Common Worlds, Common Sense, and the Digital Realm
7 min read
fairly difficult
"I do think that if I had to choose one word to which hope can be tied it is hospitality. A practice of hospitality— recovering threshold, table, patience, listening, and from there generating seedbeds for virtue and friendship on the one hand — on the other hand radiating out for possible community, for rebirth of community."
— Ivan Illich, interview (1996)

[Welcome back friends, to the Convivial Society. This latest installment has been a while in coming, and it's not short. The gist of it is this: thinking with Arendt about the material dimensions of a common world and a common sense with a view to better understanding our experience of digital culture. I hope you find it helpful.]

I've been thinking about tables of late, literally and figuratively. Chiefly, what I've had in mind is the table as an emblem of hospitality, and, relatedly, as an example of the material infrastructure of our social lives or the stuff of life that sustains and mediates human relationships. This owes something, of course, to the great importance Ivan Illich placed on hospitality, especially as it took shape around a table. But here I'm turning to the work of another theorist in order to think through some of the more vexing and at times disturbing features of public life.

Thinking about the table has drawn me back to Hannah Arendt's The Human Condition, first published in 1958. This work is notable for Arendt's discussion of the distinctions among what she calls the private, public, and social realms. The political arena of the ancient Greek polis was her model for the public. The private realm was the realm of the household. The social realm was a more recent development, it was the realm of mass society. It was not a private realm, but neither was it a realm in which the individual could meaningfully appear in the full integrity of her particularity. I won't take the time to explain those distinctions at greater length here, except as they relate to Arendt's use of the table as a recurring metaphor, a metaphor which will, I think, usefully illuminate aspects of our digitally mediated experience. I suspect, in fact, that ultimately it would be useful to develop a fourth category, the digital, to extend Arendt's analysis of the private, public and social. You might take what follows as some initial…
L. M. Sacasas
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