Pierre Zucca

La monnaie vivante (The living currency), ca. 1970, black-and-white photographs, Estate of Pierre Zucca, installation view, EMST—National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens, documenta 14, photo: Mathias Völzke

La monnaie vivante (The living currency), ca. 1970, black-and-white photographs, Estate of Pierre Zucca, installation view, EMST—National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens, documenta 14, photo: Mathias Völzke

La monnaie vivante (The living currency), ca. 1970, black-and-white photographs, Estate of Pierre Zucca, installation view, EMST—National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens, documenta 14, photo: Mathias Völzke

Pierre Klossowski
The Laws of Hospitality

[In the house of the main characters of the novel, Roberte and Octave, a handwritten page hangs framed under glass on the wall of the guest room, just above the bed, a bouquet of fading wild owers drooping over the old-fashioned frame. The laws described in the text regulate the exchange between the invited guest, the master of the house, and Roberte.]

The master of this house, having no greater nor more pressing concern than to shed the warmth of his joy at evening upon whomever comes to dine at his table and to rest under his roof from a day’s wearying travel, waits anxiously at the gate for the stranger he will see appear like a liberator upon the horizon. And catching a first glimpse of him in the distance, though he be still far off, the master will call out to him, “Come in quickly, my happiness is at stake.” This is why the master will be grateful in advance to anybody who, rather than considering hospitality as an accident in the souls of him and of her who offer it, shall take it as the very essence of the host and hostess, the stranger in his guest’s capacity partaking of this essence. For with the stranger he welcomes, the master of the house seeks a, no longer accidental, but an essential relationship. At the start the two are but isolated substances, between them there is none but accidental communication: you who believe yourself far from home in the home of someone you believe to be at home, you bring merely the accidents of your substance, such accidents as conspire to make a stranger of you, to him who bids you avail yourself of all that makes a merely accidental host of him. But because the master of this house herewith invites the stranger to penetrate to the source of all substances beyond the realm of all accident, this is how he inaugurates a substantial relationship between himself and the stranger, which will be not a relative relationship but an absolute one, as though, the master becoming one with the stranger, his relationship with you who have just set foot here were now but a relationship of one with oneself.

To this end the host translates himself into the actual guest. Or, if you prefer, he actualizes a possibility of the host. The host’s most eminent gratification has for its object the actualization in the mistress of the house the inactual essence of the hostess. Now upon whom is this duty incumbent if not upon the guest? Does this mean that the master of the house might expect betrayal at the hands of the mistress of the house? Now it seems that the essence of the hostess, such as the host visualizes it, would in this sense be undetermined and contradictory. For either the essence of the hostess is constituted by her fidelity to the host, and in which case, she eludes him the more he wishes to know her in the opposite state of betrayal, for she would be unable to betray him in order to be faithful to him; or else the essence of the hostess is really constituted by infidelity and then the host would cease to have any part in the essence of the hostess who would be susceptible to belonging, accidentally, as mistress of the house, to someone or other of the guests. The notion of mistress of the house reposes upon an existential basis, she is a hostess only upon an essential basis: this essence is therefore subjected to restraint by her actual existence as mistress of the house. And here the sole function of betrayal, we see, is to lift this restraint. If the essence of the hostess lies in fidelity to the host, this authorizes the host to cause the hostess, essential in the existent mistress of the house, to manifest herself before the eye of the guest; for the host in playing host must accept the risks of the game, and these include the consequences of his wife’s strict application of the rules of hospitality and of the fact that she dare not be unmindful of her essence, composed of fidelity to the host, for fear that in the arms of the inactual guest come here to actualize her qua hostess, the mistress of the household exists only traitorously.

If the essence of the hostess lay in infidelity, the outcome of the game would be a foregone conclusion and the host the loser before it starts. But the host wishes to experience the risk of losing and feels that losing rather than winning in advance, he will, at whatever the cost, grasp the essence of the hostess in the in delity of the mistress of the house. For to possess the faithless one qua hostess faithfully ful lling her duties, is what he is after. Hence by means of the guest he wishes to actualize something potential in the mistress of the house: an actual hostess in relation to this guest, an inactual mistress of the house in relation to the host.

If the hostess’s essence remains thus indeterminate, because to the host it seems that something of the hostess might escape him in the event this essence were nothing but pure fidelity on the part of the mistress of the house, the essence of the host is proposed as a homage to the host’s curiosity to the essence of the hostess. Now this curiosity, as a potentiality of the hospitable soul, can have no proper existence except in that which would look to the hostess, were she naïve, like suspicion of jealousy. The host however is neither suspicious nor jealous, because he is essentially curious about that very thing which, in everyday life, would make a master of the house suspicious, jealous, unbearable.

Let the guest be not the least bit uneasy; above all let him not suppose he could ever constitute the cause for any jealousy or suspicion when there is not even anyone to feel those sentiments. In reality the guest is anything but that; for it is owing to the absence of a case for jealousy and suspicion, which are not otherwise determined than by this absence, that the guest is going to emerge from his stranger’s accidental relationship with the hostess whose essence he shares with the host. The host’s essence—hospitality—rather than being confined to impulses of jealousy or suspicion, aspires to convert into a presence the absence of cause of these impulses, and to actualize itself in the cause. Let the guest understand his role well: let him then fearlessly excite the host’s curiosity by the jealousy and suspicion worthy in the master of the house but unworthy of a host; the latter enjoins the guest’s discretion to the test, the guest makes proof of the host’s curiosity: the term generosity has no place here, it is without meaning in the discussion, since everything is generosity, and everything is also greed; but let the guest take all due care lest this jealousy or this suspicion grow to such proportions in the host that no room is left for his curiosity; for it is upon this curiosity that guest will depend in order to display his abilities. If the host’s curiosity aspires to actualize itself in the absent cause, how does he hope to convert this absence into presence unless it be that he awaits the visitation of an angel? Solicited by the host’s piety, the angel is capable of concealing himself in the guise of a guest—is it you? —whom the host believes fortuitous. To what extent will the angel actualize in the mistress of the house the essence of the hostess such as the host is prone to visualize it, when this essence is known to none but him who beyond all being knows? By inclining the host farther and farther, for the guest, be he angel or no, is only inclination in the host: lean, dear guest, that neither the host, nor yourself, nor again the hostess herself yet know the essence of the hostess; surprised by you she will attempt to find herself in the host who then will no longer hold her back: but who, knowing her in your arms, will hold himself richer in his treasure than ever.

In order that the host’s curiosity not degenerate into jealousy or suspicion, it is for you, the guest, to discern the hostess’s essence in the mistress of the house, for you to cast her forth from potentiality into existence: either the hostess remains sheer phantasm and you a stranger in this house if you leave to the host the inactualized essence of the hostess; or else you are indeed that angel, and by your presence you give an actuality to the hostess: you shall have full power over her as well as over the host. And so, cherished guest, you cannot help but see that it is in your best interest to fan the host’s curiosity to the point where the mistress of the house, driven out of herself, will be completely actualized in an existence which shall be determined by you alone, by you, the guest, and not by the host’s curiosity. Whereupon the host shall be master in his house no more: he shall have carried out his mission. In his return he shall have become the guest.

Posted in Public Exhibition