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A Good Used Single-Wide: Dwelling and Welcoming

The official boundary between the two nations, Mohawk territory and the U.S., where Ray and the two Chinese women are surrendered to the state trooper, contrasts with the image of the organic domesticity in the trailer. T. J. is informed of the new house arrangements over the phone as he opens the door to Lila and her baby. There is no border choreography to question the visitor and hardly any hesitation at the threshold. The striated and controlled space of the border between Natives and non-Natives turns into a smooth space, and Lila is allowed in while T. J. is still on the phone with his mother. The visitors are immediately part of the household, and Ricky naturally kneels down beside Lila’s baby and plays. Once the location of the self in reference to the Other has been laid down, the movie opens the real dwelling of the story. It is not a lifeless dream captured in a promotional leaflet. It is not on sale by a man ironically called Versailles, but it is contingent on this relocation of the self in a new de-nuclear and de-centered position. The emphasis, contrary to Ray’s initial daydreaming, is not on insulation but incorporation, not on secured limits but openness.

These two apparently antithetical motions are part of Levinas’s description of dwelling. For the philosopher, dwelling is closed in the sense that it remains a movement of contraction of identity. Dwelling gives identity to the dweller, while, as Bachelard would put it, it shelters the dreams of the occupier. Dwelling also “serves to shelter him from the inclemencies of the weather, to hide him from enemies or the importunate” (Levinas [1961] 2008, 152). The home represents the “private domain” (ibid.). At the same time, Levinas writes, it “goes forth outside from an inwardness [intimite]. Yet this inwardness opens up in a home which is situated in that outside—for the home, as a building, belongs to a world of objects” (ibid.). Physically and conceptually, dwelling is open and maintains a relation to an exterior world. In Levinas’s words, this being sheltered and secure within the home is simultaneous to a movement outside its perimeters but also to a time dimension. This time dimension is implicit in the act of dwelling, for dwelling means not only to live as a resident, to remain for a time, but also to think carefully, to ponder on something. Even if carried out within the safety of the home, this pondering refers to an outside: “Contemplation, with its pretension to constitute, after the event, the dwelling itself, assuredly evinces separation, or, better yet, is an indispensable moment of its production” (ibid., 153). Dwelling implies a “recollection,” “a suspension of the immediate reactions the world solicits in view of a greater attention to oneself” (ibid., 154). Yet Levinas breaks free of this circle of the self as he claims that “the interiority of the recollection is a solitude in a world already human. Recollection refers to a welcome” (ibid., 155). This recollection refers not only to a primary collection or “gathering” of the self, but also to an openness or accueillement—to a welcome (un accueil) (ibid.). The going out of the self implied in recollection and welcoming is made more apparent in French, where both words have the same core infinitive. While Elisabeth L. Thomas opines that the precedence of welcome (accueil) over recollection (recueillement) is not understandable purely in terms of this etymological link, it does provide a useful starting point. This dwelling or recollection can no longer be equated with a closed economy of the I reflecting on itself. Dwelling in the movie is not a recollection, not a gathering of things in a particular location, but a relation to an exteriority that does not return to the immanency of oneself. Even if absent from her home, Ray has managed to have a real dwelling place. Her home is no longer ambiguous; it is not a movement of evasion, but represents her welcome, her accueillement of the Other across the line.

What are the dimensions of this new home? Rose Marangoly George has argued that the notion of “home” is built on “a pattern of select inclusions and exclusions. Home is a way of establishing difference: Homes and home- countries are exclusive” (1996, 2), for both are established around borders and perimeters that, as Anzaldua would put it, are meant to separate us from them. However, the new dimensions of home the movie portrays offer shelter to an identity summoned and forged out of itself and is based on the geometry of incorporation. This incorporation is rooted in a political activity, for, to follow Ranciere, it “shifts a body from the place assigned to it or changes a place’s destination” (1998, 30). The body historically contained and immobilized through the reservation system finds sanctuary across the line. The new un-home shelters what can be termed the un-self along and across the un-monument of the border. Frozen River thus illustrates what happens when we tease out the “national” part of the border, that is, when we reverse the nationality of place and deactivate the terrere rather than the terra part of “territory.”

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