Everywhere and Nowhere: Elina Staikou’s Lecture on Immunity and Migration

FALL 2020

by Terri Pyle Cohort ’19

Elina Staikou. Image courtesy of Elina Staikou.
Elina Staikou. Image courtesy of Elina Staikou.

Elina Staikou, an Associate Professor of Liberal Arts at the University of Winchester in Hampshire (UK) has written numerous texts on migrations, boundaries, and the metaphysics of travel and writing. As a guest lecturer for our IDSVA Topological Studies II program in the Summer of 2020, she offered insights into Martin Heidegger, Donna Harraway, Jacques Derrida, and Immanuel Kant, among other philosophers. Staikou’s emphasis, however, was on a book called Resident Foreigners: A Philosophy of Migration by Donatella Di Cesare published in March 2020.

What caught my attention at Staikou's lecture first, however,  was the idea of escaping the imprisonment of earth. Staikou showed photographs of the planet earth from space: One was entitled “Blue Marble” and the other “Earth Rising” taken from space on the Apollo Missions of 1968 and 1972. Martin Heidegger was approximately 80 years old at the time these photos were made publicly available. When Heidegger saw them, Staikou tells us, he said they represented “the conquest of the world as picture” (Staikou). Further, Heidegger admitted he was frightened by these pictures because it represented only “technological relationships;” this earth rise era began our first discussions of “globalization” which Heidegger saw as a threat. That is, he might have felt technology was not hospitable to human life.

Staikou threads these ideas together with thoughts of Covid-19, where the desperate requests of PPE are ongoing and raise questions about who is worth saving--the old? The young? The citizen?  The immigrant?  The refugee? Staikou observes that this pandemic is showing how “we are not in this together” … certainly, this is pronounced here in America as the wearing of masks has become politicized instead of humanized.  Staikou notes that in Italy she found “a frenetic irrational response to the pandemic,” which left everyone in fear of their lives.

Staikou then moves away from the citizens of any given country and focuses on Di Cesare’s book about self, place, identity, and boundary.  How do we treat the refugees in light of a pandemic? How is technology dehumanizing us in the context of this book? She then focused on the “biopolitical paradigm” and “the dialectic of immunization” — with a focus on biology and geology as a new form of environmentalism.  Staikou notes that our new discussion is “immunity vs. community” responsibility and how the idea of citizenship will preclude refugees. The refugee becomes more of the “stranger” — a pathogenic intruder.  Refugees are “thrown outside the common world” and become “subhuman” — even deemed “scum of the earth,” she tells us.

But for the new millennium, Staikou argues that existence should no longer be a product of the soil.  Habitation is migration. This led me to think of Novalis, who wrote in his Notes from a Romantic Encylopedia:  “Philosophy really is homesickness--the desire to be everywhere at home” (26). The earth vs. world:  where everything comes in and out of presence. When Heidegger writes about Earth, Staikou reminds us, it is only a brief stop. Da-sein is being in the world; we are thrown into it. This thrown-ness grants our existence and involvement: regardless if we are deemed a resident foreigner or not, we as human beings are living in one world. Staikou states we must philosophize on a humanity that is not based on territory.  Justice, she says, is being in the world and then not holding on; allowing ourselves (and the Other) to inhabit the earth at an existential level. Our bond with the earth can always be broken, as the “Blue Marble” and “Earth Rise” photographs demonstrate.  

Staikou’s lecture, her recommendation of Di Cesare’s book, and the philosophy of migration are apt and timeless for both citizen and migrant alike because ideas and human actions are the greater involvement--our ethereality is arguably more significant than our rootedness. Yet the ideas of environmental politics and biological politics are ever-present, and as Staikou notes:  “You can’t address one without the other.”

Works Cited

Staikou, Elina. "Immunity and Migration." 801.1 Seminar V, Part I: Topological Studies II. 10 June 2020. IDSVA. Class lecture.