I had originally intended this for the [acad] filter, but it seems to have grown a life of it's own, refusing to fit within the filter, or within any filter. Oh well, so it goes.
The following quote comes from The Concept of the Foreign: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue
edited by Rebecca Saunders. This comes from Saunders' introduction.
"However widespread and consequential, the concept of the foreign is perversely difficult to define. There are, as we shall see, reasons for this: its relativity, its equivocal valuation, the heterogeneity of the terms that constitute it, its recidivistic metaphoricity. Derived from a Latin term meaning "outside" (foras), the word foreign designates a quality or an entity conceived relatively: the foreign is always relative to the inside, the domestic, the familiar, a boundary. No entity is inherently foreign; s/he who is a foreigner in one place is at home in another; as the familiar is altered or a boundary redrawn1, so to is the character of the foreign: it is a linguistic and conceptual container with infinitely variable contents. Symptomatic of the relative nature of the foreign is the necessity of defining foreign negatively, a symptom exhibited by virtually any dictionary: to be foreign is not belonging to a group, not speaking a given language, not having the same customs; it is to be unfamiliar, uncanny, unnatural, unauthorized, incomprehensible, inappropriate, improper. As much the detritus of conceptualizing as a concept proper, foreignness must thus at times be approached à rebours (indeed one may be called on to comprendre à rebours: to misunderstand, engage in an anti-understanding.
Not only can foreignness not exist in a vacuum, it can't exist without something to compare it against. Actually it's the necessity of comparison that makes foreignness so powerful. Just as nationalism requires an outsider2
(I'm tempted to throw in the word utlänning
just to sound pretentious), so does the definition of outsider require something considered to be 'in'. This allows one to be foreign not only in another country, or even in one's own country, but amongst one's own peers, if one is somehow now on the outside looking in.
As someone who was raised Seventh-Day Adventist, I am foreign to people outside that particular branch of Christianity. I'm foreign to that church, as my beliefs do not coincide with any generally accepted Christian dogma. I am foreign to the nation because of my homeland in California, and to California because of my experience growing up in small-town Humboldt County. I'm foreign to the hippies in Southern Humboldt because I don't smoke weed, and because my family is from logger stock. I'm foreign to working-class Humboldt County because, well because I am. Partly, because of my welfare upbringing, and partly because I try to eschew provincialism which often, but not always marks much working-class thought, at least to my limited experience, at least in Humboldt County. I am foreign to the city because of my rural roots, and I'm no longer rural enough to fit in up north anymore either.
Foreignness isn't just about locality, but also about belonging, about class, race, food hangups (at least in my case), and about finding oneself in a place where one does not quite fit. Fortunately, I have largely been able to find a sort of fitting place amongst other folk, who for one reason or another, also don't quite fit. My people are foreigners, freaks, geeks, queers, and oddballs. We band together for mutual protection perhaps, but also because we see in each other, and in ourselves, that at heart, we share more important things than similar experience, similar tastes, and similar backgrounds. We're square pegs in round holes. We're monkeys in the wrench. We're strangers, as it were, in a strange land.
But it's not such a bad thing, really. I would not want it any other way.1cf. Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.2 Something Gelvin talks about in Modern Middle East: A History when discussing Egyption, Algerian and Balkan (various) nationalism movements in the Ottoman empire.