• "In his eyes stood a light, not beautiful": Levinas, Hospitality, Beowulf

    Eileen Joy (see profile)
    Anglo-Saxon / Old English, Medieval Studies, Philosophy
    Anglo-Saxons--Study and teaching, Ethics, English language--Old English, Terrorism--Social aspects, Violence
    Item Type:
    Book chapter
    Anglo-Saxon studies, Old English, Sociology of terrorism
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    This essay offers a consideration of Levinas’s philosophy of hospitality in relation to the terroristic figure of Grendel in the Old English poem "Beowulf," in order to raise some questions about the vexed connections between ethics, violence and sovereignty, as well as between ethics and politics, both in the early Middle Ages and in our own time. In the trauma that is created in the wake of disturbance of the violent, destroying stranger-Other, how is welcoming, or hospitality (the very foundation of ethicity), even possible? If the home constitutes the site of recollection (a coming–to–oneself) which is the condition for welcoming (a going–out–of–oneself to the Other), what happens to the ethical project of hospitality when the stranger-Other is actively trying to destroy that home? If, as Levinas argues, the “positive deployment of a pacific relation with the other, without frontier or any negativity, is produced in language,” how can we make peace with those who refuse to speak, to contact us, across a great (yet also intimately proximate) distance, with language? In what way does terroristic violence (whether the anthrophagy of a Grendel or the belted bomb of a suicide terrorist) simultaneously summon and accuse us as those who are “irreplaceable”? How does Grendel, as an exorbitantly exterior (read: monstrous) figure of terrorism, signify and enact a type of violence (even, a type of radical evil) that the State (Heorot) itself simultaneously exercises and punishes? And finally, in what ways does terroristic violence enact a politics (or, perhaps, more negatively, an active political nihilism) that articulates an interstitial relationship that is both distant from and also within the territory of the state?
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    Last Updated:
    5 years ago


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