between fish’s review of terry eagleton’s ‘Reason, Faith and Revolution’ , larval subject’s discussion thereof yesterday and today, not to mention The Politics of Love, (with Hardt, Zizek, Westphal, Hent De Vries and others speaking) which I recently attended in Syracuse you might say we’re taking part in an a.tent.ion revival of and to all things theological. from lacan and zizek on the neighbor, the undead, the truly terrifying in aspects of Christianity to Simon Critchley and Alain Badiou’s interests in the revolution generating potential of faiths… we are, i suppose, all on our knees… looking for an answer, or 3.
on my knees (or on my back?) as it is and as it were, i’m still working through ritual. searching, undecided – you could call me a sunshine soldier of sorts… for today, i’m pushing on and look forward to your comments on Seligman et al’s book Ritual and its Consequences: An essay on the limits of sincerity.
chapter 2: ‘ambiguity, ambivalence and boundaries’
first boundaries – it could be said and has been said that western civilization is fundamentally built on an ongoing extermination of its others (see: exterminate all the brutes, by sven lindqvist). if anything, or rather, among many things, what lindqvists’ work points out is that for any communities we might hope to foster or construct or…, an awareness not only of the other but an at least more permeable and less genocidal boundary between ‘us and them’ would be the first order of business. Seligman, et al enter this debate as follows:
…in this chapter we address those capacities of the human mind that allow the ‘as if’ world of ritual to come into being and to persist. the ‘as if’ quality in turn allows ritual to deal with the ambiguities and ambivalence in interactions with unseen and influential beings, especially deities. In dealing with ambiguities, ritual engages boundaries: boundaries are crossed, violated, blurred, and then, in an oscillating way, reaffirmed, reestablished, and strengthened. Among the paradoxes that attend the performance of ritual is the paradox that ritual plays out a completion, a closure that solves the problem at hand. Yet, at the same time the very nature of the repetitiveness of ritual implicitly shows that the problem is not solved once and for all, that all is not complete and perfect. (Ritual and It’s Consequences, p. 43)
there is much to attend to in this quote, but let’s begin with the deities, quasi-mysterious unseen and yet influential. from here we could go in still many more directions, but to keep this within an immanent framework, i am proposing a link between these deities and Zizek’s concept of the neighbor, and/or Lacan’s Big Other, even potentially to Levinas’ ‘third’. this is a gloss on something i’ll develop more deeply later, but when we think radical otherness, surely ‘god’ is at the top of that list. modes of relating to that radical other that have instituted in religious contexts may (though certainly they do not necessarily) provide options for relating to the Other next door. more needs to be done here, clearly…
too quickly, then, our next move through the above Seligman et al quote is to see the way that ritual engages boundaries. and not simply known boundaries. through blurring and oscillating known boundaries, incompletion arises as given and repetition echos and enhances this incompletion and openness. weeks (months from now?) when this dissertation moves on to Derrida and iterability, this may become more (ironically) clear.
taking ritual out of its traditional background in religious practice, Seligman et al look to clinical psychoanalysis and the social sciences for examples of ritualized boundary play: jokes, riddles, storytelling, lying, mythmaking and art are just such play-grounds at work. recalling bed-time story time between a father and child helps layout both what is operative and what exceeds ritual in the process of boundary setting, testing and ongoing dissolution:
The little boy sits on his father’s lap, holding his favorite stuffed animal, while the father reads a story to him, the child having gone through the ritual of which book to read (it always turns out to be only one or two out of a large number of possibilities). The father reads “Jack and the Beanstalk” and must read it the same way each time, but either father or child can make some variation if the other consents to it, usually done in a slightly teasing or playful manner. The little boy and/or father might accentuate in voice or gesture one or another of the characters… but it has to be in a particular way, with a particular verbal and nonverbal formula. a videotape would show also the repertory of bodily gestures, the alternating enfoldings and then separations of the bodies of father and son, the fidgeting and touching of different body parts at different points int he story, the variations in how closely the stuffed lion is held… (Ritual and its consequences, p. 48)
yes, it is a sweet, common enough story… but the authors’ suggestions are these:
if one were to observe and study this bedtime ritual over time, it would become clear how much is being enacted between father and son: issues of giants and little boys, tiny things that can grow big and straight and strong, little boys who can act like the father, mothers who encourage their little boy’s efforts at “manhood,” and the virtues of cleverness as a weapon of the weak… (Ritual and its Consequences, p. 48)
ok, i can hardly stand much more of this beanstalk variety/virility… but even with the ‘point’ being…, emphasis falls here: over time the little boy learns to play his role in the story and his father’s, new rituals arise from set frames and these new rituals challenge what was ‘the only way’ before. ambiguity and ambivalence are worked through, allowing the child to imagine himself as self and other.
other make-believes make the scene as well. but not all ritualizing social examples are childhood sweetness and light. ritual and repetition often have overtones of trauma built into their mention for good reason. freud’s fort-da begins here, but post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and sexual abuse are potentially ritualizing traumas as well. in these cases, loss and/or abuse are re-cycled through repetition compulsions, fetishizations, and both verbal and non-verbal ritualized interchange.
as we enter these critical domains of split and fracture, i am going to pause, post and re-group. i look forward to your feedback.