Archive for December, 1995





Albert Camus carried his beloved Algiers with him throughout his whole life. Both his

body and pen knew of a sky, a sea, a sun and an earth which were radically different

from those of the Europe he went to live in. This other sky, sea, sun and earth were

those that constituted the unforgettable landscapes of his homeland. Camus knew, like

few have, about the life that begins far from one’s native land; a life which in the most

extreme cases is one of exile. In his beautiful short essay entitled Summer in Algiers,

this lyrical philosopher summarizes, in few words, this feeling: “it is well known that

one’s native land is always recognized at the moment of loosing it. For those who are

uneasy about themselves their native land is the one that negates them” (152). (*1)

These brief remarks on Camus allow us to begin to shed some light on the complex

situation in which immigrants from around the globe find themselves. Most

immigrants, I believe, know of this loss, they know of this negation and of this

uneasiness. They are rather daring figures who set out to sail leaving behind the

landscape –usually a nation-state— in which their values, commitments and

practices were set within a meaningful cultural and linguistic context. Immigrants carry

with them more than physical suitcases, they carry a heavy load of cultural heritage

which has shaped and allowed them to grow as they have.

Nevertheless immigrants dare to move, they are not static. To migrate is their

characteristic activity. But once immigrants have ‘landed’, that is to say, have become

‘landed-immigrants’, they come into contact with a societal reality which, to most, is to

a large extent new. It is one with its own standards, language, and modes of self-

perception; one which, perhaps, may appear alien.

It is this double belonging that which, I believe, marks immigrants. It is a tension

governed by Camusian ‘uneasiness’, which, at least, first generation immigrants feel

acutely. And truly there is nothing easy about migration; it is literally, an ‘un’-easy

affair. The familiar is displaced, and in its place, the immigrant is set within an

unfamiliar framework which provides her with, in many cases, radically new conditions

for intelligible and meaningful choice and action. What appeared to be self-evident,

perhaps even unquestionable, seems not to be shared by others who, nevertheless, are


set within the same novel reality. Many of our deeply held values and practices arechallenged, subverted, questioned and given new possibilities stemming frominteraction, not only with the mainstream culture, but likewise with the continuousand inevitable sight of other, quite different immigrant cultures. Incomprehensionopens up a space of intercommunication in which a plurality of languages and ways of

life begin to comprehend each other. (*2) This is a space of interaction that, as Walzer

tells us, allows for the birth of a deep type of moral philosophy; ” (one) understood as a

reflection upon the familiar, a reinvcntion of our homes” (Walzer, 17).

Multiculturalism reinvents the homes we carry within. It remodels, redesigns and

makes mirror reflection with others a delightful necessity. But multiculturalism can

also, by being denied its enriching possibilities, be simply seen as a destructive

tendency which must be demolished in order to preserve the secure foundations of

either, a mainstream society which sees itself threatened by the influx of difference

and diversity, or of severed islands populated by minority groups intent on

hermetically safeguarding themselves from any change whatsoever.

In this essay, I would like to explore some of the primary moral issues that spring

from these brief considerations on immigrants. My concern is purely normative, in

other words, I am concerned with considering some aspects of ‘ought’-questions such

as for instance; what are some of the factors that ought to be considered in trying to

begin to understand the complexity of the immigrant minority groups’ situation, and

their interaction with mainstream society? This theoretical overweight will clearly

make of the discussion something quite unbalanced. (*3) If, as Carens tells us, “any

discussion of the ethics of migration should (not only) recognize reality, ….. (but) also

consider whether we should embrace that reality as an ideal or regard it as a limit to be

transcended as soon as possible”, then this essay lies on the idealistic end of the

spectrum of possible analysis (Carens RIAEM, 9).

In particular, my central concern will be to point out some of the relevant aspects that

must be considered if any headway is to be achieved in the relationship between

immigrant minorities and the society within which they are set. In order to get clearer

on them, I propose to divide the essay in three sections. In the first, I will take up the


crucially important issue of language by focusing on Will Kymlicka’s Multicultural

Citizenship. Here I will try to, briefly and sketchily, elucidate the central importance of

considering not only the protection and preservation, but also the positive

enhancement of the conditions for the adequate flourishing of immigrants’ mother

tongue (particularly in cases where numbers warrant). Immigrants surely leave what

some have designated as the ‘father’ land, but just as surely they cannot leave behind,

what others have called, the ‘mother’ tongue. Although Kymlicka sets out to give some

mechanisms for ensuring special group differentiated rights for immigrants, as we shall

see, he nevertheless greatly, and dangerously, ends up watering these claims down.

This is specially so in what he himself acknowledges to be one of the most central

aspects of culture, the issue of language.

In the second section, I will take up Waldron’s view of cosmopolitanism which claims

that our modern allegiance goes beyond any specific and limited communal

framework. Instead, he sees in Rushdie’s writings a more adequate and faithful

reflection of the hybrid nature characteristic of modern, globally interdependent,

societies. Nevertheless, although claiming to be speaking from an immigrant’s

perspective, I would like to look more closely at the underlying ‘thin theory of the

good’ which cements his argument (as well as Kymlicka’s), and its linkage to a very

particular view of the self. From the immigrants perspective, I believe, these two

presuppositions may not only seem at odds with the societal culture within which they

have been brought up, but likewise can actually be detrimental and dangerous to the

healthy survival and flourishing of theirs, and their children’s, identity.

Penally, in section III, I will address Parekh’s views on the complexity of British

society understood as a multiethnic reality. I will restate there what I take to be

Parekh’s most important contributions to the debate; contributions which, like this

essay, move more on the level of a normative theory of migration rather than on the

needy-greedy conditions for its real application in politically complex circumstances.

Re-reading Parekh will allow us to see how the relationship between immigrants and

mainstream society is one involving a continual give and take, a game in which both

parties, if there concern is to foster healthy and mutually enriching conditions for


dialogue, must listen and respect each other’s voices. For Parekh “integration requiresmovement on both sides, otherwise it is an imposition” (B , 105).JSECTIQN I: CULTURE, LANGUAGE AND IMMIGRANTSIf what Parekh says is true, ‘words are never mere words …. they shape our

understanding and approach of the world” (BCCD, 183), then Kymlicka’s being a

philosopher aids us immensely. His attempt to understand the language of minority

rights within the liberal tradition starts to give us a vocabulary “appropriate to

nuances” (30); a vocabulary which is sensitive to a variety of hard cases and difficult

grey areas (19). It is a novel conceptual scheme which challenges the narrow focus of

the previously held frameworks stemming from the liberal tradition itself. Some of

these ended up, and continue defending, the erroneously held view of justice based

on benign neglect for minorities; a policy based on the mistaken assumption of

neutrality of the liberal state (56). In contrast, Kymlicka’s is an investigative procedure

which aims, not at hermetically closing itself upon its findings, but one which is rather

focused on opening the discussion through the portrayal of a plurality of empirical

cases and a historical tracing of the complex issue of a theory of minority rights within

the liberal tradition.

Kymlicka provides us, in different ways, with conceptual novelty, reconstruction and

clarification. First, in his view of multiculturalism as assuming two main possible

forms: 1) as ‘multinarion multiculturalism’, arrived at through the incorporation of

previously self-governing, territorially concentrated, cultures into larger states, or 2) as

‘polyethnic multiculturalism’, that is to say, a type of pluralism arising from the

incorporation of multiple immigrant cultures within a mainstream culture by way of

individual and familial uprooting (*1). A second novelty in Kymlicka’s analysis lies in

his tripartite division of ‘group differentiated rights’ for minorities; a) ‘self-government

rights’ which allow for a delegation of powers to national minorities through the

development of different forms of federalism, b) ‘polyethnic rights’ related to financial


and legal protection, as well as active support, for different cultural practices pertainingto ethnic groups, and finally, c) ‘special representation rights’ which guarantee seats ingovernmental institutions for minorities which would otherwise remain unheard. Thethird novel addition which Kymlicka puts forward in his book is that of the dualanalysis of ‘collective rights’ — a distortive and over-generalizing category (39) — in

terms of, either ‘external protections’, a group’s right to limit the power exercised by

the larger society thus ensuring the conditions for its survival and positive flourishing,

or ‘internal restrictions’, a culture’s right to limit its own individual’s liberties for the

sake of a good held in common by the larger group. (*2) Finally, Kymlicka reconstructs

and reinterprets the fundamental concepts of freedom and equality — which have

been considered by liberals fundamentally from the perspective of human rights —

by incorporating onto this incomplete analysis, not only an emphasis on the

individual’s belonging to a societal culture, but also by recovering the previously

mentioned ‘group differentiated rights’ which alone can allow for free and equal

interchange between minorities and majorities within democratic governments. (^3)

Having briefly and too tightly laid out the central aspects of Kymlicka’s rich

conceptual clarifications and innovations, it will now be easier to focus on the issue of

immigration which, according to the diverse categories mentioned above, must be seen

under the broad category of multiculturalism as polyethnic, and with reference to

rights involving some type of polyethnic claims for external protections.

Among the different reasons for the suspicious silence of contemporary liberal

political thought on minority issues (M), Kymlicka mentions the ethnic revival in the

US of the 1960’s and 1970’s: “the increasing politicizarion of immigrant groups

profoundly unsettled the American liberals, for it affected the most basic assumptions

and self-conceptions of American political culture” (52) (*S). The uneasiness of which

Camus spoke seems to have become contagious. It stemmed from the fact that

immigration, without some adequate process of integration, was perceived

theoretically to challenge the very foundation of US society. A melting pot must

somehow melt if it is to continue existing as such. (*6). For US political theorists, the

way to keep the melting going, was to adopt a policy of benign neglect towards


immigrant affairs; a policy which held that minorities not only have no special rights toclaim, but that such claiming can lead to the dangerous destabilizarion of the veryconditions for social cohesion and bonding required to unite a society under acommonly held banner(s).Unlike US theorists, Kymlicka denies the possibility of ever achieving a neutral state

which can, by remaining silent on minority issues, actually promote a just interaction

between the mainstream culture and those which lie in the outskirts- F’or Kymlicka

immigrant groups have a right to group differentiated rights; without them they will

remain invisible, unheard and voiceless (53). For the Canadian writer, the US

theoreticians’ fears were born out of a misperception, namely, that the purpose of the

ethnic revival was to end up in the creation of separate self-governing ethnic islands

which posed a real threat to the unity of the “united states”. For Kymlicka, on the

contrary, such ethnic revival aimed rather at demanding an appropriate level of

recognition for the minority ethnic groups. Ethnic groups were struggling to defend

their peculiar and distinctive identities and cultural modes of expression. Ethnic

revival “involved a revision of the terms of integration, not a rejection of integration”

(83). This is why, unlike his colleagues south of the border, the Canadian philosopher

believes that the demands set forth by immigrant groups do not aim at consolidating

^elf-government rights, but rather different types of permanent polyethnic rights. For

Kymlicka the crucial difference can be elucidated by contrasting the goals and

conditions which have characterized both, colonists, and immigrants:

“There was a fundamentally different set of expectations accompanying

colonists and immigrants, the former resulted from a deliberate policy aimed at

the systematic recreation of an entire culture in a new land; the latter resulted

from individual and familial choice to leave their society and join another

existing one” (81)

Nevertheless Kymlicka recognizes that it is not absolutely illogical too think of a future

scenario in which, territorially concentrated, and culturally consolidated immigrant

groups, could in effect forge such a strong sense of identity as to seek some kind of

self-government rights, even separation. Kymlicka is Canadian; he knows of Quebec

and its particularity; a particularity to which we shall return. But, while Kymlicka


acknowledges this as a possibility, it is not, according to him, a morally permissible

alternative for immigrants. Immigrants ought not to actively seek such a goal. This is

so, the argument goes, because immigrants, the parents at least, have chosen to leave

their homeland, thus waiving their claims to self-governance:

“Immigrants have no legitimate basis to claim national rights. After all they had

come voluntarily knowing that integration was expected of them. When they

chose to leave their culture and come to America, they voluntarily

relinquished their national membershipfad/narional rights which go with it”

(53) ^

(Although here Kymlicka is arguing for the case of ethnic revival in the US, it is a

position which he not only endorses, as we shall go on to see, but which permeates the

whole of his conceptual framework; one in which the duality between

multinarionalism from polyethinicity is found again and again)

Whoever re-reads the previous quote, might be somewhat puzzled by its claim that

immigrants “chose to leave their culture”. Surely what Kymlicka must mean is that

immigrants leave behind the “nation-state” (or some such political structure) to which

they belonged. Leaving a territory is, more or less, an easy matter; but leaving one’s

culture, as Camus reminded us, not an easy one at all. And Kymlicka is well aware of

this. This is the main reason why, within his interpretation, he is at pains to point out

that the liberal notion of individual freedom is one which can only be made sense of by

shedding light on its intricate linkage to the societal culture within which the

individual is ‘thrown’. This concept of societal culture is defined by Kymlicka as

“a culture which provides its members with meaningful ways of life across a full

range of human activities, including social, education, religion, recreational and

economic life, encompassing both public and private spheres. These cultures

tend to be territorially-concentrated, and based on a shared language” (67)

According to this definition of ‘societal culture’ immigrants seem to be in a tight spot.

They have left one such societal culture, the one in which they were raised throughout

their whole life, but at the same time they are just beginning to enter one of which

they know few aspects; perhaps not even the language. The problem is made more

acute within Kymlicka’s own argument precisely because it is the societal culture


which provides any human being with the meaningful context of choice.Understanding the praxis of a given agent then, under this particular view, implies to acertain extent comprehending the cultural background in which the individual is set.Furthermore, for Kymlicka, the way that this process of comprehension goes aboutinvolves an understanding, not only of the language used in the mainstream culture

which immigrants enter, but moreover an understanding of the practices for which

language stands as expressive realization:

“to understand the meaning of a social practice therefore requires,

understanding the shared vocabulary –i.e. understanding the language and

the history which constitute this vocabulary, whether or not a course of action

has any significance for us depends on whether, and how, our language renders

vivid to us the point of that activity …… understanding those cultural narratives

is a precondition of making intelligent judgments about how to lead our


Understanding the shared vocabulary of, let us say, Canadians, means not only having

high-level linguistic skills (something difficult to achieve(*7)), but furthermore a

sense of the values and commitments underlying the diverse linguistic functions which

Canadians use in their everyday life. However, immigrants are precisely characterized

by their (unless they are extremely qualified and fast language learners) standing in a

complex situation where two different narratives meet; one very deeply entrenched

and in danger of dying, the other barely born and in danger of being misunderstood.

According to Kymlicka, unless the conditions for this mutual understanding are fully

met, the context of choice for immigrants wi\\ not be one which does justice to their

dilemma. Intelligent judgments for immigrants involve two narratives: one readily

available, but context-less, the other one yet to be written and not even, for some,

faintly comprehended.

Nevertheless, for Kymlicka, since immigrants have voluntarily uprooted themselves

from their countries of origin, in doing so they have relinquished some of the rights

which went with belonging to a ‘secure’ societal culture which was territorially

concentrated and shared a distinct language. Immigrants, Kymlicka tells us have

“relinquished some of the rights that go along with their original national

membership” (81). But even if this is true, still, Kymlicka wants to argue that even in


the case of immigrants, their societal culture cannot be simply overseen. Kymlickaknow\s we\\ of the tense situation in which immigrants find themselves:”they have left behind the set of institutionalized practices conducted in theirmother tongue which actually provided culturally significant way of life topeople in their homeland, they bring wdth them a ‘shared vocabulary of

tradition and convention’, but they have uprooted themselves from the societal

practices which this vocabulary originally referred to and made sense of.” (68)

Having acknowledged that immigrants cannot simply do away with their cultural

make-up, Kymlicka then goes on to inquire whether they should be allowed to seek an

active and strong flourishing of their respective culturally shared practices, their sense

of self-identity, and their communal modes of belonging and understanding. To put in

interrogative terms, if people have such a deep bond to their societal culture why

should immigrants not be allowed to develop, to a large extent, their societal cultures

within the space they have been allowed to land in? Kymlicka himself classifies the

problematic as one of the ‘hard cases’ with which a liberal theory of minority rights

must deal. (80). The problem is clearly an ‘un’-easy one.

At different points throughout his book, Kymlicka allows for two types of external

protections to which immigrants, and presumably their descendants, have access; this

h even after having acknowledged their having uprooted themselves. In Chapter 2 he

tells us that the first kind is of a negative character, they are linked to the fighting of

prejudice and discrimination through, for instance, antidiscrimination laws. These

law^s, more than promoting the development of a given group, prevent its dissolution

through reference to human rights in general; it is in this sense that they can be

understood as belonging to a negative policy, the aim of which is simply the physical

survival of those concerned. But Kymlicka goes beyond these.

The second type of polyethnic rights to which immigrants are entitled involve a

much more positive political stance. It is one which actually seeks, not simply to build

thin layered protective walls around disadvantaged groups — a procedure which can

lead to viewing these minorities as an unproductive burden and an unwelcome

responsibility — but rather to build healthy and just interactions which foster the

growth of cultural elements from diverse ethnic communities and their enriching


variety of ways of life. Among the latter Kymlicka allows for two distinct cases: a)public funding of cultural and artistic (even linguistic classes) where the market andpolitical forces would greatly disadvantaged minority groups and their numericalinferiority, and b) religious cases in which minority ethnic groups have beendisadvantaged, albeit not intentionally, as for instance in dress codes, traffic laws,

holiday celebrations and economic issues such as that of Sunday closing. (22-23)

Now, while it seems that Kymlicka has provided quite a lot of strongholds upon

which immigrants can seek to safeguard and promote their culture, nevertheless he

seems to shy away from the strong kind of polyethnic rights which would be required if

he took seriously his claims concerning the centrality of societal culture as a context of

choice and meaningfulness for individuals from different cultures. This is nowhere

rendered more problematic than in the case of the defense of immigrant languages.

Are immigrants, and particularly their children, condemned to view their language,

their shared vocabulary, as a nice relic worthy of the admiration reserved for museum

pieces which are doomed to constant and unrelenting fading away? Are immigrants and

their children condemned to relegate their language simply to the private sphere in

order that a more secure mainstream societal culture can flourish?

Kymlicka himself acknowledges that “it is very difficult for languages to survive in

modern industrialized societies when they are not used in public life” (68). Immigrant

languages then would seem to be set on a destructive course. Immigrants uprooted

themselves voluntarily, so they must, to put it rather crudely, somehow pay for their far

from wise decision; or so it seems. I add ‘or so it seems’, because even in the case of

languages Kymlicka is sensitive to the complexity of the issue. This is why he

dedicates a few lines to the issue of ESL teaching for immigrants. Presumably if

immigrants ought to learn the ways of the societal culture they have entered, then

learning the language in which this community deals is the most important aspect of

integration; one which can morally be demanded of all immigrants who arrive to

English-speaking, immigrant receiving countries, such as Canada and the US.

Kymlicka, in his struggle to provide immigrant groups with polyethnic rights, tells us


that ESL courses must move away from the view that imposes English as uniquelanguage:”current policy has operate on the assumption that the ideal is to makeimmigrants and their children as close as possible to unilingual speakers ofEnglish (i.e. that learning English requires losing their mother tongue), rather

than aiming to produce people who are fluently bilingual (i.e. that learning

English involves gaining a language, in addition to one’s mother tongue)” (82)

Given this passage it would seem then that Kymlicka, finally, provides the basis in his

argument for a strong immigrant defense of their minority languages- Nevertheless this

is not the case, and precisely here, is where Kymlicka disconcerts the most.

Kymlicka’s doubts and hesitations on the immigrant language issue can be seen when

he discusses the case of Quebec and its special status within Canada as French

sneaking national minority It is not a chance event that Kymlicka discusses both the

Quebec issue and the immigrant issue side by side. Perhaps he fears, just as the US

theorists he himself criticizes feared, that immigrant groups will in a distant future

evolve into such a strong position, with such a strong differentiating identity7, that they

will seek for themselves some claims of regarding self-government rights; perhaps

even to the extreme of secession-

According to Kymlicka the Quebecois do have a claim (and have greatly advanced in

this resnect, as the referendum clearly shows) to group differentiated rights within the

whole Canadian context founded on a tacitly accepted form of asymmetrical

federalism. Nevertheless the Quebecois are not immigrants, they should be

considered, within Kymlicka’s framework, instead as original colonists with particular

multinational rights. This is why they have a right to exercise strong forms of group

differentiated rights (in its three forms) at three levels: i) the individual level,

francophones outside Quebec have access to public services in French; ii) the group

level French-speaking parents can demand a French school where numbers warrant it

(Kvmiicka does not mention Bill 101 and its ‘internal restrictions’ here); and finally, iii)

the provincial level, in order to preserve culture and the conditions for the active

flourishing and recognition of the French-speaking minority in North America. But no


such strong rights are accessible to any immigrant groups whatsoever; they areconceived of as groups of uprooted ethnic communities, not as national minorities (*8).Presumably then, newly arrived immigrants will have, under these conditions, tostruggle hard to preserve their own languages given that the language of the publicsphere will remain English in the US and Canada, and French within the, up to today,

province of Quebec. Integration of the first generation immigrants will remain a

difficult task, for if learning a language takes years of dedication, understanding the

context of that language much more than that. But what is truly more troublesome is

the situation which second generation and even third generation immigrants face. If

language is so central to the definition of a societal culture, then by not providing an

adequate defense and a positive enhancement of immigrant languages, the children of

immigrants will be left with, at best, only one societal culture within which to choose

how to be, that of the mainstream English (or French). It seems to me highly

implausible to preserve central, core-type, polyethnic rights without granting much

more than anti-discriminatory laws and religious “exemptions”. And Kymlicka himself

is not silent on this issue either; but his answer reveals his fundamental fear of any

strong type of ethnic revival which emerges from a strong definition of identity which

need not, as he fears, end up in claims of national minorities:

“adult immigrants may be willing to accept a marginalized existence in their

new country, neither integrated in to the mainstream culture nor able to

recreate their old culture. But this is not acceptable for children … Parents at

least had the benefit of being raised in a societal culture in their homeland … If

we do not enable immigrants to recreate their old culture then we must

strenuously work to ensure that children integrate into mainstream” (91, FN 19)

Parents have waived their right to security, so to speak; they were free to be insecure,

but not to make their children insecure beings. But children must be afforded the kind

of security7 which will enable to them to be brought up under adequate social

conditions. In order to do so Kymlicka seems to be arguing that a ‘strenuous effort’

must be made to make them into mainstream beings who learn from their parents’

inadequate marginalized existence. But this is precisely to do away with the | //

foundation of any strong sense of multiculturalism which is founded, as the word


portrays, on different cultures (minority and majority), not on a set of watered downcultural backgrounds. It seems to me Kymlicka gives a strong blow to the chances of astrong and healthy deep diversity which, in the Canadian environment could be, asTaylor puts it, a true object of pride; one “where a plurality of ways of belonging wouldalso be acknowledged and accepted”? (Taylor, SDV, 75). (*9)

In yet another of his interesting footnotes Kymlicka tells us that linguists consider

language to be a “dialect with an army” (93, #28). Mainstream culture truly can

become like this, failing to perceive the richness and possibilities of a stronger

perspective on polyethnic rights concerning language. Perhaps security will not follow,

but it will not follow either from failing to see the problematic at hand. And besides, as

Walzer tells us “morality …. is something we have to argue about. The argument

implies common possession, but common possession does not imply agreement”

(Walzer, 3PI, 32). Even though Kymlicka fights hard for some kind of polyethnic

rights, he ends up by denying any strong version of these. He lowers the level of

argumentation by implying that common possession must follow from a very strong

sense of agreement.


Immigrants are caught up in a two-sided struggle which pulls them in two directions.

In the first place they seek to preserve their valuable cultural heritage, not simply for

the sake of the first generation, but, presumably, also of the benefit of their

descendants. However, this tendency is set limitations, by the cultural

forces of the society they enter upon having left their homeland. Immigrants therefore,

  • )

and those who receive and welcome them, must search jointly for some sort of balance

between their, at times, conflicting claims, rights and obligations.

The political structure which immigrants migrate into, the one governing countries

such as Canada and the US, is that of the western tradition of democratic liberalism. It

is a form of political government to which most immigrants have had some access,

though of course, in different degrees and forms. This particular tradition is one that


holds that a critical stance towards the goods valued by the individual is, thoughdifficult, both possible and desirable. This modern perspective is itself the product ahistorical tradition born out of the Enlightenment. While enlightening implies,negatively, liberating one from the obscurity of traditional conceptions of the good, thisnew born tradition knows likewise of the possibility of a self-critique, that is to say, it is

intent on coming to an understanding of its own limits of understanding and practice.


Within the liberal branch of the Enlightenment, individual liberty and autonomy, the

capacity to deliberate and choose among conflicting goods for oneself, becomes a

central commitment. This is one of the reasons the individual has the right and

capacity to become highly critical of the political, religious and social community in

which she is born. This is a point of view to which Kymlicka holds allegiance, for “it

allows to choose a conception of the good life and then allows then to reconsider that

decision and opt a new and hopefully better plan of life” (70).

The end, or ends, which guide our everyday practice, are no longer static and

unquestionable, but rather dynamic and requiring a continuous investigatory capacity

capable of revising, reconsidering, even rejecting them. This is, of course, not to say

that the individual is to be held up as the atomic center of the universe. Kymlicka

already let us see the crucial force of a societal culture as framework of choice for each

agent; society is constitutive of the individual’s identity and possibilities of self-

understanding. Nevertheless this position claims that there is in reality a peculiarly

modern human capacity to stand back and question the presuppositions, not only of

other culture’s goods, but of those which provide its own conceptual and practical


“the freedom which liberals demand of the individual is not primarily the

freedom to go beyond one’s language and history, but rather the freedom to

move around within one’s societal culture, to distance oneself from particular

cultural roles, to choose which features of the culture are most worth

developing, and which are without value” (Kymlicka, 78)

Liberals like Kymlicka, do not want to argue that a pure objective stance is humanely

possible. This is so for stepping wholly outside one’s own tradition is as impossible, as


stepping outside one’s very own skin. Walzer’s defense of the path of interpretation inmoral affairs is here particularly illuminating: “I do not mean to deny the reality of theexperience of stepping back, though I doubt that we can ever step back all the way tonowhere. Even when we look at the world from somewhere else, however, we are stilllooking at the world” (Walzer, 6). And presumably ‘the’ world means here in some

deep sense ‘our’ world, that which springs forth form ‘our’ interpretation.

If one inquires as to why it is that this standing back is possible in this Western

tradition, while it remains inexistent in many others — at least to the same degree

and in the same form — part of the answer seems to lie in the conception of the good

underlying it. This stance, common to both Kymlicka’s multiculturalism and

Waldron’s cosmopolitanism, is founded upon a peculiar view of the good for human

beings; it is that of a ‘thin’ theory of the good, as opposed to a ‘thick’ or ‘substantive’

one. According to Waldron this conception “give(s) us the bare framework for

conceptualizing choice and agency, but leaving the specific content of choices to be

filled up by the individuals” (20) (*2\ \

But, even though Kymlicka and Waldron share the same thin theory of communal

and individual goods, they are led to radically different positions regarding the defense

of the goods held as valuable, and in need of defense, by minority groups. Unlike

Kymlicka’s triad of group differentiated rights, which places barriers on the goods held

by majorities within liberal democratic states, Waldron pushes the view of a thin theory

of the good to its extreme in his view of the alternative to a defense on

communitarianism –in Kymlicka’s terminology ‘societal culture’– namely,


He finds this perspective expressed most clearly in Rushdie’s immigrant perception

of modern Britain’s multiethnicity. What shines forth in the persecuted author’s

writings is a migrant’s perspective of the kaleidoscopic reality in which she lives daily.

It is a realization of the hybrid and highly amorphous structure of the public sphere in

which she moves about. Members of such a diffuse, tension full and diversified reality,

are keen on questioning the fundamental tradition(s) in which they were brought up

for they “refuse … to think of (them)selves as defined by (their) location or (their)


ancestry or (their) citizenship or (their) language”. (Waldron, 753). Meaningfulnesslies not in the sharing of a unique piece of land, or a singularly held language, or ahomogeneous and secure societal culture, but rather in the intermingling of diversesocietal cultures with different languages encountering each other publicly on a day today basis. Authenticity and human fulfillment lie, not in complete allegiance and

rootedness in one’s or anyone’s traditional culture, but in a never finished web of

relativized and multivocal threads of discourse which conform the public arena of

polyethnic societies.

Under this perspective, the emphasis on the validity of a mongrel-type lifestyle

stands in opposition to the conformation of isolated islands made up of self-enclosed,

and externally protected societal cultures (752). The communitarian idea “that there is

a universal human need for rootedness in a particular community (which) confers

character and depth on our choices and actions”, is misguided and even dangerously

misrepresentarive of a dynamic reality which it, not only fails to see correctly, but

worse yet, actively covers up.

Allegiance now makes sense primarily, though not exclusively, at the level of the

global community which, according to Waldron, has come to represent the real realm

on intelligible economic, moral and political interdependence (771). (*3). Only via a

defense of such a broad community, and its international organizations, can there be a

real understanding and effective battle of global issues such as redistribution, pollution

and resource depletion. (770). Just as the communitarians understand the individual

with reference to a particular community, Waldron believes that their argument

nowadays ought to be pushed further. This to the point where individual communities

can only be made sense of, now, with reference to the global framework: “no honest

account of our being will be complete without an account of our dependence on large

social and political structures that goes far beyond the particular community with

which we pretend to identify ourselves” (780).

The ties that help constitute our identity(ies) do not pertain to one individual societal

culture, as it seems Kymlicka argues at times, but rather to a plurality of these; all of


which shower us with a great number of different narratives, goods, meaningfulfragments, multiple images and moral valuations. For Waldron:”From the fact that each option must have a cultural meaning, it does not followthat there must be one cultural framework in which each available option isassigned a meaning. Meaningful options may come to us as items or fragments

from a variety of cultural sources” (783)

We do in fact need cultural material in order to provide the context for meaningful

choices, but what we do not need is ONE unique, more or less homogeneous and

secure cultural framework. We need choices in a plural context and not one context for

choosing. The preeminence of one societal culture would in fact lessen the

possibilities of reaching out for diversity. Furthermore, by placing all ‘strenuous

efforts’, as Kymlicka argues, in securing one social structure, its component elements

are much less easily opened up to new and enticing possibilities.

This is why, for Waldron, securing and preserving minority cultures, and cultures in

general, is a way, not of promoting such enriching diversity, but rather of clogging up

the sources which feed the ground for mutual interaction:

“cultures live and grow, change and sometimes whither away; they amalgamate

with other cultures or they adapt themselves to geographical and demographic

necessity, to preserve a culture is often to take a favored snapshot version of it

and insist that this version must persist at all costs, in its defined purity,

irrespective of the surrounding social, economic and political circumstances”


According to Waldron, if we are to take seriously the cosmopolitan alternative, then

excessively campaigning for minority rights is seen almost as a backward tendency.

Kymlicka, who himself views a conception of the thin good as desirable, provides us

with some elements to criticize Waldron’s argument. His arguments are put forward

immediately following the already analyzed ‘hard cases’ which included among them

the ‘un’-easy case of immigrants. While Kymlicka acknowledges the enriching power

of intercultural exchange, he is likewise quick to point out that “there are limits in the

cultural material which people find meaningful” (86). Why is this so? Well because for

Kymlicka, although he subscribes to a thin theory of the good just as Waldron does, his


thinness is radically less thin than the required for a strong version of cosmopolitanism.



Different societal cultures share a language which gives and shapes the sensepossibilities of practices and ideas. Snatches of culture dragged out of context loosetheir deeper meaning, they remain context-less and in this way extremelyimpoverished. Ridding cultural elements to a large extent from their original languageleads to incomprehension of words and actions. For Kymlicka “options are available to

us if they become part of the shared vocabulary of social life , i.e., embodied in the

social practices based on a shared language that we are exposed to” (86).

It is precisely because of this that the protection of minority right, particularly in the

case of immigrants becomes a necessity. This is so because of the inexistence of a

neutral sphere in which all cultural components of the cosmopolitan alternative are set.

Waldroifs alternative seems to presuppose that all traditions entering upon the public

sphere enter into it as equals. Only in this way can a strong view of hybrid reality make

sense. Unfortunately while Waldron delights, as we all should, in the intercultural

exchange which marks immigrant receiving countries, he does away with the very

conditions for the active flourishing, rather than mere preservation, of the roots from

which a strong multi-cultural reality springs. While Waldron seems led to deny special

immigrant treatment because of his anricommunitarian arguments, Kymlicka, as we

saw in the previous section^ does not go far enough.

What is so problematic in Waldron’s argument, from the perspective of immigrant

groups, comes to light clearly in his conception of the cosmopolitan picture of the self.

Its amorphous identity is based, not on any kind of hierarchical structuring based on

some special elite’s perception of some substantive view of the good, but rather on the

democratic governance of a pluralistic society of equals brought together by their

sharing a ‘thin’, perhaps too thin, theory of the good.

However, minority groups are so thin themselves as compared to majority traditions,

that, under Waldron’s conditions they will truly, I believe, disappear; their deep

richness condemned to invisibility and inaudibility. As Iris Young argues: “democratic

public should recognize mechanisms for the effective representation and recognition of

the distinct voices and perspective of those of its constituent groups who are oppressed

or disadvantaged within it” (Young, 261). While Waldron cherishes the hybridity born


out of interaction between cultures, he precisely takes out the very protectivefoundations which can guarantee real complex intermingling. If in Kymlicka’sargument the future scenario ends up being a secure societal culture, under Waldron’sperspective security will, in the long haul, end up being achieved by a mainstreamsociety free from the struggles of any communitarian oriented minorities.

A second serious problem in Waldron’s view of the self, from the perspective of

immigrants, lies in its relation to the identity struggles faced by immigrant children.

While his view of the self can in fact lead to an enriching and multiply fulfilling

condition; while it is true that this selfs tension, its chaotic nature and healthy

confusion, can lead — perhaps is the main road — to an artistic creation such as

Rushdie’s, it is also true that not all immigrants are potential Rushdie’s who can

articulate the confusion in which they are set in. Immigrant children do in fact face this

same kind of chaotic self structure, but from them, as we shall see in the next section,

there do not spring literary works, but rather a lack of self-esteem and disorientarion. A

senselessness born precisely out of the lack of the adequate conditions for the


Finally, I would just like to question the very idea put forward at the beginning of

‘ this second section; the one dealing with a critical stance based on a thin theory of the

good. It makes one wonder whether Waldron, while trying to argue for a hybrid


coexistence of cultures, does in fact end up putting forward only ONE alternative,

namely, the one which is based on a very thin theory of the good in which real deep

ties to one’s culture are to be seen as radically suspicious; and the incapacity to

question these as absolutely inauthentic. But in the case of immigrants precisely this

perspective is what can in the fact be missing, at least to the same degree and in the

same form. Take for instance family ties; while family ties seem linked to the nuclear

family in North America, few North Americans would comprehend the virtual

necessity for some people of living in an extended family; living outside these is like

being torn apart. This is why I tend to believe that the most valuable aspect of the

liberal tradition which can stand back from its goods is that it can stand back, prior to

judging other communities’ goods, from its own goods by assuming a self-critical


stance. This inward turn, if done properly, can then truly pave the way to thepossibility of a dialogue which is both more honest and much deeper; one whichrespects the fact that other communities do not share the same goods as it does, and donot share the same type of questioning as it can.SECTION III: PAREKH ON IMMIGRANTS

In his paper on aboriginal Canadians, Alain Cairns points to the fact that the broad

category, ‘aboriginal’, tends to cover up the diverse traditions that, if one looks up

close, are found within it: “Metis, Inuit, and Status Indians are very different ways of

being aboriginal that derive from distinct histories and particular interactions with

Euro-Canadian society” (3). Simplifying reality conceptually can lead to overseeing the

real complexity which lies behind such all-encompassing terms.

This is likewise the case, I believe, with the broad category of ‘immigrant’. The term,

of course, is not only inevitable because it facilitates overall discussion and general

policy planning, but it does so —if it simply stays at this level of generality– by

homogenizing widely diverging experiences of different immigrant groups constituted

through varying traditions, histories, purposes and languages.

Kymlicka’s astonishing sensibility to difference is here lacking. Although he does, in

the case of Hispanics, differentiate between four groups –national minorities

(Chicanes and Puerto Ricans), refugees (Cubans), illegal workers (Mexican) and

immigrants (presumably Central and South America)— he fails to sec the latter

category’s internal diversity. Spanish immigrants, while certainly sharing the Spanish

language, do not by any means share the same societal culture. (This, not only across

boundaries such as for instance Colombia and Venezuela, but within boundaries

themselves due to the huge class differences which grow out economic disparities.)

Kymlicka himself acknowledges that sharing a language, while being a necessary

condition for sharing a culture, is not a sufficient one for doing so: “while the members

of a culture share the same language, it does not follow that all people who share the

same language belong to the same culture. Not all anglophones in the world belong to


the same culture” (93, footnote 28). By the same token, not all Spanish speakingimmigrants belong to the same culture. And if this is so for Spanish speakingimmigrants, well one can truly see the necessity of considering the difficulty ofviewing all immigrants as somehow commensurable to each other, for instance,because of their having uprooted themselves.

In contrast, Parekh is extremely conscious of the importance of signaling out the

different cultural groups which conform the broad immigrant population. In the first

place, he tells us that immigrants, who have certainly uprooted themselves from the

territory they inhabited, nevertheless do so for quite different reasons. These fall into a

continuum with an extensive area of greyish tonalities which allows us to move

beyond a voluntary/involuntary dichotomy: “immigrants come for a variety of reasons,

ranging from search for asylum to their active recruitment by the state, and each

generates distinct claims and obligations” (Parekh, TRA, 701). Different conditions

for uprooting , or better, migrating, require different relational interactions between

the members of mainstream culture and the newcomers. Dealing with refugee claims,

for example, requires radically different considerations from those which arise with

regards to immigrants who are so skilled that they enter the job market with relative


Parekh also points out that it is an unquestionable fact that immigrants come from all

over the globe. They share little in common; not language, not religion, not diet, not

dress, not customs, not family relations, not gender relation, not economic abilities.

Immigrants “come from different countries, ranging from ex-colonies to fellow

members of such international organizations as the European community. In each case

they stand in different historical and contractual relations to the receiving country”


And not only the ‘why’ and the ‘where’ tend to vary to a considerable degree in the

case of immigrants, but likewise the ‘how long’ and ‘to what degree attachment is felt’.

This variation, I suspect, is determined, to a large extent, on the favorable conditions

found upon arrival, that is to say, on the degree to which immigrants feel respected and


respecting, recognized and recognizing, valued and valuable, and finally seen asworth- deserving as well as worth- giving beings. For Parekh:”some immigrants are or see themselves as short-term residents anxiousafter a few years to return to their home countries of origin or to moveelsewhere; some are or see themselves as long-term residents anxious

eventually to return to their countries of origin and in the meantime to remain

and work within, but not to become full members of, the host society; some

others want to remain members of their countries of origin as well as become

full members of the host country; yet others have completely broken with their

countries of origin” (Parekh, TRA, 702)

It is true that by putting forward all these differentiating factors, the issue of

‘immigrants’ might become much more dense and less easy to handle practically, but

at least it is a move which does not shy away from portraying the complexity of the

issue. Not by closing one’s eyes, no matter how hard one tries, will the dense multi-

layered reality of a multicultural society fade away.

This idea is one which Parekh develops more fully in his understanding of British

society. For him contemporary Britain ought to be seen as a multiethnic society. He

purposely rejects designating it as ‘multicultural’, precisely because for him this term

“does not adequately express, and even seems to obscure the kinds of difference that

obtain between different communities in modern Britain” (Parekh, BCCD, 184).

Ethnicity refers to identity and character differentiation, it is in this sense that Britain

can be seen as made up of such differentiating communities, “each with its distinct

culture or ways of thought and life” (184). (*2) Their having landed on British soil is a

fact to which there exists not one unique way of responding. Mainstream British

culture which, for different reasons, allowed these multiethnic appearance on its

shores: “ha(s) to decide how to respond to this fact, bearing in mind their own history,

system of values and aspirations as well as the likely reactions of the ethnic

community” (186). Parekh sees four general possible paths to follow: i) a rejoicing in

multiethnicity (polyethnicity for Kymlicka or cosmopolitanism for Waldron), ii) a

grudging acceptance of its nature, iii) a slow, but effective, undermining of it or finally,

iv) an open declaration of war upon it (186). Regardless of which is adopted, it remains

fundamental to realize that their implementation, just as in the case of Aboriginal


demands for fair treatment in the Canadian context, must continuously remind itselfthat, “simply put, the difficulty (here) is that the direction in which we are going isuncharted territory with few signposts” (Cairns, 1).However, this is not to say that the ethnic presence is somehow new to mainstreamculture; a kind of surprise to which they have suddenly awakened. In fact Parekh

shows how British governments have adopted more or less clear political policies with

determined objectives. Parekh traces the history of the two main responses to

immigrant arrival: on the one hand, the assimilationist/ nationalist alternative, and on

the other, the integrationist/liberal one. Both have subsisted side by side; the

preeminence of one over the other has depended primarily on the political climate of

the times (191). The first promotes some form of benign neglect, a policy which, as we

have argued, ends up being neither ‘benign’ nor ‘neglecting’. This interpretative path

perceives the incompatible ways of life found in ethnic communities as a diversity

which can lead eventually to political instability; even to a serious fragmentation of

what it sees as a cohesive and unified Britain with a univocal identity. According to this

view, Britain “could not remain cohesive without fully integrating them (note; the

ethnic groups), and it couldn’t integrate them without dismantling their internal

bonds” (188). Through both a discriminatory immigration policy which for instance

did not allow relatives to join already settled immigrants, and a mainstream education

focusing on English curricula (primarily history and language), this policy sought an

active cultural engineering of ethnic groups. Of course immigrants were not denied

basic human rights, but neither were they given any type of group differentiated rights.

The second model, the liberal/integrationist, valued diversity as actually enriching the

social fabric of contemporary Britain. Nevertheless “it remained vague and was not

clearly distinguished from its assimilarionist rival” (191). It pushed forward both

antidiscriminatory laws and demanded an education curricula based on mutual

understanding and tolerance. It fostered an environment where both parties sought to

interact actively in order to enrich each others’ perspective to the fullest. But it did so

timidly and halfheartedly.


Parekh sees various difficulties in each of these approaches. But among the critiquesthat he puts forward, I would like to signal one out which takes up the issues raised inthe first two sections of this essay. It is one which he directs primarily against thestrong assimilationist strand, but which can equally be argued against a weak liberalperspective which does not guarantee strong forms of group differentiated rights to

immigrant minorities. The critique concerns the effects of a strong defense of minority

rights, not simply on first generation immigrants, but on their children and their

children’s children as well.

Immigrant children, as we saw in Section I, did not decide to uproot themselves.

Nevertheless, they stand now, because of their parents’ decision, in an environment

which can not only foster the most extreme uneasiness and disorientation, but also

provide them with the most enriching of possibilities in the conformation of their

directional identity. While their parents had the possibility of growing into different

sorts of, more or less, solid trees –trees which can use their strength to survive in

unknown terrain — immigrant children are like fragile seeds and plants facing a forest

the richness and dangers of which can be compared to a jungle. This can lead to a

sense of loss and disorientation without comparison. In the case of Asian immigrants,

for instance:

“There is ample evidence that (their) children growing up in non-Asian Areas,

or taught in overzealous assimilationist schools, are deeply confused, insecure,

tense, anxious, emotionally hollow, ashamed of their past, including their

parents, lack resistance and self-confidence, and display disturbing disorders in

their thoughts, feelings and behavior” (192)

Kymlicka’s answer to this dilemma, which I take it goes beyond Asian boundaries, lies,

as we saw, in adopting a ‘strenuous effort’ to bring these children closer to mainstream

society. A solution which, we argued, sidestepped the problem itself by seeming to

imply that cutting the roots of one’s culture, and one’s language could be morally

demanded of immigrant children because, if not, they would end up just as

disoriented. Waldron, in turn, presumably would argue that this is the price to be paid

for the constitution of a radically new form of multiple thin identities which together

constitute the cosmopolitan view of the self.


Parekh is perturbed, and rightly so, by these troubling effects of migration. And,unlike Kymlicka, he views the source of the problem, not primarily in diversificationitself, but precisely in the inability of mainstream culture, not only to provide adequatemechanisms for the survival of immigrant identities, but also those which canguarantee their active and strong flourishing.

A case in point is that of the issue of the use of immigrant languages in the public

sphere. As we have argued, unless some strong defense of the minority language is

allowed — presumably where numbers warrant– these languages are, if not

doomed to disappear, then, and perhaps worse yet, forcefully sent to search for self-

enclosed islands in which they remain in use, quietly awaiting an opportunity to come

to public light through some kind of political demand. A shocking example given to us

by Parekh is that of the Urdu parents speaking in crowded train. To her parents use of

the shared language used in their homeland, a young immigrant girl reacts with utter


“When the confused mother asked for an explanation, the girl shot back: ‘Just

as you do not expose your private parts in public, you do not speak in public in

that language’. Though no one had presumably taught her that, she knew that

the public realm belonged to the whites, that only their language and customs

were legitimate within it, and that ethnic identities were to be confined to the

private realm. In a society dominated by one culture, pluralism requires more

than mere tolerance” (193) (*3)

Immigrant children’s healthy upbringing requires more than a mere bipartite strategy

in which their language remains exclusively private-oriented. This strategy may so

severe the identification links with their parents as to even deform the identities of

those children who make up second and third generations.

But it is not Parekh’s aim simply to safeguard minorities, and their languages, from

any interaction with mainstream society. This is neither possible, nor desirable given

that extreme differentiation, the kind which disregards some sort of integration is just

as counterproductive and damaging; “differentiation draws attention to oneself,

intensifies self-consciousness, singles one out as an outsider, and denies one the

instinctive trust and loyalty extended to those perceived to be ‘one of us'” (192) (*4^).

Some type of communicative interaction can alone respond adequately to the


multiethnicity which marks Britain’s social reality. It is an interaction that finds in adialogical relationship an extremely alluring model for new kinds of coexistence andcohabitation.Some of the central points for such a healthy interaction are given to us by Parekhhimself. His position, which springs from a critique of the previous two approaches, is

founded on five central premises: i) cultural difference is a valuable asset, ii) in

polyethnic societies such diversity is grounded partly in ethnicity which finds

expression in fragile minority communities, iii) these communities are not a threat to

mainstream society, but rather positively strengthen the latter’s economic, social,

cultural and linguistic possibilities, iv) the British have as part of their liberal tradition

an understanding of tolerance within morally permissible limits, and finally, v)

minority ethnic cultures ought to have a say in the public, politically charged, realm.

According to this perspective, minority immigrant communities are not simply to be

preserved in formaldehyde jars. They ought rather to be defended to the extent that

the conditions for their survival and active flourishing can be met by both (or more)

parties involved. The healthy tension found between minority(ies) and majority(ies)

can perhaps be seen to resemble a game which maybe most of us played as young

children; and if not so shared, it is one that can be taught to others (for the lovely thing

about games is that they can be taught to others who are eager to learn and participate

in them). It is that game in which two teams pull real hard on a single rope they share,

in order to bring one of them across a painted or imaginary line. It is true that Majority

cultures can indeed push the shared cord so as to send minority groups flying, in worse

case scenarios, right into the puddle which lies between them. But what both sides

must come to realize is that the possibility of the game itself makes sense only given

the presence of both. Of course one can play against oneself, but that, children can tell

you, is neither as challenging, nor as fun. It is in this sense, I think, that one can say

that “integration requires movement on both sides, otherwise it is an imposition”

(Parekh, 195).

Imposition reflects a desire to deny diversity, it proceeds from a leveling hunger

which fails to critically assess the underlying motives behind its game destroying


action. Fortunately as we saw in Section II, the mainstream culture of countries such asCanada and the US is born out of a tradition which knows itself to be born out of a self-critical and dialogical tradition. This is why it can indeed come to see that ethnicminorities:”widen the range of lifestyles upon its citizens, enabling them to borrow from

others what attracts them and to enrich their way of life. They also bring

different traditions into a mutually beneficial dialogue and stimulate new ideals

and experiments” (195) (*4)

Borrowing and lending are the social expressions of a hard won trust and


This mutual activity, this rope game, is the one which Parekh defends by expliciting

six primary normative objectives to have in mind in determining the healthy

relationships between minorities and majorities. First, cultural diversity ought to be

given strong public status so that diversity and difference come to be viewed, not as a

limiting factor by both parties — half grudgingly accepted by the majority,

halfheartedly rejected by immigrant children– but rather as a deep challenge for

both. One in which both (or more) parties are called upon to foster the cohabitation of

strong identities living side by side and committed to respect their traditions by way of

increasing bilingual education, multicultural curricula, acceptance of dress codes,

religious beliefs, and minority holidays, among many others. Second, on the minority

culture’s side of the rope, it is expected that they accept the obligations of British

citizenship through national loyalty and sensitivity to British political values;

principally through an active respect for the liberal democratic practices and

institutions and an understanding of the history and language which provide the

foundations of Britain’s shared cultural vocabulary. Nevertheless, and this is the third

point, minority cultures must be allowed to develop in their own direction and at a

speed not to be imposed from outside. These minority groups, even if they come from

a tradition that does not know of such a critical stand as that which characterizes the

countries they enter upon, have among them: “intelligent and wise men and women,

most of them heirs to old civilizations, and familiar with the art of making changes.

They love their children, are deeply concerned about their well-being, and know


better than anyone else that their future is tied up with British society, which theymust therefore understand and to which they must adapt, however painful the process”(199). Fourth, it is necessary to understand, and here Parekh coincides with Kymlicka,that individuals comprising communities flourish or decay with the downfall oruprising, literally up-rising, of these communities. This is why the proper conditions

for communal recognition and identification must be set in place; from this conditions

perhaps will follow more smoothly, higher individual levels of self-confidence and self-

esteem. The fifth consideration involves the need for the recognition of the distinct

character of ethnic communities by the mainstream legal system. This, not through the

implementation of a plurality of incommensurable legal systems (*5), but rather

through a more flexible, imaginative, and not because of this less secure, interpretation

of British laws: “the courts confront one with the other and decide how best the

general intentions of the law can be realized and justice done as well as seen to be

done in a specific and unique case” (202) () Vor instance, while cases of female

circumcision ought to be rejected, equal treatment of genders ought to be fostered


Finally, and here Waldron and Parekh come close to each other, but through

radically different routes, the idea of identity must be reconsidered so as to

acknowledge the diversity upon which it is now to be construed. Identity is “not an

abstract but a concrete and internally differentiated universal. It is not something all

Britons (note: or Canadians) possess; but rather a milieu, a self renewing process in

which they participate’. Identity is a dynamic concept which, regardless of our

intentions, seems to have a life of its own. Its fluidity continually escapes us no matter

how hard we fight to reach its alleged security. Multiculturalism implies

interdependence; it requires an open stance capable, both of listening to perspectives

which at first may appear radically alien, and of articulating self-critically one’s own

goods and valuations. To speak of a British identity makes sense only through the

recognition of this mutual belonging:

“In other words none of us is fully British. We are constantly trying to become

one, each on his own way and at his own pace. Only he is fully British who can

honestly say that no British citizen, black or white, Christian or Hindu, is a


cultural stranger to him. Those generally regarded as quintessentially British arein some way the least British” (203)Identity is a never-ending process in which becoming supersedes being. Polyglots aresuch becoming loving creatures. We positively admire polyglots, among other things,for their incredible capacity to perceive and produce sounds of differing tonalities, for

having the mnemic capacity required to recognize distinct words, for their graceful and

almost effortless comprehension of grammar and functional structures pertaining to

diverse linguistic groups. But polyglots are truly gifted humans; immigrants and their

hosts can simply try to learn from the former the mutual advantages to be won from

aiming at some type of expressive and respectful bilingualism. (*8) Having won this

linguistic advantage, perhaps then can follow different types of trilingualism, and who

knows, maybe even an enriching polyglorism. (*9)

FOOTNOTESINTRODUCTION1. In this passage Camus refers not only to the loss of his beloved Algiers, but likewise to a loss whichhe sees permeates the whole of the Western tradition. For him it is one which, in modernity, ischaracterized by the birth of nihilism and the absurd. Nihilism is itself understood as a leveling of all

values which, for example for Nietzsche, is seen as a detrimental aspect of the democratic tradition and

its perspective of a ‘thin view of the good’ (a perspective taken up in section II of this essay). The

liberal tradition is not without critiques itself, starting from Plato and Aristotle..

2. Having lived most of my life in Colombia, born from a Quebecois mother and a Colombian father,

having had access to the English language from early on, having lived for four years in Montreal some

years ago, and for a few months here in Toronto, I still am at a loss sometimes as to how to respond to

some elements in Canadian culture. Although there are too many examples, I would like to signal out

two in particular. The first occurred some days prior to the Quebec referendum. I asked a fellow Master

student whom I met in the Department what she thought about the issue. She gave me her opinion

and I proceeded to ask her who she was going to vote for. She stared at me rather oddly and asked

“Isn’t that kind of personal?”. Then, somehow, it clicked that such a question, though perhaps common

in a Colombian setting, is radically personal here. It took us some seconds to understand why she

thought it was such a strange question and why I thought it to be rather normal. Although embarrasing,

we seemed to realize the context within which the question was made. The second occurred in 1986

when I, for the first time was coming to a country I was a citizen of, but which I had never before

visited. Upon arriving to the airport and showing my passport where it says I was born in Colombia, I

was ‘jokingly’ asked by the immigration official; how many kilos do you have with you? He seemed to

take it for granted that it was obvious what the kilos WCTC of (Colombians abroad are dealt with with

extreme unfairness). Many examples which occur in day to day interactions still occur to me. I take it

that it is something that most immigrants share to even greater degrees. (This is likewise true for

people who migrate, from the countryside, into the ever growing cities in the Latin American setting.)

3. Perhaps a more balanced consideration can be reached with the difficult empirical study that will

follow this essay, and which will focus on the issue of immigration, either in Quebec, or a Province such

as Ontario. I will, in this essay, disregard all questions dealing with the economic requirements

necessary to foster a healthy relation between minorities and mainstream culture in a period where

cutbacks are the order of the day. But I will likewise remind myself that practice, without some kind of

theoretical framework, can be dangerously blind.


1. For Kymlicka both forms of multiculturalism, the multination, and the polyethnic, are not as distinct

as the separate categories might portray (19); furthermore for him Canada is among the few countries

which shares both (16).

2. For Kymlicka internal restrictions are to be regarded by liberals with very suspicious eyes.

Nevertheless, when he discusses the Quebec case he seems to shy away from considering Bill 101 .Is

not this Bill an internal restriction. Does Kymlicka see it as a suspicious one? How does it presence

affect incoming immigrants to the province of Quebec? Can they claim such internal restrictions using

the same arguments? Up to what extent?

3. Kymlicka is extremely sensitive to a multitude of empirical cases which he acknowledges do not fit

easily in his complex conceptual framework. Some of these are African Americans, refugees and

Hutcerites in Canada (19).

4. The other reasons for this minority rights skepticism lie in: i) the failure of minority treatises such as

that of Poland and Germany prior to the beginning of the Second World W^ar, and ii) racial

desegregation in the LS which seeks a color-blind society.


5. The continual use of the adjective and noun American in the part of Kymlicka is radicallydiscriminating to the peoples who live in the American CONTINENT; a continent comprised ofSouth, Central and North America. This use of the term cannot be defended either morally norgeographically. It is as if one, unintentionally, argued that all Canadians are gringos. This might seemlike a nominal problem, but if the arguments in Section I are correct, then it is certaiily more than this.

This use ought to be changed; but, of course, watching the news and reading the newspaper, it seems

quite illusory to try do so.

6. For Kymlicka there is not that much of difference between the two immigration models usually

discussed, the Canadian ‘mosaic’, and the US ‘melting pot’. Perhaps the first is not so mosaic-like, the

latter, not so melting. (10-11)

7. Having taught English as a Foreign Language for several years, I have seen the difficulty, and time

consuming task, which is to learn a language such as English (that is in all the four linguistic skills:

reading, writing, speaking and listening). I know that the ESL situation changes, and soon will begin to

prepare myself to look at the differences.

8. On the identity of the Quebecois, Kymlicka moves from referring to them sometimes as Quebecers,

sometimes as French Canadians. But precisely the Quebecois see themselves, before Canadians, as

members of the French speaking Province of Quebec. For Taylor this is furthermore linked to a

perspective which holds that the Quebecois hold a view of the good which stands in tension, to some

extent, with the ‘thin’ view of the good upheld by Kymlicka and Waldron. That Taylor dedicates pages

to the issue of language in political thought is therefore no surprise.

9. This deep diversity follows from an acceptance of a first level agreement on the basic principles of

liberalism and human rights.


1. A tradition grounded on the Kantian imperative, Sapere Aude! (Learn to be wise) As Kant asks of us:

“Have courage to use your own understanding” (Kant, What is Enlightenment”). This is a tradition in

which autonomy is set against all forms of heteronomy.

2. This is a position which is radically criticized, I believe, by Aristotelian ethical thought. The amazing

clement in Waldron’s argument is that he can still use Aristotle to foster his argument of global

interdependence, while clinging to a thin theory of the good. The tension can also be seen, I think, in

the Taylorite differentiation between what he calls hypergoods, and the goods which follow from the

modern affirmation of ordinary life (Sources of the Self.)

3. Here Waldron follows Habermas’ modernist project: “the arrival of world citizenship is no longer

a phantom though we are still far from achieving it. State citizenship and world citizenship form a

continuum w-which already shows itself (at least) in outline form” (Habermas, 7).


1. Recently a friend of mine from Colombia, who was not as lucky as I to have been born from a

Canadian, and therefore by law having the right to Canadian Citizenship (something envied by many in

countries such as Colombia), told me that during his swearing allegiance to the Queen and Canada,

there were, in the same place, about 120 people coming, and this is astonishing, from 29 different

countries !!!!!

2. Parekh clearly differentiates between the processes followed by Asian immigrants and their economic

claims, Afro-Caribbean and their political claims, and Muslims and their religious claims. Of course all

three claims are interrelated, but each immigrant group has tended to emphasize some over the others.

3. One of my Canadian nieces, the one old enough to speak, does not like to speak any Spanish,

although she can understand just about anything one tells her. In contrast, one of my Colombian

nephews speaks English as much as he can. Precisely it is in these everyday realities that, I think, one

can sec the difference between having a language extremely valued for different purposes as English is

in Latin America, and the parallel relevance of Spanish in Canada. Of course the case of Hispanics in

the US is radically different. Most of my students in Colombia would, if they could travel to learn

English, shy away from cities such as Miami for they argued, “one does not need English there”.


4. It is disturbing sometimes to hear stories of immigrants whose success within mainstream societyleads them away from the culture within which they were brought up. But this is a very personal andbiased opinion.5. The difference between immigrants and Aboriginal Indians is here illuminating. The latter do have,for different reasons, their own legal systems; but these seek not to deny basic human rights.

6. Aristotle in his Ethics points this out in quite another historical context: “‘it is he mark of the trained

mind never to expect more precision in the treatment of any subject than the nature of the subject

permits” (1094b28-30)

7. In the case of legal claims drawing the line is precisely the problem. While Carens argues that cases

of gender equality must hold universally, as well as the female circumcision of children (for adults it is

different) (CJ,CD,PC), there are other more problematic cases to which Parekh points. One of these is

the legalization of marijuana by Rastafarians of which he says: “The Rastafarians cannot be easily

isolated from the rest of the community, there is always the risk of the large-scale traffic of drugs, and

the likely health risk to them that cannot be ignored by the state” (201). Here, I believe, Parekh seems

to be sidestepping the issue. And it is one which of course permeates the whole modern debate on drug


8. I write bilingualism because I take it that the primary relationship to consider in multicultural society

is between specific immigrant groups and the English speaking society. Once this dialogue takes place,

I believe, there can follow the more complex possibility of carrying over these intercommunicative links

to the relationship between immigrant groups themselves. But here I may perhaps be wrong.

9. What one certainly does not want, I have argued, is some kind of Esperanto which all human beings

share, but without having any ties to real practical and theoretically complex and differentiated

contexts. (The Bible story of the Tower of Babel can perhaps be here illuminating)


BIBLIOGRAPHY (Readings for the course)Cairns, Alan, “Aboriginal Canadians, Citizenship and the Constitution”.Carens, Joseph, “Realistic and Idealistic Approaches to the Ethics of Migration”.— “Complex Justice, Cultural Difference and Political Community”.— “Canadian Citizenship and Aboriginal Self-Government”.

— “Democracy and Respect for Difference: The Case of Fiji”.

________ “Liberalism and Culture”.

Habermas, Jurgen, “Citizenship and National Identity: Some Reflections on the

Future of Europe”.

Kymlicka, Will, Multicultural Citizenships

Parekh, Bhikhu, “British Citizenship and Cultural Difference”.

— “The Rushdie Affair: Research Agenda for Political Philosophy”.

Taylor, Charles, “Shared and Divergent Values”.

Waldron, Jeremy, “Minority Cultures and the Cosmopolitan Alternative”.

Walzer, Michael, “Three Paths in Moral Philosophy”.

Young, Iris, “Polity and Group Difference: A Critique of the Ideal of Universal


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  In the Myth of Sisyphus Camus retraces Hamlet’s famous words: “the play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king”. The murdering king’s bloody desire for power must be uncovered, and a play within a play will allow this. Camus is also, like Hamlet, keen on desiring to catch and uncover. This can be seen in our tracing anew his commentary on the words by Ophelia’s vanishing lover: “‘Catch’ is indeed the word. For conscience moves swiftly or withdraws within itself. It has to be caught on the wing at that barely perceptible moment when it glances fleetingly at itself” (MoS, 77). Conscience eludes us, and yet we desire to get hold of it, somehow. Conscience is a task, not a given; it is there, but it is not.

  Eros, for the Greeks, was much like this. It too moves in flight: “flutters its wings amongst the birds of air” (Sophocles, Love, fr 855, Lucas 224). We humans of course do not fly. And this perhaps it is why desire is so hard to ‘catch’: “as a sweet apple turns read on a high branch/ high on the highest branch and the applepickers forgot —-/well, no they didn’t forget — were unable to reach” (Carson quotes Sappho, 26). Eros  and Camusian conscience both evade us as soon as we attempt to ‘catch’ them. They are like red apples we cannot really bite, and yet we yearn to taste their sweetness.

  Writing a concept trace has to do a lot with all this. To leave a trace is to leave marks, a sign of something’s presence. But the marks stand there as a memory, what left the trace in the first is long gone. And we long for it; if not, then why trace it in the first place? And so we set out to trace that which left its footsteps, or better, its wing-marks. For this particular quest we reach out to the vestiges of desire as it traverses Camus’ lyrical philosophy.

  But to trace, we ought to remember, is not only to follow, or to track down. To trace can be like the hunter; but we do not want to hunt, that is, catch in death. Hunters seem to be fond of stones. But stones leave no traces, for they neither walk nor fly. (Stones are truly not ruins, like the ruins at Tipasa). To trace can also refer to a much simpler innocent act that, as children, we repeated again and again and again. To trace refers also to the act of drawing or copying with lines or marks. To trace, then, is to recopy. I set out then to recopy Camus’ words, listening intently for the appearance of such an elusive force as is desire, the Greek Eros. In this sense to trace is truly to plagiarize. And plagiarizing is not only always inevitable and desirable, but, it can, if done properly, also be liberating. Besides, plagiarizing Camus is remembering him again and again and again. And this is something to be desired.

  Our search along desires’ vestiges in Camus’ marks and lines will proceed in triangular fashion: i) by providing the general location of desire within it, albeit, given that this is just a tracing, briefly, incompletely, and sketchily, ii) by giving some specific locations in the work by referring to some pages where desire has been “caught” in words, pages which I will copy once again, that is trace, as I did as a child, and iii) by letting desire have its play through the desire to question which we feel governs us. Questions born out of desire as fragile sketches.









i) General location


            a) Drusilla’s death is the death of a loved one. Besides it is the death of a desired sister. Loss here is at once erotic and filial. Caligula’s refusal to face this desire as truly relevant.

            b) Caligula’s desire for the impossible as symbolized in the moon. His drive to physically possess the moon; to be sexually moonstruck. Sadistic desire to kill and to obliterate, out of love of power and of the impossible, the other, the human and the possible. Caligula as hunter. The forceful desire to teach his logical truth: “Men die and are not happy”.

            c) Caesonia’s desiring love of Caligula.

            d) Cherea’s desire for meaning and his hard-won respect for Caligula.

            e) Caesonia v.s. Cherea on love.

            f) Scipio’s love and admiration of Caligula. Scipio’s love of art v.s. Caligula’s solitude and rejection of the lies of art.


ii) Specific locations


            a) pages. 4, , 6, 6, 10, 15, 71

            b) 7, 8, 15, 40, 46, 49, 71

            c) 17

            d) 21, 58,

            e) 63

            f) 67, 65,


a) 71, “love isn’t enough for me; I realized it then. And I realize it today again; when I look at you. To love someone means that one’s willing to grow old beside that person. That sort of love is outside my sort of range. Drusilla old would have been worse than Drusilla dead”

b) 46, “she was coy to begin with, I’d gone to bed. First she was blood-red, low on the horizon. The she began rising, quicker and quicker, growing brighter and brighter all the while. And the higher she climbed the paler she became. Till she was like a milky pool in a dark wood rustling with stars. Slowly, shyly she approached, through the warm night air, soft, light, as gossamer, naked in beauty. She crossed the threshold of my room, poured herself into it, and flooded me with her smiles and sheen … So you see Helicon, I can say, without boasting, that I’ve had her”

c) 17, “ I needn’t swear. You know I love you”.

d) 21 “to loose one’s life is no great matter; when the time comes I’ll have the courage to loose mine. But what is intolerable is to see one’s life drained of meaning, to be told there is no reason for existing”

    58, “he forces one to think, there’s nothing like insecurity for stimulating the brain, that of course is why he is so much hated” (words said even after his condemnation of Caligula’s “corruption” of Scipio (56)

e) 63, “too much soul, that’s what bites you, isn’t it? You prefer to label it disease .. tell me Cherea, has love ever meant anything to you?”

f) 67, “I shall go away, far away, and try to discover the meaning of it all … Dear Caius when all is ended remember that I loved you”



iii) Some questions


Is Drusilla’s role simply secondary, as Caligula says? Why then did Camus not choose any lover? What is that only emotion Caligula ever felt, that “shameful tenderness for” Caesonia (70)? Why does Caesonia ask Cherea if he has ever loved? Is Cherea truly ‘loveless’ and ‘simple minded’? Does Caligula ‘really’ think he has possessed the moon? If so then why does he say “even if the moon were mine, I could not retrace my way?” (49) What could it mean that Caligula is still ‘alive’? Does desire have to do something with it?





i) General location

            a) Maria’s unconditional, bodily love for Jan; simplicity; loss of a world outside Europe in which together they were happy.

            b) Jan split not only between the desire to fulfill his duty to relatives and his love for his spouse, but also between the land of exile and the homeland.

            c) Martha’s longing for the wind of the sea. Her desire to breathe under the sun, even if this implies murder. Her asexuality, bodilessness and stone-like character. (Like The Commander for Don Juan, like Sisyphus’ stone, like the Gods).

            d) The mother’s fatigue of life briefly cast aside through the emergence of a late love. (Like Meursault’s mother’s love for Perez)


ii) Specific locations


            a) 81, 84, 128

            b) 88

            c) 79, 105

            d) 81, 124


a) 128 Martha: “What does that word mean (i.e. love)?”, Maria: “It means all that is at this moment tearing, gnawing at my heart; it means that rush of frenzy that makes my finger itch for murder. It means all my past joy and this vivid sudden grief you have brought me, yes, you crazy woman”

b) 86-87, “As for my dreams and duties, you’ll have to take them as they are. Without them I’d be a mere shadow of myself; indeed you’d love me less, were I without them” …. and ….. “One can’t remain a stranger all one’s life. It is quite true that a man needs happiness, but he also needs to find his true place in the world. And I believe that coming back to my country, making happy those I love, will help me to do this”

c) “What is human in me is what I desire, and to get what I desire, I’d stick at nothing, I’d sweep away every obstacle in my path”  ….. and ……. “ I have a very different idea of the human heart, and to be frank, your tears revolt me” (129) …… and ….. “Buried alive! No one has ever kissed my mouth and no one, not even you, has seen me naked. Mother I swear to you that MUST be paid” (122)

d) 122 “its no more than the pain of feeling love rekindle in my heart”


iii) Some questions


Is Maria simply a secondary character? Is Maria’s appeal to the Gods a ‘weakness’? Are these Gods the same stony one’s of which Martha speaks? Is Martha’s longing similar to Caligula’s? Is it just in a ‘minor’, much less impressive, scale? Can it not be seen instead as appealing to the contrast between the public and the private sphere? Politics and ruthlessness as against family and intimacy? Is The Misunderstanding really more familiar than Caligula? What is Camus’ idea in recovering the force of this play in The Stranger? Is this a little like Hamlet’s staging a play within a play? Is Jan at fault for not being straightforward? How to understand the dichotomies present in this work of mirrors: home/exile, dark/light, burning sun/sun of life, family love/erotic love, past/future, rich/poor, men/women? Can the absurd be seen as springing precisely out of their tension? Would it be too crazy to say that it is rather strange an odd that Camus chose the names of Maria and Martha as those of the central figures of the work? Is it not puzzling that their names, out of a million others, begin with the three letters which stand for sea in Spanish(i.e. mar)? Are not Maria’s tears which Martha repudiates born out of this sea? Can one see Maria’s encounter with Martha as a mirroring encounter? Like the different mirroring encounters Caligula has with himself? What does this mirroring have to do with our recopying Camus’ words in front of us? What of the words in The Stranger  which tells us of the sea that “it lay smooth as a mirror”? (54)





i) General location


            a) Greek valuation of nature’s beauty. Socratic desire for limits and desire for admission of ignorance.

            b) Modern split between instrumental rationality, and expressive powers (Like Jan split duty/love)

            c) Hubris; desire of power (Like Caligula’s overstepping of limits)

            d) love of friendship (a healthy Scipio)


ii) specific location:


            a) 187

            b) 189

            c) 191

            d) 192


a) 187, “The Mediterranean sun has something tragic about it, quite different from the tragedy of fogs. Certain evenings at the base of the seaside mountains, night falls over the flawless curve of a little bay, and there rises from the silent waters a sense of anguished fulfillment. In such spots one can understand that if the Greeks knew despair, they always did so through beauty and its stifling quality. In that gilded calamity, tragedy reaches its highest point. Our time on the other hand, has fed its despair on ugliness and convulsions. This is why Europe would be vile, if suffering could ever be so”

b) 189, “we turn our backs on nature, we are ashamed of beauty. Our wretched tragedies have a smell of the office clinging to them and the blood that trickles from them is the color of the printer’s ink” (very different, of course, than that of Camus’)

c) 189 “Our reason has driven all away. Alone at last, we end up by ruling over a desert”  ……. and ……. 190-1 “Nature is still there, however. She contrasts her calm skies and her reasons with the madness of men. Until the atom too catches fire and history ends up in the triumph of reason and the agony of the species. But the Greeks never said  that the limit could not be overstepped” (Overstepping in a universe devoid of Gods)

d) 192 “we shall fight for the virtue that has a history. What virtue? The horses of Patroclus weep for their master killed in battle. All is lost. But Achilles resumes the fight, and victory is the outcome, because friendship has just been assassinated: friendship is a virtue?”


iii) Some questions


Is Camus’ view of Nature here truly romantic? Is not an appeal to nature as objective standard inaccessible to us moderns? Could one then relate this view of nature to our inner expressive powers? Nature reborn out of its transfiguration? Nature’s epiphany? Does Camus fall into a regressive desire for a land long lost for us, that is the Greeks? Is his a failure like Rimbaud’s  ambivalent Soleil et Chair? Or does he find a way to retrace this past era in a way that it opens, for us moderns, new possibilities of becoming? How to link Helen’s beauty with both a political project and an ethical outlook? Can Helen return form exile?





i) General location


            a) longing love of the homeland; permanent exile (Like Maria and Martha, and Caligula, and Jan, and Camus, and us)

            b) love of water and the Sea God (a God in Camus!)

            c) love of light; its ephemerality

            d) love of what is, as it is

            e) split love again: beauty and the humiliated

            f) love of love; an ethics of overflowing giving

            g) strange love of paradoxical articulated secrets


ii) Specific location


a) 194 Medea “You have navigated with raging soul far from the paternal home, passing beyond the sea’s double racks, and now you inhabit a foreign land”

b) 195 “for five days rain had been falling ceaselessly on Algiers and had finally wet the sea itself ….. which ever way you turned you seemed to be breathing water, to be drinking the air” …. and …… 200-201 “before dropping into the sea itself. It is seen from a distance, long before arriving, blue haze still confounded with the sky. But gradually it is condensed as you advance towards it, until it takes the color of the surrounding waters, a huge motionless wave whose amazing leap upward has been brutally solidified above the sea calmed all at once. Still nearer, almost at the gates of Tipasa, here is its frowning bulk, brown and green, here is the old mossy god that nothing will ever shake, a refuge and harbor for its sons, of whom I am one” (The sea of Meursault’s flowing with Marie)(Tipasa, the loved ruins of our youth)

c)  199 “In the earth’s morning the earth must have sprung forth from such light” ….  and …..202 “O light! This is the cry of all the characters of Ancient Drama brought face to face with their fate … I knew it now. In the middle of winter I at last discovered that there was an invincible summer in me”. (invincibility in Camus!)

d) 196 “disoriented, walking through the wet, solitary countryside, I tried, at least to recognize that strength, hitherto always at hand, that helps me to accept what is when once I have admitted that I cannot change it. And I could not indeed; reverse the course of time and restore to the world the appearance I had live” (dis-orientation)

e) 203 “yes, there is beauty and there are the humiliated, whatever may be the difficulties of the undertaking, I should like never to be unfaithful either to one or the other”

f) 201-2 “For there is merely bad luck in not being loved; there is misfortune in not loving. All of us are drying up of this misfortune. For violence and hatred dry up the heart itself … I discovered at Tipasa once more that one must  keep intact in oneself a freshness, a cool wellspring of joy, love the day that escapes injustice and return to the combat having won that light” (ethics of benevolence and artistic creation; good-fortune?)

g) 203-204. (a secret cannot be revealed)


iii) Some questions


Is the tension between beauty and the humiliated fully surpassable? Can one think of a longing to a rebirth of the world outside a Christian tradition? What is the relationship between Camus’ moving philosophical work and his moving and lyrical work? Are they complementary, in tension? Does Camus’ loving transfiguration of nature eliminate its silence? If not, then what does it mean to ‘leave everything as it is’?  (Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence)





i) General location


            a) contradiction: desiring the end of desiring. Force of suicide and lack of meaningfulness

            b) a desire too move beyond nihilism as loss of meaning. Beyond exile and malaise.

            c) desire and nostalgia: modernity and homelessness

            d) Lovers’ dialogue: A: “What are you thinking of” B: “Nothing”

            e) death appears: mortality and the end of desiring

            f) Don Juan’s Love: like a platonic cicada

            g) The actor: the body is king

            h) Conqueror: desire for articulation, lost causes and self-conquest.

            i) desire for creation: ephemeral works of art

            j) loving and knowing

            k) desire to break stones; hatred of unhealthy rockiness

            l) desire for happiness


ii) Specific location


a) Preface, 3, 5 “It is confessing that life is too much for you, or that you do not understand it … It is merely confessing that it is not worth the trouble”

b) Preface, “even within the limits of nihilism, it is possible to find the means to proceed beyond nihilism”

c) 6, “in a universe suddenly divested of illusion and light, a man feels alien, a stranger. His exile is without remedy (a logical contradiction with b?) since he is deprived of the memory of a lost home or the hope of a promised land. This divorce between man and his life, the actor and his setting is properly the feeling of absurdity”

d) 12, “but if that reply is sincere, if it symbolizes that odd state of soul in which the void becomes eloquent, in which the chain of daily gestures is broken, in which the heart vainly seeks the link that will correct it again, then it is as if it were the first sign of the absurd”

e) 57, “the idea that ‘I am’, my way of acting as if everything has meaning, all that is given the lie in vertiginous fashion by the absurdity of a possible death”

f) 69, 71, 72, 76, 77  “the more one loves the stronger the absurd grows” ….. “this life gratifies his every wish and nothing is worse than loosing it. This madman is a creative man” …… “yet it can be said that at the same time nothing is changed and everything is transfigured. What Don Juan realizes in his action is an ethic of quantity, whereas the saint on the contrary, tends towards quality” ….  “what more ghostly image can be called up than a man betrayed by his body who, simply because he did not die in time, lives out the comedy while awaiting the end” ….. “the ultimate end awaited but never desired, the ultimate end is negligible”.

g) 80, 81 “the actor is the intruder. He breaks the spell chaining that soul, and at last the passions can rush onto their stage. They speak in every gesture, they live only through shouts and cries. Thus the actor creates his characters for display. He outlines or sculptures them and slips into their imaginary form transfusing his blood into their phantasms”

h) 84, 88 “don’t assume that because I love action I’ve forgotten how to think …. I can thoroughly  define what I believe. Believe it firmly and see it clearly and surely. Beware of those who say :’I know this too well to be able to express it’ For if they cannot do so this is because they don’t know or it is out of laziness they stopped at the outer crust” (biting the apple of desire?) ….  “conqueror’s sometimes talk of vanquishing and overcoming. But it is always ‘overcoming’ oneself that they mean”

i) 93, 94, 113, 114  ( 93-4)“it is certain that a new torment arises wherever another dies. The childish chasing after forgetfulness, the appeal of satisfaction are now devoid of echo. But the constant tension that keeps man face to face with the world, the ordered delirium that urges him to be receptive to everything leave him another fever. In this universe the work of art is then the sole chance of keeping his consciousness and of fixing its adventures. Creating is living doubly” ….. 113 “ this is the difficult  wisdom that the absurd thought sanctions. Performing these two tasks simultaneously, negating of the one hand and magnifying on the other is the way open to the absurd creator. He must give the void its colors”

j) 97, 98, 117  (97), “there are no frontiers between the disciplines that man sets himself for understanding and loving, they interlock, and the same anxiety merges them”

k) 120, “You have already grasped that Sisyphus is the absurd hero. He is, as much through his passions as through his torture. His scorn of the gods, his hatred of death, and his passion for life won him that unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is exerted towards accomplishing nothing. This is the price that must be paid for the passions of the earth”

l) 123 “I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy”


iii) Some questions


Is Don Juan just a step on the ladder to the conqueror? Is this not too Hegelian a view? In other words is quantity leading up to quality or are quantity and quality at the same level; even in constant interacting conflict? (like Dyonisius and Apollo in Nietzsche) Can one have a Doña Juana? Is loving and knowing at the same time really possible?  Can one not desire suicide under certain circumstances? How is Sisyphus’ stone linked to Christ’s cross? Does not Camus tend to see the Greeks and the Catholic tradition too much like each other? Can Sisyphus be really happy, or is he just fooling himself? Can one really move beyond nihilism starting from it? Why does Camus say yes and no?  How is it that the body and all we are ‘become’ conscious of its mortality? By reading Camus? By being sentenced to death? By external events; an accident? Is the Myth of Sisyphus simply related to an ‘individualistic’ retrieval of ‘consciousness’; if so then why does the conqueror say, “as for me. I decidedly have something to say about the individual. One must speak of him bluntly and, if need be, with the appropriate contempt” (84)? What then does the conqueror’s self-conquest imply? How is it that art becomes the sole possibility of keeping consciousness?





i) General location


            a) Marie, lovely laughing living Marie. (Like in The Misunderstanding?)

            b) Salomon and his dog (Raymond and nameless girlfriend, a variation)

            c) Friendship; love of Celeste

            d) Love of ghosts: Marie’s traces

            e) Mother’s new love

            f) Love v.s. priest (Cherea v.s. Caesonia?)

            g) Love of life: love of ice-cream


ii) specific location


a) 27, 28, 29, 42, 56, 57, 78 

b) 52

c) 93

d) 75, 79, 80, 113

e) 120


g) 98, 104-5


a)  27, “ I let my hand stray over her breasts” …. I caught her up, put my arm around her waist, and we swam side by side. She was still laughing”, …..  41 “ One could see the outline of her firm little breasts, and her sun tanned face was like a velvety brown flower” …56 “for the first time I seriously considered marrying her” …. 78 “I remember Marie’s describing to me her work with that set smile always of her face”

b) 52 “I tried hard to take care of him; every mortal night after he got that skin disease I rubbed an ointment in. But his real trouble was old age and there is no curing that“ (Meursault’s reaction ‘a yawn’)

c) 93 “ I didn’t say anything, or make any movement, but for the  first time in my life I wanted to kiss a man”

d) 80 “ I never thought of Marie especially. I was distressed by the thought of this woman or that …. so much so that the cell grew crowded with their faces, ghosts of my old passions. That unsettled (desire unsettles?) me, no doubt, but at least it served to kill time” (compare to Don Juan “he is incapable of looking at portraits” (72))

e) 120 “and now it seemed to me I understood why at her life’s end she had taken on a ‘fiancé’. Why she’d played at making a fresh start”

f) 118 “and yet none of his certainties was worth one strand of a woman’s hair. Living as he did, like a corpse, he couldn’t ever be sure of being alive”

g) 104-5 “only one incident stands out; towards the end, while my counsel rambled on, I heard the tin trumpet of an ice-cream vendor in the street, a small, shrill sound cutting across the flow of words. And then a rush of memories went through my mind — memories of a life that was no longer mine and had once provided me with the surest, humblest pleasures: warm smells of summer, my favorite streets, the sky at evening, Marie’s dresses and her laugh. The futility of what was happening here seemed to take me by the throat, I felt like vomiting, and I had only one idea: to get it over, to go back to my cell, and sleep …. and sleep”


iii) Some questions


How does desire’s appearance relate to the idea that Meursault is simply a ‘passive’ character? Is not desire precisely where Meursault finds meaning in life? Is he not truly artistic in his meticulous descriptions of places and people; like Camus, in a sense? Is this a prearticulate sense of bodily activity and meaningfulness a more adequate path towards Caligula’s questioning and dismissal of Drusilla and consequent search for the impossible?  (Like enjoying ice cream, and the smells of summer, and favorite streets, and the evening sky, and Marie’s dresses and especially her laugh) Why did Meursault decide, finally, to marry her? What to say about Meursault indifference to his mother’s death,  to Salamano’s beatings, to Raymond’s beating’s, to his four extra-shots? Just chance? Just psychoanalysis? Just unethical? How do we in our everyday life become aware of the value of life; do we have to be sentenced to death? But is not reading this book a kind of death and a rebirth? How, if at all, can Meursault ever become a political being? Is there not a tension here?



We have in this way come to the end of some of the tracks left by desire in Camus’ words. But surely many other traces remain untracked, and if we are to follow the Conqueror’s conception of conscience, somehow we must be able to articulate what moves elusively in all these marks and figures. But for now, tending to believe that such a project is doomed to fail, let us remind ourselves of the ambivalent love of ice that Sophocles tells us children feel; that same love of ice, as of ice-cream, which triggered in Meursault the surest and humblest pleasures:


            “Like children that beneath a frosty heaven

            Snatch in their eagerness at icicles

            (First they are ravish with their latest toy;

            Yet soon they find it hurts their hands to hold

            That icy thing: and yet how hard to drop it!) —

            Even such are lovers too, when what they love

            Tears them betwixt ‘I would not’ and ‘I would’” (Sophocles, Lucas, 224)


Desire traced has come into our hands but it has melted; its gone. This is a feeling Camus knew all too well. It, too, is present in the gaining of our own self and meaning:  “For I try to seize this self of which I feel sure, If I try to define it and summarize it, it is nothing but water slipping through my fingers” (MoS, 19).

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