Fifth Symposium. ‘We, the non-Europeans’: Derrida with Said

Oecumene square
By · 23 November 2013
Oecumene square
The final paper of the 5th Oecumene Symposium was presented by Engin Isin, entitled, ‘We, the non-Europeans: Derrida with Said’. Drawing on their work and Freud among many others, Engin explores questions of ‘Europeanness’, asking ‘what is called Europe?’ Thus demanding that we examine what the referent ‘Europe’ refers to, and the forces that constitute this referent. He explores the ‘radical original rupture’, as Freud argues, and Said explores, that is necessary for a people to constitute or imagine itself. This he asserts, presents the ethico-political question of how a people respond to such a trauma of rupture. The paper explores Gasché close examination of how Derrida approaches Europe, and the formers illustration of the tradition Derrida inherited in which Europe never figures as a geographical or political entity but is always something ‘other’. The paper draws on Derrida and Said’s assertion that the fundamental crisis of Europe is the inability to approach the non-European with the openness it demands, and explores ideas of openness, crisis and hospitality. Further, the paper calls on intellectuals practicing in social science and humanities specifically to re-evaluate many of the central concepts which are used as Europeans and others as non-Europeans- democracy, rights, citizenship, law, territory and the state, though conscious of the scale of such a task. The paper asks, how do we respond to this task in social and political thought? How do we assume responsibility for it despite its immense challenge?
 
In response Narcia Guénif (University of Paris Nord) introduces the untold Herstory to this paper and places a queer framework on the paper. She draws on the work of the French feminist Hélène Cixous, Butler and Said and asks, if the founding of a people cannot happen without an ‘outside’, is that is permitted to wonder in today’s Europe? Entitled, capitalist, nomadic businessmen? Which people, who are the ‘legitimate’ wonderers across nations and borders? She also warns of the use of ‘diverstiy’ as a new trap that we should be wary of falling into- it is one way of not discussing otherness in Europe. Further, the alerts us to the staggering costs paid by some of the xenophobia harbored towards non-Europeans, the death toll of racism, all those languishing in European detention centers and drowning in European waters as they migrate.
 
The second response from Agnes Czajka (Open University) addresses the notion of crisis and relates this to concepts of founding and openness. Using Derrida’s concepts of deconstruction and auto-immunity, she examines the perpetual state of crisis an entity/organism/ Europe in this case, is in through the act of defining itself as a distinct entity. Further, Agnes questions where this openness must come from. Further, she questions where it is that this openness must come from, drawing from the work of Remi Brague, who asserts that it is derived from Europe’s and also Rome’s heritage of appropriation of that which is foreign. She argues that if this to be the case, then this openness is a chance and a threat at the same time, a chance of hospitality and a chance of imperialism.
 
William Outhwaite (University of Newcastle)’s response highlights various points. The broader socio-political historical factors related to the discourses presented in the paper- including the process of de-colonisation that Europeans have directly or indirectly experienced during the second part of the 20th Century. He reminds us to be cautious of considering Europe and the EU in isolation from the colonisation/decolonisation it carried out. He goes on to explore two key question: is the EU imperialistic? And, is it cosmopolitan?
 
In the discussion that followed several other questions emerged. Tara Altura (Open University) questioned the construction of religion in this Europe, is this a discussion on religious/catholic/Christian ideas of openness? She also highlighted the broader cultural narrative that romanticised people in transit, constantly crossing boarders, moving through Europe. Who are these people? Leticia Sabsay (Open University) expanded on the notion of crisis discussed, the contemporary crisis and the contemporary discourse on crisis has defined modern Europe, but what is it that makes us modern? The possibility to put ourselves into crisis, to reflect on this and to over-come this. The discussions came to an end with Engin Isin suggestions of working towards suspending existing ways in which we gather meaning and interrogating these. While there is no way in which we can speak without speaking them in the way in which they father their meaning, it is clearly an impossible task. But he argues, it is in this moment of erasure, of questioning that we can look for new openings, and new was of constituting these ideas.
 
Report by Anna Weedon

Oecumene: Citizenship after Orientalism is funded by an European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant (Institutions, values, beliefs and behaviour ERC-AG-SH2).

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