or to leave something at the doorstep
The visit for the audience in the Seamen church starts with a decision. What do I choose to leave behind at the doorstep? Intuitively I choose to leave my watch and my room key of the hotel. Johan puts everything in a glass at the reception and I can see on the shelves that I am not the only one who decided for or lets say, against their watch.
Nevertheless what follows now feels rather like a state of presence to me than a travel in time. I might have expected to be confronted with tattooed arms, pirates and parrots and anecdotes of homesickness and adventures harbors. But if I have decided against my watch then Johan and Johan and their collaborators might have decided against a first degree presence of the seamen who usually make this place their own. I do meet a seaman on the video in the first room and I see him sitting on the leather chair I am sitting on while I listen to him. And yes he does have tattooed arms, I admit. But what I am trying to say is that he becomes even more present for me in his actual absence. We shared the same chair. While I make my way through the house I can say that nothing else that I encounter in the following hours is expected. What did Johan and Johan decide for if they decided against (to put it polemically) the seaman? They decided for a mediated presence of them. Meditated by a strong concept of hosts who welcome me in every room. I encounter them knowing merely one rule: I may listen to them I may talk with them. In the first room I still feel obliged to respond to what is said, to ask questions. A feeling, which is not evoked by my host but rather by the codes of encounter and politeness that I know. Only two rooms later I decide to only listen and I relax completely. The talks circle around the objects and things in the room but also around the relationship towards the profession of being a seamen in the perspective of my hosts. This very specific decision instantly makes me think of Derridas concept of hospitality. I understand that my hosts have been guests of the seaman church themselves before the performance itself turned them into hosts.
Derrida describes hospitality as invasive in the sense that the arrival of the guest immediately must challenge the identity of the host. Derrida sees the welcoming of the guest as an interruption of the hosts self. He is welcoming his guest in, in every sense, that means no trade or exchange is mediating between the two. It means letting someone in, in its purest sense, up to the degree that guest and host switch roles. So the gesture of letting someone over your door step without asking anything from her or him will always interrupt your very being as a host and therefore change you. Question your identity.
Why is that? And what is usually mediating and preventing this swapping of roles? When we usually refer to hospitality we refer to the hospitality, which is engaged in an economy of exchange, maybe even an economy of violence, but it might as well just be bringing a bottle of wine to a dinner party. A gesture that instantly claims your identity as a guest, not the host. An exchange takes place between the host and the guest and in offering hospitality, in welcoming the Other, the host imposes conditions upon the guest.
It is therefore that Derrida defines ethics as hospitality, and hospitality as ethics. Opposed to that Derridas concept of absolute hospitality does not know of any conditions.
Derrida points out: „Absolute hospitality involves neither the governance of duty nor the payment of debt. It is in this sense that hospitality is absolute unconditionally but without sovereignty“.
So what kind of hospitality is it that I am encountering in the seamen church? Not for my arguments sake but out of conviction I want to leave the fact that I purchased a ticket out of the equation of the potential exchange. (We can regard that as a code of the economics of theatre and outside of the logic that Johan and Johan intent to install). I believe that Derrida reaches for the adjective “absolute” in an almost provocative way, knowing that we will question his argument even more if he is using this kind of superlative. But I want to go back to the beginning of the essay. My first decision is to give an object and in return I enter the performance. How can we describe this kind of exchange? Well first of all this is rather a negotiation with myself than a trade with the host who is taking a discreet step back while I make my decision and search my pocket for the room key. And it is a negotiation with a potentiality of what I expect to happen in the next hours. I decide to be without home and time, and ultimately I leave some security at the doorstep, and this doesn’t seem so far from what Derrida is describing. Already I might be confusing my own identity with the identity of the ones I am going to encounter. The seamen who I expect to be without a steady home and on the sea for months, I expect them to have a different perception of time and home and so I start my visit as if I was not a guest but a host myself. I also decide to listen, I decide to stay or I decide to walk on. I feel no duty or governance, and my hosts introduce themselves as guests. And together we are trying to construct our idea of what a seaman actually is.
Derrida claims: „Hospitality is the deconstruction of the at home. The master of the home, the host, must welcome in a foreigner, a stranger, a guest without any qualifications including never been given an invitation.“
I like the thought to see the seaman church as a deconstruction of the at home. Although I would say that in this gesture of deconstruction, an idea of an at home is constructed at the same time. But still we are constantly asked to wonder: wonder about the collection of porcelain cups, or the strange bowl made of a foreign animal, or the map in the cellar which shows us countries which no longer exist. We think about home and how we constantly define the home as the familiar though it presents itself in such foreign ways to us sometimes. In the objects we collect and in the memories we fill those objects with. At one point in my walk through the house I confront my own idea of the at home. In the church I am asked to lie down and the son of the priest is lowering the lights. I think about me, and my walk through the church and the last weeks and I feel uncannily content and completely unexpected I have to cry a little. My host switches on the lights again and he doesn’t seem to mind. He smiles and I have a feeling that he has seen that already in his guests.
After this moment I am kind of overwhelmed and I have trouble to concentrate again, finally I arrive in the cafe of the seamen church, the last room of the performance. And suddenly I realize, of course the seaman are not an absence here manifesting itself in conversations and objects, but they are present as guests themselves, just like I am, to have a coffee and a chat.