Wednesday 10 August 2011

Guest Posting, See Previous

I asked that a comment too large to be a comment and emailed to me become a blog entry. This is from Gary, assisted by Murdoch:

Adrian reminds me of an anthropologist at NYU who told a younger, postmodern anthropologist, when he criticized her use of the word "sexuality" as regards the Trobrianders, "I have to use something."

Those of us in literary theory were amused by their encounter and most literary people sided with the challenger. I remember another time the older anthropologist looked at the English professor who was criticizing her theory and she said, "But my dear, I deal with real people and you deal with texts." That did not make her popular with people from other disciplines, for sure.

I agree with Adrian that you have to get back to the issue at hand. But part of the issue is that it can't be extricated from language.

It reminds me of translation, which is necessary and impossible. One always gets stuck on words. Welcome to Judaism 101. The desire to get back to the issue sounds Christian to me. Of course, I can't escape my culture either and am probably Christian in other assumptions I am making.

The difference I am talking about is that between hermeneutics and reading. Hermeneutics assumes there is meaning from the start in its infamous hermeneutic circle, while reading stays with the mess.

Staying stuck on words is good.

The more I think of it I am not sure that a ritual as such can fail. Wittgenstein viewed ritual as a grand gesture. A person kisses the photo of a dead beloved and an anthropologist might step in and come up with a theory about how one is communicating or attempting to communicate with the dead. Not necessarily.

A ritual such as communion offers nothing. There is nothing that happens subsequently that would falsify it.

One may tire of the ritual, find it symbolizes a world one no longer wants to support.

A ritual is like a promise, which cannot be falsified, because the period in question may be very long, such as a wedding. Till death us do part is promising for a moment one cannot even foresee.

A ritual can break down in the institutional sense that the person who says the words has no authority or the context in which it is said is inappropriate.

That's quite a challenge. A ritual is religious, is within the arts; you can study it, why they do it, and what people say it does and how they behave immediately afterwards. Anything said about it is contingent and limited and one should both say it and criticise it straight away.

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