyment, not a decrease, that is heralded by the arrival of the invited guest, though this increase of enjoyment is quite unrelated to Lacan’s notion of "le plus de jouir", because it is experienced in the wide, external, communal realm, not in the oppressive little realm of one’s "lack of being". Think of children’s joy when guests arrive: there will be more to eat, more things to see, more things to learn. And finally, there is a far more effectual and more concretely peaceful sensation of freedom which all hosts experience: at bottom, ethical hospitality meant only a desire for freedom in peace, whereas collective hospitality realises this desire in action.

All the same, we should not congratulate ourselves with any sort of naïve optimism. The infernal character of the gift, of the most common forms of hospitality (that is, those involving third parties), is surely no more or less infernal than that of the "law of sacrifice" of the face of the Other which Lévinas speaks of. There is no guarantee that the collective forms of hospitality will produce more play and fewer obligations, less pain and more celebration. What is a tripartite welcome if not the planned exploitation of one by the other two, no matter how much they may change places with one another? What is an enforced celebration but a thinly disguised nightmare? What is a plurality of welcomes if not the strict surveillance of each person’s position? On the other hand, what does change is the nature of the joys in question: there is a transition from pure to impure joys, from the opposition of joy to pleasure, need, and interest to a complex interweaving of joy with pleasure, need, and the satisfaction of one’s own requirements. And the indirect consequence is that the very relationship with the laws of hospitality comes to be turned upside-down. Far from being based on a single Law (that of the face of the Other) which is so extreme that no political principles can be based on it, these laws acquire meaning as a result of being grasped in a manifest dispersal of codes. But such a dispersal must at some point bring up the question of what it is that structures it and for how long such a structure can continue to exist once it has been brought to a level of conscious explication. Only impure joys lead to political questions. Only immanent, implicit codes raise the truly political question of the value and the cost of making them explicit. In short, only acts of hospitality which are communal, and hence codified, lead — by and in their joys — to the question of how they are to be made explicit in the form of laws.

In this sense, the shared essence of hospitality requires a return not so much to ethics as to anthropology. More precisely, it requires a triple return: first a return to what might be called the anthropological intransigence of laws, their complete and totalising character, in which neither half-measures nor segmentation are possible. In The Gift, for example, Marcel Mauss writes: "Over a considerable period of time and in a considerable number of societies, men approached one another in a curious frame of mind, one of fear and exaggerated hostility and generosity that was equally exaggerated, but such traits only appear insane to our eyes. In all the societies that have immediately preceded our own, and still exist around us, and even in numerous customs extant in our popular morality, there is no middle way: one trusts completely, or one mistrusts completely; one lays down one’s arms and gives up magic, or one gives everything, from fleeting acts of hospitality to one’s daughters and one’s goods". From this perspective, the confusing expression "laws of hospitality" promptly regains all its force: laws exist because, as the whole of anthropology seems to remind us, not only do all the joys of hospitality arise out of and within the laws which preceded them and make them possible, but also because these laws carry with them all the dimensions of social life.

Next we have to return to anthropology by way of its source (this is true at least in the case of French anthropology), that is to say the idea that there is a "logic of man", a symbolic order through which something like a human essence can be grasped not as a moral Law but as a descriptive redundancy. In this sense, this symbolic order has to be made visible not at the moment when we recognise that it is a source of life and joy before it is a source of constraint and pain (as we have seen, this is in no way self-evident), but from the moment when it is transgressed, a transgression which leads to the undoing of social bonds themselves. In the conclusion to Elementary Structures of Kinship, Lévi-Strauss identifies this symbolic order not only in the prohibition of incest but in its more positive obverse, exogamy, and even more profoundly at a prior level, that of the fundamental need (common to linguistics, anthropology, and no doubt any system of signs) to communicate with strangers by exchanging signs and values with them — that is, in the absolute commandment that "thou shalt not live by thyself". One might almost think that although the laws governing the traffic in women constitute the most solid societal structure — that is, the most widespread and permanent one, that which fulfils the need for alliances by being integrated into laws of kinship — the most profound truth of this structure would be found in the laws of hospitality, while the more superficial and therefore most easily visible truth would be found within the joys of hospitality. The requirement that one not live by oneself, that one open one’s kinship relations to others, fundamentally precedes the modes of exchange which proceed in fact from this first law; it is expressed far more obviously through the ritual joys which seal every actual exchange. To put it more plainly, the joys of hospitality are perhaps simply the visible manifestation of the underlying laws of hospitality, which form the basis of the symbolic structure of the social bond.

Finally we must return to anthropology, on account of its intrinsically political character: when the focus is not the person who receives the guest, but the persons who receive, who are received, and who help to receive, within a political community, then the focus instantly becomes not only a whole society but also a comparison (adopted or introduced) drawn both between different societies and between different periods in the life of one society. Thus Anne Gotman closes Le Sens de l’hospitalité, her lengthy study of hospitality in France today, with a ghastly comparison with the condition of the Jews during the Vichy period, intended to show that "if hospitality is constructed, so is its opposite", and that it is so constructed by way of a long "sequence of political unravellings". The laws and experiences of hospitality shared by some are ultimately meaningful only insofar as they throw into relief the practices and laws of non-hospitality shared by others. The power of anthropology in this sense consists paradoxically in its continuing failure to expel from its foundations that element it has for so long sought to define itself against: the comparative. However relativistic it claims to be (and occasionally succeeds in being), anthropology not only allows but requires the making of comparisons. Now to compare is to be political, especially in the case of hospitality: there is more than one law of hospitality, and the distance between them is never politically neutral. In other words, to believe that it is possible to think of hospitality as an experience which can be purely local or completely universal is to fall into a trap from which only anthropology helps us escape. The focus on even "the most fleeting hospitality" involves not only the ways in which a plurality of laws within a given society is constituted (laws governing the family, alliances, the household, territory, and so on), but also the ways in which this plurality of laws is itself brought into a comparison with other pluralities of laws. When we are presented with a simple plurality, the temptation is always to reduce it to a single "societal whole", a "structure", and therefore to a single law. But when we are presented with a plurality of pluralities there is no escape route: we have to think of them in terms of a (conscious or unconscious) political choice. In other words, we do not choose the symbolic order through which the social bond is formed, but we always have to choose whether or not to exhibit the joys of hospitality through which we can experience the more fundamental laws on which they are based.

In this sense — and we do have to go this far — if anthropology can never tell us which "positive" laws of hospitality we should institute today, because none of them can be grasped except within the endless comparison of a plurality, it does nonetheless teach us at least three things. First, there can never be any just laws of hospitality, since these laws are at once too profound and too superficial, too multifarious and too fundamental: hospitality is a matter of practical negotiation before it becomes an individual experience. Second, even the possibility of these negotiations is only possible because of our capacity to compare one culture with another: one must begin by welcoming the Other, in his or her culture and his or her difference, before asking oneself how and how much to welcome him or her. Third, it is indisputable that the European Right is digging the grave of the symbolic order: by seeking to close borders it is cultivating the inhuman and fatal dream of "living by oneself", and the sole political counter-response to this is a symbolic order which can only manifest itself at the surface level by way of the uncertain, problematic, but shared joys of the coming of others or the journey towards others.

a politics of territory

Finally, it must be pointed out that there is surely little joy to be had in being hospitable or in accepting hospitality. These are always impoverished sorts of joy, the joys of children, joys confined within predetermined patterns of welcome. But in spite of everything, they are joys from which nothing more can be withdrawn, once their problematic impoverishment has been acknowledged. Our entire shared humanity rejoices in them, and in them alone, both on the moral and the anthropological plane.

Moreover, it is impossible to draw a sustained, strict parallel between the moral and the anthropological stance. For if the former is undeniably superior from an aesthetic perspective, at least in terms of the intensity of the joy experienced, the latter is clearly superior from the political point of view — not merely because true morality really forbids any accusatory stance, forbids us to treat anyone as a scoundrel, but also precisely because its joys refer not to laws but to a Law which, in its ineluctable immediacy, disallows politics — that is to say, disallows any comparison between any one public law of hospitality and any other. The relativism of politics does not derive from anthropological culturalism but from ethical radicalism. For if all cultures are in some sense equivalent, they are so only with reference to a shared need, the need not to live by oneself but to open up one’s local space to others. From this point of view we should go even further and maintain that political relativism or scepticism arises in reality as much from a-moral radicalism as it does from moral radicalism. The two operate symmetrically: they revolve around the axis of the individual, responsible or irresponsible, just when one should be thinking in terms of the family, the group, the neighbourhood; they think enjoyment in terms of the enclosed household or the family trap, just when one ought to be recognising that deep family structures are really a source of openness to the other, that the rules of kinship are often the rules for alliances between families.

In this regard. the thinking of Deleuze and Guattari is exemplary. Their concepts of "the territorial machine", "deterritorialisation ", and "reterritorialisation", of "smooth space" and "striated space", all thought on the basis of a Spinozistic notion of joy, gave them all they needed to think the experience of hospitality as a politics of territory and of joy, in place of and instead of an ethics of the Other. In particular, they showed in Anti-Oedipus how patterns of lineage, and hence the symbolic order which arises from them, are nothing but a "soft structure", overtaken on the one hand by the underlying laws of openness to the outside which underpin it and on the other by the unmediated practices of desire through which it is realised. Furthermore, they showed in A Thousand Plateaus that "visageity" is at bottom nothing more than a cultural phenomenon, that one’s relation to the face is less a question of ethics than one of perception, art, politics, and culture, and that hence the problem of hospitality is less a problem of the face-to-face encounter with others than a problem of political-anthropological multiplicity and of the distribution of that multiplicity across the territory. But they prefer to admire (in the final analysis) the joys of the nomad, of the worker without hearth or home, of the single person (however paranoid his or her condition), rather than the joys inherent in a welcome which is complicated, impure, always to some extent tied to kinship, yet which provides a more genuine political foundation than do the joys of nomadic detachment alone. Then suddenly they leave us without recourse when faced with their own — phenomenologically correct — description of the relation to others under capitalism, a relation in which the hyper- moralism of some people not only fails to counteract but actually nourishes the hyper-cynicism of others — who may be the same people .

By contrast, the anthropological perspective, even as unhappily savage as it is here, offers what is perhaps the simplest account: that the duty of hospitality is not initially a moral duty but a form of human behaviour. It is the most theoretically profound because it plays out in laws that are complex and never explicit, and it is the most practically immediate because it expresses itself through the most common and impoverished joys. It is at once the most universal and the most particular of all our behaviours, which is to say in many ways the most sublime of all. As a theory with immediate practical application, it perhaps provides the only non-relativistic foundation for any truly human politics — especially given the globalisation of humanity at the present moment.