The Convivium

The Latin word “convivium” means a feast, banquet, or party. It is formed by the combination of the prefix con (or com) signifying “with”, (or “together”, “altogether”) and the verb vivere meaning “to live”. 

Many words beginning with “vi-” pertain to aspects of life and living. Vitality, for example. In Latin, Via signifies the way, path, road; vir meant “man” or signifies “virility”, and is connected with the original meaning of “virtue” as strength, power, or energy or vitality (but also gallantry, excellence, worth, value). Latin “viridis” and associated words signified greenery or freshness (such as spring) with their impressions of vibrancy and vitality. Some other words signify togetherness, such as “vicinity” which in Latin had the more vital significance of being not merely geographical, but a neighbourhood or community (village) experienced as the space of shared or common life — a vital space (not as, today, merely a dead, statistical space).

More fundamentally, then, convivere means “to live together” or “to share life”. More broadly, by its association with feasting, festivity, and partying, it means a gathering for the purposes of celebrating shared life. The “convivator” was the congenial host or master of ceremonies. The “conviva” (or convivae in the plural) was the guest, invitee, celebrant, or table companion. All these associations and the ideal of conviviality figure prominently in early Christian literature as also the ideal of human society and of common life, with Jesus serving or conducting as convivator. As the Celtic “Lord of the Dance” Jesus is also represented in this way — as convivator.

Conviviality, and society as a Convivium, is likewise the theme of the very impressive and festive short poem by the celebrant Rumi,

Come, come, whoever you are.
Wonderer, worshipper, lover of leaving.
It doesn’t matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vow
a thousand times
Come, yet again, come, come.

Even in Nietzsche the theme of life and society as a convivium — as dance, festival, celebration — makes its re-appearance.

Needless to say, this notion of human community as a Convivium is not how “society”, as we know and experience it daily, has historically turned out. It has turned out at “the end of history” to be a dead, statistical, mechanical thing governed by stupifying routine, ruled by fear, and shot through with anxiety and dread. And, of course, everywhere it falls to the power and imperialism of money and the International Chamber of Commerce. Economic Society is not a Convivium. It is a wasteland where little oases of conviviality are reserved only for Friday nights. It is a machine in which nothing imprints itself upon the mass mind more sacredly than financial calculations and the statistics of money. But number makes numb and “Society”, today, is a dreadful and joyless thing. “Society” is the dead abstraction of the statisticians and the sociologists described in the process of fragmenting into mere quantification and number, which is why people today are so concerned with the problem of “community”.

This is what has impressed me about the missives coming out of #Occupy Wall Street. Those gathered together on the streets of New York and elsewhere today are seeking the way back from a dead society into a living Convivium — a truly human and humane society. They are, in some sense, trying to find their way from the living death of “the end of history” back into life. Everyone has a standing invitation to the Convivium, just as Rumi gave out, but too many of the living dead amongst the media and in party politics first greedily demand to see the menu.

They have a standing invitation to refound society as a Convivium and a living whole. But these, the truly cynical, rootless, and deracinated minds, will just stay at home and watch it all pass them by on TV.

In fact, I’m pretty sure that the widespread theme of the “zombie” in film and literature today is a representation of an equally widespread sense of Economic Society having become the living death of routine and a mere statistical existence.

For minds habitually accustomed to separating means from ends, and contriving disingenuous — even devious — moral rationalisations and excuses for the contradiction between their means and ends that serve only to justify their own lack of integrity, the lack of contradiction between means and ends that drives Occupy Wall Street must seem incomprehensible. They instead demand “demands”. They demand a political programme. There is no “programme” and no “demands” because the process (the means) is the programme (the ends). The gathering on Wall Street (and elsewhere today) is a founding or a refounding of society as a Convivium to be realised through their immediate actions, not through an ideology or programme. The “movement”  is the liquid human river and flux of the famous aphorism of Heraclitus. You cannot dip into this same moving river twice (and receive identical answers each time).

As has been mentioned earlier, the purpose of Occupy Wall Street is less the expression of a “solidarity” around a fixed programme or agenda (the “menu” mentioned above) but is the ongoing discovery of conviviality as the meaning of “society”. This is something truly novel, which is why it is either misunderstood (as “socialism”, for example) or as ideologically pointless by those who demand demands (that is, discrete ends distinct from means), and finding no distinction being made between means and ends, dismiss the entire event as something “pointless”.

But when I read a statement like Charles Eisenstein’s “Occupy Wall Street: No Demand is Big Enough“, I read within, and between the lines, the expression of a truly new consciousness in the process of formation, and Occupy Wall Street is part of that process in the course of discovering, articulating, and manifesting itself. But also testing its strength and resilience against reactionary resistance and the incomprehension of “legacy thinking”. (I’m reminded by the lyrics of an old song by the band Buffalo Springfield: “Young people speaking their mind/Getting so much resistance from behind“).

It is not essentially “socialism” and “solidarity” that is being “demanded”, as I read often in the anachronistic blindness of the mainstream press. What I see is “convivialism” and “conviviality” in the process of emergence, and an ideal of society as a Convivium — the refounding of society through the direct existential experience of shared life. Not “unity” is demanded, but integrality. Not “solidarity” is demanded but conviviality. Not “society” is demanded but a Convivium. Not a shared “ideology” is being articulated, but a shared consciousness through the direct experience of communion.

What this is, is a very subtle “revaluation of values”, as Nietzsche described the process. Or, as stated elsewhere, “everything old is made new again”. It is “a transformed continuity” (Jean Gebser) that is basically a re-founding of forgotten truths and values that now appears “revolutionary” only because the old has become decadent and degenerate — “deficient” in historian Jean Gebser’s terms. Such a “transvaluation of values” happens because a transformed consciousness is necessarily also a transforming consciousness. It is the result, or dynamic, of the innate and implicit creativity of consciousness itself.

And if the pundits interpret this search for “communion” in a new Convivium as being “communism”, that just demonstrates how mired and bogged down in a dead sensual materialism and reactionary anachronism their own consciousness and perception really is at their “end of history”.

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7 responses to “The Convivium

  1. amothman33 says :

    Vicinity in new consciousness, a consciousness that is spaceless and timeless.here I am my place is not your place and my time is not your time,yet I join you in this revival feast of the soul. This remind me of the Supper, an occasion to bear witness and start the new consciosness.People join the table, some for the food , some for the company and other this new consciousness ,so each aspires for what he wants, so each is governed by his need.

  2. Scott says :

    I’ve been informed that Ivan Illich used the term “conviviality” for the kind of society he envisioned.

    A little bit on Ivan Illich here and on his notion of conviviality there

  3. amothman33 says :

    Thank you Scott for exposuring me to the world of Ivan Illich.Idonot know if you are familiar with Shunyamurti, another maverick in the field of knowledge.

  4. Todd S says :

    Illich was brilliant. I was first exposed to his thought through “Deschooling Society”, then I went on to read “Disabling Professions”. Just today my copy of “Tools for Conviviality” arrived in the mail. It’s long out of print and not always easy to get. Even used copies sometimes are going for 50+ USD, but I managed to find one for 4.50.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Have to admit, that I’m not as acquainted with Illich’s writings and thought as I probably should be. Mentioning his name (and that of William Irwin Thompson) always gets someone excited, though.

      ToddS: don’t know if you caught my previous reference to Illich in relation to the economic thought of Leopold Kohr, but if you google those two names up, you’ll come across an interesting article posted on the friends of E.F. Schumacher website. (Thanks for dropping by, too).

  5. Scott says :

    By very strange coincidence, The Globe & Mail today reported the launch of a new Canadian magazine called Convivium: “Magazine aims to bring religion into public debate”.

  6. amothman33 says :

    This is what the ocuppiers of wall street is doing.they call it a spiritual uprising. It is contagious.The spread is alarming.It is old language reignited a new.

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