Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Paradoxes of hospitality.

Was the blank wall an invitation?

Was this graffiti first seen as a criminal desecration of property?

Is the tagged wall accepted, protected now?

What do tags tells us about the vibrancy of citizenship?

Do they speak of inclusion?

Do they speak of exclusion?

Are they artistic statements, vandalism?

One house owner appeared to have taken things into his/her hands.

The double garage door appeared to have a commissioned piece of street art.

Would tags superimposed on the masterpiece be an embellishment or a sacrilege?

Was the art gallery a consecration?

Is this another example of cultural appropriation?

Basquiat Skull

Or is the presence of the artist here a Trojan Horse?

"How Basquiat Challenged Police Brutality Through Art."

I wandered through the gallery in Lyon.

At first sight the sculpture was a meaningless jumble of junk.

On closer inspection, the assemblage demanded reflection.

There was purpose in the positioning of objects.

There was a meeting of minds.

It begged attention.

We need to take our time to revisit, to explore, to question our own assumptions.

I read "It's like a Jungle" an installation of  Henry Taylor.

"In his installation work It’s Like A Jungle (2011), Taylor presents an assortment of used objects, including boxes, crates, and furniture, suggesting the refuse that accumulates on L.A. streets from provisional downtown community housing."

What does the presence of the ensemble say about power?

What does the ensemble say about hospitality?

What does the title evoke?

It's like a jungle?

What is like a jungle?

Did the black oil cans evoke black power salutes as I read somewhere?

The Californian beach house was a burnt out wreck.

Viewed through the lens of John Divola, what is there left of our Californian dreams?

The hashtag was an "open" invitation.

How open was the invitation really?

Were the hosts ready for all comers?

Were the guests ready for all comers?

What were their expectations?

How did they imagine the stream in Twitter?

Was there an implicit injunction to bar transgressive behaviour, to bar transgressors?

I felt out of place.

I left a few tweets.

Was I tagging territory?

Was there an "in-crowd"?

It appeared so.

How did the "in-crowd" recognise each other?

Did they have history? Did they share gender? Did they share marginality?

Were the memes I left  seen by some as unwelcome noise?

Was I an ungracious guest?

Having blogged angrily, having tagged haphazardly, having felt an outsider, I felt sensitive to criticism that might come.

I found a video left by Chris Gilliard.

I watched it. It made me sit up and think.

Was I a rude, invasive guest?

I felt like jacking in the whole #digciz malarkey.

Then I thought a while.

I doubled back and reread Kate Bowles' comment on my post "For giving"  

"Hello, I wrote a long comment but I think the Internet whisked it away. 

So this is the shorter thought: is it the word "hospitality"? Does it come with something? Or is it the problem of conversation itself, in this world?

I'm really troubled by the idea that dialogue is the opposite of action. 

(Have read your blog many times, thank you for writing it)"

I was all ready to rush off a reply - "of course hospitality is a problem!"

I felt like I had found myself back in bloody church with people all terribly nice.

I remember their knowing looks, "Poor boy, he's a lost soul." 

I remember feeling an undercurrent of polite violence.

I went and read Betjeman - Death in Leamington (birth place of my mother).

Death in Leamington.

She died in the upstairs bedroom.
By the light of the ev'ning star
That shone through the plate glass window
From over Leaminton Spa

Beside her lonely crochet
Lay patiently and unstirred, 
But the fingers that would have work'd it
Were dead as the spoken word.

And Nurse came in with the tea-things
Breast high 'mid the stands and chairs-
But Nurse was alone with her own little soul, 
And the things were alone with theirs.

She bolted the big round window
She let the blinds unroll, 
She set a match to the mantle,
She covered the fire with coal.

And "Tea!" she said in a tiny voice
"Wake up! It's nearly five"
Oh! Chintzy, chintzy cheeriness.
Half dead and half alive.

Do you know that the stucco is peeling?
Do you know that the heart will stop?
From those yellow Italianate arches
Do you hear the plaster drop?

Nurse looked at the silent bedstead, 
At the gray, decaying face, 
As the calm of a Leamington ev'ning 
Drifted into the place.

She moved the table of bottles 
Away from the bed to the wall;
And tiptoeing gently over the stairs
Turned down the gas in the hall.

On reflection Kate's comment stirred action.

Indeed dialogue is not the opposite of action.

Genteel conversation in conferences often feels to me like Death in Leamington.


I suppose being caught between boiled eggs with the bishop at the Rectory and pub talk with the apprentices from the factory, I felt drawn to those who lacked veneer but brimmed with candour.

This explains why I get allergic reactions to those who I feel (perhaps wrongly) are performing intellect.

Then I went and found a video that I remember I had watched before.

A bloody French seminar on the philosophy of hospitality.

Oh la la.

I confess to a weakness for French philosophers since Rhizo14.

Before going back and watching Anne Dufourmantelle's seminar for the fourth time, I try to remember some stuff.

First this idea of Derrida (if I remember rightly)  "hospitalité inconditionnel"  - the idea that one can not expect a foreigner to adopt the language or the expectations of the host.

Connections between host-hostis-hostile-hostility-hostage-hospice-hospitality.

Inherent violence in the relationships of hospitality.

Dialogue between host and guest, host and hostage.

On reflection, I started to wonder whether the video that Chris Gilliard had shared was not an injunction of my multiple meme posting but rather an story about the black man brought as hostage by the host to the white sofa. I thought of the language and the gestures of Rick James, who makes his mark on the white sofa not in the way that one might expect.  There is no compromise given to the host who offers him his place on the sofa. There is no means for him to be a genteel part of the furniture.  I began to wonder how others might react to the behaviour of others, foreigners, outsiders leaving their marks on a Twitter stream.

I came back to think about the conflict between Torn Halves and Maha Bali during the run up to the aborted Rhizo16. Maha has been hurting from the episode ever since, has blogged at least twice, and her trust in myself and others was undermined.

How could people who said that they cared for her be seen to support the rudely aggressive intellectual jousting of a Torn Halves?

I have hurt from this episode as well.

I posted at least three blog posts on the story, tried to talk it over with Maha.

Nothing would change how Maha felt it appeared.

That hurt, that really hurt.

I do care. I cared about Torn Halves too...I don't know why.

I felt that there were no doubt good reasons for being apparently uncaring for others' feelings.

I tried writing about being kind to monsters.

Be kind to monsters.

That did nothing to keep Rhizo16 from splitting up into factions.

That did nothing to keep Maha from feeling that I had betrayed her.

I am reminded of  "hospitalité inconditionnel" that Derrida suggests we should have as our horizon.

Of course, we all have different vulnerabilities, different levels of resistance, different burdens of oppression to unpack.

Retrospectively, it is unthinkable for people with some experiences to be able to confide in those who are members of an oppressive group - whether they be white, men, straight.

We all need places of safety.

We all need places where we can speak our minds and spill out our vile without fear of retribution.

Art is a start, it is not enough.

Hospitalité cadré.

For there to be hospitality one needs to have a witness.

For myself, I only survived this far thanks to the "hospitalité inconditionnel cadré" of a psychoanalyst.

With this person, I was able to say nothing, for hours.

With this person, I was able to explore what is was to hurt, to hate, to love, to fear, to live.

Nothing was taboo.

With each act, acte Sarte might say, I came to see the confines of the world in which I had been born.

With passing months, I came to see the implicit rules by which I had been expected to live.

One moment, I suppose they call it transfer, I took it upon myself to be host to the child that had been hostage.

I welcomed the child.

I learnt to speak anew.

I learnt to learn anew.

I came into being here, through dialogue, year upon year of dialogue in a place of trust, of safety.

There are those who don't understand this vital need to retreat into ourselves, to be with those who can listen to our stories without judgement nor aggression.

I found this shared by Maha

Online hospitality.

I saw somewhere that Sundi had talked about starting not from "me" but from "us".

I started psychotherapy not from a position of me, but from them.

I is never ever singular it is always plural.

I think now of online hospitality.

I suggest that we are often starting from a simplistic idea about receiving others into our conversations - as long as they behave to our own rules.

We are hospitable in the sense that we say HI! Welcome on board!

We are jolly nice, we are jolly inclusive.

Until we are wounded by the guest who has not understood our rules.

Then we start being defensive and putting up the battens and calling people names.



"White privileged guy"

"Noisy neighbour"

We are never so hospitable as when we are not moved to question our own assumptions.

We are never so hospitable as when we are appreciated in our self-given role of host.

Oh thank you!

We speak of insertion.

We speak of assimilation.

We speak of coming onboard.

Fuck that my friends.

Let us rock this boat.

OK, Twitter is not a Quaker reading room.

OK, Facebook is a trap.

OK, Mastodon has a lot of echo.

"Hello, Hello, Anybody there?"

Let's look at what we have managed to do so far.

Never in my life have I been thus challenged.

Never in my life have I been able to be kind to trolls who shared my childhood.

Never in my life have I been able to have my own colonial family story put into such relief by those who now I count as friends.

Never in my life have I been able to simultaneously write poetry with people in three continents.

The value of "digital citizenship" is to constantly question my own visions of hospitality, my own practices of learning, my own prejudices concerning those who are noisy, those who are silent, those who are aggressive, those who are contemplative, those who frankly I would never ever come across in a non-digitally networked existence.

We must take time to be changed by the other, to celebrate the graffiti on our walls.

We mustn't run away from each other when faced by conflict, we must consider that we are in this together for the long term.

We must take risks to learn to live together in peace when our interactions spark fight or flight instincts.

When Maha talks of love, there is a choice.

We love despite our differences.

There is something there of a "cadre".

There is something there of "hospitalité inconditionnel."


  1. I am here. But I will be back.

  2. Do you know that feeling in which you only realize afterwards that all sorts of things were unfolding and you were unaware? Or ignorant? Or naive? I'm sort of feeling that way right now, and it makes me .. unsettled. Sad.
    All of you -- you, Simon, and Maha, and others -- are people I consider part of my "network" that I regularly turn to for collaboration and support and ideas. So, to learn that some feel not just left out but also feeling marginalized in a discussion about identity and culture and technology and civics (all issues we all reflect upon regularly) is unsettling. (I realize this happens all over the world. I don't like it anywhere).
    I felt, and still feel, as if I were invited into the DIgCiz conversations (or did I force my way in?) and that my voice was/is being valued. I noticed tension with the language, and the reactions, but figured, that's how 'open' is. I realize, after reading, the remains of the past (I remain ignorant of all the rhizo tensions. Another source of me scratching my head. This is getting to be a habit of mine, apparently.)
    But knowing you, Simon, have been hurt like this has me wondering, was there a role for me here that I missed? I'm no superhero. No magic wand. No potions. Just wondering on things.
    Put me in your paint can and spray me on the wall as graffiti. I'll be your art.
    "We must take time to be changed by the other, to celebrate the graffiti on our walls."
    Your friend,

  3. Thanks Kevin! not being in Facebook has saved you a lot of strife :-) You have a great ability to bring good cheer to wherever you are. I am afraid I am a few shades darker and abrasive too boot. You bring people together where I fear I tend to divide. Thank you for your friendship. Maybe I need to learn more from you!!

  4. Hi Simon,

    Your words ring true:
    "We must take time to be changed by the other, to celebrate the graffiti on our walls.

    We mustn't run away from each other when faced by conflict, we must consider that we are in this together for the long term.

    We must take risks to learn to live together in peace when our interactions spark fight or flight instincts."

    I once worked for a man so much like the current US president. On his first day he told the staff, "You need to know that I will be friends with some of you on staff; the rest of you will have to deal with it." And there it was -- friends and favors and loyalty, or enemy and obstacles and rejected. It tore apart our once solid staff community, and it has taken ten years to somewhat recover.

    It was a struggle to stand up for rights of those who began to have none -- to "not run away from each other when faced by conflict." We had to take risks and there was no peace, even after he left. Years passed with slow rebuilding of working relationships-- to work together for the kids.

    This needed to happen on both sides: "We must take time to be changed by the other, to celebrate the graffiti on our walls." It was the celebrations that brought us slowly back together. Though we may be "us," the "we" must acknowledge the "you." We must acknowledge teamwork and the "you." Not flattery, not awards, but understanding of the actions, even if we don't agree. That builds relationships and community and acceptance and trust.

    This post allows us to celebrate you and your contribution--your part of the fight. I could see it through my eyes, different from your experience, but similar enough to feel the hurt and understand. And to add value of your ideas to our conversations. Thank you for sharing your wisdom. Your across the world friend, Sheri

  5. I'm applauding your comments Sheri.

    Nothing hugely wise to say, except that I love the turn to art and poetry. It is a start. The thing about graffiti is that the observer can make up a totally different story to the artist.

    I posted a rather light giphy in Twitter but it's a nod to your writing, continuing to pick up threads and be willing to make things with your words. Evocative as always.

  6. I don't even remember Torn Halves, had to look him up, meh. Kevin is ever the bringer of cheer and bridge person. Maha, well Maha in a network is as good as being back in Cairo. Drinking Nile water worked after all.

  7. I am fond of French philosophers as well. It's nice to be able to say that. It was very hurtful to have others dismiss what I think is important - to trash a fundamental part of who I am. I didn't respond well to that. I took it personally, and it was probably never aimed at me. If only we could stop these misunderstandings, and stop hurting those we care about it and being hurt. If only.

  8. I circled back today to see what Simon's been posting. I saw this when it originally went live, and skimmed through again today. This phrase has been mentioned by others, but resonates with myself, as well.

    "We must take time to be changed by the other, to celebrate the graffiti on our walls."

    Taking time, means making time, within busy lives. Making time to read and reflect on what others have written take time. Lots of it.

    When I started following on-line spaces in the mid 2000s I recall writings by Dave Cormier and others that said, "Do what you can, when you can, as much as you can. You can't do it all."

    To me that means trying to stay connected with who I can, for as long as I can. From that understanding will grow.