January 08, 2007

More of Kristeva on 'The Greeks Among Barbarians, Suppliants and Metics'

Hellenistic Cosmopolitanism

Kristeva now considers the proliferation of pan-Hellenic ideas, which emerged via representatives such as Herodotus of Halicarnassus and Hippodamus of Miletus. Both of these men were refugees and both part in project set up by Pericles to create a community of representatives for different colonies of Greece. Kristeva describes a curiosity concerning foreigners inherent in Hellenist culture and she directs the reader to the following quotations:

The only homeland, foreigner, is the world we live in; a single Chaos has given birth to all mortals. —Meleager of Gadara

I am a man, and nothing human is foreign to me. —Menander (trans. Terence).

Kristeva traces such attitudes back to Stoicism and its ‘ethics, which was based on individual judgement’ (57). The desire was that ‘the city-state might embrace the far limits of the world’ (57).

Zeno of Citium

Stoic Conciliation: Universalism…

Kristeva cites the founders of Stoicism (Zeno of Citium and Chrysippus) as believing ‘that every living being was supported by the principle called oikeiosis, a complex notion that might be translated as “conciliation” ’(57). For Kristeva, oikeiosis also conveys ‘the permanent taking hold of oneself, a kind of “inner touch,” of vital dynamic that puts the subject in agreement with himself’ (57). See note on Stoicism: http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/zoebrigley/entry/a_definition_of/

Kristeva describes Stoic conciliation as an agent that ‘binds us not only to ourselves but also to the concentric spheres that would represent the arrangement of our fellow men—starting with close relatives and ending up with the whole of mankind, according to Hierocles’ theory; in reverse, by tightening circles we succeed in absorbing all men, of whatever race or blood, into ourselves’ (57). The result is a kind of ‘tolerant cosmopolitanism’ in which ‘distinctions fade between Greeks and barbarians, free men and slaves, but also between men and women, since all are endowed with a longing for the same virtue’ (58).

Unfortunately, Stoicism did not prevail and Kristeva believes that this occurs because ‘an elitism of the reasonable wise man was unfurled’ imbued with pride, resisting laws and talking unintelligibly. Foreignness came to have an association now also with blindness. Stoicism did not live up to its principles, but rather homogenised others via the application of reason: ‘the one not amenable to it falling into the category of the insane’ (59). Stoicism became an autarchy, a system of government by one person with absolute power.

…and Perversion

Kristeva sees a flaw in the cosmopolitanism discussed: that is ‘a cynical stamp’ which apparently appears in Zeno’s Republic as an embracing of pure logos(60).

No more distinct States nor peoples, but a single law ruling the human flock, happy in its pasture. Love prevails over men and women who freely belong to one another, dressed in the same manner, having abolished marriage, schools, courts, money, and even temples—only the inner god of the Spirit was revered. Cannibalism, incest, prostitution, pederasty [sexual intercourse between a man and a boy], and of course the destruction of the family are also accepted among the features of that ideal State. One feels that cosmopolitanism emerges from the core of a global movement that makes a clean sweep of laws, differences, and prohibitions; and that by defying the polis and its jurisdiction one implicitly challenges the founding prohibitions of established society and perhaps of sociality itself; that be abolishing state-controlled borders one assumes, logically and beforehand, an overstepping of the prohibitions that guarantee sexual, individual, and familial identity. (60)

For Kristeva, such a situation defies human association itself and she wonders whether it is ‘possible to live without constraints’ (60). Kristeva replies that there are two possible routes in such a scenario: to become a cynic and hedonist or to adopt ‘the elitism of lucid, self controlled beings, of wise men who manage to be reconciled with the insane’ (61). The second route is of course that of Stoicism and Kristeva relates it to philosophers of the Enlightenment, ‘rights of man’ activists and Marxist International cosmopolitanism. On the one hand, such movements represent universalism and cosmopolitan conciliation, yet on the other hand, they lean towards ‘arbitrariness, terror, and totalitarianism’ (61).

Kristeva is ambivalent about cosmopolitanism and she wonders whether a city can ever really become a model of the world. However, she admits that in Hellenistic Greece, a policy of cosmopolitanism was activated, as foreigners to the polis became for integrated in comparison to foreigners to the Greek nation.


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