Derrida’s prolonged meditation on hospitality in Acts of Religion (2002), which begins with the question of ‘What awaits us at the beginning, at the turn, of this year?’, is haunted – as only the question of hospitality can be: the hôte as ghost (spirit or revenant, holy spirit, holy ghost or revenant) – by death, ‘the absolutely unforeseeable [inanticipable] stranger,’ the unexpected guest (Acts. 358-61). It is to death, as Derrida suggests, that hospitality destines itself, death, the figure of visitation without invitation, ‘or of haunting well, or ill-come, coming for good or ill’ (Acts. 360). For it is in death that the test and ordeal of hospitality is given, as one of forgiveness, ‘of opening for and smiling to the other, whatever his fault or indignity, whatever the offense or threat,’ and of substitution (with the invitation/visitation extended), the substitution of him who owes nothing for him who owes everything (Acts. 375-76).
For the Derridean theorist Charlie Gere, the entire history of the avant-garde is a history of hospitality granted, refused, and delayed (Non-relational Aesthetics, 2009). In his latest book, Community without Community in Digital Culture (2012), art is re-affirmed as the locus of the sacred after the death of God; a notion of the sacred that is essentially Christian, but that follows a deconstructive and paradoxical logic that pursues sacred hospitality to the point of impossibility. Following Derrida, Gere’s characteristic technique in these texts is to push his logic to a point where in order to be true to the imperative of hospitality one must be hospitable not just to the unexpected guest, but to absolutely everyone, that is to say not just to one’s ‘universal brother’, but potentially all of creation. As Derrida claims in The Gift of Death (1995), it is not enough to feed and care for one’s cat, one must recognise that this care comes at the expense of all the other cats in the world (Gift. 71). At the same time, even as he condemns animal lovers to this infinite horizon of superegoic guilt, Derrida poses the non-substitutable limit of the self (Acts. 419-21).
Self-awareness is by definition not available to anyone outside the self concerned, and awareness generally is dependent upon organs of perception that are possessed by every organism in minimal form, animal and vegetable. If we are, like Gere, to follow Derrida in this deconstructive drive to the limit, the limit to awareness and therefore self awareness is absolutely undefinable. Therefore there can be no possible ethics of hospitality with regard to eating, animal or vegetable, raw or cooked. There can be an economy and there can be a politics of eating (although this would require a different thinking of politics and economy) but these have to be predicated upon an affirmation of a heightened self-consciousness that recognises the inevitability and ubiquity of awareness in the sacrifice and mourning of life; which is to say, once again, that the destiny of hospitality is death and its awareness, that should not be effaced but exacerbated in the sensuality of life and death, festivity and mourning.
The digital banquet offered by MOUTH to Charlie Gere is therefore one that seeks to heighten the awareness of life and its perception of animal and vegetable tactility, in a festival of fingers and tongues. Eating fingers and tongues, precisely as organs of sensory perception, reminds the eater of the perceptual sensorium of the eaten, reminds the eater of its equivalence in this regard with the eaten. When a tongue tastes a tongue does the psyche respond in horror or delight at the spectacle of its own organ’s sacrifice and delectation in the form of another? With this question we have sought to contextualize a discussion between Charlie Gere and Scott Wilson on contingency and contact, hospitality, art and the sacred, the exigencies of communities off and online, particularly with regard to the significance of touching and taste in an age of digital consumption.
Words from MOUTH, view source here.