Anticipating the Table

Dave Humphrey recently responded to my post on defining a philosophy of the table, a subject that we have since discussed in person also, and he raises some points on which I would like to expand.

First, he rightly notes that I fail to recognize how a philosophy of the table always remains opened to a possible future because it always remains unfinished.  Perhaps there is something about the nature of my own habitual concerns that I too often neglect this future moment, even as I attend insistently to the occasion of the present moment and to the memorial of the past moment.  I do agree with Dave, however, despite my negligence, that it is essential to a philosophy of the table that it be turned toward the future, in the expectation that the conversation will not ever have been completed, in the anticipation that there will always remain more that will need saying.  If it is necessary to honour a present and to memorialise a past, it is also necessary, as an essential correlate of these activities, to anticipate a future.

This anticipation is not for the next instalment or for the next issue of a discrete philosophical event, but for the continuation, always desired and always uncertain, that I will speak with you again.  It is an anticipation that says, even before our present conversation has ended, even before we have parted, “I miss you and what you have to say to me and what we are together.”  It says, “Let us come together again soon, though I know it is always possible that we may never be able to come together again.”  It has something of Levinas’ “adieu” to it.  It says, “Go with God, and may God return you to me.”  Just as in a memorial of the past or in an honouring of the present, it refuses to understand itself as a philosophy that is distinguishable from those who share in it.

Dave is also right, therefore, to see this mode of philosophy as a gift, with all of the implications and the questions and the problems that this word bears and has borne as a subject of theory and philosophy over the centuries.  There is too much that could be said about this gift and this giving, and I would say it more poorly than others have done before, so I will only avow that we know, you and I, what this giving is, not to theory, not to philosophy, not to ethics, not to theology, but to us.  As I find myself saying continually, it cannot be separated from us.

This is why I do not believe, as some of my acquaintances have argued, that my definition of a table philosophy functions to privilege orality over textuality, or presence over deference.  Quite the opposite, a philosophy of the table sees no difference between the spoken and the written, so long as the are exchanged as gifts according to the bond that is between us.  It takes no interest in how the other is as such, only how the other is for me, as a gift, according to that bond.  It privileges not the spoken or the present, but the shared.  It insists only that our speaking and our being be between us, that this sharing be what defines it, that this giving be both what closes it as a protection around those who are gathered in it and opens it continually to the approach of others who wish to gather also.  It says both, “Let us remember and celebrate and anticipate what we share here,” and also, “Come, join in our sharing.  There is room for you here also.”

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