coromandal


lurking animus
February 18, 2011, 4:57 pm
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , , ,

Come for dinner, bring a bottle.  Sounds innocuous enough:  a host, some guests, an invitation, gifts, drinks all around, dinner, warm conversation — a social life.  Lovely!

Don’t be fooled.  It’s not as innocent as it appears, says Margaret Visser in her book the Gift of Thanks.  Underneath all the niceties, it’s a sinister dance.  The host – who you would think likes the guest and enjoys his company – is watching, assessing whether the newcomer harbours violent intent.

The guest crosses the host’s home’s threshold and there begins a process of ‘ritual domestication.’  Outside is wild and unpredictable; inside the space of congress and negotiation.  Public life is a blank and life in the home everything.  And nothing is ever what it seems.

From the book –

In languages that have developed from Indo-European roots, the words host and guest come from the same stem, which contains both the g of guest and the h of host:  ghostis.  Hosts and guests play different roles, but they are actors in one “play,” a hospitable action.  Ghostis also provided us with the word hostile, so close is the idea of hospitality to the possibility of animus lurking in either host or guest, or both. (A hostage is a person forcibly, and therefore discourteously, detained by a group not his own.  Originally the word meant a person held as guarantee to a treaty of peace between two previously antagonistic sides.)  A guest is an outsider who has been ritually “domesticated,” made temporarily part of the host’s domus, or house.  He is given food, offered gestures of affability, and sometimes presented with gifts on his departure – for he must be free to leave.  There may be genuine interest in him and delight in his company.  But underlying the performance is the formal and primary aim of “disarming” him, of forestalling any likelihood of violence or resentment.

The Gift of Thanks, Margaret Visser

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2 Comments so far
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I knew I should trust my instincts to avoid potlucks.

Comment by Sage

Yes, beware the ides of lunch!

Comment by Peter Rudd




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