Material Hospitalities


Panel organizer: Susan M. Stabile Texas A&M University


Long after Poor Richard postulated that “Fish & Visitors stink in 3 days” and the mythic and material practices of hospitality characterized the antebellum South, scholars across the Humanities and Social Sciences are debating the ethics, politics, and aesthetics of hospitality. 

Hospitality is both spatial and temporal: someone unknown and uninvited appears from afar, what Jacques Derrida calls a “visitation” rather than “invitation.” It is conditional (where host and guest fulfill expected roles, duties, and obligations) and unconditional (a host’s vulnerability allows altruism toward the guest). It is local (encompassing the body, home, and nation), foreign (entailing migration, dislocation, and relocation), and universal (upholding the Kantian ideal of tolerating difference in close proximity).  As a material site of responsiveness, hospitality engages—indeed requires—margins, boundaries, and thresholds. Hospitality, then, is the “deconstruction of the at-home.” As philosopher Emmanuel Levinas suggests, one’s openness at the arrival of an “Other” both defines and undoes the familiar sense of being at home and being at home with oneself.  More than a host’s generosity, then, hospitality implies risk. With its complex etymology evolving from Old English to the Latin hostis— suggesting stranger, foreigner, enemy, and army—a guest threatens.

This panel invites papers on material hospitalities and inhospitalities in early American literature and cultures. As guests of Savannah, panelists are encouraged to consider “Southern hospitality” and its particular thresholds, risks, and strangeness.


Send your 250-word abstract to Susan Stabile at by Friday, September 7 2012.