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Dispatch: Notes on Separation and Conviviality


In her dispatch from ‘Non-Western Technologies for the Good Life’ Raluca Popa shares a series of notes reflecting on the notions, and practices, of separation and conviviality.

Ioan Popa, In the field (La câmp), c. 1965

On Separation and Conviviality

Once I started compiling a list of separation factors and conviviality factors, I noticed that there are many commonalities, factors that are valid in both situations. Illness creates separation, but also conviviality.

Drivers of separation

Illness: Forms of address that are acceptable or not >> What does it mean to be polite, to have common sense? What are you allowed to ask? When do you have to be quiet? Asking someone about their country of origin is frowned upon where I am. Nobody asks me where I come from anymore. But in areas further away from the European space, the question ‘Where are you from?’ has been asked with genuine joy and curiosity.

Where? When?

Separation occurs, for example, when a person disagrees with the opinion expressed by a majority, insists, but fails to be persuasive. A mass of like-minded people may seem threatening to an individual with a foreign opinion, and vice versa.

Drivers of conviviality

– Written text > Books > Library

– Illness (vulnerability? incompleteness?) > Hospital Ward

– Listening to the radio with others

Another thing is that a model of conviviality doesn’t have to appear all the time to count, to work. Once a month a group of people meet in someone’s house, have dinner together and listen to a radio program. Radio listening time, once a month, every month, is an example of conviviality. OK, so conviviality needs rhythm, a ritual. However, it also needs separation, distancing, but still as a variant of ritual. > Conviviality in one’s personal space. This is a space where one feels safe, but also invites others in, and they need to feel safe too.

Conviviality within separation?

I thought that drivers of conviviality might be developed in a space that, taken in general, is the opposite of conviviality, a system that suggests separation. For example, if we think of a public space and, more specifically, a public transport vehicle, it is a place that produces conviviality; now, if I place myself in the central train station in Berlin, I see more models of separation than conviviality – cameras everywhere, voices repeating the same announcement, ticket vending machines with specific instructions, which sometimes appear incomprehensible. A vehicle, with its interior could produce conviviality. But seen from the outside, from a distance, that same vehicle could become an image of separation.

Bibl.: Deschooling Society, Ivan Illich (1971)

The human scale of convivial tools (like in small industries), objects made by hand.

Conviviality tools = have promoted and extended autonomy, including most hand tools, bicycles and phones > However, phones are no longer tools of conviviality. So conviviality is not a stable thing. It has to be nurtured.

On Indifference and Conviviality

Affects and the relation to the tools of conviviality
Being, feeling shy.

Affects and the relation to the tools of non-conviviality
Feeling of isolation from others, distance from others. Condemnation to isolation. The desire to die, but even more destructive it seems to be the desire to disappear without others noticing. While to die also means that one was first alive and seen by others and occupied a space, and dying remains in the memory of others, the desire of an individual to disappear altogether, as if one did not exist, on the other hand, also means the cancellation of any coordinates of one’s existence.

On Wetiko (Greed) and Conviviality

Drivers of Wetiko
Greed, as an effect of naming things, which then goes to possessing them.

Collecting, gathering things can lead to greed.

Then what do we need >> a certain degree of randomness in our life? Less urgency?

Where? When?
Maybe wetiko (or greed) also occurs in situations where we are trying to choose a name, to name something. We draw a conclusion quickly and from a position of superiority, we know what is right and what is wrong. Do we need this finality in everything? An author I was reading a while ago writes that, in his view, the occasions when clear conclusions must be drawn are fewer than we would expect. Let’s argue for an incomplete space.

Drivers of Conviviality

Perhaps poetry is a means to incompleteness

On Three Sisters and Conviviality

The seeds of time I find in nature, in the field, during a lunch break, on a blanket lying under the crown of a tree, in the shade, and on which three of us are found: me, my sister and my grandmother. It is one of many lunches in the field together. But only this one comes to mind with the greatest clarity. Sitting in the shade meant a break, after earlier in the day we have been working on the land. It was a time to sit together, have lunch and have a conversation. It was a conversation between a first and a third generation.

The seeds of time are found in this moment of pause, when I ate with my two loved ones. Without our awareness, the seeds of time also intertwined with the seeds in the soil at our feet that my grandparents had cultivated months before this picnic took place. Every time I set out on a walk among the fields, fields in foreign lands and cultivated by other hands and with other seeds, I am reminded of our lunch in the field. It seems that those distant seeds are still germinating, and germinating in other fields far from the original place, but now close to me. Could it be a chase, the seeds are coming after us, and they are sprouting at the point where we are now?

Later: Whenever I find myself in nature, and regardless of the seasons, the weather, I relive that moment and briefly experience feelings that, dare I say, are similar to those felt during that lunch break. But I do not have control over this state. I wish it would last longer. But it comes and goes fast like a sudden, passing breeze.

Perhaps reliving moments like the one I spoke of is a good thing and also it is a practical, meaningful thing to do nowadays. We might locate in the past of childhood, moments of fullness like this, and try to repeat them, and replicate them as close as possible to the original, to make room for them in our lives, in a weaving of time, and seasons.

On the War against Life and Conviviality, and My Relation to Ancestral Food

If I’m looking for a trace of ancestry, the closest I can get is to the bread-making, by my grandmother and other women of the village (in Brasov County, Romania) and her neighbours. When it came time to bake, the women would gather in one of the houses and bake bread together in one oven. To distinguish between the different loaves, they would mark them. Baking was ceremonial and took too long for a child’s patience. It was ceremonial in the sense that there were steps to follow, meetings, preparation, and making the dough and the fire, of course. At the end, each of the children was rewarded with a miniature loaf of bread, which was called a ‘pup’. I remember that a similar ‘pup’ was also offered at the end of funeral ceremonies. Because it was a long process, many loaves were baked at once, to last for several weeks, and in the end the last bread was hard like a rock. Another thing that stuck in my mind was the way my grandparents used to slice this big hard bread. The bread was grasped with one arm and held like you would hold a child, while the other arm was used to cut the bread from the outside in, towards the body, the chest, the arm moving as if playing the violin. Perhaps the slicing of bread held in the arms is actually a natural consequence, if I think that people in the countryside spent most of their time in the field, where there was no table in sight, and ate sitting on the grass, in the shade of a tree.

Something Valiana Aguilar said last time stuck in my mind. She said that they were going to hold a celebration (a party) during the summer, but then immediately added that it was not simply a party, but a gathering of people in the community to exchange seeds etc. In other words, they meet to work together in a certain sense. This exchange of course also involves eating together and having fun. I reflected on this and remembered the baking of bread. My grandmother and her friends were certainly having fun while baking, but it wasn’t all fun. The feeling of good was intertwined with their bread-making effort.

Ioan Popa, Flower in a pot (Floare în ghiveci), c. 1965

The views and opinions published here mirror the principles of academic freedom and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of the L'Internationale confederation and its members.

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