Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Derrida and undecidability (or the stranger)

OK, so i've been foraying into Derrida's ideas. At the moment, I'm getting my head around the idea of the "undecidables", those elements that disrupt binary categories (e.g. trans/intersex/androgynes "between" the categories of male and female), and how these undecidables undermine conceptual stability. Well, in the case of trans and intersex experiences, there's often an effort to assign categorical membership to resolve the "undecidability", so that a person is assigned (or actively participates in the assignment of) a sex/gender.

Anyway, a line that intrigued me was "between friends and enemies, the stranger".

I am interested in this idea of the "stranger" - one who is irreconcilably different to oneself, but with no sense of hostility. The reason for my interest is that I think this is a useful way of approaching socio-cultural diversity - how does one coexist with strangers? I think that often those who are different to the hegemonic norm (e.g. queers, people of color, disabled people) are often either framed as enemies or friends (or perhaps not in the case of disabled people who are infantilised and perhaps beyond this binary?). I mean specifically the rhetoric of well-meaning progressives who frame those who are different as friends, in the sense that they are "like us". This negates "their" differences from "us" as essentially meaningless. I am interested in how one can ethically recognise that another is (potentially) a stranger and coexist. I say potentially a stranger because some people do seek to assimilate into the hegemonic norms, and don't identify themselves as existing beyond those norms. I think radical queers often take pleasure in declaring their "enemy" status to the hegemonic norms, partly just for the pleasure of the act of rebellion, partly in order to carve a space for themselves that works for their desires, and partly challenging the power of the norms. I get it, and live my life partly as a radical queer, and I also live my life partly as an assimilationist, eager to carve a space that is not founded on perpetual struggle; but I strive to understand how to welcome the grey, how to relate to others without reducing their differences (from me) and assuming they are "just like me" and without hostility. How to be with the stranger.

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