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Building on Wayne Koestenbaum’s fragmentary reflections on the hotel in Hotel Theory, this thesis deploys the qualified neologism, “hotel state,” to denote an exilic perspective on “home.” Through this perspective, I hope to explore the productive connection between Judith Butler’s theory of performativity and the realism discussed in Anglo-American ethical and political philosophy, with Hegel, Spinoza, and J.L. Austin as common grounds between the two. The connection between Butler and realism refines and problematizes Butler’s formulations of home and exile, desire and recognition, in the issues of Israel/ Palestine and gay marriage. After a chapter-length discussion on each, I take the Jewish-Arab inter-racial homosexuality presented in Israeli director Eytan Fox’s film, The Bubble, and the film’s perceived failure, as a test case to summarily drive home the realism into which I hope to extend Butler’s theory, and with which to supplement the normative dimension that is lacking in it. The realism in question shares with Butler’s performative ethics/politics a rejection of both foundationalism and communitarianism. Home, viewed through foundationalism, is a label attachable to any context, provided that a basis in liberal consensus and individualist respect stands. The goal, on the foundationalist model, then, is to construct such a basis, regardless of cultural or historical differences. Contrarily, communitarianism, in emphasizing solidarity and cultural autonomy, rejects the foundationalists’ thin notion of home. In its salutary stress on the local and the specific, nevertheless, it risks either subjecting home to localist determinism or rendering it an apology for relativism (with recourse to the atomistic individual). Taking the realist and Butlerian middle way in rejecting both, the “hotel state” proposed in this thesis portrays home, or subjectivity, as displaced, linked to an unwilled, unpredictable and local network of relationality that both constitutes a challenge to the bounded subject assumed by foundationalism and a plurality that captures the performative creativity and transferentiality, pivoted on transience, of local affinities. The “hotel state” finds its inspiration in the “hotel,” meant to evoke associations with placeness, instituionality, and various social statuses such as can be conjured up at the mentioning of “hotel.” Hotel needs management, in the way that an anti-foundationalist realism, assessing political and ethical issues from inside a parochial perspective, has to answer normative problems. The specifying, normative associations of hotel, together with the capacity of a hotel point of view to pivot “inhabitation of space” upon voyage, cohabitation with strangers, and the freedom and unfreedom of exile, form the focal point of this thesis. The thesis embarks on two trajectories. One consists of a recontextualization of Judith Butler’s theory of “performativity” and “social ontology” in light of “realism,” premised upon the “hotel state.” The other, closely related, ventures a historical, conceptual analysis of the intertwining issues of Israel/Palestine and gay marriage. The latter’s challenges to the former I would try to meet with a fine-tuning of Butlerian realism, elucidating the relation between “hotel state” and the ethics of cohabitation. The first chapter launches the project by reshaping the terrain of Butler study. It revisits “performativity” and “social ontology” by tracing their genealogy in Butler back to Spinoza and Hegel, so as to bring them, via this metaphysical origin, to realism. The resistance of Butler’s theory to metaphysics is weakened not only by its genealogical link with metaphysics but by its anti-positivist intentionality. By emphasizing this strand in Butler’s thought, I distinguish her theory from the strong anti-metaphysical constructivism alongside which her writing is often read. Realism, invoked here through Hegel, Iris Murdoch and Bernard Williams, hinges on reality both as immanent to a local outlook, pivoted on local praxis, and as transcendent to the representation conferred by the epistemic norm which structures the local context. I argue that the perception of reality, which pits the norms against their own limits, would require the subject to attend to reality in both the immanent register and the transcendent register. Ethical realism, as propounded by Murdoch and Williams, entails that transformation and progress must be derived from local critique, one that is informed by history and apprehends the reality that transcends the epistemic norm governing the local context. The power struggle routed through bodies and institutions in the probelmatization of the norms’ legitimacy, on the other hand, signifies political realism. Considering ethical and political realism together, I name Williams and Judith Shklar as thinkers who recognize the necessity for political realism to go hand in hand with ethical realism. The degree to which the particular reality and the particular individual mirror each other in ethical and political realism bridges the gap between the individualistic politics and other-oriented ethics in Butler’s theory of performativity, at the same time that it critiques liberal individualism with an emphasis on reality. To further my theorization of the hotel state apropos Butler and realism, I study the intersections of identity in the Jewish/Palestinian question, compounded by homosexuality, as well as the desire for norm, against normative desire, in the debate over gay marriage in the US. The two converge when we consider the vulnerability of life, and, as Butler enjoins over and over, the varying recognition of such vulnerability in different groups. I raise Fox’s badly received popular film, The Bubble, as a case where the internally vexed clusters of identity and normative issues further crisscross into each other. The aim, as I sum up in the coda, is to see what different “future” realism, in the grip of pessimism and “left melancholia,” may lead. The task I set myself in these chapters is, first, to engage both historically and theoretically the coercive and productive aspects of norms manifested at the crossroads between groups, as well as between group membership and allegiance to group, and second, to theorize on a form of affiliation and hospitality, apropos Butlerian realism, that attends not only to the phenomenological aspects of the crossroads, but also to their normative resolutions. All in all, I argue that the “hotel state” is a phenomenological precondition of ethical perception that displaces “home” from its possessive, individualist, exclusionary grid, enabling a model of spatial practice and accommodation attuned to the reality both partially represented as the “ethical fact” of a particular form of life, and as beyond that representation, keeping alive an unknown prospect that can challenge that form of life should life in it be rendered unlivable. As such, “hotel state” comprises a fruitful link between realism and hospitality, between the realism in Anglo-American philosophy and the realism in Butler’s poststructuralist Hegelianism, constituting an inviting point of departure for the renewal of both.
Judith Butler, Hegel, Spinoza, ethical realism, political realism, Bernard Williams, Israel/Palestine, interracial homosexuality, gay marriage, Eytan Fox, home, hotel, “hotel state”