Archive for the ‘Derrida’ Category

Hospitality of Incapacity

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

The horror of potentiality is the ongoing encounter with ones own lack, one’s privation of faculty, in the face of a temporal expanse. It is that uncanny, impotential twin, the foreign and ostensibly imaginary figure that is often neglected in favour of an unceasing capacity to-act, endless actualization, endless production. How are we to engage in meaningful dialogue with our intrinsic foreign double? How can we engage the existence of potentiality in it’s Janus faced embodiment, the double faced Roman deity of both beginnings and endings? A mode of being “two-in-one” is the state described by Hannah Arendt when offering a reflection on solitude. Solitude, for Arendt, is not the condition of loneliness, isolation or boredom often associated with the term, but rather a being together with oneself, a silent “dialogue of myself with myself”. Thinking is the corresponding activity of this dialogic-solitude, which Aristotle even went so far as to declare it as proof of a specifically human quality. The non-thinking being is painted as not human (what the ancient Greeks called barbarian), it cannot relate outside itself, for thinking always involves a displacement of one’s own position, a division of the self. A thinking subject, a human subject, a subject that can negotiate its powerful incapacity, who can, in the words of Bartelby the Scrivener, “prefer not to”, exist in potentiality, for they actively contemplate the relation between their capacity to-act and their incapacity not-to-act. By engaging the capacity of incapacity in dialogic-thought, potentiality is not something that ‘grinds-to-a-halt’ when actualized (as in the case with a generic understanding of potentiality, when we say that a “child has the potential to know” or grow tall, for once the child is tall, there is no more potentiality for growth), it is a form of potentiality that ‘gives itself to itself’, that ‘preserves itself’ in actuality and perpetuates its very existence.

The hospitality with which one must welcome one’s incapacity is, above all, an interruption of the capable self. The foreign self, the impotential self, operates as an involuntary guest who takes up permanent residence, and to whom an open door must be extended for potentiality to exist. In unconditional hospitality, that is a hospitality with no invitation, with no condition to adapt to the rules of the host, the guest/host dynamic finds itself in an inverse power arrangement than that found in conditional hospitality, where the host dictates order and holds court. Through this hierarchical inversion, where the guest becomes a host and a host becomes a guest, a type of conceptual violence emerges, in that we only come to enter our own selves from outside: “… the master of the house is at home, but nonetheless he comes to enter his home through the guest—who comes from outside. The master thus enters from the inside as if he came from the outside. He enters his home thanks to the visitor, by the grace of the visitor”. With the unconditional hosting of our incapacity, which interrupts our capacity to-act, we arrive at the existence of potentiality, a frightening relation wherein the capable ‘host-self’ generously abnegates authority to the incapable ‘guest-self’. In the wilful renouncing of authority on the part of the ‘host-self’, the possibility looms, of course, in foregoing its singular autonomy. What opens up, however, with the unconditional hosting of our impotential guest, is a forging of a co-autonomous potentiality, a dialogic autonomy, a veritable ‘selves’-rule principle.