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The Second Oakland-Table,
21st of April to 26th of May 2001
Hospitality in the space
Last September, a group of
Ivan Illich's friends gathered around Jerry Brown's Oakland Table
to reflect on the conflicts arising for those who want to find
a place in the space age. Recent historical scholarship provided
the evidence for the point of departure in that six weeks conversation:
the traditional sense of belonging to a place, of knowing one's
place has withered if not vanished as a result of life in space.
Space as a global, homogenous, orthogonal container within which
things as well as people move is a critter coeval with modern
western society. "Space" of this kind does not appear
in Euclid's Geometry or medieval mapmaking. Shakespeare uses
the work for a 'span of time' but never for that container without
which we cannot do. Electric grids, telephone lines, hotel chains
and highways lanes; homes, garages, cars and desks; job, vacation,
sports and politics today are all framed by space. So, for example
in City Hall the Mayor oversees the creation, design, management
of urban space.
In contrast to space, places
emerge from dwelling, and by living together people lend them
their distinctive configuration and unique atmosphere. Even though
it is possible to identify characteristics that distinguish all
places from contemporary space, each place is singular in its
taste and smell. For this reason, you can speak of this place
or refer to several such places. You could never speak in the
abstract of 'place' in the way one can say "space"
tout court. Space is conceptually universal. It does not have
to be created. Also, space is not oriented by an upper and lower
realm, by the right and left; it has no inside or horizon; it
has no center. Place is exquisitely human: only people can bring
it forth by facing each other. Jerry Brown's place, close to
Jack London Square, springs from the well-crafted table between
the library and the kitchen. The conversation around it led to
the confrontation between places in Oakland and Oaklands' space.
This spring, Mayor Brown has invited his friends to continue
the conversation. This time it will focus on the most fundamental
element in the art of dwelling, hospitality. Hospitality calls
for a place with a door that opens to the outside. At its threshold
the host invites the stranger to step in and to turn into a guest
by taking his place. In no two places the ceremony was the same,
there were no people without their own kind of behaving at the
threshold. None anywhere, with just one exception: the only people
to survive the withering and vanishing of hospitality are those
of the late industrial society. The conversation in Oakland aims
to answer the question: how can place be celebrated in the space
Today electronic scanners open
the door and a doorman checks your identity, a plastic card that
gives you access to a professionally guarded domain: a hospital,
school, jail or hotel. Their institutionalized provision of services
masks the absence of a gratuitous, arbitrary, personal invitation
to a hospitable place. It seems important to examine how the
institutional provision of professional services undermined hospitality
by equipping people to inhabit space that is unfit for dwelling.
How did the offer of services elicit professionally defined but
personally felt basic needs? By what means do professionals,
experts and administrative agencies gain their disabling powers?
How were modern people convinced to expel the infirm, the anguished
and exceptional, the old and the dying to professional agencies
and fancy that this is done for their own good?
Pat answers abound to such
questions about the homeless societies that have emerged in global
space, in India and Brazil as in California and North Africa.
Their analysis will require considerable mutual patience from
the participants at the second Oakland table. On six Saturdays
starting 21st April about 7.00pm, the general public is invited
to a discussion led by one of the participants. The person in
charge of the evening will not act as a reporter on the trend
of the conversation but examine personal experience in the distanced
perspective gained in historical studies.
Illich opens the
second Oakland Table on April 21st, delving into the history
of hospitality in Western Europe. He knows about the first hospices
for the homeless and the appearance of the first sick-houses
in which people with the first signs of ergotism dedicated themselves
to the consolation of those in later stages of this now unknown
endemic. His emphasis rests on the ever institutionalization
of charitable hospitality. He explains the rise of service professions
in terms of a transmogrification of the good into values that
can be guaranteed, normalized and managed.
On April 28th, Silja Samerski is
in charge. She just finished a study on the facilitation of management-like
decision-making in every day life under the guidance of Barbara
Duden. She explores a very recent and barely noticed threat to
hospitality: she argues that the spread of "informed decision-making"
and "autonomous self-management" makes beherzten Beistand
(a committed stance towards another) impossible. Referring to
the example of so-called "pregnancy care" where woman
are forced to decide on possible tests and finally on the coming
child, Samerski shows how the proliferation of pre-established
options that call for decision-making destroy the readiness to
be surprised by the unknown.
On May 5th, Sajay
Samuel, who studies the recent history of accounting
and administrative practices, invites Jean
Robert, a longstanding collaborator of Illich to jointly
review and extend Illichs' critique on services. They focus on
transportation to explore the counterproductive effects of services
in general and examine: the technical, structural and symbolic
fallouts from roadways designed primarily for transport; how
the perception of space results from being inserted in fast moving
machines; and why professional associations like administrative
agencies may be understood as the undemocratic consequence of
disabling tools and services.
Matthias Rieger, working on a study on loss of proportionality
and harmony in music, invited the Norwegian criminologist Nils
Christie for May 12th to talk about his experiences
of hospitality in the little village "Vidarasen". Due
to the mutual commitment of its inhabitants, Vidarasen is a very
special place. Those ones who would be classified as "normal"
in the outside world do not render a service to those who generally
are categorized as "handicapped" and "needy".
They all share their homes, their work, their meals, and their
friends. Christie's stories show: As soon as people are ready
to be surprised and share their lives with each other, they realize
that the distinction between normal and needy does not make the
slightest sense anymore.
On May 19th, Samar Farage, studying
the history of the krasis-- the harmonious humoral proportions
in Galenic medicine-invites two outstanding Islamicists, Sachiko
Murata and William
Chittick to introduce us to Eastern traditions of hospitality.
In contrast to the Christian history of hospitalization, the
Islamic world was slow to institutionalize the care for strangers,
the ill and the dying. Murata and Chittick reveal the enormous
gulf between non-western and modern practices of treating one's
family, friends, and neighbors. They highlight how a sense for
place remains awake to this day in Islamic society as exemplified
by the millions of praying people, whether prince or pauper,
facing Mecca five times a day.
On the 26th May, the
host of the Oakland Table, Jerry Brown will close the
second six weeks' gathering. Brown reviews the preceding meetings
and discussions to draw both philosophical and practical conclusions.
As a politician who knows the art of bi-location; of standing
with one foot in managed "space" and with the other
in his "place", he explores the possibilities today
of carving out and preserving the conditions for place and hospitality.
Further events may be scheduled
during Saturday nights in the case people want to continue discussions
with guests at the Oakland Table. For additional information
please see our homepage www.pudel.uni-bremen.de
or call We the People at (510)-836-3273.