Particles of Foreignness

DE L’INFINI : A FOREIGNER’S METAPHYSICS

BOOK II

FOREIGNER, HERE : EXISTENTIALIST FOREIGNNESS

Introduction

Back to the foreigner proper. What has the first-person voice of a foreigner to do in a philosophical exploration of foreignness ? If ‘foreignness’ is here primarily understood as a word, a concept, then its actual lived experience, while primary, should move to the background. There should be more, in and around foreignness, than the story of particular foreigners. These stories have already been out in the open – in mythical and dramatic forms thousands of years ago, through the diaries and accounts of journeys across the globe for many centuries, and in fictionalised forms with the birth of the novel from the 16-17th century onwards. If intellectual or conceptual fruits were awaited from such accounts, it would be points of anthropologic and ethnographic interests that one would logically expect. Quantitative and qualitative projects could be developed, then, to unveil the social and psychological processes marking the first-hand experience of foreignness. These accounts of foreignness in the particular – as lived by the studied populations – could be incorporated in the universal account of foreignness – as the final, exclusive concept and event that philosophy and other disciplines would try to define and discern through this word. Where, then, is the singular in this race of legitimate discourses ? Is it him, lost in the faux-semblant of a universal-looking crowd of particulars ? Where is the individual foreigner within the realm of foreignness ? And why would the singular even matter ?

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Existentialism does not justify itself as a valid method through logic ; it does not find legitimacy through the indubitable, but through the undeniable.

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Perhaps it does not – or rather ; perhaps the question itself is hollow, irrelevant and must be reformulated. The singular, in its proper positioning, subverts the modality and ambition of philosophy as a quest for the universal. When, on the shore of Christianity and Romanticism, the tradition of Existentialism springs up in the mid 19th century, with Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and more systematically later, with Heidegger, the logic of its legitimisation is reversed. It is not the epistemological enterprise that must come to validate the subjective approach as primary ; it is the undeniable impression of a fundamental, first-hand approach to existence, and human life in particular – that is, a necessary but also inescapable human condition – which switches the methodology of the philosopher. Thus enters the human subject, the locus of experience, the creator of meaning, the historical and temporal being, in the arena of modern philosophy. Existentialism does not justify itself as a valid method through logic ; it does not find legitimacy through the indubitable, but through the undeniable.

And, if existentialism evolves as a promising philosophical path for the question of foreignness specifically, it is, precisely, because numerous are the personal accounts of foreignness which invite to transcend the very possibility of conceptualisation altogether – foreignness as an event or a duration demands another language, another discourse than that of a universalising philosophy. The medium of creative, speculative and poetic hypotheses, perhaps ; or at least, the language of an interrogative subject, facing the task of philosophy just like he faces the foreign land, modest yet constructive in his attempt to elaborate upon his intuitions. Thus arrives the existentialist analysis of foreignness.

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Foreignness as an event or a duration demands another language, another discourse than that of a universalising philosophy. The medium of creative, speculative and poetic hypotheses, perhaps ; or at least, the language of an interrogative subject, facing the task of philosophy just like he faces the foreign land, modest yet constructive in his attempt to elaborate upon his intuitions. Thus arrives the existentialist analysis of foreignness.

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The present book is to be received as a personal take in this exercise, already attempted several times before and with potentially an infinity of variations. Here, we shall focus on two moments of the phenomenological experience of foreignness : first, the departure, and second, the residence abroad. We will see how these phenomena may challenge some of the central concepts of Heidegger, taken as the forefather and guiding figure for Existentialism. A third section shall locate this reflection by bringing in some inflection : it will be question, there, of the specific context and content of foreignness in my own case – specificity of the time, specificity of the native land, and specificity of the particular space of residence. I must also announce that immense, and otherwise unavoidable terrains of analysis for any existentialist interpretation, and in particular, language, will be left aside, as they will have their specific analysis in the following book.

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References

Image courtesy: Caleb Cole

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