Context

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 296

Strangers to Ourselves is a reflection on foreignness and foreigners. It sympathizes with the problems and thoughts of the foreigner as well as those of people who live with foreigners and even with the troublesome discovery of finding the foreigner in oneself. Because Julia Kristeva was born in Bulgaria and settled in France, she herself in some ways reflects the foreigner, and she sympathizes with this point of view. She expresses concern that France is becoming a kaleidoscope of nationalities in which immigrants do not give up their particularities and in which a new homogeneity is not likely or desirable. This book received the Henri Hertz Prize, awarded by the Chancellerie des Universités de Paris for the best book by a faculty member.

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The title of the first chapter, “Toccata and Fugue for the Foreigner,” refers to the idea that a foreigner is never completely at home in a new country even when he or she has been there for a number of years. A musical form, the toccata rushes from here to there, briefly touching on each note. The foreigner is a wanderer who never feels a sense of belonging. Possessed with a driving ambition, the person will take any and all jobs and try to be the best at whatever that may be. The foreigner lives with a sense that those at home have been abandoned, and although one’s mother tongue has been forgotten, there is an awkwardness in speaking the new language. Worst of all, the foreigner feels that no one is listening and no one deeply understands. Kristeva uses an example from Vladimir Nabokov’s novel The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (1941). Knight wanders; he cannot find a home, a partner, or a language. Even his memories are constantly changing.

Ancient Views of Foreigners

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 252

In the remaining chapters of the book, Kristeva traces attitudes toward the foreigner throughout history. The Greek author Aeschylus tells of the Danaides, women of Egypt who fled their native land, became foreigners in Greece, and married Greek men. Thus, Greece is in part built on exogamous relationships. The foreigner in Greece, however, was not a citizen but a suppliant, under the protection of the law.

In Homeric times, the ancient world closed in on itself, and foreigners were greeted with suspicion and hostility. Classical times gave birth to the word “barbarian,” which is believed to have originated with people who were inarticulate in the Greek language and whose efforts to speak sounded like “bla-bla” or “bara-bara” to the Greeks. In the writings of Euripides, the barbarian is already portrayed as an enemy of democracy.

The Stoics had a sense of the cosmopolitan. The king Menander said, “I am a man, and nothing human is foreign to me.” The Stoics believed that all humankind is bound in concentric spheres that include the entire universe, from citizens to the stars. Distinctions faded between Greeks and barbarians, between free persons and slaves, and even between men and women. However, this idea remained a utopian one. Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoicism, wrote a cynical piece in which he imagined a world with no distinct states. There were no marriages, schools, courts, money, or temples, and cannibalism, incest, and prostitution reigned. The Greeks remained a closed society. Even in Alexandria, Greeks married among themselves.

Jews and Christians

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 271

In her next example of attitudes toward foreigners, Kristeva notes that even though the Jewish people think of themselves as chosen by God, chosenness does not mean exclusivity. She cites the example of Ruth, an ancestor of David, who was a Moabite, but who was dedicated to the...

(The entire section contains 2339 words.)

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