English 599: How to Live Together? Community and Migration
How does the systematic reflection on community over the past century prepare us for the migration crisis? From Helmuth Plessner’s Limits of Community (1924) to Jean-Luc Nancy’s Inoperative Community (1986), Maurice Blanchot’s Unavowable Community (also 1986), and Roberto Esposito’s Communitas (1998), much of the philosophical reflection of the past century offered a systematic deconstruction of the traditional form of community (identified after Ferdinand Tönnies as Gemeinschaft) and its attendant principle of sincerity. Critical readers of Being and Time (in particular of Heidegger’s insistence on the communal “we” that precedes individual existence), Nancy and Lévinas followed different routes in rethinking community, the former arriving at the formulation singular plural, the latter postulating the recognition of radical difference as the principle enabling the ethical relationship with another being. Arguably, in their efforts to distance themselves from the oppressive reification of the common on which the notion of community is premised, Nancy and Lévinas end up invested in relationality, which neither truly sorts out – perhaps because it must remain contextual, open to contingency, as Roland Barthes seemed to imply when wishing for “a science, or perhaps an art, of distances.” If the language of distance and proximity is more relevant than ever in the context of the migration crisis, is “an art of distance,” whatever its provisions, sufficient, as a premise for a humane and sustainable mode of living with no-longer-distant others? Is it possible to avoid what Slavoj Zizek calls the “double blackmail” of liberal pieties (unconditional hospitality) and populist xenophobia (walls…)?
This course does not offer definitive answers to such questions; it proposes, rather, a systematic engagement with some of the philosophical reflection on friendship and community from Aristotle to Sloterdijk, as well as with a few theoretical interventions in current debates about the migration crisis. We will read texts by Aristotle, Montaigne, Emerson, Nietzsche, Freud, Schmitt, Heidegger, Plessner, Canetti, Derrida, Lévinas, Nancy, Blanchot, Esposito, Barthes, le Blanc, Sloterdijk, Zaoui, Nail, Zizek, Buruma, and others. Alongside these theoretical texts, some contemporary fictional texts (by Levy, Galgut, Khider, Coetzee, and others) will also be part of our discussions.