Displacement and Disillusionment: Lost Homelands, Lost Causes, and Reclaimed Sites of Everyday Engagement and Aspiration

Two Confirmed Participants:

Author of "Searching for a Mean Between 'Di-versity' and 'Uni-versity': An Account of the Experience of Immigrating"

Author of "Interrogating the Significance of "Lost Causes": Reflections on Josiah Royce in Light of Edward Said"

The purpose of this panel is to probe diverse aspects of the crucial experience of human displacement, both in the straightforward sense of the experience of immigrating and in the metaphorical sense of being thrust by disillusionment from the sustaining matrix of a hopeful cause.  Thus, one of the participants will contribute a paper on "Searching for a Mean Between 'Di-versity' and 'Uni-versity': An Account of the Experience of Immigrating," whereas the other will offer a presentation on "Interrogating the Significance of "Lost Causes": Reflections on Josiah Royce in Light of Edward Said."

For the purpose of exploring the experience of immigrating, the insights of two eloquent voices from Latin America will be considered.  The author, himself an immigrant to the United States, will reflect upon the experience of displacement and relocation in light of the work of Octavio Paz (Mexico) and Mario Benedetti (Uruguay).  In particular, he will show the relevance of Paz's concept of the "dialectic of solitude" and also the pertinence of Benedetti's metaphor of andamios (scaffolding) to an interrogation of the experience of immigrating.  The voices of such others as Paz and Benedetti (authors who are other than those usually discussed at the meetings of even such an inclusive and diverse community of scholars as SAAP) are crucial for probing the experience of otherness, especially the complex negotiations imposed by the immigration experience.

For the purpose of investigating the experience of being exiled by disillusionment from the experiential matrix of a hopeful cause and thus sustaining community, two voices (one from classical American philosophy, the other from contemporary American letters) will be enlisted.  In The Philosophy of Loyalty and other writings, Josiah Royce addressed in a sustained, systematic, and insightful manner the question of "lost causes."  In an essay in Reflections on Exile ("On Lost Causes") and elsewhere, Edward Said has taken up this Roycean theme in his characteristically nuanced, probing style.  Said's main example of a lost cause is one on which Royce explicitly focuses (The "loyalty of the sons of a subjugated nationality, such as the Irish or the Poles, to their country, is kept alive through precisely such a union of the influence of individual leaders with the more impersonal reverence for the idealized, although no longer politically existent nationality" [The Philosophy of Loyalty, pp. 274-75]).[1]

"Loyalty to lost causes is," Royce asserts, "not only a possible thing, but one of the most potent influences of human history" (The Philosophy of Loyalty, p. 280).  So, too, the attachment of immigrants to their faraway homes (to the customs, cuisine, music, and countless other parts of their original cultural matrix) is one of the most striking features of human history.  For the immigrant, the present is a site in which the loss of the familiar is continually experienced.  There is no simple or single way in which to counteract this loss, though unquestionably some immigrants are animated by a desire to stand apart from their new locale (except perhaps insofar as this locale provides opportunities to earn a living), while other immigrants are just as strongly driven to immerse themselves in their new home as a way of eradicating any traces of their original home.  Between the separatist and assimilationist responses to the loss of the familiar (most poignantly, the loss of the familiar in the everyday), a wide range of more varied, complex, and indeed ambivalent responses can be discerned in the lives of immigrants.  The ground between separatism and assimilationism (or, as one of the panelists puts it, between "di-versity" and "uni-versity") seems especially worthy of inquiry.

For persons who have been exiled by disillusionment from the experiential matrix of a hopeful cause and (at least in the initial moment of utter disillusionment) a sustaining community, the actual present and foreseeable future are sites in which the cause in and through which such persons partly define themselves are foreign to crucial aspirations.  Such individuals are, in their own way, exiled from the present.  For this reason, Paz no less than Said insist we must go in search of the present, our present (our actual present as both ours and actual).  The loss of a felt sense of being able to realize one or more of our defining ideals in the actual present is one crucial form of human displacement, the loss of an effective sense of knowing intimately and (in no small measure) unreflectively where we are (including with whom we are convening and transacting) is an even far more literal sense of human dislocation.  Given the importance and, for so many, the inescapability of such displacement, the experience of dislocation (in diverse senses) seems especially worthy of exploration at a meeting of SAAP.  The philosophical and human significance of this experience in its diverse forms cannot be gainsaid.  The diversity and (with the exception of Royce) the novelty of the perspectives being brought to bear on this theme, moreover, are in keeping with the theme of the meeting itself.  Finally, the study of American philosophy, as envisioned and exemplified by the best representatives of the various traditions of American thought, is in its most authentic form a critical engagement with American culture and history (with the multiple cultures represented by intermingling groups, also the intersecting histories of quite diverse peoples). 

[Anonymous Abstract]

Abstract for a Paper for the Panel entitled "Displacement & Disillusionment: Lost Homelands, Lost Causes, & Reclaimed Sites of Everyday Engagement & Aspiration"

Searching for a Mean Between 'Di-versity' and 'Uni-versity':

An Account of the Experience of Immigrating

Abstract for Panel Paper
2005 Annual Meeting of SAAP
University of California, Bakersfield
March 3-7, 2005
Bakersfield, CA

The Unites States is undoubtedly a nation largely forged or transformed by immigrants. Unfortunately, the naïve mainstream opinion seems to be that the process of immigrating to this country consists of arriving, embracing the local culture, and "working hard" in the spirit of the Puritan work ethic, thereby realizing the 'American Dream'. I intend to grapple with this opinion in order to offer my own view on the experience of immigrating.

It is a hallmark of both North- and Latin-American philosophy that one's beliefs should be informed and evaluated by personal experience. In that spirit, I propose to examine carefully the experience of immigrating in terms of South-North immigration in the Americas, with careful consideration of the reflections that some Latin American thinkers offer us regarding this issue. The purpose is to spark a philosophical conversation that may lead towards a rich conceptual account of the process of immigration, an account that may be generally adequate to a variety of perspectives and experiences.

I put forth that the experience of immigrating is the process of searching for a mean between 'di-versity' and 'uni-versity'. 'Diversity' in this sense means to turn away or in an opposite direction, while 'university' means to turn toward.  Immigrants, then, search for a position—a stance, a perspective—between 'diversity' and 'university' with respect to the new cultural, social, and political situation that they encounter. A stance of extreme 'diversity' means to attempt to remain completely different and separate from the new environing situation, except perhaps economically. A stance of extreme 'university' means to attempt to embrace completely, without any attempt at transformation, all aspects of the new environment, often negating or erasing any traits that may mark an immigrant as different or 'diverse'.  This search takes place in all aspects of personal life, from cultural issues regarding cuisine, music, and language, to social issues regarding interpersonal, familial, and communal relationships, to political questions such as the decision whether to express publicly their opinion about the pressing issues of the new society or the decision whether to attempt to influence or transform the political course and orientation of society. The search, moreover, may be conscious or unconscious, sometimes involving deliberate decisions and actions—agency—and sometimes the uncontrollable and even imperceptible influence of the new environment—patiency. The foregoing characterization of the search needs, of course, to be substantiated in the course of the panel discussion.

Now, the process of searching is experiential, that is, it takes place in direct relation to a concrete environing reality. I will examine some writings of Octavio Paz (Mexico) and Mario Benedetti (Uruguay) in order to elucidate and make more concrete my account of the experience. Octavio Paz offers us the concept of the 'dialectic of solitude' (see the appendix to The Labyrinth of Solitude, Grove Press: New York, 1985). This dialectic is the experiential process of emerging from solitude—a state of alienation from our histories, origins, and traditions—into communion with others in a concrete present that is informed and shaped by those very histories and traditions, as well as by our new desires. The emergence from solitude to communion is possible by way of what Paz calls 'poetry'—the act of creating and recreating our bonds with others, with our communities, by way of love, religious, musical and theatrical performances, and community celebrations. In the case of immigrants, 'solitude' is the state of estrangement from their geographical, cultural, and social traditions, and it is often through 'poetry' that they find an experiential thread that ties them to their origins and reorients them in the midst of a new environment.  This is, for example, the experience of the fiestas through which various Latin American communities in the United States try to recreate their traditions while sharing them with others. Mario Benedetti, in turn, offers us the metaphor of constructing andamios or scaffolds (see especially Andamios, Alfaguara: Mexico, 1997, and Geografías, Alfaguara: Mexico, 2002). The construction of andamios consists in the personal and intimate process of finding ways to become inserted a new socio-cultural and inter-personal context in order to understand and be understood by others. This is the experience, for example, of an immigrant who learns to love the peculiarities of a new land- or city-scape, a new cuisine, or a new musical style, while bringing her own particularities with her—experiences as simple as discovering how to listen to the blues or sharing a cup of Costa Rican coffee with a friend who might taste it. The upshot is that, through the poetic (re)creation of community and through the personal construction of andamios, among manifold other ways, immigrants search for a mean stance and perspective between 'diversity' and 'university' in their new environing society.

[Anonymous Abstract]

Abstract for Paper for the Panel entitled "Displacement & Disillusionment: Lost Homelands, Lost Causes, & Reclaimed Sites of Everyday Engagement & Aspiration"

Interrogating the Significance of "Lost Causes":

Reflections on Josiah Royce in Light of Edward Said

Abstract for Panel Paper
2005 Annual Meeting of SAAP
California State University, Bakersfield
March 3-7, 2005
Bakersfield, CA

William James famously suggested that the pragmatic value of the idealistic perspective is that this optimistic viewpoint allows individuals to take a "moral holiday." Josiah Royce ingeniously responded to this claim by arguing that the form of idealism most worthy of espousal underwrites not indulgence in "moral holidays" but rather devotion to "lost causes."  The theme of lost causes and, intimately associated with it, those of animating hope, sustained effort, and moral imagination are central to not only Royce's unique articulation of the idealistic position but also the existential situation of countless individuals in the contemporary world.  Any treatment of this cluster of themes would require consideration of such central Roycean doctrines as loyalty (especially in its explicitly reflexive form and its inherently critical function – Be loyal to loyalty) and community (especially in its self-consciously historical form and deliberately self-critical implications).  The aim of this paper is to take up these central Roycean themes in light of both contemporary events (above all, the cause of Native Americans in contemporary America, also the plight of Islamic and Arabic immigrants to the United States) and one of the most influential theorists in the United States in recent decades.  It is not incidental that this theorist was an immigrant to the US; nor is it insignificant that, from his own critical perspective, his practical devotion to the nationalist cause of his displaced people prompted him to reflect upon the moral and political meaning of lost or hopeless causes.

There is, in the remote background of these reflections, the question of whether American democracy, at least in its historically regnant form, is itself a lost cause.  In the immediate foreground, however, there is the question of whether Royce's approach to "lost causes" or an alternative approach (an insistently historicist one) is more adequate.  This alternative is forcefully articulated by the contemporary literary theorist, cultural critic, and political activist Edward Said.  

On the one hand, Royce insists: "Human life taken merely as it flows, viewed as it passes by in time and is gone, is indeed a lost river of experience that plunges down the mountain of youth and sinks in the deserts of age" (The Philosophy of Loyalty [1908], 387; cf. Said).  But, for him, this is not the only way to conceive our lives.  It is necessary, not only possible, to conceive our fragmentary, temporal existence as an integral part of an inclusive, timeless unity.  Indeed, our sustained strivings and practical devotions (i.e., human lives in their most intensely personal and recognizably moral shape) bear witness to something more than the ephemerality of temporal flux; these lives even in very their fragmentary, fallible, and frustrated character offer evidence of the transcendence of our highest ideals and thus our defining causes.  If at least some of our causes transcend the confines not only of our temporal existence but also the realm of time itself, "then all conscious moral life – even our moral human life – is in unity with a superhuman conscious life, in which we ourselves dwell; and in this unity we win, in so far as we are loyal servants of our cause, a success which no transient human experience of ours, no joyous thrill of the flying moment, no bitterness of private defeat and loss, can do more than to illustrate, to illuminate, or to idealize" (The Philosophy of Loyalty, 374).  "Our deepest loyalty lies in devoting ourselves to causes that are just now lost to our poor human nature" (p. 388).  But they are not lost to or in the encompassing eternal life in which finite human agents participate by virtue of their thoroughgoing devotion to transcendent causes (cf. Oppenheim; also Kegley).  For such agents in their finitude and historicity, however, the two companions to lost causes are "grief and loyalty" (p. 388; cf. Lecture VI).

But, on the other hand, the question arises whether it is possible to grieve or mourn the loss of the eternal precisely as a way of remaining attached to practically trans-historical ideals and causes.  (Pains will be taken to distinguish the eternal from the trans-historical.)  "Lost causes can be," Edward Said suggests, "abandoned causes, the debris of a battle swept aside by history and by the victor, with the losing army in full retreat" (Reflections on Exile, p. 551).  In such an instance, individuals act not in isolation but "in concert, agreeing that hopelessness, loss, defeat argue the end of a cause, its historic defeat [i.e., its effective annihilation in the actual course of human history], the land taken away, the people dispossessed and dispersed, the leaders forced to serve another set of masters."  When this occurs, "narratives consolidate that decision" (there being for Said that this is a decision or judgment [There "is no getting around the fact that for a cause to seem or feel lost is the result of judgment, and this judgment entails either a loss of conviction or ... a feeling that the time for it is not right, has passed, is over" (p. 528)]).  Said seems to imply that such a decision can be warranted (though he might be inconsistent on this point).  Thus, he appears to assert, some causes are actually, not just apparently, lost.  What morally and existentially follows from acknowledging a cause as lost?

In Said's own words, does "the consciousness and even the actuality of a lost cause entail that sense of defeat and resignation that we associate with the abjections of capitulation and the dishonor of grinning and bowing survivors who opportunistically fawn on their conquerors and seek to ingratiate themselves with the new dispensation?"  Must the consciousness or actuality of a lost cause "always result in the broken will and demoralized pessimism of the defeated?" (p. 552).  Said denies such entailment.  He stresses that "the alternative is a difficult and extremely precarious one, at least on the level of the individual."  But, taking up on a suggestion by Theodor Adorno, Said articulates an alternative to the hopeless resignation resulting from the unblinking acknowledgment of a lost cause: such acknowledgment does not entail the abrogation of consciousness, for it can prompt "the intransigence of the individual thinker whose power of expression is a power" (p. 552).  If such intransigence proves to be resilient and vigilant then (to quote the concluding sentence of this essay, a sentence close in spirit to Royce): "We might well ask ... if any cause can ever really be lost" (p. 553).  But does Said as a historicist have the resources for making such a claim?  Is it not necessary to take this affirmation itself as evidence of what Royce argues is implicit in the practical meaning of our transcendent commitments?  That is, does not Said's claim unintentionally undermine the tenability of his own historicism?  Is it not the case (as Royce contends) "we need the superhuman, the city out of sight, the union with all life,  – the essentially eternal" (p. 346)?  This is the theoretical question at the center of this interrogation of the pragmatic meaning of lost causes, a reflection on Royce in light of Said.

The practical illustrations in and through which this pragmatic meaning will be interrogated are ones involving the causes of several historical communities in conflict with other such communities.  Thus this interrogation potentially concerns the annihilation of others in the service of loyalty to one's own cause.  The Roycean ideal of being loyal to loyalty entails an abiding, resolute commitment to honor the devotions and faiths of others, insofar as these serve the cause of loyalty.  In brief, it entails a commitment to defend diversity.  But does this ideal itself entail a commitment to the timeless or eternal?    

[1] This example is crucial to the articulation of what Royce means by "lost cause."  At key moments in his explication of this notion, he stresses "the loyalty of the Irish and the Poles to their own lost cause."  He insists: "Now such loyalty to a lost cause may long survive, not merely in the more or less unreal form of memories and sentiments, but in a genuinely practical way.  And such loyalty to a cause may be something that far transcends the power of mere habit.  New plans, endless conspiracies, fruitful social enterprises, great political organizations, – yes, in the extreme case, – new religions may grow up upon the basis of such a loyalty to a cause whose worldly fortunes seem to be lost, but whose vitality may outlast centuries, and may involve much novel growth of opinion, of custom, and of ideals" (pp. 277-78)