David Ewick

Worksheets: Hugo of St. Victor, Questions for Discussion

The starting point for this course will be quotes from Hugo or “Hugh” of St. Victor and Edward Said. Hugo was a 12th century Augustinian mystic who in his adult life rarely wandered far from his home at the St. Victor Abbey at Paris, but he wrote nonetheless as a citizen of the world:

The man who finds his homeland sweet is still a tender beginner; he to whom every soil is as his native one is already strong; but he is perfect to whom the entire world is as a foreign land.

cited in Said, Orientalism, 259

Commenting on Hugo’s lines eight hundred years later Edward Said wrote of their “spiritual detachment” and “generosity.” The fondest hope in this course is that students will grow to understand what both Hugo and Said had in mind, will advance a little further along the road toward that detachment and that generosity, and will begin to be able to see their own and other cultures, as Said put it, with “the same combination of intimacy and distance.”

We’ll begin the course with discussion of the following questions about these quotes. Please prepare short written answers in any language in advance of the next class.

1. What is an Augustinian?

2. What is a “mystic”?

3. Do you think Hugo intended to criticize someone who “finds his [or her] homeland sweet”?

4. Hugo’s own homeland was Saxony, a region along the River Elbe in what is now northwest Germany, where he was born into a noble family and had all the benefits of wealth and education. Even in the 12th century Saxony was rich with legend, history, and natural beauty, and a center of political and economic power. But Hugo says that someone who finds his homeland “sweet” is a “beginner.” What could he have meant by this? Don’t you think he loved Saxony? Isn’t love of country an honorable human trait?

5. When we say that we love a place or find it “sweet” what are we talking about? What does “Japan” mean in the sentence “I love Japan”? Is it a geography? A cultural tradition? A history? A way of behaving? A scenery? A climate? A list of items that historically have been eaten and enjoyed by those who have preceded you in living in such a place? Or is it an ideology? Can you be specific about what you mean when you say, assuming that you would say, “I love Japan”?

6. Hugo says that a person is “strong” who feels in every land as if it were his homeland. Is there a place other than Japan in which you feel “at home”? If so, do you “love” that place? If you do, what do you love about it? The geography? The way people live or behave? The cultural tradition? The history? The food? The music? The ideology? Can you be specific about this?

7. Can you imagine being a person who feels at home in every place? How could someone feel this way? Wouldn’t cultural or linguistic or ideological differences prevent a person from feeling comfortable in, say, both the United States and Syria? Or Bahrain and Norway? Or Djibouti and Japan? What characteristics would a person have to have to be psychologically or emotionally (or even spiritually) at home in all of these places equally?

8. Assuming for a moment that Hugo is right, or at least granting him the benefit of the doubt, why would it be better (he says it would be “perfect”) for a person to see the whole world as a foreign land rather than to see it as if it were his homeland? Why does he say that a person who sees the whole world this way is “perfect”? What possibly could this mean? What would be the advantages or disadvantages to such a way of thinking and feeling and behaving in the world?

9. Who is Edward Said? Where is his “homeland”? Do you think he finds it “sweet”? Why or why not?

10. Said writes of the “spiritual detachment” of Hugo’s lines. The opposite of “spiritual detachment” would be, presumably, “spiritual attachment.” What does “spiritual” mean when used in this way? Do you think you are spiritually attached to anything? To your family? To Japan? Can you imagine feeling spiritually attached to some other land or culture or people?

11. What do you think Said means when he says that Hugo’s lines are “spiritually detached”? Spiritually detached from what?

12. What does he mean when he writes that Hugo’s lines are “generous”? Generous in what way? Generous to whom?

13. What do you think Said means when he writes of seeing a land or a country or a culture with “the same combination of intimacy and distance”?

14. Do you see, say, the United States with more intimacy or distance? What about France, or India, or Madagascar? What about Japan? Can you imagine seeing all of these places with equal intimacy and distance? How could someone do such a thing? What possibly could the advantage be? Would anything be lost to a person who was able to think and to feel and to behave in this way? What would be gained?

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