In the Name of Alterity: the Insufficiency and Necessity of Political Hospitality in Welcoming the Foreigner

Open Access
Arnold, Tony James
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Leonard Richard Lawlor, Thesis Supervisor
  • Michael Paradiso Michau, Thesis Supervisor
  • Vincent M Colapietro, Honors Advisor
  • Jacques Derrida
  • Emmanuel Levinas
  • the Other
  • hospitality
  • aporia
  • deconstruction
  • alterity
Franco-Algerian philosopher Jacques Derrida devoted a substantial corpus to the exploration of hospitality. Derrida did not conceive of this topic in a merely mundane manner: the provision of sustenance and shelter to guests in our homes. Rather, Derrida used such a conception of hospitality as a skeleton upon which to develop a body of thought that ultimately results in an impasse, or what Derrida calls an aporia, between an unconditional requirement of hospitality that is ideal but impossible to practice, and a conditional limitation of hospitality that is imperfect but always offered in actuality. What I attempt to do in this essay is to explore an aporia that calls for us to both (1) welcome the guest, particularly the foreigner-guest, face-to-face, without asking anything, even a name, of him or her, but to also (2) intelligently calculate the risk that is presented by particular guests and types of guests, and, furthermore, to recognize and call the guest by his or her proper name, that title which makes him or her individual. The proper name is the primary vehicle by which this essay travels through the Derridean conception of hospitality (a conception heavily influenced by Derrida’s longtime interlocutor, Lithuanian-born Judeo-French philosopher and Talmudic commentator Emmanuel Levinas). We discover how crucial the name is to identifying the guest in a number of ways, and thus how it is used against the guest to associate him or her with certain threats. However, there is something friendly in the name as well, and this is ultimately what the essay advocates: to transport the inherently friendly and welcoming spirit of unconditional hospitality to its conditional counterpart.