Gift of the Other

Andrew Shepherd travels some ways with Levinas and Derrida in his The Gift of the Other, but like other critics he finds that Derrida and Levinas cannot finally support their ethic of hospitality and welcome.

He cites David Wood’s criticism that Derrida’s notion of unrestricted, unbounded hospitality smacks of “hubris” and “seems to deny my situatedness” (85). More fundamentally, “the Levinasian-Derridean account of hospitality stresses ethical asymmetry, and relationships of uni-directionality. Underlying such an account, appears to be the belief that not only are inter-subjective relationships inevitably of an adversarial and conflicted nature, but also that such conflict is embedded in the very fabric of the created world” (96).

Derrida cannot finally locate language within being. Language is instead a imposition on being. And hence naming is itself an act of violence, so that the Other who encounters me must remain nameless – hence abstracted. But I don’t encounter nameless others, and so the violence of names is unavoidable.

To save the ethic of hospitality, Shepherd turns to classic orthodoxy – to Trinitarian theology with its divine othering, to creation and the Creator-creature distinction, to the incarnation and atonement.

In a world where the Other is unavoidable, he argues, only a grounded hospitality can be sustained, and only a Trinitarian/creationist theology provides sufficient grounding.

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