Permeable Reciprocity

Lisa Robertson

Worth quoting at length because it reminds us of that the private/public split is not impermeable, not universal, not unhistorical.

In Indo-European Language and Society, Benveniste analyzes the Latin worlds “Civis” and “Domus,” finding that the earliest written uses of these terms did not pertain to concepts of bordered and material spatial limitation, and that both civis and domus related to immaterial concepts of collective reciprocity. “The authentic sense of civis is not ‘citizen,’ as it is traditionally translated, but ‘fellow-citizen’,” he specifics: “A number of ancient uses show the sense of reciprocity which is inherent in civis, and which alone accounts for civitas as a collective notion.” In a similar dematerialization of meaning, Domus denotes the “house in its social and moral aspects, and not as a construction.” He aligns the Latin domus with the Greek oikos, which also indicated a community of companionship and quotidian participation: the sharing of food, worship, and the “works of peace” in Aristotle’s words, not a built architecture, defined the household. These everyday operations were at the centre of a scaled series of collective concepts, which progressed outwards from the household to the polis. The domus was that group — related perhaps but not necessarily by blood, but more specifically by shared everyday operations — that group which used the same door as a point of arrival and departure Both domus and civis correspond to the specific milieu of a social reciprocity. The difference between them is not qualitative or oppositional, but is one of scale. No sense of private or public, in the way we now understand these terms in relation to ownership or to interiority and exteriority, appends itself to either.

And so for day 2904

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