Thoughts from a Forest of Fallen Trees : The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly Side of Existence

(If a philosopher falls in the forest who really cares?) Critical Theory, Deconstruction, Ethics, Religion and other such Things.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Kristeva's Eurocentrism

Stop- sufferer, stranger, you must not trespass!...
Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus


How to understand the foreigner, the alien and outsider in our time is both a political and ethical question. How various states and traditions have dealt with the foreigner is the focus of Kristeva's book Strangers to Ourselves. In Strangers to Ourselves, Kristeva advocates an ethic of cosmopolitanism and a recognition of the foreigner, both in the other and in ourselves.
In what follows, we will examine Kristeva's appropriation of cosmopolitanism and her critique of nationalism from the framework of the Biblical, Enlightenment and Psychoanalytic traditions. The first section addresses the general question of the history of cosmopolitanism. Here we will focus upon Kristeva's discussion of biblical cosmopolitanism, Pauline ecclessia, Augustinian caritas and stoic oikeiosis.
The second section extends the discussion of cosmopolitanism by shifting to the landscape of political cosmopolitanism via the insights of the enlightenment tradition. Kant and Montesquieu will be the focus of our concern and a distinction will be drawn between Volkgeist and esprit général. It is here that Kristeva's critique of nationalism is centered.
The third section shifts the analysis to examine what could be called a psychoanalytical cosmopolitanism. Most of this section is devoted to Freud's notion of the Unheimliche, that allows us to detect the foreignness in ourselves.
The fourth section will focus upon the practical implications of Kristeva's theories. I shall argue that Kristeva's overall position can be described as a Cosmopolitan Nationalism that embraces a Eurocentrism.

Preparatory Analysis:
A History of Cosmopolitanism

The old man went away, but returned at once and offered Zarathustra bread and wine... Whoever knocks at my door must take what I offer him. Eat, and fare you well.
Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, "Zarathustra's Prologue"

Kristeva selects various moments in the history of our civilization and argues that an ethic of cosmopolitanism can be seen in the pronouncements of the Old Testament Prophets, the Pauline ecclesia in which a community of foreigners emerges, the Augustinian notion of caritas which emphasized the union of stranger with stranger and in the Stoics concept of oikeiosis, or universal conciliation.

Biblical universalism

Kristeva examines the Old Testament and the Talmud where she locates a "biblical universalism" . Kristeva cites the following passages:

You must not molest the stranger or oppress him, for you lived as strangers in the land of Egypt.

If a stranger lives with you in your land, do not molest him. You must count him as one your countrymen and love him as yourself.

Kristeva is impressed by the universalism of the prophets from Amos to Jeremiah who asserted that "all mankind is respectable in its intrinsic dignity". The poor, widows, orphans and strangers are treated with equal justice. Kristeva cites the Book of Job:

If ever I have infringed the rights of slave or maidservants in legal actions against me-what shall I do when God stands up ? What shall I say when he holds his assize ? They, no less than I were created in the womb, by the one same God who shaped us within our mothers....No stranger ever had to sleep outside, my door was always open to the traveller.

Kristeva argues that "in the spirit of Judaism, the complete integration of the foreigner in the Jewish community is the counterpart of the idea of the "chosen people". Being chosen is "accessible to any individual, at any given moment".

Ecclessia and the community of foreigners

According to Kristeva St. Paul adapted the word of the Gospels to the Greek world. In bringing the word to the Greeks, St. Paul formed a ecclessia or "a community of those who were different, of foreigners who transcended nationalities by means of faith in the Body of the risen Christ". The ecclessia challenged the political structures of the Greco-Roman world. The framework of the ecclessia challenged the foundations of the polis by creating " a new alliance cutting across the political community", while at the same time, inheriting, the "cosmopolitanism specific of late Hellenism". According to Kristeva, the Pauline Church " emerged as a community of foreigners, first from the periphery, then from the Greco-Roman citadel, united by a statement that challenged the national and political structure". In his Letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes:

Do not forget, then, that there was a time when you who were had no Christ and were excluded from membership of Israel, aliens with no part in the covenants with their Promise, you were immersed in this world, without hope and without God. But now in Christ Jesus, you that used to be so far apart from us have been brought very close, by the blood of Christ... So you are no longer aliens or foreign visitors: you are citizens like all the saints, and part of God's household.

For Paul, the member of the ecclesia was no longer a xenoi kai paroikoi ( an alien or foreign visitor), no longer Greek or Jew, but a new creation. As Kristeva argues

Ecclesia conflicts with the Greek word laos (people). Of course, pagan ethnic groups and nations were already distinct from the people. What mattered to Paul, however, was a new opposition: the nations and the people refashioned so as to constitute an original identity: the Church. The well known messianism of the Jews was changed into a messianism that includes all of humankind.

This messianism culminates in the figure of Jesus, who is not of this world. In this account, the foreigner would identify with Jesus who defines himself as a stranger on earth. As Kristeva adds, "the foreignness of Jesus would thus have been the basis of Paul's cosmopolitan ecclessia".

St. Augustine and Caritas

Moving on through the Biblical landscape, Kristeva discovers the respect that St. Augustine had for the foreigner. This respect is the foundation of caritas. Caritas embodies the notion of Christian love. Its cognates include the word carus or dear, which is akin to the Old Irish word carae or friend. It is affiliated with the Sanskrit word kama or love. Caritas may be defined as a benevolent goodwill toward or love of humanity; as a generosity and helpfulness toward the needy or suffering. Charity engages the question of the relationship to the other. Charity refers to the individuals approach to that which confronts him. How does one welcome a friend or stranger? The attitude we adopt in addressing friends, strangers or enemies, who wish to seek admission into our economy reflects our interpretation of the call to embrace a positive tolerance and to be charitable towards the other. St. Augustine captures the spirit of caritas when he writes:

You are alone, and your neighbours are many. Indeed, mark this well, your neighbour is not only your brother, your relative, your marriage relation. Any man's neighbour is any other man. One considers oneself close between father and son, son-in-law and father-in-law. But there is nothing closer to man than another man.

For Augustine, the identification with Christ, brings foreigners together. He writes:

Your soul is no longer yours alone, but it belongs to all your brethren whose soul also become yours, or rather whose soul and yours constitute just a single soul, that is to say, the unique soul of Christ.

The meaning of charity is found in the relation that I have with the Other, and the demand that is placed upon me by the Other. Charity is a question of how we meet the Other. Do we meet the Other with the charity of the open hand or the imperialism of the closed fist and of the equally closed mind ? Charity relates to the question of the toll. A toll is a fixed charge to travel across a bridge or road. This question engages the discussion of customs, debts and borders. It opens the question of admission and who is allowed to cross over the border.
Stoic Conciliation

Kristeva argues that the ancient Stoics (Zeno and Chrysippus), " considered that every living being was supported by the principle called oikeiosis, a complex notion that might be translated as "conciliation". Oikeiosis was rendered by Cicero as conciliatio and commendatio and as committo by Seneca. In commenting on the notion of oikeiosis, Kristeva writes:

that original conciliation binds us not only to ourselves but also to the concentric spheres that would represent the arrangement of our fellow men-starting with close relatives and ending up with the whole of mankind... in reverse, by tightening the circles, we succeed in absorbing all men, of whatever race or blood, into ourselves. That human universality, which is asserted in such a manner for the first time, was founded on the community of reason.

This universalist ethic, founded on oikeiosis and conciliation, according to Kristeva, "leads one, on the political plane, to challenge separate city-states and substitute a tolerant cosmopolitanism". According to Seneca, the distinctions between Greek and barbarian, free men and slaves, men and women, citizen and foreigner are meaningless, since, we are all " a part of God, and the Whole that contains us is also God: we are his associates and his members".
Kristeva sees a danger in the cosmopolitanism that issues forth from biblical universalism, Pauline ecclesia, Augustinian caritas and stoic oikeiosis. For Kristeva the question that arises is whether the cosmopolitanism expressed by these schools of thought are only a religious reality, "without ever being capable of becoming a political reality". The problem is how the ideals expressed by, biblical universalism, Pauline ecclesia, Augustinian caritas and stoic oikeiosis can be translated into the demands of realpolitik.
Though Kristeva is critical of Stoicism to the extent that its "universalism rested on the pride of the wise stoic, separated from the remainder of humanity that was incapable of the same effort of reason and wisdom" , she nonetheless believes that stoicism universalist breakthrough, "continued to make progress up to Locke , Shaftesbury , and Montesquieu... and did not die out but rather took on a new orientation with the Freudian discovery of our intrinsic difference".
The discoveries of Freud, according to Kristeva allowed us to " better approach the universal otherness of the strangers that we are- for only strangeness is universal and might be the post-Freudian expression of stoicism". Before moving on to Freud, we will take a detour through the Enlightenment Cosmopolitanism of Kant and Montesquieu.

Kant and Montesquieu:
Political Cosmopolitanism

Shatter, you enlightened men, shatter the old law-tables !
Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, " Of Old and New Law-Tables"

Kristeva argues that Kant formulated "the internationalist spirit of the Enlightenment in political, legal, and philosophical terms". In Perpetual Peace, Kant writes:
Since the earth is a globe, (men) cannot disperse over an infinite area, but must necessarily tolerates one another's company. And no-one originally has any greater right than anyone else to occupy any particular portion of the earth. The community of man is divided by uninhabitable parts of the earth's surface such as oceans and deserts, but even then, the ship or the camel ( the ship of the desert) make it possible for them to approach their fellows over these ownerless tracts, and to utilize as a means of social intercourse that right to the earth's surface which the human race shares in common.

The wandering of those looking for work in other countries, the influx of immigration and the technology of mass communication, ensure that it is no longer possible for individuals to remain isolated or for nations to remain homogeneous. To be a foreigner and to live in exile has become commonplace in our time. Given this reality, an ethic of cosmopolitanism for Kristeva is the only viable ethic.
According to Kristeva, Montesquieu "protected the rights of man beyond the rights of the citizen". The esprit général endorsed by Montesquieu is more favourable than Volkgeist , "whose origins have been traced back to the ambiguities of the great Herder and that is mystically rooted in the soil, the blood, and the genius of language". For Kristeva, the danger of Volkgeist is due to the fact that it can degenerate "into a repressive force aimed at other peoples and extolling one's own". Kristeva uses the insights of Montesquieu to formulate the general spirit of a cosmopolitan ethic. Montesquieu writes:

If I knew something useful to myself and determental to my family, I would reject it from my mind, If I knew something useful to my family but not my homeland, I would try to forget it. If I knew something useful to my homeland and detrimental to Europe, or else useful to Europe and determental to Mankind, I would consider it a crime.

Montesquieu's hierarchy of self/family/homeland/Europe/Mankind is workable only if one is steeped in the traditions of Europe. But what of those for whom a European identity nullifies their own national identity ? Montesquieu's slogan presumes a French national identity that is precisely European. Derrida might say that Kristeva pays homage to the superiority of French/European capital.
As a solution to the problems of nationalism, Kristeva argues that Montesquieu's slogan should be engraved on the walls of all schools and political institutions. The ABC's of cosmopolitanism should be "commented and elaborated upon, it could become a touchstone for anyone wishing to participate in the French nation understood as an esprit général". For Kristeva, nationalism is the embodiment of the Volkgeist that aims at neutralizing the esprit général. If a cosmopolitan ethic is to take hold, one spirit, one Geist, one esprit must prevail over the other. Kristeva writes, " Tomorrow, perhaps, if the esprit général wins over the Volkgeist, such a polyphonic community could be named Europe".
Kristeva a practicing Lacanian psychoanalyst ends up sounding like a liberal. She writes,

I am a cosmopolitan... I maintain that in the contemporary world, shaken up by national fundamentalism on the one hand and the intensive demands of immigration on the other, the fact of belonging to a set is a matter of choice. Beyond the origins that have assigned to us biological identity papers and a linguistic, religious, social, political, historical place, the freedom of contemporary individuals may be gauged according to their ability to choose their membership, while the democratic capability of a nation and social group is revealed by the right it affords individuals to exercise that choice. Thus when I say that I have chosen cosmopolitanism, this means that I have, against origins and starting from them, chosen a transnational or international position situated at the crossing of boundaries.

Kristeva is dogmatic in her claim that we are all foreigners within ourselves and in relation to others". For those of us who may not accept the insights of Freud or Lacan, Kristeva's assertions ring hollow.
The coupling of Montesquieu with Freud is a strange move. Kristeva pairs Montesquieu with Freud, since according to her, both can be classified as neo-stoicists. While this may be the case, Montesquieu and Freud operate from different traditions. For example, the word "Enlightenment" signifies a move from the darkness to the light. The Enlightenment project was marked by an emphasis on rationalism that sought to leave the past with its ignorance and false opinions behind. To this extent, the term "Enlightenment" can be connected with the Platonic image of the Cave. For Plato, acquiring true knowledge meant escaping from the shadows of the Cave and journeying to where the Sun illuminated all things. By contrast, Freudian psychoanalysis focuses on the power of the irrational and dark aspects of ourselves. Freud's project might be called an En-nightenment . Kristeva's attempt to derive an ethic of cosmopolitanism by coupling Montesquieu with Freud leads to contradictions in her position. The question posed in simple terms is how can Montesquieu's Enlightenment be blended with Freud's En-nightenment? In other words, how can Montesquieu's esprit général become compatible with Freud's insights concerning the unconscious ? Kristeva might argue that in psychoanalytic terms, the esprit général is precisely the unconscious. Having examined Kristeva's appropriation of Montesquieu, we now turn to Freud.

Freud and the Unheimliche:
Psychoanalytical Cosmopolitanism

Uncanny is human existence and still without a meaning...
Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, "Zarathustra's Prologue"

According to Kristeva, identity is formed on the basis of exclusion. This psychoanalytic insight has a political correlative. In the case of psychic identity, it is necessary for the individual to distinguish himself from the other. The nation-state must also distinguish itself from other nation-states to form its identity and to mark out its distinguishing features. But there is a boomerang effect that issues forth from exclusion. The individual must learn how to deal with the return of the excluded other, just as the nation-state must learn to deal with elements it has excluded, especially when those elements reside in the nation-state.
For Kristeva the ethics of psychoanalysis implies a politics. In other words, psychoanalysis locates what is strange and foreign, not in order to exclude it but to welcome it. According to Kristeva,

The ethics of psychoanalysis implies a politics: it would involve a cosmopolitanism of a new sort that, cutting across governments, economies, and markets, might work for a mankind whose solidarity is founded on the consciousness of its unconscious...

Freud attempted to show that alterity, difference and otherness is within each of us. If we can accept this alterity and strangeness in ourselves, we can also accept the the strangeness of the other.
The central feature of Kristeva's discussion of Freud has to do with his understanding of das Unheimliche, literally, "unhomely". After tracing the etymology of das Unheimliche through various languages, Freud concludes that " the German word unheimlich is obviously the opposite of heimlich, heimisch, meaning 'familiar'; 'native', 'belonging to the home' ". Strangely, the word heimlich can be understood in two ways. The first meaning designates that which is familiar, while the second meaning designates that which is concealed or kept out of sight. In Greek das Unheimliche, would be rendered as ξέυoς (foreign or strange). According to Freud,

we can understand why the usage of speech has extended das Heimliche into its opposite das Unheimliche; for this uncanny is in reality nothing new or foreign, but something familiar and old-established in the mind that has been estranged only by the process of repression.

Within the framework of Strangers to Ourselves, Freud remains an important figure for Kristeva, not because Freud spoke directly about foreigners but because he "teaches us how to detect foreignness in ourselves. That is perhaps the only way not to hound it outside of us". Through Freud, we learn that we are disintegrated. We learn to welcome the Unheimliche in ourselves and in others. In Kristeva words, "the foreigner is within me, hence we all all foreigners. If I am a foreigner, there are no foreigners".
Strangely though, this sounds all too Hegelian. Recognition is achieved between individuals when they understand foreignness to be their interrelatedness, in other words, the I that is we and the we that is I. Respecting difference requires not attempting to assimilate what is other as one's own. Kristeva's analysis remains a classic Hegelian example of how the recognition of identity through difference, is a privileging of identity over difference, so that the foreigner is not foreign at all. Kristeva offers another Aufhebung, whereby the foreigner is assimilated, reduced and swallowed up. While criticizing narcissism from a psychoanalytic postion, politically Kristeva seems to adopt a position whereby "the Same mistakes itself for the Other" . In other words, since I am a stranger to myself, the Other must be just like me. The foreigner must be transformed according to my needs and desires.
If we are all strangers to ourselves, it would appear that we suffer from the same affliction. Holding such a position would merely be a re-telling of the dominant stories of our Jewish/Greek tradition, namely the fall of Adam and the crime of Oedipus. How can we infer from the myth of the fall, that Adam's sin founds our sinfulness, or that Oedipus's complex is THE Oedipus Complex? These symptoms drawn from literature can only be understood as individual cases and cannot be appropriated as general symptoms of humanity.

Baptizing the New Nationalism ?

No herdsman and one herd. Everyone wants the same thing, everyone is the same: whoever thinks otherwise goes voluntarily into the madhouse.
Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, "Zarathustra's Prologue"

Kristeva argues:

Stemming from the bourgeois revolution, nationalism has become a symptom-romantic at first, then totalitarian- of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Now, while it does go against universalist tendencies (be they religious or rationalistic) and tends to isolate or even hunt down the foreigner, nationalism nevertheless ends up, on the other hand, with the particularistic, demanding individualism of contemporary man.

It is precisely within this individualism that one locates "incoherences and abysses" that may lead to "promoting the togetherness of those foreigners that we all recognize ourselves to be". According to Kristeva, the foreigner:

lives within us: he is the hidden face of our identity, the space that wrecks our abode, the time in which understanding and affinity founder. By recognizing him within ourselves, we are spared detesting him in himself. A symptom that precisely turns "we" into a problem, perhaps makes it impossible. The foreigner comes in when the consciousness of my difference arises, and he disappears when we acknowledge ourselves as foreigners, unamendable to bonds and communities.

The foreigner does not count, is not counted. If s/he is greeted, it is with suspicion and hostility. The foreigner is an irritation on the skin of the state. The foreigner should be grateful for simply being tolerated and if he does not agree with the toleration given he should go back where he came from. The phrase, which I have often heard, "If you don't like it here, go back to where you came from", becomes unsettling. But according to Kristeva, only fools asks questions about origins. Even if the question is asked, the answer is already framed before it is given. The question of origins can never yield an answer to what one is. We cannot be so easily framed within pre-fabricated conclusions. According to Kristeva, the foreigner:

has fled that origin-family, blood, soil- and, even though it keeps pestering, enriching, hindering, exciting him, or giving him pain, and often all at once, the foreigner is its courageous and melancholy betrayer. His origin certainly haunts him, for better or for worse, but it is indeed elsewhere that he has set his hopes, that his struggles take place... Elsewhere versus the origin, and nowhere versus the roots... He is a foreigner: he is from nowhere, from everywhere, citizen of the world, cosmopolitan. Do not send him back to his origins.

For Kristeva, the adoption of the esprit général of Montesquieu and the insights of Freud that we are all strangers and foreigners, "within ourselves and in relation to others" , would be a way of combatting nationalism. Kristeva writes:

It is a fragile ideas but nevertheless one bearing a chance of incomparable liberty, one that today happens to be challenged by wounded, therefore aggressive, nationalisms of Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean, but one that might be, tomorrow, a resource in the search for new forms of community among individuals that are different and free.

For Kristeva, nationalism is fundamentally antidemocratic, anticosmopolitan, chauvinist and racist. But has Kristeva moved too quickly to condemn nationalism as chauvinist and racist? Edward Said, has noted that "nationalism is a word that has been used in all sorts of sloppy and undifferentiated ways". For Said, nationalism, "still serves quite adequately to identify the mobilizing forces that coalesced into resistance against an alien and occupying empire on the part of peoples possessing a common history, religion and language". The problem with Kristeva is how to reconcile what she says about respecting the foreigner, with her Eurocentric attitudes. To quote Edward Said:

At the heart of European culture during the many decades of imperial expansion lay what could be called an undeterred and unrelenting Eurocentrism. This accumulated experiences, territories, peoples, histories; it studies them, classified them, verified them; but above all, it subordinated them to the culture and indeed the very idea of white Christian Europe... And it must also be noted that this Eurocentric culture relentlessly codified and observed everything about the non-European or presumably peripheral world, in so thorough and detailed a manner as to leave no item untouched, no culture unstudied, no people or land unclaimed. All of the subjugated peoples had it in common that they were considered to be naturally subservient to a superior, advanced, developed, and morally mature Europe, whose role in the non-European world was to rule, instruct, legislate, develop, and at the proper times, to discipline, war against, and occasionally exterminate non-Europeans.
Though Kristeva defends the virtues of cosmopolitanism, her vision of the esprit général remains Eurocentric. In an autobiographical article entitled My Memory's Hyperbole, Kristeva relates her vision of Judeo-Christian Europe in alliance with the United States against the Third World:

While the Latin American or Arab Marxist revolution is brewing on the doorsteps of the United States, I feel closer to truth and liberty when I work within the space of this challenged giant, which may, in fact, be on the point of becoming a David before the growing Goliath of the Third World. I dream that our children will prefer to join this David, with his errors and impasses, armed with our erring and circling about the Idea, the Logos, the Form: in short, the old Judeo-Christian Europe.

Here the Third World is compared to Goliath, while the United States with its nuclear weapons and smart bombs is a small David. The Third World is precisely the stranger that Kristeva asks us to embrace in Strangers to Ourselves, yet here, the Third World is established as that against which Judeo-Christian Europe must establish its identity; its Volkgeist.
The high ideals expressed in both Strangers to Ourselves and Nations without Nationalism, have revealed themselves to be just another form of political rhetoric. The antidotes to xenophobia, racism, chauvinism and nationalism in terms of welcoming the foreigner, because in doing so we recognize the foreigner in us, is a simplistic solution. Kristeva's policy suggestions consist of according foreigners political rights to the extent that their home countries reciprocate. Kristeva argues,

One might imagine, for instance, a "double nationality" statute that would give those "foreigners" who want it a number of rights- but also the political duties specific to natives, with a reciprocity clause giving the latter rights and duties in the countries of origin of those same foreigners. Such a rule, easily applicable within the European Economic Community, could be tempered and adjusted for other countries.

Where does one begin to criticize the political naivety of such a policy ? Is the problem of foreignness so simple, direct and immediate as to propose a foreign exchange, in other words, a process of settling accounts or debts between peoples and states ?
Having argued that foreignness is our historical condition, Kristeva reverts to putting the word foreigners in quotation marks. Would there then be a double meaning attributed to the word "foreigner"? I do not mean the regular renderings found in the dictionary such as, "situated outside a place or country" or "alien in character".
The word foreigner is linked to the Latin word foris or outside. Foris is etymologically connected to the word forum. A forum is a public meeting place for open discussion. It would appear however, that Kristeva's discussion of the "foreigner" has taken place in the foreigner's absence. Kristeva is speaking from the position of a French intellectual and not as a Bulgarian exile. The issue of foreignness cannot be resolved by calling on some higher authority, whether it is a political or psychoanalytical institution, in order to impose a "cure".
The foreigner remains both outlaw and outcast. That is, one who is deprived of the protection of the law and one who is refused acceptance. If the foreigner is granted political rights, he is no longer and out-law. If the foreigner's home country reciprocates, the foreigner is no longer out-cast. The foreigner, therefore would no longer exist. The foreigner would have become neutralized for the sake of unity or either domesticated and assimilated in order to prevent potential threats to existing political systems and political alliances.

Kristeva tells us that "recognition of otherness is a right and a duty for everyone". The issue is centered upon recognition, but do we recognize otherness in order to welcome it or cancel out its effects ? Recognition can lead either to acknowledgement or annulment. Ulysses is still tied up, this time his ears are plugged with wax, in order not to hear the Siren's song and the call of the Other.