the imminent death of one of the guests
August 30, 2009, 9:04 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , ,

Here is Margaret Visser on table manners.  I like this topic because the dinner table, at different times in my life, has been fraught with a simmering underlying violence, or a place of real communion, or a time of loneliness.

We never never think that the family time around the dinner table could have this alternate meaning:  a summit of words designed in cooperation to kill one who has been singled out.  So, the least conforming in the circle must decide to suppress personal interest in order to not be eaten.

Table manners are social agreements; they are devised precisely because violence could so easily erupt at dinner.  Eating is aggressive by nature and the implements required for it could quickly become weapons; table manners are,  most basically, a system of taboos designed to ensure that violence remains out of the question.  But intimations of greed and rage keep breaking in: many mealtime superstitions, for example, point to the imminent death of one of the guests.  Eating is performed by the individual, in his or her most personal interest; eating in company, however, necessarily places the individual face to face with the group.  It is the group that insists on table manners; ‘they’ will not accept a refusal to conform.  The individual’s ‘personal interest’ lies therefore not only in ensuring his or her bodily survival, but also in pleasing, placating and not frightening or disgusting the other diners.

-Margaret Visser, Rituals of Dinner


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