Saturday, January 22, 2005

The First Problem

I have been working on some ideas related to hospitality, and on the way there, I had to formulate a "definition" of hospitality. That is, to find the elements that are basic to hospitality; that without which "hospitality" cannot be said to be present. The elements come down to three:

1) a place
2) a host
3) a guest.

Simple enough. Except the host must have exclusive control over the place; must be able to extend or withhold access to others, as hospitality is, first and foremost, granting access to a place. The only one who can grant such access, must be able to grant full, partial, or no (denial of) access to any other person. This is the ground of hospitality: making a place and what is owned therein, available to another. Further, the access must be total, to be true hospitality. Anything less is merely a shading of hospitality, a diminishing. Perhaps a proper diminishing, perhaps not; but still a diminishing, a lessening of "true" hospitality.

The only way to establish a spectrum, to determine whether a hard and fast answer will do or not, is first to establish the absolute concept from which one then can, or cannot, deviate.

The place itself must be physical. And the guest must be a stranger to the host. A complete stranger. Not a friend, a family member, a distant relative. A stranger. Wholly other.

The rigidity and particularity are essential for getting at just what hospitality "is," in distinction to all other forms of social intercourse. This limits hospitality greatly, but also takes it down to the "bare necessities" (I am avoidng the concept of "essence" here as much as possible; too Platonic for my metaphysics). This definition, for example, removes from consideration welcoming someone to a public place, such as a church. The welcomer has no exclusive right to access, and no right to deny access to any other. By definition, a church is a public place. Welcoming the stranger there is certainly an act of friendliness, kindness, compassion, sociability. But it is not hospitality.

Can "love" be comparably pared down to that which is essential? Isn't that, in fact, necessary, if we are going to grapple with the idea of "loving" our "enemies"? Because if we don't grapple with it, if we don't decide what "love" means in any context, and therefore in that context, how can we determine what we are called to do?

What would those elements be?

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