Coming to the table through rituals that do not repeat
Shared by Nicole Pierce and Randa Khattar
What does it mean to live as a radical singularity collectively? What does it mean to come to the table – both literally and metaphorically – as a radical singularity with a trajectory desirous of becoming a collectivity and that honours the radical singularity of each more-than-human self/other? Can the two – radical singularity and collectivity live side by side? Who is called to the table in this way and whose loss is mourned?
What might it mean to approach living collectively (and doing collective work) in a way that insists on treating one another in radically singular ways – honouring for example the Otherness of more-than-human selves? What might that work do to how we come to the table – both literally and metaphorically – whilst knowing that in coming together, we will also always already fail to notice and hence consume Otherness into the Same (Levinas, 1969)?
Curriculum theorist David Jardine (2008) says of things, that how you treat them determines their nature. What kinds of pedagogical possibilities are offered when we prioritise the radical singularity of each Other – treating it as something to nurture, attend to and hold closely? Whose alterity is singled out or called on to come to the table in these ways and what might be lost, forced to conform and/or mourned?
Alexis Shotwell writes that “to live, we do use and consume all other beings” (p.121). Thinking with her about “forms of noninnocent responsibility that do not rest on the lie that we can step outside relations of entanglement that are also always relations of suffering” (p. 121), what possibilities open up when we intentionally ask questions about our ethical responsibilities to the many human and more-than-human others? What Otherness do we need accept and attend to in ourselves to even begin to consider these kinds of questions?
These are some of the questions that toddler room 1909 situated on the traditional lands of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation has been grappling with for some time now. Connecting to the Climate Action Network (CAN) project has given, in the words of educator Nicole Pierce, the justification to take up these questions in more visible ways.
The educators and children are engaging in everyday moments to take seriously the questions of singularity and collectivity in relation to gathering at the literal table, a daily ritual of coming together for a meal.
Many of the processes of preparing the table for our collective arrival are ritualized, the disinfection process, the cleaning of hands, the setting of a tablecloth creating a golden canvas on which to paint our food offerings, the handing out of plates and cutlery, the applications of bibs… and finally the coming together collectively with the food. A daily ritual governed by the code of regulatory bodies, a context of health and safety shrouding the scene. A chorus often heard of “if you are going to eat, please sit down so you do not choke”, “Would you like more? I will get it for you because your hands have been in your mouth.” “Eat from your own plate”…. And throughout comes other processes governed by the clock; the putting out of cots, the drawing of the curtains to prepare the space for sleep, as a child seemed finished “scrape your plate”, blankets pulled from cubbies, each spot prepared…the pressure to move on from our gathering to the next step in the day…as a child seemed finished “scrape your plate”, scrape , scrape, scrape…
What in these moments are we choosing to ritualize? To honour, or to emphasize as important or sacred? Anything radically singular is always ever changing; it cannot be ritualized; and yet in coming to the table, iteration after iteration, movements are made recognizable.
How we treat these movements determines what they become.
Do we ritualize conformity? getting to and off the table? To move together, must we move the same?
How do the rituals of intimacy linger? How do we honour different rhythms that different bodies are going through? Who gets called to the table when it is squeezed on both sides by routines of the day?
Yet in other moments, different types of rituals seem to be re-cognized -…rituals that do not look the same every time… a child who lingers over each kernel of corn for 45 minutes within a daily ritual that is governed by the clock, a child whose body expresses the need to sleep over the need to eat and for whom space is held for them not to come to the table, a child not yet comfortable joining the larger group who sits at their own table …a block on the floor… and joins us from a distance in their own way…space for each being to be radically singular in the name of coming together collectively for this fooding experience. What if we put the two tables together? Covered in dainty table covers – a golden aesthetic…a decision to honour a communal table…the elements of the space move with us as we move through ways of coming together differently…
Months later a new space, a dining hall, a shared space to come together as a larger collective and engage in the sharing of food and fooding moments…however here there are more bodies, a larger mix of faster and slower eaters, more clean-up, more scraping, more dishes, more tables, sweeping the floor, seats and food set aside to honour those children coming later, who enter to chaotic energy as eating and cleaning are taking place all at once…
Before coming to the big dining hall, the tables and beds were in the same space. When tired, space is held for a single child to go to sleep. Now, one can’t leave because of ratios, the space for their singularity cannot be held, they must conform to the pace of the group.
Pedagogy does not repeat. How can coming to the table be ritualized in ways that do not repeat?
Jardine, D. ( 2008). On the while of things. Journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Curriculum Studies. 4.
Levinas, E. (1969). Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press.
Shotwell, A. 2016). Against purity: Living ethically in compromised times. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.