Waiting for the Messiah: Derrida and the Philosophy of Hospitality

by Leanne Ogasawara


The sound of thousands of clattering stainless steel plates and bowls ripple across the water, as hundreds line up to enter the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Built atop a platform in the middle of a pool of water, this is the holiest shrine of the Sikh religion. Pilgrims arrive at the floating “Abode of God” walking slowly across a very crowded covered-causeway.

Just when you think nothing can be done to repair the world, you stand in awe as thousands are fed in the great communal kitchens of the temple.

The numbers are staggering. An army of volunteers show up every morning to chop vegetables, peel garlic, and fry roti. This in preparation for feeding tens of thousands every day. Known as the Langar, this communal meal is an act of charity and love, open and free to all. And what’s more, you don’t have to travel all the way to Amritsar to experience a Langar, as it is practiced in all Sikh places of worship around the world. Sitting on the ground shoulder-to-shoulder so that all are equal, pilgrims are provided with sustenance, ensuring that none leave the temple hungry.

Anyone is welcome to eat and anyone is welcome to serve.

In her beautiful book, Be My Guest: Reflections on Food, Community, and the Meaning of Generosity, Priya Basil—who herself hails from a Sikh family—feels it is a shame the meaning of the word “hospitality” in English has come to be so firmly associated with the industry of hospitality, something which has conflated acts of generosity with capitalist entertainment. And she rightly asks:

“What does this say about us when a notion that long implied giving without getting any return becomes synonymous with paying for services that promise customer satisfaction or your money back?” Read more »

Day Tripping

by Joan Harvey

It was inevitable. Michael Pollan’s justly lauded book, How to Change Your Mind, was going to lead straight, sensible, old people to doing drugs. “Today I am a middle-aged journalist working in London, the finance editor of The Economist, a wife, mother, and, to all appearances, a person totally devoid of countercultural tendencies,” writes Helen Joyce in the New York Review of Books, after having gone off to Amsterdam to do a good dose of psilocybin.

And of course all kinds of people are tripping these days. The musician Sudan Archives says she was “doing a lot of psychedelics….I swear to God, when I started to experiment with stuff like that, that’s when I became a little more creative.”

Suzy Batiz, who got extremely rich by developing “Poo-Pouri” (a product I’ve somehow never felt the need to buy) mentions that she has done 94 ayahuasca ceremonies to date. From her ayahusasca experiences she has decided she’s a “business shaman.” Yikes! Has it come to this already?

These nice people are having the usual ecstatic experiences that somehow can be expressed only in cliché. “It is possible to feel differently about things,” the journalist writes. “You don’t have to be who you’ve always been. More things are choices than you imagined. Ordinary things are very beautiful if you’ve the eyes to see.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for this. And I doubt I could write about psychedelic experiences in any particularly interesting way. But in my neck of the woods, the mountains above Boulder, inhabited by an odd mix of outsiders, the children of outsiders, and occasional outsider college professors, I’m pretty sure the percentage of those who have done acid and other psychedelics is far higher than the national (or for that matter global) norm. It is not unusual to be at weddings here in which a decent percentage of the people are in various altered states. The most astonishing aspect of Pollan’s book for many of us was that he didn’t trip until he was almost 60. How did he manage, we wonder, to get so far without? Read more »