The ecological thought imagines interconnectedness, which I call the mesh. Who or what is interconnected with what or with whom? The mesh of interconnected things is vast, perhaps immeasurably so. Each entity in the mesh looks strange. Nothing exists all by itself, and so nothing is fully “itself.”… Our encounter with other beings becomes profound. They are strange, even intrinsically strange. Getting to know them makes them stranger. When we talk about life forms, we’re talking about strange strangers. The ecological thought imagines a multitude of entangled strange strangers.
Timothy Morton, Ecological Thought
Morton argues strongly for the importance of uncanniness, for allowing space for strangeness in intimacy, in which other beings can be their strange selves, ‘strange strangers’. ‘The essence of the local isn’t familiarity but the uncanny, the strangely familiar or familiarly strange. The experience of the local is the profound experience of strangeness’ (2010, 50).
According to Heidegger, the human being and the world in which it lives are incomprehensible as separate entities. Thus it is a mistake to conceptualise the subject– object relationship as the being-together of two present-at-hand entities. Heidegger argues that Dasein is essentially being-in-the-world and cannot be removed from it and still retain its character. This might sound like a very cosy, close-knit web of familiarity and embeddedness in the world of the sort that supports an ‘all-one-with-nature’ view and leaves little room for strangeness. Indeed, Heidegger is a popular philosopher among deep ecologists keen to emphasise our interdependence on nature. However a close analysis of his view of human conscious being reveals that, like Husserl’s and Morton’s, it is also shot through with gaps, absences and a sense that the strange and the familiar are a just a breath apart. Morton asks if ‘environmental awareness might have something intrinsically uncanny about it, as if we realized we were caught in something’ (2010, 58). Heidegger’s understanding of Dasein as ‘being-in-the-world’ defines us as essentially ‘caught’ in the world. As ‘care’, Dasein reaches immediately out of itself and into the world, and this, Heidegger argues, places uncanniness and displacement at the heart of the self.
According to Heidegger, ‘Being is an issue’ for Dasein, in its very being (2009, 32). As ‘being-in-the-world’ we understand ourselves in terms of what we are not – the world. And yet it’s not even as simple as that, because we cannot conceive of this as being like one thing positioned alongside another thing. Heidegger focuses on the kind of knowing that makes use of objects – stuff, gear – ‘equipment’ – rather than objects we just look at speculatively, as he thinks this reveals something emblematic about the human way of being. We can stare at a hammer, upside down for example, until it becomes strange, in a way of ‘holding-back’ that makes the hammer ‘present-at-hand’, or we can find the hammer ‘ready-to-hand’ and pick it up and use it understandingly as part of a toolbox, which includes nails, wood and the project we have in mind. Thus the world in which we and hammer coexist is a web of interrelated concepts, functions and roles which we learn as we grow up and gradually acquire the skills we need to live. A single piece of equipment makes no sense in this ‘equipment totality’. The uncanny can arise at any moment by simply holding open a space within this totality. We can make the familiar strange simply by refraining from everyday activities and considering an object’s essential nature (2009).
Samantha Clark, Strange strangers and uncanny hammers: Morton's The Ecological Thought and the phenomenological tradition
European racism as the white man's claim has never operated by exclusion, or by the designation of someone as Other: it is instead in primitive societies that the stranger is grasped as an "other." Racism operates by the determination of degrees of deviance in relation to the White-Man face, which endeavors to integrate nonconforming traits into increasingly eccentric and backward waves, sometimes tolerating them at given places under given conditions, in a given ghetto, sometimes erasing them from the wall, which never abides alterity (it's a Jew, it's an Arab, it's a Negro, it's a lunatic . . .). From the viewpoint of racism, there is no exterior, there are no people on the outside. There are only people who should be like us and whose crime it is not to be. The dividing line is not between inside and outside but rather is internal to simultaneous signifying chains and successive subjective choices. Racism never detects the particles of the other; it propagates waves of sameness until those who resist identification have been wiped out (or those who only allow themselves to be identified at a given degree of divergence). Its cruelty is equaled only by its incompetence and naivete.
Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus
When we enter an unknown place, the emotion experienced is almost always that of an indefinable anxiety. There then begins the slow work of taming the unknown, and gradually the unease fades away. A new familiarity succeeds the fear provoked in us by the irruption of the "wholly other. If the body's most archaic instinctual reactions are caught up in an encounter with what it does not immediately recognise in the real, how could thought really claim to apprehend the other, the wholly other, without astonishment? Thought is in essence a force of mastery. It is continually bringing the unknown back to the known, breaking up its mystery to possess it, shed light on it. Name it.
So what happens when our eyes halt on the words: "hospitality, proximity, enclave, hate, foreigner ... "? Even if for an instant we find some "elsewhere" in them, they are soon assimilated to a landscape marked by the seal of our habitus of thinking and our memory.
Of Hospitality - Anne Dufourmantelle invites Jacques Derrida to respond