Metaphysics for Today





Our trajectory through the idiosyncrasies and insights of the foreigner has brought us to unsuspected lands. The review of the definitions of the foreigner across the literary and intellectual traditions of western societies revealed its quasi-forceful incorporation within a pragmatic field of administrative concerns. Back to the foreigner proper, we could gauge the existential novelty that at once the departure, and the foreign residence of the outsider, brings to the larger life-condition of the human. A necessary inflection onto the specificities of the present philosophical voice, the author of these lines, me ! sufficed to justify a transcendence of subjective-bound existential analyses, towards larger concerns of collective conceptualisations and values : the foreign would be more than just the foreigner’s matter. We discovered how the silhouette of the foreigner hides behind the historical formation of human cultures and their foundational ethics, via the notion and practices of hospitality. Language, and in particular the written, proved to require and imply a process of self-externalisation fundamentally shared with the event of foreignness. Finally, the cultural persona of the philosopher, a figure of the written, turned out to be the internal counterpart of the foreigner.

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Through this journey, the frame of analysis fluctuated continuously between the collective and the individual, between society and its specific foreigner. Where is the foreign to be found ?

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Through this journey, the frame of analysis fluctuated continuously between the collective and the individual, between society and its specific foreigner. Where is the foreign to be found ? Between the two ? Or perhaps in both at the same time? There, one would indeed get an idea of the description of the foreigner, through the lenses of history, politics, existentialism, culture, ethics or language. But should the reflection stop there ? Is the foreigner simply yet another offspring of an inquisitive approach necessarily objectifying its locus of interest, confirming western philosophy, from its earliest levels of inception, as dangerously concomitant with science ?

The very trajectory we adopted indicates precisely another route. By transcending each level of analysis, we reach the very form of this discourse as a whole, the very discipline within which this reflection may be accepted : philosophy. And it is through the philosopher’s resemblance to the foreigner, and vice-versa, that we could locate their shared realisation that it is the human individual that is the true unit of human history. This means that, just like the best philosophers, the foreigner is not satisfied with the terrain of description, be it reflective or external through what her position offers to show. The foreigner re-enters history, and becomes aware of the plasticity of the destiny of humanity. We cannot be content with the foreigner’s descriptions : we must, finally, turn to the foreigner’s prescriptions.

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Existentially and otherwise, the foreigner explores the first-hand evidence of the waltz of cultures, of the coming and going of epochs, values, norms and hopes. The foreigner has a sharp idea of what ‘difference’ may mean, and this concept comes to reshape her worldview altogether.

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What kind of prescriptions ? A silent immigrant or an energetic academic, the foreigner’s experience gives her plenty to count, to deplore, to dream, and finally, to suggest. The preceding angles of analyses are already as many levels at which the foreigner can expand her practical knowledge onto more formalised propositions. We have already touched upon these options, through our series of methodological redefinitions for an approach to foreignness, but also on more specific issue, such as with our brief defence of hospitality vis-à-vis the reductive or ‘totalising’ (to borrow Levinas’s language) project of cosmopolitanism. But the foreigner can provide something else, something more. Existentially and otherwise, the foreigner explores the first-hand evidence of the waltz of cultures, of the coming and going of epochs, values, norms and hopes. The foreigner has a sharp idea of what ‘difference’ may mean, and this concept comes to reshape her worldview altogether. At this level, speaking in methodological or practical terms could continue to help her formulating and sharing her discoveries, but another channel may be opted for, in order to reach deeper layers of historical influence.

Metaphysics may be such a channel. We cannot anymore approach metaphysics with the naïve assumption, from philosophy’s early days, that it is the level zero of any interrogative approach to the world. Today, metaphysics has perhaps reached its all-time low in terms of popularity. It is not a mere revival that we shall point towards here, but rather a reformulation of its meaning and scopes, so to match today’s societies and their intellectual disciplines more appropriately. But this is indeed, here, that the foreigner’s lessons, the foreigner’s prescriptions, shall be voiced. And when foreignness crosses the borders of the collective, of human culture and of the world’s civilisations, the foreigner redirects her gaze and moves towards a new understanding of space, of time, and of knowledge. Ending with the beginning : a foreigner’s metaphysics.


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Supplementary References

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Beck, Ulrich. The Cosmopolitan Vision. Translated by Ciaran Cronin. Cambridge, UK Malden, MA: Polity, 2006.

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Image courtesy: Giorgio De Chirico