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The Hostess

Hospitality, Femininity, and the Expropriation of Identity

2006
Author:

Tracy McNulty

The Hostess

The meaning of hospitality in Western thought—from the Bible to Derrida

In The Hostess, Tracy McNulty asks, What are the implications for personhood of sharing a person—a wife or daughter—as an act of hospitality? Combining critical readings of the Bible and Pierre Klossowski's trilogy The Laws of Hospitality, the writings of Kant and Nietzsche, and the work of Freud and Lacan, she contends hospitality involves the boundary between the proper and the improper.

The Hostess is an outstanding piece of scholarship and a compelling read. Because her study is responsible to both historical tradition and contemporary theoretical concerns alike, Tracy McNulty confronts some of today's perplexing sociocultural problems: questions of borders, immigrants, 'guest' workers, hostility, commerce, and more.

Juliet Flower MacCannell, author of The Hysteric's Guide to the Future Female Subject

The evolution of the idea of hospitality can be traced alongside the development of Western civilization. Etymologically, the host is the “master,” but this identity is established through expropriation and loss—the best host is the one who gives the most, ultimately relinquishing what defines him as master.

In The Hostess, Tracy McNulty asks, What are the implications for personhood of sharing a person—a wife or daughter—as an act of hospitality? In many traditions, the hostess is viewed not as a subject but as the master’s property. A foreign presence that both sustains and undercuts him, the hostess embodies the interplay of self and other within the host’s own identity.

Here McNulty combines critical readings of the Bible and Pierre Klossowski’s trilogy The Laws of Hospitality with analyses of exogamous marital exchange, theological works from the Talmud to Aquinas, the writings of Kant and Nietzsche, and the theory of femininity in the work of Freud and Lacan. Ultimately, she contends, hospitality involves the boundary between the proper and the improper, affecting the subject as well as interpersonal relations.

The Hostess

Tracy McNulty is assistant professor of romance studies at Cornell University.

The Hostess

The Hostess is an outstanding piece of scholarship and a compelling read. Because her study is responsible to both historical tradition and contemporary theoretical concerns alike, Tracy McNulty confronts some of today's perplexing sociocultural problems: questions of borders, immigrants, 'guest' workers, hostility, commerce, and more.

Juliet Flower MacCannell, author of The Hysteric's Guide to the Future Female Subject

McNulty’s book, written with a contagious enthusiasm for its subject, is a necessary read for thinking about religion after Nietzsche or Freud.

The Journal of Religion

The Hostess

Contents

Introduction: The Uncanny Guest

1. Israel, Divine Hostess
2. Cosmopolitan Hospitality and Secular Ethics: Kant Today
3. Under the Sign of the Hostess: Pierre Klossowski’s Laws of Hospitality
4. Hospitality after the Death of God
5. Welcoming Dionysus, or the Subject as Corps Morcelé
6. The Other Jouissance, a Gay Sçavoir: Feminine Hospitality and the Ethics of Psychoanalysis

Notes

Index