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Exile: A world where the Other can appear

3 April 2022

Exile: A world where the Other can appear
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Still from Ailleurs Partout by Isabelle Ingold et Vivianne Perelmuter, 2021; Image credit: received.

Towards an ethics of welcoming refugees, we need to think of an asymmetry that assumes the difference between, on the one hand, those who are confined to their own world reduced to their familiar home and who are welcoming the other only if he or she can be assimilated, and, on the other hand, those for who the world transcends their familiar home, for who the world is composed of an irreducible plurality of unassimilable foreign worlds. Such asymmetry allows us to think of a universality woven of symbolic rather than imaginary differences, differences whose respect would allow the exercise of a universality in the singular which concerns each one unconditionally, and not only the few conforming to a discriminatory ideal. This article was first published in  French in AOC (Analyse Opinion Critique) on March 21st 2022,

Today, here. A room where people come to recharge their batteries - phone, body and soul. Almost exclusively young men - they come here for a sweet coffee, a moment of rest and comfort, a French course, social and legal support, a weekly or occasional talk with a psychologist, a medical prescription to soothe their headaches or itches, and often, simply, a few words exchanged in their native language with an unknown friend, who has arrived like them from Afghanistan, Syria, Eritrea, Yemen, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Mali, Guinea, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Algeria, Morocco, ... to name but a few of the countries whose violence has thrown on the road to exile the women and men for whom I am here a psychoanalyst. (1)

Wednesday March 2nd 2022. At the doorstep, two women, with a scarf, not a veil, on their heads and a huge bag at their feet, holding one another tightly, have just arrived from Ukraine. Already, we whisper in the corridors - our astonishment stems from the fact that we are used to migrations that last several years, our astonishment stems from the fact that the images seen yesterday on the news have crossed our screens so quickly. They are already here. And we are taking care of them. In particular, we are finding them accommodation. (2) Already, we whisper in the corridors – as we know that, for lack of places to host them, many of the people in exile we receive here are forced to return on the streets every night, for many years. (3)

Wednesday March 9th 2022. The excitement has died down. The emergency is elsewhere: the women, children, elderly people and men who have fled Ukraine and who arrive here are not staying: they are sent to dedicated care centres, not only because their country at war is touching Europe, but also because these people, whose relatives have often stayed behind in the fighting, (4) have specific needs: for example, we have to find accommodations for families, whereas the existing facilities are not only overloaded but also mostly designed to accommodate men (more rarely women) who came alone.

The precariousness in which exiled people find themselves, the struggle they are waging to become or become again a subject of rights, the muted or overt violence they tell us about - all of this seems to possibly evaporate today with a snap of the fingers, like a nightmare whose abjection would give way to awakening. Suddenly, what many exiled people dream of, seems to become reality: obtaining an immediate protection granting them residence rights, traveling rights, work authorization, education access, housing rights, means of subsistence, access to medical care.... (5) Their moving across the world is no longer prolonged by administrative wandering - but on one condition: not on the condition of fleeing Putin's bombs, as the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, will have said, (6) but on the condition of fleeing Ukraine – this notably excluding people fleeing Putin's bombs devastating Syria, as well as all people around the world fleeing other conflicts and oppressions, and this considerably complicating matters for non-European foreigners trying to flee Ukraine. (7) So, no, the dream of many people in exile is not coming true (8): the de facto violence of Europe's 'migration policy' is not just a nightmare but a reality that is now being experienced even more crudely than before as a matter of decision.

That hospitality is conditioned by politics (9) has been demonstrated over the last few months - if it were still necessary - by the borders of Europe: we witnessed the strategic rejection of people in exile that Belarus has brought from Beirut and Damascus to Poland’s border, and at the same time, we witness the solidarity with Ukrainian people as they cross the border of the same Poland. Hostility on one hand, hospitality on the other – this difference is determined by many complex political issues, which are themselves imbued with imaginary representations that discriminate between those who share and those who do not share our culture, our religion, our skin colour, but also our economic networks. We then have heard some strange phrases in recent days, phrases that affirm what they deny, phrases that proclaim the obvious need for hospitality while assuming its discriminatory practice. Today, Europe is showing a hospitality that is to its credit and that was expected of it for a long time, but by welcoming those who resemble it and whom, if necessary, it could absorb without changing, it is asserting its hospitality where this allows it to strengthen its sovereignty, and in so doing, it remains all the more blind to the abyss opened up by its failure to welcome others - those whose exile it has reduced to a migratory crisis, those who must fight for the law to be applied, fight to be recognised as subjects of rights. (10)

Against the annexation of hospitality to some political agenda orchestrating the inequality of lives, (11) against a hospitality thus conceived as secondary, and therefore accessory, an independent hospitality which would like to be unconditional must be assumed. (12) And such hospitality would still be recognised as political, firstly because it participates in the existence of political subjects - and this is not the least of its challenges - and also because, by the same token, it participates in the construction of political spaces.

Still from Midnight Traveller, by Hassan Fazili, 2019; Image credit: received.

In concrete terms, each time that, as a psychoanalyst, I receive a person - in this case, each time I receive a person in exile - I work with this person so that his or her intimate suffering can be alleviated, and for that, I work in particular with this person so that he or she becomes or becomes again a subject of rights - that is to say, a subject who is, like each subject, without discrimination, subjected to a third party, an Other. This symbolic inscription is demolished in countries that only know inconsistent, puppet rights, but this symbolic inscription is also demolished as soon as the subject is caught up in a labyrinthine administrative mechanism that requires him or her to justify obtaining what is unconditionally due to him or her: being recognized as a subject of rights. In contrast, by talking to a psychoanalyst, by being listened to by a psychoanalyst, it is precisely his or her inscription in a symbolic register that the subject comes to construct and reconstruct. (13) And by the same token, this subject, together with his or her analyst, works so that this symbolic register retains its capacity to inscribe each subject, without discrimination - such is our way of working to make the world exist as where the other may appear. (14) Thus, the gesture of hospitality that psychoanalysis practices is no less political than it is intimate, (15) because it concerns not only my fellow but the other, including the one I do not recognise, the one I do not understand, the one that upsets and thwarts my empathy; and it concerns not only the other for himself and herself but also, and by the same token, the other insofar as he and she participates in the world - insofar as he and she participates singularly in building a world that is not confined to his and her world, nor to my world.

Let us then formulate a hypothesis: if we are witnessing a massive denial of the discrimination between 'the good' refugees and the others, (16) it could be because, even more radically, a foreclosure is operating here. Legally, foreclosure is a disqualification that causes a person to lose the ability to exercise his or her rights. We can then understand the non-acceptance of exiled persons as subjects of rights as a foreclosure. (17) For psychoanalysis, foreclosure is a symbolic abolition, and for Jacques Lacan, it only applies to language, to the saying. (18) In a completely different framework, we can read here Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (and her critics) to consider how a foreclosure operates not only when the speaking subject cannot speak, but also when he and she speaks but is not heard. (19) What is required here is the consideration of the indiscriminative singularity of the subject of rights – and whereas this latter formulation could be understood as an oxymoron, it is rather the compass of a hospitality that is not directed at everyone indifferently but is rather directed at each one without discrimination. (20)

To this, one may retort, without trembling, by recalling the cliché: we cannot take in all the misery in the world. (21) Yet, never has all the misery in the world asked to be taken in. It is not all the misery and it is not the misery that arrives at our borders but the other person who is forced into distress because he and she cannot continue to live where he and she has lived until now. Let us remember that Europe - what we represent to ourselves as such and in the light of which we represent the rest as misery - Europe is our dream and not necessarily theirs. (22) While one explicit strategy in the face of the so-called 'migration crisis' is to make our dream their nightmare, by making their stay in 'our' lands unliveable, (23) what would happen if we started to let them dream their dreams, if we started to listen to their dreams, and if we started to dream about them, their lands, their cultures, their religions...?

Perhaps it would then appear to us that what exiled people dream of is not reconquering Europe but living in peace with their close ones. This is how we spontaneously think of Ukrainians today, and this is one of the reasons why it is so important for us to grant them temporary protection - they are welcome, until their lands become habitable again. For, let’s not forget, what Europe is granting Ukrainians today in an unprecedented way is a temporary protection - thus countersigning what Immanuel Kant wrote in 1795. (24) His project of perpetual peace is indeed conditioned by temporary hospitality: the foreigner cannot claim a right of residence but a right of visit. What is at stake here is not a philanthropic impulse but a right - a right that Kant thinks is due to all - without discrimination: whoever he or she may be, we cannot send a foreigner out of 'our home' as long as this implies his or her loss.

By flouting the Kantian project of perpetual peace, by going against the universality of international law, is Europe’s solidarity racist? Let us remember that a certain universalism will have aimed at responding to racial discrimination. For example, while the racial laws dismissed him from his position at the University of Freiburg in 1933, Edmund Husserl defended a universalism in which the pole that attracts all men throughout the world is Europe - Europe being the name given to the ideal of a rationality whose paternity is attributed to the Greek philosophers. (25) This universalism is therefore an ethnocentrism that is assumed in its inverted form, i.e. as a Eurocentrism assimilated to a universalism - an assimilation in which one can recognise the ferment of colonialism. (26)

But in order to think without incoherence a universalism that is thus asymmetrical, it is necessary to think an asymmetry that would not be based on the imaginary distinction between, on the one hand, my fellow human beings and, on the other hand, those for whom no analogical empathy is awakened in me. Rather, we need to think of an asymmetry that assumes the difference between, on the one hand, those who are confined to their own world reduced to their familiar home and who are welcoming the other only if he or she can be assimilated, and, on the other hand, those for who the world transcends their familiar home, for who the world is composed of an irreducible plurality of unassimilable foreign worlds. Such asymmetry allows us to think of a universality woven of symbolic rather than imaginary differences, differences whose respect would allow the exercise of a universality in the singular which concerns each one unconditionally, and not only the few conforming to a discriminatory ideal. (27)

Thus, let us ask ourselves: what does it mean today to be 'European'? To welcome the European? To welcome one's fellow, thus confining the world to one's own home? To allow the arrival and be visited by the different ones who de-confines our world? What is our participation in the construction of a world in which the other can appear?



1. Thanks to Marcus Barut for correcting the translation of this article from French to English. Remaining errors are mine. At the Halte Humanitaire <lien>, we are currently five psychologists, psychoanalysts and psychotherapists from the association Le Chêne et L'Hibiscus <lien> who receive exiled people every day.

2. "France "will take its share" in the hospitality of refugees, had promised Gérald Darmanin. The French Minister of the Interior announced Thursday, March 10, that 7,500 Ukrainians have arrived in France since the beginning of the war in Ukraine. In France, "we have gone from 10,000 to 25,000 accommodation places in three days," including "more than 6,000 French families," he calculated. But "we must greatly expand this offer, which is already very important, to respond to tomorrow’s issue of increased flows," he warned. The minister wants to "increase the number of places by tens of thousands in a few days" so that "France is ready". (France Info, 10.03.22 <lien>).

3. This is despite what is called "unconditional accommodation": "This is a notion that we are the only country to have inscribed in the law as an imprescriptible right. It is a free accommodation with no time limit. It can concern asylum seekers, undocumented migrants and residents in social difficulty. It is not uncommon for undocumented migrants to be housed there for years. In October 2020, every night, the State was sheltering more than 176,000 people. [...] In 2020, the state will spend 3 billion euros on emergency shelter [compared to] 1 billion in 2006." (Didier Leschi, Ce grand dérangement, L'immigration en face. Paris: Gallimard, Tract n°22, 2020, p. 42).

4. Martial law, introduced in Ukraine on February 24 following the Russian agression, prohibits all Ukrainian men aged 18 to 60 from leaving the country.

5. Council Directive 2001/55/EC of 20 July 2001. First applied on March 3rd, 2022 <lien>.

6. lien

7. <lien>

8. Marie Cosnay et Mathieu Potte-Bonneville, Voir venir. Écrire l’hospitalité. Paris : Stock, 2019.

9. Guillaume Le Blanc et Fabienne Brugère, La fin de l’hospitalité. Paris : Flammarion Champs Essai, 2018.

10. For Didier Leschi, "Integration is a process of acculturation to the host society. Let's be frank, it cannot be the same for a Muslim Chechen as for a Catholic Pole" (op. cit., p. 22). Yet, it should be recalled that the Geneva Convention establishes that “the Contracting States shall apply the provisions of this Convention to refugees without discrimination as to race, religion or country of origin" <link>.

11. Didier Fassin, L’inégalité des vies. Paris : Fayard, Collège de France, 2020. Didier Fassin, La vie. Mode d’emploi critique. Suivi de : Ce que la pandémie fait à la vie. Paris : Le Seuil Points Essais, 2021.

12. Jacques Derrida, Anne Dufourmantelle invite Jacques Derrida à répondre. De L’hospitalité. Paris : Calmann-Levy, 1997. Jacques Derrida, Hospitalité. Vol 1, Séminaire (1995-1996). Paris : Le Seuil, Bibliothèque Derrida, 2021.

13. Alice Cherki, La frontière invisible. Violences de l’immigration. Paris : Editions des crépuscules, 2018.

Jeanne Wiltord, Mais qu’est-ce que c’est donc un Noir ? Essai psychanalytique sur les conséquences de la colonisation des Antilles. Paris : Editions des crépuscules, 2019.

14. Emmanuel Levinas, « Parole et silence, Conférences du Collège philosophique des 4 et 5 février 1948 », in Œuvres Complètes, Vol. 2. Paris : Grasset/IMEC, pp. 69-104, 2011.

15. Laurence Joseph, La chute de l'intime. La mélancolisation du discours. Paris : Hermann, 2021

16. In order to maintain our belief in a hospitable Europe, we would repudiate the denial that is inflicting on us by the reality of the undignified situations to which many exiled people are forced. Our current solidarity would participate in this process by veiling, by the welcoming of some, the exclusion of others. See Octave Mannoni, " Je sais bien, mais quand même... ", Les Temps modernes, n° 212, 1964 ; article republished in Octave Mannoni, Clefs pour l'Imaginaire ou l'Autre Scène. Paris: Le Seuil, 1969. For a detailed reading, see Livio Boni and Sophie Mendelsohn, La vie psychique du racisme. 1. L'empire du démenti. Paris: La découverte, 2021.

17. Karima Lazali, Le trauma colonial. Une enquête sur les effets psychiques et politiques contemporains de l’oppression coloniale en Algérie. Paris : La Découverte, 2018.

18. See notably Jacques Lacan, Séminaire III : Les psychoses (1955-56). Paris : Seuil, 1981.

19. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Can the Subaltern Speak? In C. Nelson & L. Grossberg (Eds.), Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture (pp. 271–313). University of Illinois Press, 1988. See also Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, « Resistance that cannot be recognized as such. Rezistenca e cila nuk mund të njihet si e tillë ». Interview by Suzana Milevska. Identities: Journal for Politics, Gender and Culture, Vol 2, n° 5, 2003. And see notably the seminar animated by Stéphane Habib since several years on the act of listening (Groupe Hospitalier Universitaire Paris psychiatrie & neurosciences, Paris).

20. Dorothée Legrand et Manon Piette, « Accueil en éclats ». Esprit, pp. 19-22, 2021

21. Didier Leschi : « What is hospitality? I do not hesitate to answer bluntly, hospitality for all is hospitality for none » (op. cit., p. 48).

22. Felwine Sarr, Traces, Discours aux Nations africaines. Paris : Actes Sud, 2021.

Achille Mbembe et Felwine Sarr (dir.) Les ateliers de la pensée : Politique des temps, Imaginer les devenirs africains. Dakar : Jimsaan, 2019.

23. According to HRO (Human Rights Observer) observations, at the French-British border in February 2022, police convoys carried out at least 153 evictions of informal settlements and 306 seizures of tents and tarps (<lien>).

24. Immanuel Kant, Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Essay. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1917.

25. Edmund Husserl, The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology: An Introduction to Phenomenological Philosophy (Die Krisis der europäischen Wissenschaften und die transzendentale Phänomenologie: Eine Einleitung in die phänomenologische Philosophie), 1936.

E. Husserl, Zur Phänomenologie der Intersubjektivität. Texte aus dem Nachlass. Dritter Teil. 1929–1935, ed. Iso Kern, Hua. XV (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1973).

26. “On the basis of an example taken from a discourse which in general is not suspected of the worst, it is useful to recall that the reference to spirit, to the freedom of spirit, and to spirit as European spirit could and still can ally itself with the politics one would want to oppose to it” (Jacques Derrida, Of Spirit, Heidegger and the question. The University of Chicago Press, 1989, p.121)

27. Jean-Claude Milner, L’universel en éclats, Cour traité politique 3. Lagrasse : Verdier, 2014.

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