All entries for December 2006

December 08, 2006

Kristeva On ‘The Greeks Among Barbarians, Suppliants, and Metics’

Kristeva wonders how one becomes a foreigner and she notes that the term, foreigner, is now connected to legal jargon and the status of a person who exists in a country where he or she is not a citizen. Kristeva believes that the legal means by which citizens can solve difficulties with the foreigner does not resolve the issues of how to approach its otherness.

Moreover, by explicitly, obviously, ostensibly occupying the place of the difference, the foreigner challenges both the identity of the group and his own—a challenge that few among us are apt to take up. A drastic challenge: “I am not like you”. An intrusion: “Behave with me as you would among yourselves”. A call for love: “Recognize me”. (42)

Kristeva now challenges us to leave modern notions of the foreigner behind and to study instead ‘the foreigners of ancient tragedy’ (42).

The First Foreigners: Foreign Women (From Io to the Danaïdes)
Kristeva begins by discussing the Danaïdes, who were descendents of Io, one of Zeus’ lovers. Io was turned into a heifer by the jealous Hera, but Zeus transformed himself into a bull and continued to make love to Io. Hera responded by sending a gadfly to torment Io and as a heifer, Io travelled many lands pursued by that biting fly which Kristeva sees as a symbol of sexual passion. Later Zeus relieved of this curse and Io gave birth to a son, Epahus.

The story of the Danaïdes revolves around Epaphus’ great grandsons: Danaüs and Aegyptus, because Aegyptus wanted to forcibly marry Danaüs’ fifty daughters (the Danaïdes) to his fifty sons. However, the Danaïdes fled to Argos making themselves exiles from their native land (Egypt) and from marriage: ‘Warlike cold virgins, they retained only a cold passion from Io, which drew them in a different but sympathetical fashion, outside wedlock and outside the law’ (44). In some versions of the story, the Danaïdes murder their proposed husbands wither by their accord or in deference to their father’s will, yet there are two sisters who refrain: Amymone becomes a hydrophoran married to Poseidon and Hypermnestra marries the husband proposed for her rather than strangling him. The other Danaïdes murder their husbands and Kristeva suggests that in their case, ‘[f]oreignness is carried to forbidden revolt, a hubris giving rise to abjection’ (45).

Kristeva sees the story of the Danaïdes as displaying a movement in society from being endogamous (marrying within a tribe or social unit) to exogamous. To make new alliances, one must move beyond one’s clan and Kristeva states: ‘Such is the dark passion between husband and wife who are, after all, strangers to each other’ (46). The unit of the family is based on a ‘wrenching away’ (46).

Interestingly, Kristeva notes the war of the sexes that is explicit in the story of the Danaïdes:

Even more so, the foreign aspect of the Danaïdes also raises the problem of antagonism between the sexes themselves in their extramarital alliance, in the amatory and sexual “relation”. In shirt, what is the “relation” between the “population” or “race” of men and the “population” or “race” of women? The sexual difference, which has been in the course of time either erased or overemphasised in turn, is certainly not destined to be frozen into antagonism. The fact remains that in Greece the bride was thought of as a foreigner, a suppliant. (46)

Suppliants and Proxeni
Kristeva explores the status of the Danaïdes as suppliants who are advised by their father in Aesychlus’ The Danaïd to lay wreaths to the foreign gods and to express themselves modestly. Initially the Danaïdes are resented by the Argives for their foreign dress and manner, but they resolve the situation through the use of a proxenus, a representative who had the charge of showing hospitality to those who came from a foreign state. The Danaïdes’ proxenus was the king of Argos and his responsibility was to represent the views of the foreigners while maintaining the rights of the natives, so the Danaïdes become ‘citizens and foreigners at the same time’ (48).

The Status of Foreigners in Homeric Times
Proxeny was presided over by the god, Hermes, and Kristeva notes that ‘proxenus’ can mean ‘one who seeks’. Kristeva describes the proxenus as ‘the middleman between the polis and those belonging to a foreign community, providing the remedy to their statuatory incapacity’ (49). According to Homer, those interested in travel and voyaging were close to the fringes of society such as illegitimate sons and Kristeva notes that this assumption about foreigners created ‘prejudice against those foreign to the group’ (49).

Kristeva mentions the ‘parity’ of Sparta’s social organization. Here is what Cartledge, Hodkinson and Spawforth say about Sparta in The Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization:

The result was the creation of the famous eunomia (‘good order’), admired by both contemporaries and later generations for its long-term stability. Few of its specific institutions were in themselves unique; many were transformations of earlier institutions or were paralleled elsewhere in Greece. What was distinctive was their combination into a coherent structure which attempted to produce a unified citizen body of homoioi (‘Peers’ rather than ‘Equals’) whose subservience to collective interests and military training would ensure effective policing of the helots. The reorganization had its limits. The cultural impact was gradual: Olympic athletic victories continued until c.550, and Laconian painted pottery and bronze vessel production until a generation later. Several spheres of Spartiate society were only partially affected, especially the strength of family allegiances and more independent role of citizen women. Although the subject is controversial, land tenure probably remained essentially private and its distribution very unequal. (“Sparta”)

Kristeva notes that there were different kinds of foreigners in Sparta:
• foreigners passing by regarded with suspicion (‘might those migrating birds not be birds of prey?’ (49);
• and foreigners who settled in the region and became metics.

Metics sometimes had to pay a residency tax, except in Athens. Athens metics also received the protection of a politician, the prostates . Prostasia and proxeny are two forms of protection then for the foreigner in a new society. Yet Kristeva quotes Maric-Francoise Baslez who notes like Cartledge, Hodkinson and Spawforth above that property rights were more ambiguous.
The Danaïdes then were actually well-incoroprated into the community of Argos: ‘at the same time citizens because of their Argive descent [Io was from Argos] and foreigners because they came from Egypt (as they are bestial and feminine—in the likeness of Io—initiated into the cult of Demeter and servants of Hera, criminal killers of men and brokers of the marriage contract)’ (50).

Barbarians and Metics During the Classical Age
Kristeva now considers the Median Wars with Persia (490-478) and she suggests that it ‘changed the relationships between the polis and the foreigner’ because it was then that idea of the ‘barbarian’ developed (50). This was not an internal war of city states and it dictated a confrontation moving beyond the recognition of Greek foreigners. In Athens, koinonia was developed, an idea of civic fellowship based on the citizen’s contribution to political life rather than on race or any other factor. However, Kristeva notes that Pericles law of 451 dictates that the citizen must have a dual Athenian descent and other persons are illegitimate.

The word, barbarian, was used in a number of ways:
• as a response to other languages being created from onomatopoeic interpretations (‘bla-bla, bara-bara);
• to describe non-Greeks in general;
• to describe specific groups e.g. Homer uses ‘barbarophone’ to describe fighters from Asia Minor;
• and to describe Greeks and foreigners ‘having a slow, thick or improper speech’ (51).

Kristeva suggests that the Median Wars raised awareness concerning the figure of barbarian and she gestures towards Greek philosophy and its foundation on logos , the cosmic principle that gives order and rationality to the world, in a way analogous to that in which human reason orders human action: ‘The barbarian are outside this universe on account of their outlandish speech and dress, their political and social peculiarities’ (51). By the time Euripides uses the term, barbarian, it has taken on ‘a more pejorative sense’ while for Euripides, Aeschylus and Sophocles, barbarian signifies incomprehensibility, strangeness, eccentricity and inferiority (although it is not until the Roman Empire that it takes on connotations of cruelty). The inferiority of the barbarian ‘includes moral inferiority’ and Kristeva concludes that to be a barbarian is no longer simply to be foreign but to belong to the sphere of ‘evil, cruelty, and savageness’ (51-52). In Euripides’ The Trojan Women, Andromache calls the Greeks barbarians as a result of their immoral actions, while in Aeschylus’ The Danaïd, the strange behaviour of an Egyptian herald is described as barbaric. For the most part, Barbarism is used as a contrast to the democracy of Greek society. The liberal views of Socrates concerning origins suggest some cosmopolitanism in intellectual circles, but mainly the eccentricity and incomprehensibility of foreigners meant that they were excluded.

However, the metic remained a fixture in the polis. The metic’s conditions of life dictated:
• the payment of a of a monthly residence tax (a day’s wages) (Athens had particularly high taxes);
• career choices such as being an artisan, farmer, banker, owners of personal property or shippers;
• the possibility of being capitalists or intellectuals;
• the possibility of achieving ‘fiscal equality with citizens, but never[…] the ownership of goods’ (53);
• and scant participation in competitions, choruses or national defence.

Kristeva concludes: ‘When all is said and done, it would appear as though the establishment of a metric class was conceived as a moderate political and demographic device, avoiding cosmopolitanism as well as xenophobia’ (54). Kristeva notes that the economic weighing of the foreigner’s worth still happens in modern society: ‘Economic necessity remains a gangplank-or a screen-between xenophobia and cosmopolitanism’ (54).

Commercialism is a factor of great importance in one’s relation to the foreigner as Kristeva notes in her analysis of ports of emporiums:

When business is booming and merchants sweep into ports, when tourism develops and people travel out of intellectual curiosity, at the same time as professors infiltrate among the amateurs of culture, one feels the need to confine foreigners. Beginning with the fifth century, passing foreigners seldom go beyond the limits of ports. Although not a true ghetto, the emporion, a port authority, was a commercial (stores, markets wharfs) and sexual (brothels) area that was distinguished from the agora, the center [sic] of political and military life. (54)

Kristeva enlarges her comments on the place of the passing foreigner, noting that Aristotle demanded that the agora be divided into two zones, one for civic and political life and the other for commercial exchange.
Commercialism is a factor of great importance in one’s relation to the foreigner as Kristeva notes in her analysis of ports:

When business is booming and merchants sweep into ports, when tourism develops and people travel out of intellectual curiosity, at the same time as professors infiltrate among the amateurs of culture, one feels the need to confine foreigners. Beginning with the fifth century, passing foreigners seldom go beyond the limits of ports. Although not a true ghetto, the emporion, a port authority, was a commercial (stores, markets wharfs) and sexual (brothels) area that was distinguished from the agora, the center [sic] of political and military life. (54)

Kristeva enlarges her comments on the place of the passing foreigner, noting that Aristotle demanded that the agora be divided into two zones, one for civic and political life and the other for commercial exchange.

However the phenomenon of the proxenus suggests that at least for foreigners who became part of a homogenised culture, integration was possible. Kristeva is particularly impressed by the fact that proxeny was available for both Greeks and non Greeks, for citizens and foreigners. Here Kristeva quotes Plato’s description of the need to accept foreigners in Laws as a means to earn a good reputation amongst other nations. However, Kristeva notes that Plato advises caution and he describes a number different types of foreigners.
• summer visitors, described as migrating birds following winds of commerce and who can be accepted in public buildings outside the city limits, but cannot contribute in any major way to society;
• spectators, who come to view religious ceremonies and who must be judged by priests and wardens of the city;
• dignitaries;
• and the most unusual type, a foreigner who arrives in a new land out of curiosity and the desire ‘to see something that is far superior to what exists elsewhere or to tell about something similar elsewhere’ (56).

December 01, 2006

Toccata and Fugue for the Foreigner (Continued)

Follow-up to Toccata and Fugue for the Foreigner from The Midnight Heart


Krsiteva discusses here how the foreigner uses indifference as a ‘shield’. The foreigner appraently has to withdraw: ‘This is because his being kept apart corresponds to his remaining aloof, as he pulls back into the painless score of what is called a soul the humbleness that. when all is said and done, amounts to plain brutality’ (7) (?). Apparently, the foreigner ‘takes pride in holding a truth that is perhaps simply a certainty – the ability to reveal the crudest aspects of human relationships when seduction fades out and properties give way before the results of confrontations’ (7). The foreigner ‘confronts everyone with an asymbolia [loss of the power to understand previously familiar symbols and signs] that rejects civility and returns to a violence laid bare’ (7).

The space of the foreigner is a moving train, a plane in flight, the very transition that precludes stopping.

To describe the self-confidence of the foreigner, Kristeva uses the following images: ‘an oyster shut under the flooding tide or the expressionless joy of warm stones’ (8). She notes that the foreigner is caught between courage and humiliation and is engaged in a ‘secret working out’ (8). When the foreigner crosses a border, the difficulties that he suffers make his identity stronger. In a rather speculative statement, Kristeva suggests that had the foreigner remained in his native country, he may ‘have become a drop-out, an invalid, a lawyer’ (8). [Is this because Kristeva is referring indirectly to Camus’ The Outsider?] However she makes some interesting comments about acting:

Without a home, he disseminates on the contrary the actor’s paradox: multiplying masks and “false selves” he is never completely true nor completely false, as he is able to tune in to loves and aversions the superficial antennae of a basaltic heart. A headstrong will, but unaware of itself, unconscious, distraught. The breed of the tough guys who know how to be weak. (8)

[Is Kristeva referring directly to Camus’ The Outsider here?] Amongst these difficulties, the stranger may wonder if their self exists at all?

Kristeva points out the paradox here that once the foreigner finds an action or passion within a society, they begin to become rooted. When they do become attached to a cause, job or person, the fusion that occurs is of one being consumed by an other. Because the foreigner has severed his ties to home, he cannot express love or hate, but must ‘wander about the world, neutral but solaced for having developed an interior distance from the fire and ice that had seared them in the past’ (9). [Again is this Camus’ stranger that she is referring to?]

A Melancholia
The foreigner dreams of a lost paradise to which he cannot return, rather he is ‘a dreamer making love with absence’(10).

Ironists and Believers
The foreigner is not simply torn between here and elsewhere. Rather ‘the foreigner belongs nowhere’ (10). Kristeva notes that there are two kinds of foreigners:
1. Ironists emerge from ‘those who waste away in an agonizing struggle between what no longer is and what will never be—the followers of neutrality, the advocates of emptiness; they are not necessarily defeatists, they often become the best of ironists’ (10);
2. Believers are ‘those who transcend: living neither before nor now but beyond, they are bent with a passion that although tenacious, will remain forever unsatisfied. It is a passion for another land, always a promised one, that of an occupation, a love, a child, a glory. They are believers and they sometimes ripen into skeptics.’ (10)

Foreigners do not always wander alone but meet with others:

A crossroad of two othernesses, it welcome sthe foreigner to his visitor without committing him. A mutual recognition that the meeting owes its success to its temporary nature… (11)

The believer needs meeting, and while the cynic does not actively seek meetings, he needs them too.

Sole Liberty
The foreigner is free of ties and so he lives in a kind of solitude. He is rejected for his uniqueness, yet he longs for affiliation.

A Hatred
Pain and familiarity create hatred in the foreigner. According to Kristeva the foreigner ‘lies in wait, reassured each time to discover that it never misses an appointment, bruised on account of always missing love, but almost pleased with the persistence—real or imaginary?—of detestation (12) [generalizing too much here]. Kristeva’s next comments seem to respond to the pain and difficulty felt by the foreigner and suggest a means to repair such damage:

Living with the other, with the foreigner, confronts us with the possibility or not of being an other . It is not simply—humanistically—a matter of our being able to accept the other, but of being in his place, and this means to imagine and make oneself other for oneself. Rimbaud’s Je est un autre was not only the acknowledgement of the psychotic ghost that haunts poetry. The word foreshadowed the exile, the possibility or necessity to be foreign and to live in a foreign country, thus heralding the art of living in a modern era, the cosmopolitanism of those who have been flayed. Being alienated from myself, as painful as that may be, provides me with that exquisite distance within which perverse pleasure begins, as well as the possibility of my imagining and thinking, the impetus of my culture. (14)

Finally Kristeva wonders whether in order to feel oneself to be a foreigner in another country, one has to initially be a foreigner from within.

The Silence of Polyglots
Kristeva suggests that when one denies a mother-tongue, one is ‘bearing within oneself like a secret vault […] cherished and useless—that language of the past that withers without ever leaving you’ (13). Between two languages, the foreigner’s ‘realm is silence’ (14).

The Former Separations From the Body” (Mallarme, “Cantique de Saint Jean”)
The foreigner apparently finds it difficult to disagree with the native and wonders whether he should challenge ‘the native’s assurance’ (17). Kristeva writes: ‘Those who have never lost the slightest root seem to you unable to understand any word liable to temper their point of view’ (17). How can the wanderer relate to the native?

Immigrants, Hence Workers
While some natives disdain to work, Foreigners often are workers. They find themselves a niche and work hard. [Too much generalization from Kristeva here.] The children of foreigners however prefer to live the dolce vita. [Far too much speculation here.]

Slaves and Masters
Who is the slave and who the master in this society? While modernity means that as global subjects, we are all likely to feel foreign in out travels at one time or another, the categories of ‘master’ and ‘slave’ are not as concrete as they once were, according to Kristeva.

Every native feels himself to be more or less a “foreigner” in his “own and proper” place, and that metaphorical value of the word “foreigner” first leads the citizen to a feeling of discomfort as to his sexual, national, political, professional identity. Next it impels him to identify—sporadically, to be sure, but nonetheless intensely—with the other. (19)

Void or Baroque Speech
The speech of foreigners is often ignored, but when it is heard it is listened to with fascination for its strangeness. The native listener hears the speech with an absent or amused manner. Kristeva refers to Balthasar Gracián and James Joyce.

In being away from home, foreigners are often separated from their parents and family and so they are also separated from a sense of a shared past. Thinking about identity in this way makes the parents a source of strength, but in becoming a foreigner, the subject is also foreign to his own parents.

Do You Have Any Friends?
The foreigner’s friends ‘could only be those who feel foreign to themselves’ according to Kristeva (23). There are also paternalists, paranoid persons and perverse people who are attracted by foreigners. [This is spinning off into a whole world of generalization which seems very inappropriate.] Kristeva believes that it is not enough for foreigners of the world to ‘unite’ (24). She writes how ‘just because one is a foreigner does not mean one is without one’s own foreigner’ (24). Foreigners exclude other foreigners.

The “Mersault Case” or “We are all like Mersault”
Kristeva now turns to Camus’ The Stranger (or I think in some editions it is translated as The Outsider). As a foreigner, the protagonist Mersault seems to take on all of the attributes that Kristeva allocates to the foreigner: difficulty concerning his mother, lack of sensation and difficulties of consciousness. Problems with his mother and father dictate an inner exile and that other within makes him a stranger to others. Through dissociation, he maintains an interior distance or aloofness. He is aware of the futility of words and after the murder, he would prefer death to speaking. Kristeva believes that the oddness of his condition is the ordinary life of the foreigner.

Dark Origins
For the foreigner often there is a tension between elsewhere and one’s origins. Again Kristeva returns to the mother as a source of difficulty and the foreigner’s cosmopolitanism.

Explosion: Sex or Disease
This section is one that I find particularly disagreeable because of the general terms in which Kristeva speaks. Is she talking about Camus’ stranger? It is not clear and this makes it very ambiguous. Kristeva suggests that for the foreigner in a new country, nothing is prohibited: ‘Exile is a shattering of the former body’ (30). Apparently foreigners have no regard for sexual taboos and there is an implication that they are spreaders of Aids and other STDs. In a suggestion that borders on racism, Kristeva asks us to examine Spanish and Moslem women who settle in France and experiences an ‘erotic outburst’ (30). Kristeva tells a few anecdotes of this nature and concludes: ‘The foreigner who imagines himself to be free of borders, by the same token challenges any sexual limit’ (31). Kristeva links this to audacious uses of language too.

An Ironic Wandering or the Polymorphous Memory of Sebastian Knight
Kristeva turns to The Real Life of Sebastian Knight by Nabokov, a novel which tells the biography of a Russian Anglophile. According to Kristeva, the story of Knight shows the ‘essential polymorphism of writing itself’ (33).

I merely wish to emphasize one of the strands of that implacable relativism: the cosmopolitanism, the shuttling back and forth of the two idioms (Russian and English), set, in the case of Knight, at the heart of something indiscernible that unbalances a man and replaces him with a language mispronounced into style. (34)

The character of Sebastian Knight fits Kristeva’s category of the foreigner because he is lacking in unified selfhood, he perceives his own foreignness with irony, he has problems with language and through his awareness and acceptance of his own difference, he finds solitude. For Knight, ‘[t] he lost woman—lost land, lost language—cannot be found’ (36). Like Camus’ stranger, Knight has difficulty with his mother, and speaks her tongue as if to bring her back to life.

Why France?
According to Kristeva, France is obsessed with foreignness. It lacks ‘the tolerance of Anglo-American protestants’, ‘the absorbent ease of the Latin Americans’ and ‘the curiosity of the Germans or Slavs’ (all of these racial stereotypes). Rather it has ‘a compact social texture and an unbeatable national pride’ (38). An inability to speak French damns the foreigner, as does a lack of good taste (many assumptions here about the foreigner!). In response, the foreigner either tries to become part of French culture or he withdraws. However, in France, the foreigner is always an object of fascination. Kristeva notes that France is not more racist than other countries, but there is a preoccupation with one’s relation to others.


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