I was about to go to bed and I made the mistake of reading Luke’s blog, and specifically his attempt to define a Philosophy of the Table. I decided to forgo sleep for a while so that I could reflect on it before losing my train of thought, not least because I believe an authentic discussion of this subject requires an immediate response.
First, let me say that I know exactly what Luke is talking about. I myself, both as his friend, and individually, struggle almost daily with this question. It preoccupies almost every aspect of my life, and so I share his need to understand it.
Second, let me expand and add a few points to his list:
2) “…a table philosophy has as its aim only to produce change in those who are gathered around the question.” I don’t know if I agree with the use of the word ‘change.’ It is not always change that comes out of the conversation, and I hesitate to say what it is. Perhaps the potential for change? The opportunity to raise the question? What happens for me at the table is that I am able to put something in the centre that we can all see, instead of having to carrying it on my back.
I think his point about the product of institutional philosophy is very important. I would go further and argue that this sort of philosophy cannot exist at all, rather it can only be reproduced. To watch Derrida having his hair cut in “Derrida”, one is confronted with the fact that his name, his signature, is not the same as himself. He is more and less than his writing, and the two are not the same thing.
However, by refusing to produce something separate from the meeting at the table, we agree to carry on our conversation, to put off the need for conclusion. In this way, the philosophy of the table is more than a memorial of the past: it is also unfinished business that we must tend to in the future.
4) “An institutional philosophy also differs from a table philosophy in that it is to a much greater degree produced for the occasion rather than by it.” Yes, this is important. The philosophy of the table is made-up of the things that we have, rather than the things we should have. It is the books we have read, the meat you have brought, the wine I have chosen, the bread I have baked. It is what looked ripe on the vine as you came in from the yard, and what needed to be used up after last night’s dinner. It is cheese and butter and fruit, if I know you, and bread and red wine and olive oil if you know me. It is never as good as it could be, and always better for being so, for being handmade, for being in season, for being ready. It is inadequate, personal, sacred, and created in the knowledge that my friend likes his this way. It is a gift, and a gift given and received. And it is always inessential, for we will do it differently next time. But we will do it.
I met a group a few years ago who understood something of what we’re discussing here. I met them as part of a small academic conference, and they presented on their group, beginning with the name they had given themselves. I tried many times to ask them why they had seen fit to name themselves rather than just existing. It was clear as they spoke that what they desired was for the group to be known separately from its members. In short, they desired an institutional philosophy that could somehow exist without knowing the people around the table. This always struck me as odd, and it seemed to be a problem only to me, for no one else could understand my objections. I realize now, reading Luke’s ideas, that I am not alone in thinking that what happens around the table is worthy of its own consideration.