2009 - Lecture-performance

…“One day, when I was asked to write something about foreignness, the fact of being a foreigner, my first reaction was to distance myself from convention, the welcoming of foreigners. We agree it’s necessary to welcome foreigners…That’s what we want, but there’s something about the way we impose, normalize, standardize this welcome, the welcome of differences, respect for others, etc. that means we end up ignoring their foreignness. It’s like pretending that a Black person isn’t black. And so I decided that I wanted to specify what must remain foreign in a foreigner and what makes him foreign.”…

These are words of Jean-Luc Nancy in the short movie ‘Vers Nancy’ by Claire Denis. This short movie was one of the starting points for an investigation on ‘the stranger’ in a time in which right-wing populism gains political momentum all over Europe, and the ‘multicultural’ society is being openly declared a failure by leading political figures. I wanted to understand why exactly there is this reoccurring, seemingly universal fear and anger towards ‘the stranger’, despite its ever-changing role and identity. I looked for current and past ‘strangers’ in literature, film, philosophy, science and politics and worked with material by, amongst others, Nancy, Arendt, Kristeva, Welzer, Amartya Sen, Huntington, Pasolini. Meanwhile, I interviewed people on the streets about their personal definition of a stranger, and their own ‘being strange’. These materials make up the body of this lecture-performance, a careful quest into the complex relation between the self and the stranger/ the other. ‘Me and My Stranger’ investigates a paradox, an impossible marriage between the stranger, myself, and my self as a stranger.  

“Our whole immune system is there to defend our body from strange elements that could possibly harm us. Sarah got in touch with Mr. Kroes a professor in virology at the university of Amsterdam on the subject of ‘the stranger’ in regard to the immune system. Mr. Kroes wrote: ….“The defining of what is ‘strange’ and what is ‘self’, is of crucial importance for the defence system of the host. This defining takes place in the early development of the immune system. On a certain moment and during a certain time, everything that becomes apparent, is being defined as belonging to the ‘self’. So everything that appears after that moment, is ‘strange’ (non-self) and gets attacked and destructed in several ways. So there is this very sharp moment of distinguishing. One can never predict which intruders will show up, it’s impossible to define them beforehand, you just have to assert: the intruder is everything that is different than my self. Sometimes this goes wrong: people get very bad infections because they don’t recognise something as ‘strange’, or the other way around: some people attack their own textures because they think they are ‘strange’ (like in an auto immune disease)…”