Charity as conversation: Beyond the bounds of calculated exchange

“We could say that charity here also has to do with conversation — an activity that need not be productive, that presupposes mutual recognition, an activity in which ‘success’ is measured simply by the maintenance of the activity itself. Charity becomes visible where it is clear that bonds are treated as already established, not as always to be established; where it is assumed that the basic human position is not that of individuals uneasily making treaties with each other, but of exchanges of recognition, acknowledgements that within or alongside or against the world of calcuated cooperation — and calculated non-cooperation — is a realm where the possibility and reality of exchange and common concern are agreed or given beforehand” (pp. 71-72).

“In one sense, of course, charity celebrates a state that exists supremely in its own right, a state of pure converse on conversation, a social joy. But precisely as such, it exists beyond history and beyond what we can know, think or say about civil society and political society. It is ‘mythical’, though not in the sense of being some kind of pure projection or aspiration. The institution/ritual of charity tells us that to have a language to negotiate or quarrel in is already to presuppose the social miracle, the fact of linguistic sharing. Charity unconvers the bedrock of speech: sheer converse, the exchange of sounds in codified patterns and the peculiar exhilaration that attaches just to that. It affirms what it is in language that is ‘there’ before and after argument and context — which is not self-expression (a meaningless idea outside the frame of converse) but the possibility of recognition” (pp. 87-88).

— Rowan Wiliams, Lost Icons: Reflections on Cultural Bereavement


About Ben Kautzer

I am currently dwelling in the intangible space of the between. Having finished my MA in Philosophical Theology at the University of Nottingham, I decided to take a bit of a break, return to California, and start applying for PhD programs. That process is finally drawing to a close. This Fall I will be commencing my doctoral research in political theology at either the University of Nottingham, Durham, or Bristol. As of yet, that future still remains (uncomfortably) uncertain. My recent academic pursuits tend to focus on political theology (ecclesiology, ethics, politics, liturgy), biblical theology (scriptural narrative, hermeneutics, philosophy of memory and historical method), and Continental Philosophy (especially phenomenology). View all posts by Ben Kautzer

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