I was supposed to give a weekend of talks on home and the threshold last year about this time, and I promised a reader that I would post my notes, but the talks were subsequently postponed until the fall, and then I forgot about posting them entirely. I ran across them this afternoon, however, as I was going through a completed notebook before filing it, so I thought I might still post them here, though it is now long after the fact. They are not notes in the sense of an outline for any talk or talks in particular, because I do not really speak in this way. Rather, they are the short reflections on the home that informed my thinking going into those talks. I am posting them merely as I wrote them, almost unedited.
The limits of the home are defined by the beyond of the home, by the street, by the neighbourhood, by the town or the countryside. The home is the home because of what is not the home, because it divides the space of the world into the at home and the not at home. In a significant sense, therefore, the home can only know itself as home to the degree that it knows what is not home. The home is defined by what is beyond the home.
To say this most radically, I can perhaps become at home only through my practice of being not at home. The home is always, by definition, distinct from what is not home, but the practice of home begins when I am not a at home. The practice of the home begins as a practice of the street and of the neighbourhood. It is a practice of the road.
The practice of the road is a practice of openness to encountering the other person. It is an openness to being moved by the other person. It does not try to manufacture an encounter through its own activity. It maintains an active openness to what may encounter me. It is an active passivity, an active waiting. It maintains an availability to the approach of the other person, a kind of hospitality in advance.
The practice of the road is pedestrian. The driver is transported and so is closed to the other person. The pedestrian is not transported. The pedestrian is always potentially open to encounter.
The road is the image and the metaphor of what is not the home. It leads to and from the home. It begins and ends at the doorway of the home. There is no home without a road, no home from which one does not depart and to which one does not return. Without this coming and going, without this journeying to and from the home, there is no home, not of any kind.
My journeying is always in relation to the home. I circulate around this pole, around this center. It remains before me and behind me, an object of my longing and my nostalgia.
When I am encountered on the road, I am always encountered in relation to the home, in relation to my coming and going, in relation to my longing and nostalgia, in relation to my ground and my center. My response to the other is grounded precisely in this relation to home. The home determines how I turn myself toward the other, how I hold myself open to the other, how I maintain myself in anticipation of the other.
The road is the place where I encounter the other, always, without exception. There is no other place where I am confronted by the other. If I am confronted by the other, I am on the road, no matter where I am.
The confrontation, the encounter, brings me alongside the other, even if only for a moment. It turns me in the same direction. It causes us me walk with the other. The road makes us companions, fellow travelers, strangers walking in the same path.
The place of the threshold is the limit of the home and the not home. It is the membrane. It is the hymen. It is the sacred curtain.
The door cannot be left open, not always. Only the home can be always open. If the door is always open, if anyone can enter the home at any time, the limit between the home and the road is erased. The home ceases to exist as a home. It ceases to be distinguishable from the road. Its intimate space is no longer distinct from the public space of the world.
The open home is not the home that has its doors open to the other always and in every case. It is the home that is always open to the possibility that the door might be opened to the other always and in every case. It is the home that desires that the door might indeed be opened to the other always and in every case, though this desire always remains impossible.
The open home always anticipates the other’s approach. It always receives the other at the threshold, even if, for whatever reason, the other cannot be invited across the threshold at this time. It is a home that always welcomes the approach of the other, even if this welcome cannot become an invitation across the threshold. The open home is not an absolute hospitality.
At the same time, the practice of the door expresses itself as a desire for the invitation. The open home may not be able to extend an invitation to the other in every case, but it always desires to do so. It is always broken-hearted when it cannot do so. The open home is always characterized by a willingness to lay aside whatever it can in order that an invitation might be extended. It delights to sacrifice itself in order to receive the approach of the other with an invitation.
The open home is essentially, but not absolutely, hospitible. It does not make of one the host and of another the guest. Its desire is to make everyone at home, to whatever degree it is able. It does not reserve the invitation for an occasion, because its invitation is not to an occasion. Its invitation is to the home, as it is at that moment, as it is striving to be at that moment.