Framing/Background for Replies

If you’ve read this section previously, you can skip it. It describes the aspiration of these “replies”.

Two years ago in 2012, I set myself the task to read at least ten pages per day; last year, I did so. Continuing from then, I now have the task to read fifteen pages per day,[1] and I’ve added that I will write a book reaction (or reply) for each one that I finish (or give up on, if I stop). I plan also to devise a way to randomly select books to read (given certain constraints) from the public library; this, to avoid the tendency only to read books that pique my already existing interests.

These replies will not be Amazon-type reviews, with synopses, background research done on the author or the book itself, unless that strikes me as necessary or if the book inspired me to do so when I read it. Rather, these replies amount to assessments of the ways I found the book helpful somehow. More precisely—and this describes what I mean by a reply, as opposed to a reaction (review) or a response—I try to focus in these pieces on what I could not have said (or would not have known what to say) except that the intersection of this text and my consciousness brought it about.

Consequently, I will sometimes say stupid stuff, poorly informed stuff, &c. Some in the world expect everyone to possess omniscience and won’t bother to engage in a human dialogue toward divining how to make the world a better place. To the extent that each reply I offer provides an I found this helpful in this book, then it becomes up to us (you, me, us) to correct, refine, trash and start over, or do something else we see as potentially helpful as part of attempting to make our world a better place. If you won’t bother to take up your end of that bargain, that signals of course part of the problem that needs a solution.

A Reply To: C.D. Tirres’ (2014)[2] The Aesthetics and Ethics of Faith: A Dialogue Between Liberationist and Pragmatic Thought [Part 3]

Although I got out of the loop with this book, someone asked me some time ago to read and reply to it; I suspect I might just start over, especially since I have had such an oppositional attitude to much of what Tirres writes, which strikes me as curious, since often Tirres gets into terrain I remain sympathetic to. In any case, since this needs something more “formal” than my typical replies, the following provides the second part of a longer, more point by point reflection on the book. You may read part 1 and part 2 here.

Before Going On

I want to add before continuing, my previous posts about this book may seem too harshly framed, and I apologise if it comes across that way. And as soon as (more or less) empowered representatives take it upon themselves to describe the “poor” or to speak on their behalf, the poor have a right to react cagily and circumspectly to such representations, even when meant in a “helpful” way—principally because the history of even well-meant representations have typically gone problematic. In this way, to take up talking about an “aesthetic turn” (even in the critical way Tirres does) while people starve to death can quickly and easily look ethically repugnant. An example, from a seemingly unrelated domain, will illustrate this.

Some time ago (more or less in 2002),[3] a sort of public debate took place over cosmopolitanism versus patriotism. A lot of hay got threshed about this by a number of academics; and then the lead organizer of the discussion offered her rebuttal. From my previous blog:

Earlier, I noted Putnam’s [2002][4] seeming lack of concern for the poor even as he employed them as an example, and especially his preface “I believe”; “I believe that we need to condemn the conditions that poor people everywhere daily experience as unjust” (96). Here, Nussbaum asks in a similar way:

May I give my daughter an expensive college education, while children all over the world re starving and effective relief agencies exist? May Americans enjoy their currently high standard of living, when there are reasons to think the globe as a whole could not sustain that level of consumption? These are hard questions, and there will and should be much debate about the proper answers (137).

Just as Putnam arrogates to himself an end of responsibility by proposing merely to pay lip service to condemning the poverty, here Nussbaum asserts that posing the question suffices. We may rest very assured that the answer to the tritely rhetorical questions Nussbaum proposes came as a resounding yes, all the more so when a supposedly cosmopolitan response fins sufficient to pose these “hard questions” and to insist that the course of action “will and should be much debate about the proper answers” (137).

Are you shitting me? The next section of her text begins, “As we pose these questions, we should value human diversity” (137)—Nussbaum has segued in matter of sentences from any kind of relevance into the depths of imperialist apologetics, illustrating Wallerstein’s (2002) warning that cosmopolitanism may as much abet as challenge privilege. Espousing a (justifiable) concern for hierarchy, Nussbaum insists that “some forms of diversity are clearly separable from hierarchy: most religious and ethnic differences” (138). Numerous wheels might get pitched at this, but I simply here want to underscore again—because Nussbaum’s effort of reply here keeps trying to get to the “basics” of human experience as a ground for her argument—that “religion” does not constitute a human universal, so long as one neglects to address atheism.[5] This point matters because Nussbaum cannot conceptualize matters outside of “the profound importance of religion, and respect for religious difference, in a just society” (137). The possibility that religion amounts to a socially destructive, and ultimately antisocial, superstition does not seem recognizable to Nussbaum as she characterizes her views here.

Not to take on the role of kill-joy, but when Nussbaum inserts as an intentionally humorous aside that “this does not mean that the world citizen cannot believe that the Bulls are better than all other teams. World citizens never deny was is self-evidently true” (138), this exemplifies the underlying falseness of Nussbaum’s view, just as surely as her trite rhetorical questions that we should debate how to address the question of world justice while children simultaneously starve for our benefit. In a pathetic footnote to this piece of cultural chauvinism by Nussbaum, where one hopes to find a proper measure of apology for this ridiculous incursion, instead she writes, “Marcus Aurelius did say that Stoicism required one not to be a partisan of the Green or Blue teams at the games—but he was speaking of a Roman context in which such rivalries gave rise to delight in the murder of human beings” (150).

In general, the supposed discussion conducted here amounts to little more than pious masturbation, a bunch of lip service paid to the right notions: that “there will and should be much debate about the proper answers” rather than any course of action right now to help people being destroyed at this very second. In one of the briefest replies in this discussion recorded by Nussbaum, brief perhaps because the respondent sees through this empty, academic twaddle, Wallerstein (1994)[6] bluntly remarked:

Those who are strong—strong politically, economically, socially—have the option of aggressive hostility toward the weak (xenophobia) or magnanimous comprehension of “difference” [largesse]. In either case, they remain privileged … ¶ In 1945, the United States become the hegemonic power in the world-system—by far the most powerful nation economically, militarily, politically, and even culturally. Its official ideological line was threefold: America is the world’s greatest country (narrow nationalism); America is the leader of the “free world” (the nationalism o the wealthy, White countries); America is the defender of universal values of individual liberty and freedom of opportunity (justified in terms of Kantian categorical imperatives). ¶ The United States government and moral spokesmen saw no difficulty in making all three assertions simultaneously. Most persons were unaware of the internal inconsistency of this triple stance (122–3).

In this kind of (imperial) context—the current one that we live in—it seems perfectly apposite (or at least reasonable) to demand some clear sign that any discussion (of liberation theology) serves first and foremost as a staging ground for some helpful action on behalf of those represented, rather than on the kind of self-serving “debate” Nussbaum finds so necessary (in order that she keep her job and that her daughter gets go to a fancy college denied to those that Nussbaum “represents”).

I recognise, and have defended, the necessity of having a proper or helpful frame on an issue as a prerequisite to moving forward, but very few circumstances have such critical stakes that we must stop all progressive action while we figure out what next needs doing. In other words, it seems perfectly reasonable to expect that any liberation theologian shows in his or her actions a material solidarity and activity with those represented. At the very least, this signals the authenticity of the concern for those represented, the poor. Certainly, almost all of the Latin American liberation theologians showed this; some were murdered or imprisoned as a sign of their material solidarity with those they represented.

At the beginning of this chapter, Tirres frames his concern that US Latino/a liberation theologians have too complacently converted the option for the poor into the option for culture, essentially making liberation theology into an academic problem one might make a career of proposing to solve, no doubt by the kind of “debate” (rather than action) Nussbaum proposes. I want to emphasize that this seems promising—and his exposure of Vatican arguments against Marxism also suggest a promising stance—but if in the final analysis the corrective that Tirres proposes lacks sufficient signs of material solidarity with those represented (and spoken for) by liberation theologians, then he will have legitimately earned scepticism of my earlier posts and he will have placed himself squarely in a comprador intellectual position, betraying his race not only locally (in the US) but internationally as well (in South America).

Chapter 3: Liberation in the Latino/a Americas

As something to note right off, although Tirres does not enclose the word liberation in quotation marks in this chapter’s title, for the headers on each page have the word as “liberation”. I doubt Tirres decided this, and the scare quotes undermine the chapter’s credibility by making it seem he denies any reality to liberation in the Latino/a Americas.[7] Definitely something to edit for the second edition.

He begins by showing how from the Eighties onward the dominant Vatican response to South American liberation theology consistently (if not deliberately) misread the movement as a mere reduction to politics. He also underscores the Vatican did not limit itself to talk but systematically replaced Latin American ecclesiastics who supported liberation theology with those who did not. Of course ,this all has an obnoxious or hypocritical element in it, since the Vatican clearly arrogates to itself the right to declare that this kind of politicking on its part represents an integral theology itself, rather than a reduction of theology to politics. Tirres lets this irony speak for itself and does not underscore it, but it still elides the fact that the Vatican both debated and acted (acting here providing the sign of no mere masturbatory twaddle in the debate involved). An obvious point, perhaps, but in a context of liberation theology, we see the Vatican understanding (or at least taking seriously) that the faced a “movement” (in the literal and figurative sense of the word) and not just a “debate”.

After this, Tirres first takes issue with García-Rivera’s (1999)[8] construction of the “beautiful”; he “utilizes [Charles Sanders] Peirce’s and [Josiah] Royce’s logic and their metaphysics of relations. Whereas Peirce’s study of signs speaks to a ‘community of the true’ and Royce’s idea of loyalty points to a ‘community of the good,’ García-Rivera sets out to construct a ‘community of the beautiful’” (56). For Tirres, “the question is not so much: how do aesthetic objects and practices point to a presumed universal quality of Beauty, but rather, how can and does aesthetic meaning emerge organically within everyday experience, and how may it be further shaped and refined through creative, human action?” (57).

To put this matter too bluntly, Tirres rejects García-Rivera’s thoughtful attempt here as academic twaddle, i.e., too divorced from actual human experience. And he further rejects the notion of a too narrowly imagined theological aesthetics (an object of García-Rivera’s work) in favour of a religious aesthetics. Or, again to put it more politically, a Catholic or Protestant aesthetics won’t cut it as necessarily hobbled (if not disingenuous in a way even). Rather, the starting point for religious aesthetics “has more to do with the way that we ascribe aesthetic and/or religious significance to human experience and practice than with any a priori idea of Beauty, the Sacred, or the Divine” (57), i.e., the undesirable a priori here meaning any specifically Catholic (or Protestant) construction of what Beauty, the Sacred, or the Divine already means. And while, in one respect, this question almost hopelessly involves nothing more than academic twaddle, Tirres at least stands up here for a broader understanding of aesthetics than anything compassed by theological aesthetics. And even more generally than this, Tirres would place the notion of aesthetics on a generally wider footing than perhaps most (academics) think of it these days.

Thus, an experience may be deemed aesthetic even if it has nothing formally to do with art. The same logic applies to Dewey’s theory of ‘the religious,’ which may be seen as an intensification of the aesthetic and which may apply to experiences that are not formally connected with institutional religion (58).

Here, I would defend his point against accusations of academic twaddle (although wrapping this point up in Dewey seems gratuitous), because what he points to involves a recognition that human beings have access to profound (aesthetic or religious) experiences not only potentially through any experience but also, and specifically, not only in the sanctioned or approved (established) religious channels. As a particular earthy example of the former, people (often women) in India will place a piece of cow dung outsider the house and worship this as an embodiment of Ganeṣa; as a case of the latter, the visions of Brother Klaus (or any number of other Christian mystics) offered an extremely heterodox version of Christ (one not recognised by an Orthodox interpretation), but his vision still consisted of Christ (a sanctioned religious symbol). Finding the face of Jesus in a piece of toast marks a case of the latter as well.

All of this points, implicitly, to the question: who gets to define what constitutes a valid (aesthetic or religious) experience, and Tirres here weighs in less to say “everyone can decide for herself” and more to question “why does the religious Authority (or the Vatican) get to act as the sole arbiter of this question?” And, of course, this question of who validates aesthetic or religious experiences opens up as well into the broader question of who gets to validate experience in general. Consequently, when an experience happens to you, who has the right (or simply the power) to declare, “Your experience doesn’t count or is wrong?” Under a theological aesthetics, which he rejects, the answer to the question comes down to, “The religious authority decides.”[9]

Still, having said this, to contrast theological and religious aesthetics gives us a false dichotomy, since either choice leaves us in the domain of “religion”. Nonetheless, Tirres still points in a historically useful footnote to a broader vision of aesthetics:

If this sounds like a radical departure from the way what we tend to think about aesthetics today, we would be well served to recall that the modern discipline of aesthetics, as initiated by Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten in the 1730s, began as the “science of sensory knowledge” of any and all experience. It was only later theorists, most notably Kant and Hegel, who approached aesthetics as a pure judgment of taste and who restricted Baumgarten’s inquiry to exceptional pieces of fine art. Although subsequent thinkers like the Romantics would revivify Baumgarten’s understand of the wide reach of aesthetics, as witnessed by their fascination with the beautiful and sublime features of nature and the human body, aesthetic theory since the late eighteenth century continues, unfortunately, to be premised on the more limited idea that aesthetics is a matter of art proper and that art is to be contemplated by a perceiver in a disinterested and detached way. See Tirres [2009],[10] “Aesthetics,” 1:6–11 (n42, 58).

This question of aesthetics, which indeed has transformed largely into a piece of masturbatory academic twaddle precisely to the degree that it gets taken as “a matter of art proper and that art is to be contemplated by a perceiver in a disinterested and detached way” (58), has served in that respect as a piece of political neutralisation, i.e., whatever Baumgarten hoped to accomplish with his science of sensory knowledge,[11] the sort of use it got put to in the exemplary cases of Kant, Hegel, and subsequent commentators lost touch with the radically transformative possibilities in aesthetic experience (and Art) that Schiller still saw for it near the end of the eighteenth century. It surprises me, in fact, that Tirres makes no mention of Schiller, who represents perhaps the most significant philosopher on the value of aesthetic education in history. Academia seems to have chosen to forget this.

The remainder of Tirres’ chapter digs deeper into the work of García-Rivera and R.S. Goizueta. He specifically finds Goizueta’s work to miss its mark of integrating the aesthetic and the ethical, and a couple of tendencies come out in this. First, Tirres exposes what I would call an authoritarian tendency in both of these authors; in other words, he shows the links between these authors’ criticisms of South American liberation theology and Vatican critiques, all of which boil down to anti-Marxist. In both a Vatican and a US context, an anti-Marxist stance certainly dovetails neatly with the prevailing capitalist discourse, but anti-Marxism itself serves as a mask for borrowing the authoritarianism of the Vatican in the first place. As Tirres makes clear, he shows how a certain stripe of US Latino/a critics of South American liberation theology either (1) resort to vulgar embodiments of Marxism, (2) ignore the broader tradition of Marxist analysis that avoid such vulgarity, or (3) selective read (or misread) certain “non-vulgar” Marxists. Hence, “While Goizueta’s critique of Marxism here may hold true in terms of more reductionistic, orthodox, and vulgar forms of Marxism, the critique does not hold in light of more nuanced, non-sectarian, and ‘open’ forms of Marxism, with which [one writer] himself associates” (66).

To represent by synecdoche Tirres’ point overall (particularly with respect to Goizueta’s work in this chapter), he interrogates the stark distinction between “praxis” and “poiesis”—or, specifically, operatio-poiesis in Goizueta’s use. This distinction hinges on the difference between praxis (as a doing that serves as an end in itself) versus a poiesis (as a making that serves some end other than the doing itself). To give a familiar example from the domain of aesthetics, the critic will note the difference between art as an end in itself versus art that serves some non-artistic end, and thus smacks more of propaganda.

So, even as this distinction may seem like academic twaddle, behind it we may discern the intention of the actor (the artist)—does she offer the work of art as a disinterested emblem of some universal human truth, which culture ostensibly hails as the most worthwhile thing of all, or does it serve the squalid, narrow end of “mere politics” (serving the interests of a single, narrow class, whether the rich or the poor). In this, you should detect again already the same complaint directed against Latin American liberation theology; it gets too involved in “vulgar and narrow politics” rather than remaining oriented toward universal (human) truth, as the most worthwhile thing of all. Thus, these aesthetic gestures either represent the author’s intended gesture of liberation (from narrow political milieus) or it represents an attempt to delimit and control people (into a narrow political milieu). This latter attempt might arrive in reactionary form or revolutionary form, but one of Tirres’ main objections to Goizueta points to the too stark distinction between praxis and poiesis, between “doing” and “making”. For him, “In pragmatism, human knowledge, imagination, and creativity are ‘instrumental to’ the qualitative enrichment of experience. One cannot life as an ‘end in itself’ without such means. Both the product and the process are integral to one another” (64).

A point lacking in Tirres’ analysis: while he readily digs out how García-Rivera and Goizueta rely upon vulgar Marxism (or cherry-pick less vulgar Marxist analyses), he has yet to acknowledge that pragmatism too must have its own vulgar pragmatists. Or somewhat more to the point, except in the case of ideological tools, presumably such “vulgar” Marxism rests on some specific desire the proponent of it felt needed making. A point that would apply to vulgar pragmatists as well.

Or to put the matter still another way, the historically ubiquitous contending between (for want of a better term) absolutist framings of issues in contention versus “shades of grey” framing begs the question why this contention recurs. Those of a fundamentalist or orthodox orientation deem those advocating “shades of grey” heretic, traitors, compromiser, ell-out, while those advocating an integral or moderate view see others as zealots, fanatics, narrow-minded, and the like. Hence, of course Goizueta might harp on vulgar Marists to make his point, while Tirres cries foul and objects one may find any number of sophists, excuse-makers, or simply cleverer or more obfuscating proponents (of Marxism) that the ones Goizueta focuses on. Similarly, then, we might expect Tirres to avoid citing any vulgar pragmatists in his own analyses, but we have no reason to believe simply on the face of it that this means their arguments can’t be disingenuous, &c.

Also, it becomes hard to ignore, as Tirres treats García-Rivera’s and Goizueta’s arguments, in a strictly right or wrong contrast how this runs at odds with his insistence, on multiple levels, to reject stark dichotomies and instead pursue “integral’ positions. One may locate occasional disclaimers that keep Tirres’ exposition from becoming what one might call ‘vulgar rejectionism,” but these disclaimers finally do little to forestall the impression that Goizueta has nothing to offer and that one need pay attention to his work. I’d like to think this amounts to an overstatement, but I doubt it does.

However, as a qualifier on this: Tirres starts by dismantling the Vatican critique of Latin American liberation theology. The unstated part of this—as also the unstated part of the Vatican critique—seems an a priori advocacy for or opposition to Marxism itself. Seeking to condemn or defend Marxism in general, it seems as if the lens of liberation theology (whether pro or con) serves as a distraction for that fact. The situation resembles Bakhtin hidden polemic, except that the object of the hidden polemic (Marxism) seems very poorly hidden. Hence, just as Goizueta (at least in Tirres’ construction of his argument) takes up the Vatican charge of “covertly” bashing Marxism, so Tires similarly sets out to dismantle Goizueta’ argument as a way to un-discredit Marxism. Accusing Goizueta of resorting to vulgar Marxism especially points to this.

And then deeper still, this rather indirect squabbling over the quality of one’s Marxism does act as a further distraction from the underlying dichotomy tires frames North and South American liberation theology in: namely, the categories of the ethical (political) and aesthetic (spiritual). One finds an authoritarianism invoked on all three sides of this debate: (1) the unabashed authoritarianism of the Vatican, (2) the authoritarianism of Goizueta in attempt to “stifle” the open-endedness at work in Latin American liberation theology but also to provide his own end-all/be-all answer, and (3) the authoritarianism of Tirres who starkly deploys an either/or (that one should essentially reject Goizueta’s work wholesale) rather than identifying work of Goizueta’s sort as part of a continuum, as Tirres advocates for other either/or dichotomies. One feels in the presence of Berlin’s “The Hedgehog and the Fox,” where he tries to work through why people seem averse to a genuine (political) plurality in daily life. As Aileen Kelly (1979),[12] in her Introduction, so ably summarises (perhaps better even than Berlin):

Pluralism, in the sense in which [Berlin] uses the word, is not to be confused with that which is commonly defined as a liberal outlook–according to which all extreme positions are distortions of true values and the key to social harmony and a moral life lies in moderation and the golden mean. True pluralism, as Berlin understands it, is much more tough-minded and intellectually bold: it rejects the view that all conflicts of values can be finally resolved by synthesis and that all desirable goals may be reconciled. It recognizes that human nature is such that it generates values which, though equally sacred, equally ultimate, exclude one another, without there being any possibility of establishing an objective hierarchical relation between them. Moral conduct therefore may involve making agonizing choices, without the help of universal criteria, between incompatible but equally desirable values (Kelly, xv).

By this, we see Tirres advancing “a liberal outlook–according to which all extreme positions [like Goizueta’s] are distortions of true values and the key to social harmony and a moral life lies in moderation and the golden mean” (xv). Pluralism would have acknowledged an agonizing truth, that a circumstance like Goizueta’s stark dichotomy between “doing” and “being” might not have an establishable objective hierarchical relation between them. The two views, Tirres’ and Goizueta’s, might instead offer incompatible but equally desirable values.

Berlin discusses in part how it seems always easier to declare those who disagree with you simply wrong, rather than admitting their (baffling) point of view may have some merit after all. But—barring any sufficient evidence that Goizueta doesn’t simply play the part of a shill or a tool for himself, his career, or someone else, an accusation we might with equal irresponsibility at this point level at Tirres—then I have to say that Tirres’ dismantling looks like it accomplishes (by accident or deliberately) no “liberating” us from his own variety of critical monism—i.e., the insistence upon only one way of looking at things; the antithesis of what Berlin calls pluralism.

Endnotes

[1] More precisely, I will continue to read my usual ten pages but I will also read five pages per day of Burton’s (1620) Anatomy of Melancholy, a gigantic book that at five pages per day I will finish reading near the end of December 2014. I have wanted to read this book for a while, but various features of it make getting through it a challenge. UPDATE: I’ve dropped this project for reasons given here.

[2] Tirres, C. D. (2014). The Aesthetics and Ethics of Faith: A Dialogue Between Liberationist and Pragmatic Thought. Oxford University Press, i–xi, 1–223.

[3] Nussbaum, MC, and Cohen, J (ed.) (2002). For love of country? (A New Democracy Forum On The Limits Of Patriotism)Boston: Beacon Press

[4] Putnam, H. (2002). Must we choose between patriotism and universal reason? in Nussbaum, MC, and Cohen, J (ed.) (2002). For love of country? (A New Democracy Forum On The Limits Of Patriotism), pp. 91–97.Boston: Beacon Press.

[5] The habit of treating atheists as a form of religious sometimes has merit, depending upon the atheist, but generally the move serves merely to misprision the atheist critique of theism.

[6] Wallerstein, I (2002). Neither patriotism or cosmopolitanism. In MC Nussbaum with respondents, J Cohen (ed.), For love of country? (A New Democracy Forum On The Limits Of Patriotism), pp. 122–4,Boston: Beacon Press

[7] Although, which “America” this might point to (North, South, or Central) remains ambiguous, of course.

[8] García-Rivera, A. (1999). The community of the beautiful: a theological aesthetics. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press.

[9] Having encountered lately a bunch of “simple-minded” argumentation (excuse the judgmental tone please), I can only imagine that such folks would scoffingly declare that no one but the individual gets to decide on this matter. This self-congratulatory myth, of course, collapses as soon as (for example) you (1) become a heterodox Christian, bucking the authority and the community in your church, or (2) the police decide to arrest you and you get to offer excuses for your behavior to a judge who would sentence you to prison. &c. Both of these cases involve (I would say) a degree of an abuse of power, but the issue appears even in non-abusive cases. We only need admit that we sometimes get confused about our experiences so that an outsider might weigh in with a more apt description to get into this territory. Only if you believe you can never err in your interpretation of an experience could you possibly insist that you and only you can correctly describe that experience. This seems a piece of egregious entitlement (once again) characteristic of late-order capitalism.

[10] Tirres, CD (2009). “Aesthetics.” M. De La Torre (ed.) Hispanic American Religious Cultures, vol. 1, pp. 6–11. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO

[11] The topic may not have escaped the masturbatory in his work either.

[12] Kelley, A. (1979). Introduction: a complex vision. In I. Berlin Russian Thinkers. (eds. Henry Hardy and Aileen Kelly). New York: Pelican.

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Summary (TLDR Version)

When you suck a book off, do you swallow or spit?

Framing/Background for Replies

If you’ve read this section previously, you can skip it. It describes the aspiration of these “replies”.

Two years ago in 2012, I set myself the task to read at least ten pages per day; last year, I did so. Continuing from then, I now have the task to read fifteen pages per day,[1] and I’ve added that I will write a book reaction (or reply) for each one that I finish (or give up on, if I stop). I plan also to devise a way to randomly select books to read (given certain constraints) from the public library; this, to avoid the tendency only to read books that pique my already existing interests.

These replies will not be Amazon-type reviews, with synopses, background research done on the author or the book itself, unless that strikes me as necessary or if the book inspired me to do so when I read it. Rather, these replies amount to assessments of the ways I found the book helpful somehow. More precisely—and this describes what I mean by a reply, as opposed to a reaction (review) or a response—I try to focus in these pieces on what I could not have said (or would not have known what to say) except that the intersection of this text and my consciousness brought it about.

Consequently, I will sometimes say stupid stuff, poorly informed stuff, &c. Some in the world expect everyone to possess omniscience and won’t bother to engage in a human dialogue toward divining how to make the world a better place. To the extent that each reply I offer provides an I found this helpful in this book, then it becomes up to us (you, me, us) to correct, refine, trash and start over, or do something else we see as potentially helpful as part of attempting to make our world a better place. If you won’t bother to take up your end of that bargain, that signals of course part of the problem that needs a solution.

This means you might disagree with me, especially where I have it wrong.

A Reply To: Julie Maroh’s (2014)[2] Skandalon

Old people or dust-jacket-bunnies will recall the marketing of the novelist Carson McCullers as a curiously frail and precious kind of thing—something very strange and delicate. Maybe that served as code for “lesbian” at the time; I have no idea. Meanwhile, on the back of this graphic novel, Maroh’s follow-up to her 2013 “tender, bittersweet graphic novel about lesbian love,” we read it telling us, “Skandalon, Julie’s follow-up novel, marks a startling change of pace”. Apparently, after a tender, bittersweet beginning, we now stand on a first name with Julie. Curious!

The book ends with an afterword by Maroh. And well may you laugh if I begin griping about the “pretentious intellectualism” of this afterword—especially since lots of folks mightwouldcould point that phrase at any number of the things I write. However, without intending to defend myself, a difference exists between any “intellectual apparatus” used by a critic after the fact to analyse a text and an essay by the author, loaded with footnotes to René Girard, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Mircea Eliade, and Aristotle (none of whom appear in the text), as a sort of analytical framing for what one has just read. Perhaps more fairly, I could say Maroh simply writes her own first analytical review.

But the unhappy part of this: it suggests strong that one other to compare the analytical framework she supplies, as a sort of justification for her book, with the actual content of the book. And what makes this essay seem to deserve the phrase “pretentious intellectualism” (whatever the merits of the afterword itself) turns crucially on the non-relationship of it to the book.[3]

Just so you know, the book tracks the downward arc of a supremely celebrated rock star who ultimately gets beat to death for a rape he got away with.

With that in mind, I have no desire to do the work that Maroh declines to do when she makes no link between her anthropological perspective and the book itself. In point of fact, it seems she really only cares to deploy the work of René Girard. And to that end, and only to provide one example: as far as the title of the book goes—conventionally taken from its sense in the bible as a stumbling block, or “a behaviour or attitude that leads another to sin”—she writes and quotes:

With the exasperation of mimetic desires, and the predominance of conflicts, the unity of the group is shattered. What should we do then? And who is the guilty party?

Christ announces before his Passion that he will become a skandalon for everybody and for his disciples as well, for they will also play a part in his Passion. The word skandalon means a “mimetic stumbling-block,” something that triggers mimetic rivalry. […] Although skandalon and Satan are fundamentally the same thing, the two terms emphasize different aspects of the same phenomenon. In the case of skandalon, the emphasis is on the early phases of the mimetic cycle, mimetic rivalry between two individuals who are obstacles to each other; whereas Satan refers to the whole mimetic mechanism. […] Both Jesus and Satan prompt imitation. Imitation is the road to our freedom, because we are free to imitate Christ in his incomparable wisdom in a benevolent and obedient way, or on the contrary, to imitate Satan, meaning to imitate God in a spirit of rivalry. Skandalon becomes the inability to walk away from mimetic rivalry, an inability that turns rivalry into an addiction, servitude, because we kneel in front of those who are important for us, without seeing what is at stake. The proliferation of scandals, meaning of mimetic rivalry, is what produces disorder and instability in society, but this instability is put to an end by the scapegoat resolution, which produces order. Satan casts out Satan, meaning that the scapegoat mechanism produces a false transcendence that stabilizes society, through a satanic principle, and the order cannot but be only temporary and it is bound to revert, sooner or later, into the disorder of scandals (155–6).

Whatever local interest this might have, in vain does one connect it back to Maroh’s text. It does happen that her main character, the well-hung Tazane, courts scandal, but he can certainly do this without having anything to do with mimetic rivalry, god, Satan, or Christ (none of whom appear even by direct reference in the book, if memory serves). To invoke this passage as a justification for Tazane’s scandals seems empty and silly.

Something more possibly relevant lurks in the phrase, “Skandalon becomes the inability to walk away from mimetic rivalry, an inability that turns rivalry into an addiction, servitude, because we kneel in front of those who are important for us, without seeing what is at stake” (155). Disregard what “the inability to walk away from mimetic rivalry” might mean in this context, because it doesn’t even seem that Maroh provides sufficient explanation in her own essay.[4] So mote it be; what then? It seems she implicates the citizen or read, since “we kneel in front of those who are important for us, without seeing what is at stake” (155). We have then (on page 41) the image of the homosexual male kneeling in a coat closet and sucking him off. And, of course, Maroh goes to some successful pains to make Tazane sexy (it seems his fan base consists most maniacally of female though males attend his concerts too).

But what this has to do with mimetic rivalry, much less choosing between god, Satan, or Christ, &c., has nothing more to say than the usual platitudes against celebrity. Tazane fails to function as any one of the three figures in any compelling (much less any convincing) way. Maroh establishes his narcissistic rock-star identity at the first, perhaps succeeds in modulating it slightly with the surprise blow-job in the closet, although that this even amounts to a sexual act comes across clearly enough—i.e., it betokens power, not sex and serves, then, as a kind of “willing rape” on the part of the guy who sucks him off. As Tazane assures us, “When they’re sucking me off, they don’t talk. And I love how grateful they look after I cum in their mouths” (43). This kinder, gentler rape merely sets up the rather narratively fatuous and unmotivated actual rape that Tazane indulges in—the one he gets beaten to death for, declaring—reminiscent of Kakihara at the end of Miike’s Ichi the Killer—that he finally feels alive.

The question of to what extent Maroh successfully reprises the seduction of celebrity must remain an open question. Do we want to kneel before Tazane and have him cum in our mouths? But what does that really mean? As if him exercising power over us (as a joke on us) doesn’t simultaneously play a joke on him—just as the Master in Hegel’s parable of the master and the slave simply cannot see the slave at all, and exists in a kind of oblivious naiveté. So he quits the scene, tries to live a conventional life, and becomes “the” scapegoat when he gets beaten to death?

Just to keep it precise, no one kills the scapegoat—it gets driven out of the community. Since Occidental tends to fantasize that everything starts with Greece (and likes to take up the pretence of acknowledging anything earlier preferentially through the bible), we know the tradition of the scapegoat better through more recent Greek and biblical examples, but many near East traditions have elimination rituals whereby spotless animals get driven into the wilderness. They don’t get sacrificed, in other words; cultures reserved that privilege for other beasts. So how Tazane’s death here links up with a scapegoat doesn’t make general anthropological sense.

In general, I found this book more compelling before Maroh started trotting out the “moral”.[5] Once she permits the narrative to enter rape per se into the book, it becomes more or less a tedious exercise in stereotypical retribution. Exposed to the world now, Tazane no longer has the safety net that permitted him to act the entitled ass—his fans have abandoned him, he has become addicted to heroin (oh look, he suffers!), and he caps it all off by feeling alive only as someone beats him to death. Boring.

Presumably Maroh intends us to understand him as done in by scandal (and hubris) and the fact that “the media that lavishes attention on him are waiting for him to fall from grace” (back of book). Really? Cue Aristotle again, that “envy is pain at the sight of such good fortune” (155) in others. This might describe the reaction of some to good fortune, but Maroh doesn’t especially characterize the press as looking forward to his fall; she doesn’t position the reader to necessarily revel in it; and envy in any case doesn’t always or only supply the emotion we experience seeing celebrities. If I experienced “envy” at some point in the book, it had nothing to do with Tazane and only to do with the guy who got to suck his dick. And, moreover (and just for clarity), not because the dick stuck out of a rock-stars pants but because it looked like a very suckable dick. Attach it to anyone, and I’d suck it.

Again, the scapegoat embodies the pure one that gets sent away, not the one sacrificed. The scapegoat doesn’t experience a fall from grace, unless we want to pretend that loading you up with the sins of the community and then telling you to leave constitutes the sort of “fall from grace” implied in the narrative here (or the back of the book). One wonders how a scapegoat might feel—honoured at first and then dirty as the innocence of its purity gets sullied with sins and horrors it has never known. Does it break then or, simply out of the sheer marvel of its good nature, actually bear up under that unbearable weight and takes its grievous burden out into exile and loneliness?

The figure of Tazane doesn’t linger in this zone of symbolism at all—quite apart from his tedious narcissism and entitlement. His (drawn) innocence serves only as a façade, one that seduces of course. And why not: yes, put your cock in my mouth and jerk your cum all over my tongue. Do you imagine for a moment I think this means more (to you) that the mechanical expulsion of your sexual pleasure?

&c.

In books subsequent to Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, it seems as if she becomes curiously enamoured of Lestat.[6] Perhaps Maroh gets dragged into Tazane’s muck as well. Maybe his “fall” (one can hardly say “from grace”) has the characteristics of revenge and tragedy for Maroh, or she intends that. Insofar as the back of the book tritely repeats, “Skandalon is a powerful and relentless meditation on the high cost of fame, and the demons awaiting anyone who refuses to be wary of them” (back of book), then this points more to the fear and pity of Aristotle’s tragic catharsis, but Maroh’s book delivers none of this hyperbolic text. We can say Occidental discourse places this (incorrect) emphasis because clearly Julie (the now celebrated author) or any incautious and unwary reader might dare to aspire to fame. This tale—at least in its outward form—serves as a warning against that. Just stay poor. Just remain a feudal and futile consumer.

Maroh positions (citing others) prohibition as “the first condition for social ties and the first cultural sign as well” (153). Whatever the merit of this premise, the use of prohibition in Maroh’s narrative turns simply on taboo—the usual rock-n-roll trinity, with sex and drugs. To imagine patriarchal culture has a prohibition on rape, though, accepts at face-value patriarchy’s not-too-polite fiction—if we would imagine that Tazane violates a taboo and for that reason suffers his hubristic fall. Thus, just as he engages in victim-blaming, not just indirectly when he says “And I love how grateful they look after I cum in their mouths” but much more explicitly when he claims his literal rape victim wanted it, &c., Maroh’s book sings in this patriarchal voice as well, claim that we who crave scandal bring disaster upon ourselves (and on the likes of Tazane as well). Our envy leads to mimetic rivalry (whatever that means), as if the Jews who watched Christ die were really actually responsible.

&c.

No one makes a prohibition who lacks the power to enforce it. More precisely, prohibition without power to enforce it becomes farce. If “in the origins of civilization, mankind sought peace, and its first act was to prohibit” (153), then we see in this not peace but violence, not humankind but some narrow slice of it that sought power-over. Whatever benefits of organization this might have brought about, we needn’t pretend that the prohibited assented to it just because they obeyed. Or, for that matter, that the one’s making the prohibition had only scummy motives at hear. Doubtless, inasmuch as human being reinvented civilization over and over again, the admixtures of oppression and assent varied by location.

Meanwhile, none of this has any bearing on Maroh’s book except that it encodes a prohibition on aspiration. It assumes your envy, since she “burst onto the scene in 2013” with a book that “spawned an acclaimed feature film that won the Palme d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival as well as accolades for its stars Adèle Exarcholpoulos and Lea Seydoux; the book itself was an international bestseller” (back of book). We see in this Power (or, rather, the self-congratulatory flunky of Power scribbling ad-text) talking to itself in its own deluded naiveté, as if one cannot see through this sort of silly text.

It lacks the ability, entirely, to see how we can suck its fat cock every bit as mercenarily as it aims to positions itself toward the reader. Of course, it pretends not to care why we suck its dick—so long as units move, whatever conceit or delusion the guy on his knees in the closet has about the circumstance means just as little as Tazane’s bored anticipation of gratitude on the guy’s face, or the reader’s. The glossy-lipped facial of a book-job well done.

Endnotes

[1] More precisely, I will continue to read my usual ten pages but I will also read five pages per day of Burton’s (1620) Anatomy of Melancholy, a gigantic book that at five pages per day I will finish reading near the end of December 2014. I have wanted to read this book for a while, but various features of it make getting through it a challenge. UPDATE: I’ve dropped this project for reasons given here.

[2] Maroh, J. (2014). Skandalon. Toronto: Coach House Books, pp. 1–160.

[3] Let me add the disclaimer of course, and remind any reader of my opening disclaimer, that I may say stupid things. Perhaps I have grossly misunderstood how the material Maroh adduces here in fact deeply and clearly informs her text. In which case, I will have the privilege of being wrong and hopefully someone will be so kind or arrogant as to set me straight.

[4] She cites Girard on mimetic desire, so that “no culture invents itself but only replicates itself. Still, in the sphere of mimetic desire, crises are all but inevitable and lead to violence within communities, given the exacerbation of individual desires” (154). What might this mean? She cites Aristotle, “Envy is pain at the sight of such good fortune” (155). All the same, before and after the long passage quoted previously, Maroh (and Girard) offer no formulation for mimetic rivalry.

[5] I certainly don’t mean by this that Maroh agrees with the moral or doesn’t have some kind of ironic stance on Tazane’s fate. I can’t tell, nor do I much care, whether she (implausibly) metes out rough justice a la Arabian Nights or not. Once Maroh takes the narrative from the “soft rape” of earlier through a literal and specifically cruel rape, she puts the narrative beyond the pale of rescue. The issue doesn’t at all involve whether one could or should or any lazy condemnation on my part (of rape). Certain things in texts have consequences and a writer who resorts to them has to live with those. Whatever pity or sympathy one has for the “rock-star problems” of the world, Maroh spends shoots the wad of the text’s good will.

[6] If we posit Team Louis or Team Lestat, I never once wavered in my loyalty to Louis.

Summary (TLDR Version)

Tirres claims that the rituals he observes subvert the categories of “us” and “them” without acknowledging that non-Christians remain “them” with respect to those in the ritual. Meanwhile, what seems like his enthusiasm at discovering a solution to the problem of (his own?) disengaged sense of faith permits him to set up an authoritarian lens for interpreting these rituals; one where the experts (he and the festival organisers) get permitted the main voices heard in the analysis. In a liberation theology context, where making space so the voiceless may heard represents a fundamental gesture, this authoritarianism appeal to expertise seems radically misguided. Where may we find the voice of the Other in this chapter?

Framing/Background for Replies

If you’ve read this section previously, you can skip it. It describes the aspiration of these “replies”.

Two years ago in 2012, I set myself the task to read at least ten pages per day; last year, I did so. Continuing from then, I now have the task to read fifteen pages per day,[1] and I’ve added that I will write a book reaction (or reply) for each one that I finish (or give up on, if I stop). I plan also to devise a way to randomly select books to read (given certain constraints) from the public library; this, to avoid the tendency only to read books that pique my already existing interests.

These replies will not be Amazon-type reviews, with synopses, background research done on the author or the book itself, unless that strikes me as necessary or if the book inspired me to do so when I read it. Rather, these replies amount to assessments of the ways I found the book helpful somehow. More precisely—and this describes what I mean by a reply, as opposed to a reaction (review) or a response—I try to focus in these pieces on what I could not have said (or would not have known what to say) except that the intersection of this text and my consciousness brought it about.

Consequently, I will sometimes say stupid stuff, poorly informed stuff, &c. Some in the world expect everyone to possess omniscience and won’t bother to engage in a human dialogue toward divining how to make the world a better place. To the extent that each reply I offer provides an I found this helpful in this book, then it becomes up to us (you, me, us) to correct, refine, trash and start over, or do something else we see as potentially helpful as part of attempting to make our world a better place. If you won’t bother to take up your end of that bargain, that signals of course part of the problem that needs a solution.

A Reply To: C.D. Tirres’ (2014)[2] The Aesthetics and Ethics of Faith: A Dialogue Between Liberationist and Pragmatic Thought [Part 2]

Someone asked me to read and reply to this book. And so, since this needs something more “formal” than my typical replies, the following provides the second part of a longer, more point by point reflection on the book. You may read part 1 here.

In his second chapter, Tirres focuses “ethnographically” on the Good Friday liturgies at a church in San Antonio. His basic claim involves that the dramatic public performance of ritual—a modern passion play—sets the stage to merge a visceral and immediate (aesthetic) experience of faith with an ethical, transformative impulse as well. In other words, the passion play does not serve merely as a (profound) entertainment but also calls people to change their lives toward answering the ethical call of Catholicism, i.e., an awareness for helping the poor, comforting families affected by gang violence, &c. He sees these public rituals as offering the kind of experience that transcends the “aesthetic or ethical” split currently dominant in (academic) discussions of faith. In other words, it shows his desire to “approach the aesthetic and the ethical as inherent and common qualities of experience, rather than rigid or separable domains of human experience, which is still, unfortunately, the reigning approach today” (6).

He describes at length not only the various components of these public rituals but also the explicit compositional decisions its organisers make in order to make the ritual currently relevant (e.g., having someone sing “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” from Webber and Rice’s (1970) Jesus Christ Superstar.) He identifies this kind of gesture of “updating” as an attempt to explicitly link past and present, so that there and then becomes open to experience as here and now. Thus, what might remain only at the level of (profound) entertainment—an important story about something that happened a long time ago—becomes transformed into something that has necessary and immediate relevance and meaning now. He similarly emphasises several dramaturgical moves that collapse the distinction (or help to collapse the distinction) between actor and audience, or audience and participant in the action of the passion play.

Tirres seems to report this as some kind of striking innovation, but in both theatre and ritual this kind of gesture has ancient antecedents. Eliade (1954)[3] long ago established a function of ritual to return as returning its participants to “archetypal time”—i.e., collapsing past and present—and even in the domain of epic poetry, it too collapses the here and now of its listeners to an archetypal time before time, or a kind of Golden Age (Bakhtin, 1981).[4]

Regardless, the apparent narrowness of Tirres’ claim does not negate it. He writes:

Insofar as popular ritual obscures the distinction between past and present, popular ritual also invites one to revisit the meaning of tradition and one’s relationship to the larger community. Is the purpose of one’s tradition primarily to conserve the past, to return to that which the community has always held dear? Or does one understand tradition as a dynamic give-and-take between present and past, wherein one selectively retrieves elements of the past in order to meet the changing demands of the present and future? As the San Fernando Good Friday liturgies seem to suggested, present experience has as much claim on ritual participants as do the archetypal stories of the past. At San Fernando, tradition is not only re-claimed by ritual actors, but also, re-crafted (40).

I should say now, if I have a primary criticism of this chapter, it arises from the fact that Tirres makes (and generally supports) broad claims for how ritual collapses and transcends dichotomous categories (like past and present) while at the same time remaining mired in dichotomies in his analysis. Here, for instance, he asks whether the tradition acts to conserve the past or offer a dynamic give-and-take between present and past. More still needs saying, but this suffices to flag the issue.

One thing very missing from the above paragraph from Tirres involves the question: who decides the purpose of ritual (i.e., whether it conserves the past or signals a dynamic give-and-take between past and present). For this specific passion play, the rituals’ organizers, albeit with “democratic” gestures towards others, decide the shape and dramaturgy of the event. I do not mean to say by this that they do with ideological malice aforethought. Let them act in an authentically religiously committed way, they still serve as the gatekeepers for what the ritual publicly intends.

More generally, and insofar as Tirres invokes (if obliquely) the social “theme” around how tradition and innovation interact within a culture, we might turn to Spencer and Gillen’s (1904)[5] Northern Tribes of Central Australia.[6] Spencer and Gillen record at least one instance where a younger (adult) male attempts to insert an innovation into a long established ritual practice. This innovation becomes subject to approval (i.e., prohibition or support) by the group’s elders. As such, an innovation might occur once but then be suppressed in future ritual performances or it might become integrated into all future performances. But the very fact that such innovation might occur at all runs contrary to the conventional insistence that traditional cultures never change or do so only accidentally. Spencer and Gillen show instead how such change may come about, although with a great deal of cultural inertia and political resistance from the established elders. Further, one imagines that when this younger adult male reaches the status of elder, he might re-implement his innovation (if it has remained suppressed over the years), subject to political finagling with his elder peers.

So we may understand, in the “dialogue” between conservatism and innovation as far as past and present go, to speak of tradition as an either/or fails to acknowledge that some group has the power to determine an answer to this question. Thus, any give-and-take does not occur between tradition as a conservation of the past versus tradition as a dynamic give-and-take of past and present, but between the people who hold those positions and content political, culturally, about it. Tirres does not tell us what gestures or events done “by the public” during these rituals ever get taken up as permanent parts of future rituals, for instance. We do not know to what extent unsolicited requests by “the public” to add or modify elements of the ritual get implemented, although he does tell us how the organisers solicit and attempt to distribute compositional responsibility to others besides themselves.

This absence of a power analysis seems problematic if not disingenuous, especially in a context where one has the looming history of Vatican authority forever lingering in the background and in contrast to a liberation movement that expressly challenges (usually secular) Power. Moreover, insofar as liberation theology aims to take up the cause of the voiceless, it seems very questionable as well that Tirres provides only principally his voice as the representative lens for the event. Ethnographic work requires self-conscious reflection, which Tirres gives very little of, but since he must have had access not just to the organisers of the ritual, who he quotes, he could have at least found informant-participants from the rituals themselves to validate his claims about the function of the ritual. Very early on, he names one organiser who has changed the ethos of the ritual’s organization; Tirres presents this to contrast a previous situation described by one woman that Tirres identifies only as “a long-time cast member of the via crucis” (32): that “some members of the cast participated just because they wanted to be on television” (33).

I will make a lot of hay about this. Why should Tirres provide neither this woman’s name nor her actual words? He only refers to her (as a long-time cast member) and only indirectly quotes her statement. This, in contrast to the (male) ethos-changing organiser, who not only gets named but (in a perhaps unfortunate irony) also gets his picture in the book in the costume of the lead Roman soldier. I don’t at all mean to suggest an active sexist conspiracy here, but see this as simply part for the course. Even if Tirres noted a possible problem in reporting the matter this way, it didn’t rise to the level of significance in his (or his editor’s) view.

In other contexts, this may seem no less glaring but at least less problematic. Here, where the aim to speak for the voiceless stands at the centre of the project described, to render this woman nameless and to not allow her own voice to enter the text, even though Tirres clearly spoke to her, rings very much more problematically.

In the paragraph immediately preceding the one quoted at length above, Tirres writes:

In its own way, popular ritual at San Fernando engages quintessential moral questions. As we have seen, it raises important questions about who “we” are. What is our identity, and to whom are we accountable? By subverting dichotomies between “us” and “them,” the Good Friday liturgies invite participants to think beyond their most immediate identities of self, kin, and work. Participants move from being modern, Mexican-American Christians to being first-centuty Jews, from isolated individuals to members of a broader spiritual community, from passive onlookers to active agents who shape narrative meaning (40).

Several bits want unpacking here.

First, you (my reader) might be struck by Tirres’ summarised assertion here that modern, Mexican-American Christians transform into (or simply identify with) first-century Jews. Previously, Tirres cited how historical performances of Passion plays have at times have notoriously leveraged anti-Jewish sentiment (as the “killers of Christ”) while the San Fernando ritual, by contrast, explicitly or implicitly seeks to resist that tradition. “Likewise, [the presiding priest] also reminds participants that they, as Christians, share a social connection with Jews. Both groups are part of the pueblo, the ‘People of God’” (27). This “widened appeal to God’s pueblo encourages participants to think about their own social identity in more comprehensive and interconnecting ways.

Of course, this temporal bridging of identity marks another (attempted) collapsing of categories, but Tirres’ analysis (at a minimum) begs the question of this identity. Historically speak, who constitutes a first-century Jew and what element of identification gets highlighted here. In theory, any first-century Jew who accepted Yeshua bin Yusuf as a messiah not only like would have seen him in political rather than spiritual terms, even in spiritual terms he represented a schismatic heresy against Orthodox tradition. But how do modern Mexican-Americans, participating in a ritual that depicts the dominant and orthodox discourse in the United States, acting heretically? Quite the opposite.

The most obvious emphasis seems the oft-repeated persecution of early Christians, but if first-century Jews did really suffer persecution (whether as religious schismatics or at the hands of Roman authorities), that suffering bears no resemblance to the typically self-pitying cries of “persecution” by modern Christians. Once again, this disingenuous whining seems ridiculous enough already but in a liberation theology context, where the cry “you’re oppressing me” goes up from mainline religious because the poor and disenfranchised call them to task for their complacency, abuse of power, and hypocrisy, the claim for such an identity (between modern Christians and first-century Jews) becomes especially gross.

We needn’t “blame” Tirres for this fact; whether he supports the claim or not, he simply reports the intention of the ritual’s organisers. Much more troublingly, Tirres fails in two ways to ground the claim, “By subverting dichotomies between “us” and “them,” the Good Friday liturgies invite participants to think beyond their most immediate identities of self, kin, and work” (40). First, as already noted, his own work in this chapter remains shot through with unresolved, non-transcended dichotomous categories, such as the dichotomy between a tradition that conserves the past or the offers a dynamic give-and-take between past and present. And in his work so far, this failure to transcend dichotomies colours his whole work, as he fails to mediate his main analytical categories, i.e., the “aesthetic” and the “ethical”. Mind you, his description of the Good Friday liturgies does show ways that the organisers have at least attempted to collapse distinctions like past and present; whether the rituals actually affect this remains harder to tell, since Tirres gives us only his interpretive lens for the event and no surveys or empirical research from the participants.

Second, and much more seriously, nothing in what Tirres reports suggest a subverting of the category of “us” and “them”. In the first place, the ritual itself serves as a massive demonstration of a powerful “us” to the surrounding city (“them”). This spectacle of Power certainly demands participation only in its own terms. Tirres takes this as so self-evident that he cites Cisneros’ (1992) claim that if you “want spiritual, the real spirit of [San Antonio], I’ll show you. Go to San Fernando Cathedral” (qtd. In Tirres, 14). Tirres later repeats, “By most accounts, San Fernando Cathedral is San Antonio’s spiritual center, its ‘soul of the city’” (20).

Where do atheists, Muslims (even Jews) play into the ritual’s public display of power or the discourse that by most (Christian) accounts reckons San Fernando Cathedral as the ‘soul of the city’?

But this principled social element aside, even within the context of the ritual itself Tirres shows evidence that the categories of “us” and “them” do not collapse but, in fact, get reinforced. We see this most obviously in the presence of Roman troops who put the hero to death,[7] but Tirres even provides an instance where “an older lady was so upset that she threw a punch at a nearby Roman soldier who was whipping and prodding Jesus along the road to Calvary. ‘¡Ya basta!,’ she screamed at the bewildered actor” (37). Rather bizarrely, Tirres then immediately transitions from this anecdote, where “us” and “them” stand clearly still in stark relief, and starts discussing how “the aesthetics of ritual moves toward the ethical … when ritual experience collapses the distinction between ‘us’ and ‘them’” (37).

If we take his report at face value, then the ethical change here involves the encouragement of violence toward those who oppose the Christian ideal (whether “literally” in the person of Yeshua bin Yusuf or figuratively in the social body of the community of believers). I could only wish, at the moment when this woman threw her punch, that the actor playing Jesus had handed his cross to a soldier or bystander at that moment and reminded the woman to love her neighbour or to pray for her enemies, and then embraced the soldier before carrying on. In that, we would see something more like support for the form of the ethical Tirres claims this ritual supports.

Tirres closes with a rather self-congratulatory sort of disclaimer. Noting that “rituals are complex, contested, and messy” (40) he also declares, “It is not only the interpreter’s job to risk an interpretation of what these shared elements [of ritual] are, but more immediately, it is also the pastoral agent’s duty to inspire and encourage ritual participants to grow as individuals and as a community through ritual” (41).

While these might offer pertinent observations, we may note also how the weight of authority in this claim lands squarely (and only) on the experts who organise the event and the expert (Tirres) who interprets the events for us in a particular way. By contrast, we may recall, in this kind of context, Suttner’s (2005)[8] description of intellectuals: those “who transform what may previously have been the incoherent and fragmentary ‘feelings’ of those who live in a particular class or nationally oppressed position, into a coherent account of the world” (Suttner, 2005, 130). By this distinction, we should see that the intellectual and the academic do not necessarily always overlap (though the academic may insist otherwise). From history we see that sometimes very non-scholarly or uneducated individuals have very ably performed the kind of intellectual function Suttner describes (i.e., to articulate a coherent account of the world for those in a particular class or nationally oppressed position who had not previously seen the world in that way), while many in academia fail completely in this task (because their work lacks any such solidarity or, worse, serves principally to reinforce the already dominant paradigm of the ruling class). Suttner continues:

[intellectuals] should be defined by the role they play, by the relationships they have to others. They are people who, broadly speaking, create for a class or people … a coherent and reasoned account of the world, as it appears from the position they occupy. Intellectuals are crucial to the process through which a major new culture, representing the world-view of an emerging class or people, comes into being. It is intellectuals who transform what may previously have been the incoherent and fragmentary ‘feelings’ of those who live in a particular class or nationally oppressed position, into a coherent account of the world (see Gramsci 1971[9]: 418; Crehan 2002[10]: 129–30).

In a letter of 1931 Gramsci says his definition of an intellectual ‘is much broader than the usual concept of “the greater intellectuals”’ (1979: 204). In his Prison Notebooks, he writes:

What are the ‘maximum’ limits of acceptance of the term ‘intellectual;” Can one find a unitary criterion to characterise equally all the diverse and disparate activities of intellectuals and to distinguish these at the same time and in an essential way from the activities of other social groupings? The most widespread error of method seems to me that of having looked for this criterion of distinction in the intrinsic nature of intellectual activities, rather than in the ensemble of the system of relations in which these activities (and therefore the intellectual groups who personify them) have their place within the general complex of social relations (1971: 8. emphasis added).

In the same way a worker is not characterized by the manual or instrumental work that he or she carries out, but by ‘performing this work in specific conditions and in specific social relations’ (117–8).

It remains an open question whether Tirres embodies an intellectual or an academic, though at present the weight of evidence falls more toward the latter already. His narrow interest in solving the “problem” of integral liberation theology, especially as he sees a necessary step in this in reconstructing Dewey’s religious philosophy, does not point to giving a coherent account of a historically oppressed people’s position. Moreover, while invoking the voiceless as a subject of his discourse, he gives the names of those in authority while leaving nameless—unworthy of specific recognition—women involved in the project he describes. He relies upon the authority of his own interpretive lens—assuring us that this amounts to a necessary step—without counterbalancing his monologic authority with other voices, except those he elects to include. The fact that he at one point confesses to a (temporary) misunderstanding of the ritual he witnesses also throws his report into question. And, of course, his pedigree as a Catholic that he starts the chapter with marks him (and his interpretive framework) as valid vis-à-vis Catholic ritual but invalid vis-à-vis those individuals who do not share his Catholic commitments.

This comes across most plainly when he claims, apparently in all seriousness, that this spectacular display of Catholic power in San Antonio has a main purpose of collapsing the distinction between “us” and “them”. A more minor version of this glaring lapse arises also when we consider the “us” of academic theologians in general versus the “them” of an affected laity, but also that disparity of “us” and “them” that Tirres hopes to bridge in his work, between US and South American Latino/a liberation theologians.

Whatever dialogue Tirres claims to set up, it (of necessity) represents a monologue conducted by one authoritative speaking voice (his own) and the representation he constructs of any would-be dialogist (South American liberation theologians, competing US Latino/a liberation theologians, the Vatican, or anyone else, &c). This problem of representation arises continually in all work, and it falls upon the scholar (that is: the consensus holds it a standard part of scholarly procedure) to fairly and accurately represent the voice of the Other as much as possible.[11] Nonetheless, in a context of liberation theology, where the representation of the voiceless takes centre stage as one of the most fundamental problems in the first place, this conventional scholarly accession to representing the Other becomes garishly problematic. The suppression of a woman’s name and her actual words go from an arguably harmless error in other contexts to a red flag about the sincerity or self-awareness of Tirres’ project. Similarly, his disclaimer above about a plurality of interpretations, again a harmless error in many contexts, resonates with authoritarianism here, all the more when he offers an apologetics for his duty to provide an interpretation. Or, again, his opening autobiographical account, which positions him in some ways as especially intimately and personally connected to the performance of passion plays (his uncle played Jesus), shifts not so subtly from a sort of ethnographic acknowledgment of his position to something more like a claim to especial insight around the Good Friday liturgies—a claim bolstered, of course, by his academic pedigree at Princeton and Harvard as well.

Reading his description of the Good Friday liturgies, two things especially stand out to me. Not in any particular order, first he discloses to us that he had special access to the event organisers. Like a backstage VIP, his displays his privileged access to the planning, rationale, and deployment of the Good Friday liturgies. In this context, he names and quotes these movers and shakers, while leaving nameless some woman who merely “is a long-time cast member of the via crucis”.

Second, in his more or less experiential spectatorship of the rituals themselves, a strong sense of spiritual tourism comes across. Despite his privileged access to the event planners, he nevertheless gets fooled by some of the tropes the organisers devise to create greater immediacy in the participants. Not, of course, that an ethnographer should loser herself while witnessing a “native performance,” but a key part of Tirres’ authority rests on his intimate connect with the events depicted. It seems as if he experiences the Good Friday liturgy not simply in small surprising details (such as that noted above) but overall—as if the immediacy and relevance of the Passion Play itself for the first time (as an adult) drove itself home to him all over again. Thus, he seems to “discover” a solution to the problem of a modern lack of faith in this cleverly contrived theatrical fiction.

But if the ritual succeeds in re-galvanising his own “marriage” of the aesthetic and ethical, should we understand this as the ritual function for most of the participants. For those who already live, for the most part, no disjunction between the aesthetic and the ethical, they have no need for such “integration”. For the woman who threw a punch at the “Roman soldier,” it appears she has already thoroughly integrated the aesthetic and ethical, to such a degree that she violates the expectations of the bewildered actor playing the soldier. And if this thrown punch signals at least one kind of integration of the aesthetic and the ethical, then Tirres should answer how this kind of violence will not generally result from the project he advances. We can say the woman gets it wrong, just like those people who would scream at Joan Collins because of a character she played on TV. Much as we might agree this amounts to a “wrong” response, it nevertheless shows itself as an response and one that Tirres fails to take seriously.[12]

Of course, we can pay a sort of easy lip service to values that contradict such violence on the part of this ritual participant, but facile disclaimers don’t get us toward actually ensuring that we compose rituals that inhibit, rather than exacerbate, a tendency to violence.

Endnotes

[1] More precisely, I will continue to read my usual ten pages but I will also read five pages per day of Burton’s (1620) Anatomy of Melancholy, a gigantic book that at five pages per day I will finish reading near the end of December 2014. I have wanted to read this book for a while, but various features of it make getting through it a challenge. UPDATE: I’ve dropped this project for reasons given here.

[2] Tirres, C. D. (2014). The Aesthetics and Ethics of Faith: A Dialogue Between Liberationist and Pragmatic Thought. Oxford University Press, i–xi, 1–223.

[3] Eliade, M. (2005). The myth of the eternal return: Cosmos and history (Vol. 46): Princeton University Press

[4] Bakhtin, M. (1981). The dialogic imagination, trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981)

[5] Spencer, G, and Gillen, FJ (1904). Northern tribes of Central Australia, London: Macmillan, available from <href=”#v=onepage&q&f=false”>here

[6] One may find any number of objections to this text, not the least of which how it embodies anthropological work prior to the self-conscious turn that the discipline of anthropology has so thoughtfully and extensively explored. Like much (British) work from this era, it typically happens that the (empirically) observed data—keeping in mind the question of what an anthropologist even notices in the first place—tends to retain its validity even when the interpretive scheme to analyse that data reeks of imperialism, racism, sexism, orientalism, and so forth.

[7] Traditions do exist at passions plays that do emphasize one’s role as a Roman in the execution of Yeshua bin Yusuf. Such “guilt trips” may have transformative (ethical) implications as well, but Tirres elects not to draw attention to these traditions.

[8] Suttner, R. (2005). The character and formation of intellectuals within the ANC-led South African liberation movement in T. Mkandawire (ed.) African intellectuals: rethinking politics, language, gender and development, pp. 117–54. London: Zed.

[9] Gramsci, A. (1971). Selections from the prison notebooks (Q. Hoare and G. Nowell Smith, eds.) London: Lawrence and Wishart (footnote from Suttner 2005).

[10] Crehan, K. (2002). Gramsci, culture and anthropology, London: Pluto Press (footnote from Suttner 2005).

[11] Why one must or should resort to an expository format that requires this kind of representation, rather than arranging a more literally dialogic form of book, suggests its own line of analysis.

[12] We may offer a nasty explanation for this in that the “us” and “them” of this ritual sees no problem of such violence. That the faithful should physically attack, if not kill, the infidel represents a perfectly acceptable outcome.

Abstract

Overbearing prophet of self-aggrandizement or a genuine seeker after an understanding for the betterment of our social world.

Introduction & Disclaimer[1]

The tenth post in a series that adds commentary to Nichols’ (1980)[2] Jungian commentary on the major arcana of the Tarot, here I engage with card 9: the Hermit.

Over the past two or so years, I’ve been reading a lot of Jung’s writings,[3] and will continue to do so,[4] in part not only because his approach to psychology resonates with my own experience but also because when I read his works I experience a dislodging of psychic imagery that seems interesting and/or fruitful and/or inspiring. In addition, I have been doing Tarot card readings since 1986,[5] when my friend in college introduced them to me, and have even worked “professionally” as one.

So it proved very on-point and kind of my friend to think of me when she saw a copy of Nichols’ (1980) Jung and Tarot: an Archetypal Journey. This series, then, embodies my reactions to and commentaries on Nichols’ commentaries, &c, and will work through the major arcana (the trumps) of the Tarot deck chapter by chapter as Nichol’s book does in order from 0 to 21.

The Hermit: Is There Anybody There?[6]

Some days have elapsed since I read Nichols’ text, so I write primarily from  memory of the dominant points she raised.

To address the probably less significant one first, she discusses some the numerological element of 9, and especially its self-recurrence, i.e., for a number divisible by 9, if you add the digits of that number together they too will divide by 9. Since we typically deal in base 10, 9 represents the last digit before a “new cycle” begins as well. Consequently, 9 can have a sense of bloated everythingness (and not necessarily something so tidy as a whole “completion”), and it still retains a sense of the number of planets in the solar system, despite the demotion of Pluto as a planet, but we might take this quite precisely as pointing to the kind of contingent messiness that 9 carries.

That said, it only represents the last digit because we use base 10. We have little reason to treat it as “inevitably” carrying that value. In German, one counts with uniquely distinguished terms up to twelve before one starts saying things like “three and ten, four and ten” and so forth.[7] On those grounds one might insist that 12 represents the “fully loaded” number, &c. The point seems rather that, wherever one marks the return to the beginning of a cycle, some digit, whether “nine” or “twelve” will occupy that position by default.

This needn’t comprise a non-issue. Nichols arranges the Major Arcana (excluding the Fool) in three groups of seven cards, which puts the “9” as the second card in the second sequence; not exactly an “end” position. If we take the Fool (card 0) and the Universe (card 21) as “bookends,” then we may further understand the remaining twenty cards in two groups of ten (cards 1–10 and cards 11–20), in which case the Hermit occupies a position much closer to the end of the first sequence. One way to read the relationship of the Hermit (card 9) to the Wheel of Fortune (card 10) recapitulates the relationship between card 9 as the atman (the personal soul) and card 10 as Brahman (world-soul).[8] Or again, if we arrange the cards in five groups of four, then the Hermit represents the first card in the third series; if arranged in four groups of five, then the Hermit again occupies a next-to-last position in that series. Nothing demands necessarily that we pick one configuration to the exclusion of any other; this simply illustrates that what denotes a “final card” or a “hinge card” depends on how one parses the Major Arcana in the first place.

The larger point from Nichols’ text concerns her association of the archetypal Wise Old Man with the Hermit.

In traditional reading, the Hermit represents the quintessential “seeker within”—the seer whose iconic lantern shines a light in the darkness. Nichols alludes to this some—if memory serves—but this emphasis plays second fiddle to construing the Hermit as the archetypal wise Old Man. If, at other points in her book so far, it seems as if she sometimes reaches to incorporate Jungian material but still manages to make it seem relevant to the card at hand,[9] the match here seems strikingly unmotivated. Having read Jung’s Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, maybe I simply failed to grasp the vast significance that I should have ascribed to the figure of the Wise Old Man, or perhaps my hostility to old bearded males who claim to know the truth makes me push such material away.

Nichols for her own part makes the Hermit far less of any kind of thundering prophet type.[10] For her, the Wise Old Man shines a little light from his lantern and you can take it or leave it. At one of the climaxes of Satchidananda’s (1988)[11] Bhagavad-Gītā, Kṛṣṇa, who definitely offers no image of an Old Man, declares, “Now I have given you the most precious and profound knowledge, he secret of secrets. Reflect on it fully; then do so you wish” (XVIII.63). Satchidananda’s commentary expands this,

Either by one or two, or all of [the methods mentioned, Kṛṣṇa] says, “You will come to me. I’m not simply saying this lightly. It is a promise. There is no doubt about it. You shall come to me. I am making this promise because you are my beloved” (295).

Here we see an image of wisdom imparted but not demanded adherence to, which resembles the sort of image Nichols provides for the Wise Old Man. Archetypal or not, she largely strips this figure of the super-human characteristics of previous cards; she reads a lot of humility into the figure, insofar as he comprises a “merely” human figure. Perhaps he shrugs a lot, smiles, and says, “Maybe, maybe not.”

This chapter (like the previous one on card 8, Justice), has a pointed question as its subtitle, which seems to link the two. If the previous chapter asked if one may even say such a  thing as Justice exists, along with the rather stern calls Nichols makes for personal responsibility, here the question involves whether anybody, i.e., a real human personality, exists in each person. Insofar as our souls—eons ago in the primordial soup—arose out of the ocean of unconsciousness, we will have always held all along the way that we possessed self-awareness—if only because we have an “I” that refers to itself—but does that self-awareness yet rise to the level of self-consciousness? If, from the murk of the previous eight cards, we may readily locates forces and something we would call our personality, this does not mean we will yet have begun to individuate—we have differentiated (from other human beings that resemble us) but we will not yet have “taking the reins” (not included on the Chariot card, we might remember) to begin deliberately crafting our lives and actively individuating.

Hence the germaneness of the question “is there anybody there?” Hence also, I suppose, the appearance of the Old Man who, like our mother or father or guardian has grown up but who unlike those people has no obligation to care for us regardless, may more blithely or glibly make observations about the world and how it intersects with our life. Or a figure may, like Kṛṣṇa, insist, “I know it may seem impossible, but I promise you: you will return to me. There is no doubt of this.” Which shows, I think, that we should not for a moment imagine that the “Wise Old Man” must be old or a man. To the extent that witches, in their old form, might readily get mistaken for men—or, more precisely, given how the very old veer toward the same kind of androgyny as the very young—once again, the desire to put a gendered meaning on these figures seems to lead us astray.

The wisdom part matters, not the “old” or the “man” though by saying this I do not deny at all the differences in effectiveness of an image depending on how we construct it. For instance, if “only” Satchidananda had said, ““You will come to me. I’m not simply saying this lightly. It is a promise. There is no doubt about it” (295), this has nothing of the sort of deep resonance that the same words have for me if I imagine them coming from (the entirely fictional figure of) Kṛṣṇa. Precisely and only by occupying an impossible point of view—the non-actual universe where Kṛṣṇa actually exists—does the sentiment, “Look, don’t worry; your salvation, your eternal enlightenment, is inevitable” actually take on the characteristic of dispelling worry or so-called “convincing” me. I don’t plan on reincarnating, ever; we rot in the ground, but this does not change having the experience of reassurance that the sentence imparts.

Nor does the sentence promise a lie, because the point does not hinge on whether I ever actually achieve enlightenment or not but that right now, in this moment right here, I do not experience any sense of dispiritedness that makes continuing seem pointless. Satchidananda cannot say that sentence to me and have it work (in all likelihood); it needs embodying in the voice of Kṛṣṇa.[12]

Because the wisdom part matters, the “old” and “man” part may give some the oomph that adds persuasiveness to the statement, but with that admirable capaciousness of imagination, it seems Indian philosophy understands that “old” does not provide the only adequate metaphor for “knowledgeable”—even seemingly young, Kṛṣṇa has already lived innumerable lifetimes, as has some eleven-year-old saint, who might equally utter wisdom. A grandfather or grandmother may very well embody such knowledge, especially in a wholly mortal human domain, but we also see (as children) that our elders have woefully fucked up the world, so we might also need someone other than “an old man” (or even an old woman) to persuasively espouse “wisdom”.

By saying this, I do not only implicate elders in the First World. Spencer and Gillen (1904)[13] note that all but one of the various social norms enforced amongst the aboriginal people they studied; “In general, prohibitions function to give the best foods to old men; younger men are under food restrictions that gradually lift as they age, women are under yet stricter prohibitions (which presumably do not lift as they age)” (615). Errington an Gewertz (1987),[14] writing about the Chambri people of Papua New Guinea, insist that:

Chambri men and women experience the world through a set of non-Western cultural premises concerning the nature of indebtedness and the nature of power. The primary debt is for physical and social existence itself: individuals are indebted to those who have engendered them and to those who have lost ancestral power to give them viability and social position” (17).

This primary ontological debt of children toward adults, the same debt that informs the famous fifth biblical commandment, [15] points to a preemptive strike against any criticism directed toward elders for 91) fucking up the world or (2) ringing the one making the complaint into the world. This preemptive strikes marks a fundamental branding, like the branding of slaves or cattle; it frames the whole discourse; it even creates the very subjectivity (of the one making the complaint) who will one day lodge the complaint.

In Smith’s (2013) The Problem with ‘Privilege’ (from here) and her analysis of the politics of (white) confessional, it becomes clearer (as also from other readings I’ve done lately[16]) that perhaps the preeminent aspect of power involves controlling—better still, initially framing—a discourse, the terms of discussion, and nowhere does this power get deployed with absolute non-contradiction (until very far too late in the game) than in the adult-child domain. And since this operates at a level that seems even deeper than invisibility or unconsciousness, and for which the entire premise of becoming adult entails not rejecting but adopting the very arrogation of context-framing in the first place, then it seems fairly hopeless to expect that the figure of the wise old anything will seem anything but wise except for those who have already assented to the prevailing social order.

Many do, of course, even if grumblingly—the Devil’s bargain being, “when you have adult status, then you can enforce whatever however you like” (subject to mediation from one’s own peers, of course). This doesn’t mean no one responds favorably to the “Wise Old Man”; his popularity, in fact, makes for a point of despair amongst those who do not, will not, cannot acculturate—all the more so, the more a culture construes itself (1) monoculturally, and (2) provides no non-conformist alternatives—usually this means moving away, which often constitutes a non-options realistically speaking.

Meanwhile, in the same way that the Hierophant (card 5) might on the one hand get taken as the culmination of the first four cards (Magician, High Priestess, Empress, Emperor) as another kind of “charlatan” who we impart all the magic to or (on the other hand) as a legitimate social force that has real power in the public domain, the Hermit functions in a similar kind of way. As the “quintessence” of the second set of four cards (Scientist/Priest, Synergy/Cooperation, Technology/Magic, Justice/Culture) that all center on power, then the Hermit occupies the preeminent position of Power because he points to Information (or, more precisely, the flow of it). For cards 5–8, each offers a specific application of information: either in science/ritual, through cooperative social action with others, via technology or magic, an through the disposition of force (Justice). But only the Hermit, as information per se, actually frames or defines the terms of those projects, and so represents the superordinate or underlying principle at work in each.[17]

In all of these cases, a power-over prevails, whether that stands “for the good” or not. We find this, necessarily, least pronounced in card 6 (Synergy), but one has only to think of the phrase “cooperative venture” to know that hierarchy an domination get easily and/or quickly into the mix.[18] Thus the Hermit signifies the Knower over and above the Know-nots. But in its capacity as the first card of the next sequence (dedicated to dharma), this points essentially an fundamentally to know Power serves rather than dominates, how it gets put to use for the social good.

In a strictly human sense, the Hermit as Knower-Over-All appears in public as the haranguing prophet, or simply the Wise Old Man who ensures that all prohibitions meet his needs first and foremost. The Hermit as Seeker, by contrast, serves the human project generally by his or her karma yoga. Meditation may prompt a retreat for a time, but then, like a Buddhist nun, she appears in public so that the metaphysical, ontological “truths” of perennial philosophy (or Buddhism itself) get applied in the social world.

Because this generally take the form of individual activity, this appears to have the smallest social footprint. At times, it encourages martyrdom and generates saints; Power per se loves to make calls for (noble) self-sacrifice, always exempting itself when it goes. &c. The main distinction overall concerns the socio-moral good that the Hermit’s meditations have yielded. In the form of the Wise Old man, this does not mean the hierophantic nepotism and self-interest of Power itself—like Moses’ declaration that his brother gets 10% of all sacrifices—but an actual wisdom (or something in the direction of it) that has more than ritual, habit, or the word of someone else when it comes to articulating patterns of behavior in the social world. Whereas the Hierophant never innovates, except accidentally and through error, the Hermit may actually add to the repertoire of culture by beginning to understand why the Hierophant’ “magic” (or science) works.

As an investigator of frameworks, rather than someone only familiar with a discourse, this begins to suggest the power to reframe discourses and thus change minds in a way that the Hierophant cannot. This may underscore the primary distinction between the Seeker (who follows Dharma, who serves the good of the world) versus the Prophet (who seeks or attains Power by his various pronouncements).


[1] As a general context, I do not believe Tarot cards are in any way inherently magical; I’m not someone who becomes psychically disturbed if you touch my deck or someone who claims you’ve ruined the vibe if you do. Personally, doing Tarot readings for people is one place in my life where my intuitive and intellectual sides work in tandem, rather than being at odds with one another—and that sense of co-operation is a pleasure to experience. For others—for the “us” that exists during the duration of the Tarot reading—it is a chance to have a conversation; as an example, I’ve had a radio show where I did Tarot card readings on the air with formerly incarcerated individuals in order to let the world listening hear the reality of incarceration, &c, but the conversation is also for the other person, to examine the forces, the patterns, the trends in her or his life, and to have the opportunity to change them. I continually ask questions when doing Tarot card readings; I don’t pretend to be or act psychic. And having said all that, to the extent that the imagery in the Tarot operates archetypally (as Nichols claims), to the extent that it can inspire images and dislodge psychic impressions in those using and viewing the cards, then I agree that the Jungian approach Nichols brings to the Tarot stands to be helpful, insightful, and useful—hence this commentary on her commentary.

[2] Nichols, S. (1980). Jung and Tarot: an archetypal journey. New York: S. Weiser.

[3] Psychological Types (Collected Works 6, [1921], 1971), Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious (Collected Works 9, Part 1, 2nd ed. 1968), Two Essays on Analytical Psychology (Collected Works 7, 2nd ed 1966), Psychology and Alchemy (Collected Works 12, [1944], 2nd ed. 1968), Alchemical Studies (Collected Works 13, 1968), Mysterium Coniunctionis (Collected Works 14, [1955-6], 2nd ed. 1970).

[4] I have Symbols of Transformation (Collected Works 5, [1911-12], 2nd ed. 1967), Aion (Collected Works 9, Part 2, [1951], 2nd ed. 1968), Psychiatric Studies (Collected Works 1, 2nd ed. 1970), Experimental Researches (Collected Works 2, 1973) lined up next, and need still to find affordable copy of The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche (Collected Works 8, 1970).

[5] I began with the Crowley-Harris (1972) Thoth Tarot, which I used for many years, acquired but didn’t find myself inspired by Dali’s (1955) Universal Tarot, owned, found myself inspired by, but did not use Tavaglione’s (1979) Stairs of Gold Tarot, used Brian William’s (1988) Renaissance Tarot during my professional phase, in part because the trumps readily leant themselves to that kind of setting, Gerhardt & Zeeuwen’s (1996) Terrestrial Tarot, which one reviewer describes as very unsettling yet still possessing a “strange magnetism,” and finally, Sergio Toppi’s (2000) Tarot of the Origins—Toppi being, as it turns out, one of my favorite illustrators of all time (see here and here, for my reviews of two of his books). I recently acquired the Mary-El deck as well.

[6] The title used for this header comes from the title of the chapter in Nichol’s book.

[7] As  Germanic language, English of course does this as well. By contrast (and one might name many) Mandarin Chinese and Vietnamese immediately say “ten one” for “eleven” an so on.

[8] More precisely, here the relationship remains sunk in maya, the illusion of distinction; precisely the non-identity of the atman and Brahman in this context shows the effects of maya.

[9] Especially in the way she introduces Jung’s psychological typology.

[10] Which seems somewhat disingenuous, but let it stand.

[11] Satchidananda (1988). The living Gita: the complete Bhagavad Gita, Buckingham, VA: Integral Yoga Publications.

[12] Or some other super-human, divine figure.

[13] Spencer, G, and Gillen, FJ (1904). Northern tribes of Central Australia, London: Macmillan, available from here

[14] Errington, F, and Gewertz, D. (1987). Cultural alternatives and a feminist anthropology : an analysis of culturally constructed gender interests in Papua New Guinea. Cambridge [Cambridgeshire], New York: Cambridge University Press

[15] Not the one about murder, as construed by the Augustinian division of the commandments according to Lutherans and Roman Catholics.

[16] Parts of Canetti’s Crowds and Power an discussions about discourse occurring at Transracialeyes (e.g., here).

[17] In the actual operations of culture, of course the domains of scientist, synergy, magic, and Justice all variously have mechanisms for controlling, protecting, and articulating their discourses, of course.

[18] Or one could simply think about relationships in general.

Abstract

What happens when lightning strikes …

Introduction & Disclaimer

This is the forty-fourth entry in a series that ambitiously addresses, section by section over the course of a year+ Canetti’s  Crowds and Power [1] and the second to address Part 8 (The Command), which Canetti breaks up into several sections.  Here I address section 4, “Commands Addressed to More than One Individual.” [2]

Commands Addressed to More than One Individual[3]

This section requires some additional attention because for the first time Canetti explicitly attempts to link power and crowds. Also, issues in it interconnect a lot with a later post.

In usual fashion, Canetti moves the goal-posts, insisting that a command issued to a crowd cannot eventuate a sting because it passes from individual to individual too quickly; “it is only commands that remain isolated which lead to the formation of stings. The threat contained in such commands cannot be completely dissolved” (301–1), &c.

Canetti insisted without qualification on the indissolubility of stings even as he equivocated or wavered as to how one might get rid of them; hence, here “the sting is nothing but the hidden replica of the command he once received and could not immediately pass on. Only in this identical form can he free himself from the command” (311). So now, along with evading stings or (unconsciously) suffering from them, Canetti proposes that one may immediately pass them on.

How exactly does one do that? A command, ideally delivered, slips unnoticed into the depths of my psyche; even to notice an attempt at command puts us in the zone of inept commanding. So mote that that prevails as the case, one may ask then what mark gets left by evading a command—what piece of egotistical self-satisfaction arises from “outwitting’ the commander, but presumably this does not circumscribe how one immediately passes on a command to someone else.[4]

To immediately pass on a command to someone else would amount to repeating the command—Canetti would insist exactly—upon someone else, but how immediately? Two seconds, two minutes, two days? In the sloppiness of his exposition, Canetti doubtless believes precision about this doesn’t matter, but immediately means immediately.[5] Thus, with a crowd, a command issued to it somehow automatically diffuses it, so “no sting is formed. There is no time for this; what would otherwise have become permanent is instantaneously dissolved” (310).

In  crowd a command spreads horizontally. It may originally strike a single individual from above, but, since others like himself stand near him, he immediately passes it on to them (310).

One certainly can’t begin to take this seriously (or literally). We might recall, over against the horrible status of individuality that leads to man’s greatest fear being the touch of the unknown, how Canetti counterposed the crowd as the place where all such unbearable individuality dissolves and thus offers a solace to such fear of touch—affecting even, perhaps, an attraction to touch, or at least an end to jumpy opposition to it. In this magical sense[6] whereby  crowd “solves” the existential burden of isolation, the command issued to the crowd similarly and magically avoids the sting, multiplying from a single arrow of command into an outward radiating star of multiple, happily received arrows of something other than command. In fact, the command “is intended to make a crowd” (311) of gathered people and “in as far as it succeeds in this, it does not arouse fear” (311).[7] It does not arouse fear, like a command should, because of domestication, which makes the slave come to the master rather than flee, which makes the dog come to the master rather than flee, which makes the child come to the mother rather than flee. Moreover, since “power discharges commands like a hail of magic arrows” (305), we might recall the utterly unspecified magic Canetti ascribed to the discharge (pp. 17–9); before the discharge “the crowd does not actually exist; it is the discharge which creates it. This is the moment when all who belong to the crowd get rid of their differences and feel equal” (17)—this feeling of equality being the most defining feature of a crowd.[8]

What I want to emphasize here involves Canetti’s use of the verb discharge in “power discharges commands like  hail of magic arrows” (305). The usage seems deliberate and points to the previously magical sense of discharge, which now belies its magical qualities as arrows (issued as commands by power). Since Canetti insists that those in the crowd feel absolute equality, that the discharge precisely makes them into a crowd by inducing this sense of equality, we stand on safe ground to say this amounts to little more than an empty heap of words. This insistence on equality seems facile ideologizing or wishful thinking; why a command should accomplish such a thing at all remains unanswered; and claims for such total effectiveness of command gets falsified by the phenomenology of those in the crowd not impressed by the command.

Canetti’s description of packs, as something like small-scale crowds, proved equally untenable but what emerged from my own analysis or thinking about them suggested how members of a pack might collectively assent to whatever goal the convening of the pack means to accomplish. This suggests no agreement about means, necessarily, but only ends, and implies neither that ends might not change in middle of trying to reach the pack’s goal. The crucial element here—and it denotes a central feature of cooperation and why one might resort to it—involves the fact that this collective goal sands as a non-personal goal, even though I might (I will) benefit from the attainment of the goal ultimately. By this, I will not act necessarily or only in an individually interested way but in a way that serves “our” interests (of which I comprise a member). In the case of a hunt, for instance, I might stand at one edge of the meow and make a lot of noise to frighten the prey away from a poet nail escape route. By herself, a hunter who frightens away all of the prey earns a reputation as a miserable failure, and someone we can’t count on to feed us, but in a cooperative venture this non-self-serving activity crucially contributes to the collective success of the hunt.

This proposes nothing revelatory about cooperation I expect, but when one tries to “scale-up” the pack into something like a crowd, the sense of any “collective assent” to a non-personal end becomes incoherent, because in no way does anything like a process to obtain such assent from everyone occurs (or, frequently, even can occur). By an analogy with a pack, where someone calls forth the convening of a pack and thus the naming of a goal (through dialogue or not with others) that all of the members of the pack tacitly or explicitly accept as the collectively agreed upon goal, a similarly formed crowd requires something like this summoning authority. Thus, previously when Canetti spoke of the formation of crowds and discharges without reference to any form of authority, now he must resort to it, in part because crowds do seem to form at times thanks to leaders (authorities) but also because his exposition remains incoherent without it. The discharge literally takes on magical qualities in a way that seems like a naïve application of Jung’s synchronicity. Thus, Canetti finally resorts to “embodying” the discharge as a hail of magical arrows issuing from power.

Because his description of crowds remains uselessly incoherent, I can attempt to finish adapting what I determined about the pack to “scale-up” to the crowd as Canetti tries to explain it here. (Also, even if the army does not constitute a crowd, we should for no reason accept that the command must work differently, all the less so in its most familiar context, merely because it seeks to operate on a non-crowd.) All of this, in principle, because the significance of crowd psychology remains even if Canetti’s exposition of it remains utterly inadequate.

With his fascination with power—by which I mean his readiness to grant magical properties to power, hence the hail of magical arrows—Canetti will tend to overestimate the power of power. Here, the dictator merely magically waves his wand and the people march in lock-step to their bliss or doom. That this occurs, that we have empirical cases from history, suggests we owe an explanation for these things, but not because the (sociopathic) leader issues a (magically, suddenly) non-stinging command, which arouses feeling of bliss and equality rather than hostility and the desire for revenge. At a minimum, power in this sense has the magi to manipulate the thoughtless clay of the masses, it seems. Doubtless, the debunked notion of the authoritarian personality lurks somewhere in the vicinity, placing the blame on the victims (who went on to make further victims), &c.

To move en masse toward some goal logically requires an imaging of the goal—hence Canetti stresses the importance of slogans and the like—but this fails to explain why Tom, Dick, Harry, and Susan specifically in the crowd all (at least to outward appearances) seem to march toward the same goal. It seems statistically impossible to insist that everyone does share the same goal, even as they all shout exactly the same words from exactly the same slogan. At root, the same problem underlying the dichotomy of Self and Society informs one’s experience as I versus Crowd. I don’t propose to untangle that knot. With a pack, one not only may readily imagine but one also knows it as the case in one’s actual practice and presence in a small group working toward some end that the group has a collectively agreed upon end, however contended that end might prove in practice. Everyone retains their individuality but subordinates it to some extent for the collectively agreed upon end (or one drops out of the pack, &c). For a crowd, especially like one that convened in Tahrir Square, one must seek in vain to understand what collectively agreed upon goal has occasioned subordination of one’s individuality.[9]

Insofar as someone (or something) calls for the convening of a pack, for a crowd to have  pack-like quality seems to require similarly that someone (or something) must call for its convention as well.[10] Canetti fails to address the relevant details of this, but if we suspend for the time being the salient question “at what point does a group of people become a crowd?” (and so the related question of “if a bunch of people came together in a public place, have they or have they not already formed a crowd”), then we can at least pretend that  people milling about in a group that then gets “called” into a crowd resembles the situation of a pack, where culture “mills around” doing its thing until someone within that culture “calls for” the formation of a pack (to accomplish a specific end—to exact revenge, to seek for a lost child, to organize a rebellion, &c).

The analogy seems to suggest a crowd needs a “lightning rod”—an ironic image compared to power issuing into the crowd as a hail of magic arrows. However, Canetti’s image proves accidentally more apt than he realizes.[11] He insists that the command “may originally strike a single individual from above, but, since others like himself stand near him, he immediately passes it on to them” (310). We might remember that the symbolic magic arrows so common among atmospheric deities (like Zeus, Odin, the devas) suggest the forks of lightning, and that lightning—as every player of role-playing games knows—has a form of chain lightning that strikes one individual and then leaps to those around her, doing damage as well. Thus, the one who gets struck denotes the leader (of the crowd). Thus, the “from above” issues from the sky, so that everyone below (the leader and the crowd) alike seem from that vantage point all (horizontally) equal. Certainly, from the standpoint of the gods, all humans seem the same (merely mortal).

We see in this Canetti’s insistence on the elevation of the leader as unnecessary, if not misleading. The gods limn the leader with the holy fire of lightning, which then immediately passes to everyone else in the crowd, and so forth, thus galvanizing them (in this case with metaphorical literalness). Except that being struck with lightning most assuredly leaves a scar, if it doesn’t kill you, that it flashes over the “surface” of a body and does not penetrate it lines up with the sense of a stingless command. The verb discharge shows itself as very apt as well.

I might believe Canetti intends the full range of this symbol—lightning as the symbolic emblem of power—if he elsewhere followed the logic of it. The leader, like Jove, thundering and raining lightning on one person in the crowd that then spreads to everyone else fails to explain countless cases of crowd formation. We may imagine a tense moment; a group of people seem restless—and suddenly,  single cry goes up from somewhere, inarticulate, perhaps well-formed, and suddenly this cry becomes the rallying point, the lightning rod, that impels the crowd to act. We need no commander to explain this, and one may remember any number of pathetic attempts by leaders to get folks fired up. The would-be pep-talker has gotten ahold of Odin’s lightning bolt but manage instead to come off fuck-daffy in its use. By Canetti’s lights, this must remain impossible—when Power thunders, people jump, &c., but this again belies his symptomatic fascination with Power.

Merely as a consequence of definition, whenever this “lightning’ strikes anyone “in” a group of people (that yet comprises a crowd), and this includes any of those deemed “above” all others by virtue of their mantle as leader, that refulgent moment of illumination may provide (or rather does provide) an or the occasion for the seeming-consensus that then orients people in the crowd to act. While this oversimplifies things somewhat,[12] this person “struck by lightning”—by the divine approval of the sky fathers—then stands out, literally and figuratively, just as we conventionally speak of leaders also as outstanding. And once something outstanding occurs, others may (or may not) see that example as an alternative for themselves and either take it up (or not).

I intend this description of lightning as fanciful and apt—as a conceit in the poetic sense. It pulls together various (seeming disconnected) aspects of Canetti’s exposition about commands or power (the hail of magic arrows as lightning, the association with sky gods and claims to power, &c., some sense of focus-drawing or –making to “make” a crowd, and an electrical rather than sexual sense of “discharge”, &c). Of course, anyone may attempt to bluff this lightning as well, as Errington and Gewertz (1987)[13] detail in their analysis of politicking among Chambri males (in Papua New Guinea). An example of the “genre” of such bluff illuminates this topic:

It is also common to hear men shouting as they walk through a Chambri village about their loss through theft of an object of potentially exceptional power. A man might complain, for example, that a piece of wood he was transforming into a totemic effigy had been stolen before he had ritually empowered it. In this way he is suggesting that he is powerful enough to have enemies who wish to thwart him and, at the same time, hinting at the extent of his esoteric competence by reference to the scope of his plans. Yet he is also acknowledging that he has not, in fact, actually completed this wonderful object (76).

This bluff generally affects a win-win for the bluffer: it claims the capacity to make powerful ritual objects, ritual objects moreover worthy of envy and theft—a worthless ritual object would not get stolen—while also (because of the theft) preventing any obligation on the part of the bluffer to present or finish the object. Moreover, by making this announcement of theft, he “ensures” also that the ne’er-do-well who has stolen object will not dare use it or show it in public, since to do so would serve as an admission of the theft.

Some might try to dismiss as quint the curious habits of “natives” in faraway places, but this kind of power-bluff we can find all over our local milieu. In this example, we see not merely the claim to power (i.e., “the lightning has struck me!”) but the acknowledgment of others of power (“someone has stolen my luster”). This aspect of the bluff—that “others acknowledge as a power”—underscores the crucial aspect as far as a public gambit like this goes, because it speaks to those who hear the bluff in terms of some other (perhaps large) group of people who already acknowledge the power. A mere assertion out of the blue that “I have the power” almost implicitly demands demonstration as verification, but here the “proof” of power gets shifted, in this case to a shadowy third party who, by the fiction of the bluff at least, do exist and have tacitly acknowledged the power of the bluffer. But, again, aside from the logistics of such a bluff—one doesn’t really actually have such a ritual object or such power so responsibility for that absence must get shifted to someone else—the framing of this appeal doesn’t rest on “Believe me when I say I have power,” but rather, “Believe it, because others already do.”

The marketing of books, of course, relies upon this. It certainly doesn’t matter what kind of intellectual reputation Iris Murdoch or Susan Sontag have—but it doesn’t hurt if you know—simply that they say complimentary things bout Canetti gives the book exactly a Chambri male bluff. Where shall we find any proof that the ne’er-do-wells Sontag and Murdoch actually and independently said these things or that they weren’t simply solicited for the back of the book itself. But just exactly as the specificity of these compliments also propose a weakness—what, for instance, happens to the book if we can demonstrate that Sontag or Murdoch never said such a thing, or said it ironically, got paid a hefty stipend to say such a thing, or said it because they had an ongoing romantic relationship with Canetti (in Murdoch’s case), &c—we also of course get the anonymous back-text of the book: “Crowds and Power is a revolutionary work in which Elias Canetti finds a new way of looking at human history and psychology. Breathtaking in its range and erudition … Canetti offers one of the most profound and startling portraits of the human condition.” I don’t mean that this might seem startling, even if one did not foresee a linkability between the bluffs of marketing and politicking males in Papua New Guinea ; I point to the back-text to illustrate its appeal to an already existing consensus of (mysterious, unknown) others who think the text revolutionary, breathtaking, and profound.

Within the text, Canetti indulges his own variety of bluffs—most of all in claiming to quotes texts when in fact he misquotes them—but mostly he operates within the ambit of the conceit of having been struck by the lightning (of inspiration). For one, he not only believes but makes it his central project to present his “feelings” about events as the basis for generalizations about events; per Reiss (2004),[14] this amounts to Canetti mirroring Stendhal’s approach (to writing fiction), despite Crowds and Power being non-fiction. The obvious faults of this aside, I would emphasize the bluff of illumination (power) this proposes. Importantly, Canetti also hailed Stendhal (the artist) as an obvious alternative to the malignant narcissism of the leader (the survivor), and so Canetti’s bluff of illumination at least in principle arises from a desire not to act like a survivor.[15]

I could easily make problematic and facile this desire on Canetti’s part to pretend or assert that merely to have the mantle of the artist avoids all (or even the main) threats to the social world and the people in it that the survivor (the leader) must always exhibit—that Hitler painted flowers and Karadzic wrote poetry provide counter-example enough. In the vocation or calling of artist or leader, one clearly has a choice of means for treating and acting toward the world. And if the socially neutralized psychopath (artist) ultimately does “less harm” than the politically empowered psychopath (survivor), I don’t see why we should approve the “symbolic” (artistic) variety of psychopathology simply on those grounds. I would have no trouble arguing in depth and breadth that precisely such symbolic psychopathology may do greater harm in an ultimate sense;[16] at the very least, whether we cage evil, endure evil, or use evil to kill evil (a self-defeating process), the deeper problem remains our framing of evil, how it arises, &c.

If I push the metaphor a little further, a flash of lightning may blind those that see it and may completely stun or addle the one it strikes; similarly, the thunder may make one deaf. To survive such a strike (as with all disasters) may spark in some, certainly not all, that sense of election. Where the lightning would have destroyed others, I passed the test; others were chosen, but I survived. The very fact of survival marks me out as not like others—others cannot understand my experience—an so I need not (perhaps even cannot) follow the usual rules. In the calamity of lightning and thunder, though blind I claim to see, though deaf I claim to her, and for that reason I have a unique, incommensurable mission. And so forth. In this midst of this powerful delusion, which Jung would identify s godlikeness, that particular kind of person who concludes all this from the mere chance of survival may mesmerize others as a charismatic leader—or, perhaps in a proper bluff, the claim will arise that “many already believe in me” and an entire industry of commentators will spring up to make manifest that body of believers—or manifest as a piece of writing (scripture). So, evil arises from blinding ignorance.

All of this adds to the simpler point that the (metaphorical) image of striking lightning provides an apt one for how a group of people transforms into a crowd—bearing in mind that this indicates a claim about an explanatory framework and not a claim about the “nature” of groups of people or crowds. Because the problem persists in imagining or explaining how a disparate group of people could, without any guarantee of any clear discussion, collectively “agree” on a course of action “all of a sudden”. A pack accomplishes this by a literal calling for it and then at least outwardly agreed upon end goal as a constrain on the function of the pack until the attainment of that goal. A crowd has no such goal, much less any discussion to identify one, but nonetheless seems to move toward a collective end. Those struck by lightning—whether actually a leader or merely a cry going up from someone in the crowd, or a single shopkeeper burning himself alive in despair—orient the crowd to a point, if not an end per se. Figuratively, everyone looks in the same direction—what direction ultimately doesn’t matter per se—and then (this incites a second step) as some start to move toward that point, others see this as an alternative not previously considered or recognized (or if considered or recognized, not actable upon), and then act or do not act accordingly themselves. As a piece of physical logistics, if you happen to stand in the middle of a crowd that starts moving, you either move as well or tend to get buffeted around a lot (if not trampled). So whether you will to take up the example of the crowd as your own, the sheer weight of people may negate the possibility of your willing.[17]

The main thing I wish to emphasize in all of this, the main thing that distinguishes what I have written (here) from Canetti’s text, involves the source of power. Canetti wrote, “power discharges commands like a hail of magic arrows” (305). Whatever this says about power and commands to individuals, such a wielding of Indra’s bow type of picture does not translate to the situation of a crowd, where the image seems more that the leader gets struck by lightning from above; the leader (the survivor) does not originate it.  A demagogue may bluff or actually possess Odin’s lightning bolt and claim to call down the lightning, but only by remaining mesmerized by Power can we imagine “the masses” as mechanically galvanized by such overly deliberate wieldings. Wherever lightning comes down, on a leader (or survivor) or not, that serves, ceteris paribus, to orient a group of people as a crowd. Insofar as that aptly describes crowd-formation, human beings (and especially survivors) will and have utilized this observation to manipulate people. Mistaking obedience for consent, the survivor believes that those who take up an example actually “follow” that example. Thus, as also in the entangled self vs. society question, the distinction between leader and follower offers an intellectual incoherent description of power’s transaction in the first place, leading to psychopaths as leaders on the one hand (as power) and authoritarian personalities (as crowds) on the other.

Endnotes

[1] All quotations are from Canetti, E. (1981). Crowds and Power (trans. Carol Stewart), 6th printing. New York: NY: Noonday Press. (paperback).

[2] The ongoing attempt of this heap is to get something out of Canetti’s book, and that of necessity means resorting to the classic sense of the essay, as an exploration, using Canetti’s book as a starting point. I can imagine that the essayistic aspect of this project can be demanding—of patience, time, &c. The point of showing an essay, entertainment value (if any) aside, is first and foremost not to be shy about showing the intellectual scaffolding of one’s exposition as much as possible. This showing, however cantankerous the exposition, affords the non-vanity of allowing others to witness all of the missteps, mistakes, false starts, and the like—not in the interest of merely providing a full record (though some essayists may do so out of vanity or mere thoroughness, scholarly drudgery, or self-involvement) but most so that readers may be exasperated enough by the essayist’s stupidities to correct his or her errors and thus contribute to our collective better human understanding of ourselves.

[3] Here, as not elsewhere in Crowds and Power but as in Adorno (1972),* Canetti states bluntly, “Thus an army should never be a crowd” (310). The “should” of this seem striking but I do not intend to chase the fox of this point here.

* Adorno, T. and Canetti, E. (2003). Crowds and power: Conversations with Elias Canetti (trans. R. Livingstone) in R. Tiedemann (ed.) Can one live after Auschwitz? A philosophical reader, pp. 182–201, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

[4] Canetti’s metaphor works this way—you get struck by an arrow, and then pull it out of yourself and use it to inflict the same wound on someone else. This seems a distinctly not unconscious process—if I don’t know I have an arrow in me, how would I pluck it out and pass it along? So this talk of “immediately passing it on” becomes completely incoherent. Canetti has to insist on “immediately” because otherwise the period between the affliction of the sting and being rid of it must get accounted for; i.e., the sting becomes effectively permanent until alleviated.  He desires to say that we may avoid in some way stings, but unless we get rid of it “immediately” then we do not avoid it. His insistence seems gratuitous and aberrant. What objection must he have to the notion that a command, once issued, leaves a mark until one gets around to dealing with it? He even admits that stings leave scars after one gets rid of them.

[5] Maybe we should recall what Pettit (1975)* refers to Mary Douglas’ “useful word of policy” (82) when she says with regard to the incoherence of Lévi-Strauss’ ramblings: “I do not think it is fair to such an ebullient writer to take him literally” (Douglas, 1967, 50).**I will not accept that ebullience should constitute grounds for excusing a writer of nonfiction if that ebullience does not get accompanied by a sense of self-consciousness about the direction, extent, or consequences of that ebullience. In Canetti’s case, the motivating spirit seems less frequently ebullient and more carping or embittered. However, in either case, I reject as adequate that we may refuse to hold a writer responsible for her or his writing, especially when someone (like Lévi-Strauss or Canetti) attempt to present a systematic explanation of something. The consequences of bitterness of ebullience when expatiating on a particular work of art or whatnot involves a potentially garish display of sentimentality or curmudgeonliness, &c, but little threatens to paint a picture of the world as dehumanized (in Lévi-Strauss’ case) or relentlessly violent and awful (in Canetti’s case). What Pettit notes regarding two propositions about myth by Lévi-Strauss point to the issue here:

Spelt out, the analogy with music gives Lévi-Strauss two propositions about myth: these are two sides to his theory. The first is that myth is non-liner or non-sequential—the time of myth, as he likes to say, is reversible (see [Lévi-Strauss] 1958a, 209–12).[***] What he means is that a myth is essentially repetitive, returning again and again to the same points instead of just getting on with the story. The nature of myth is to resist liner reading, to suspend non-reversible time. It does this because its task is to exhibit a timeless structure, impressing it on the minds of the audience by repetition of the elements of the structure. ¶ The second proposition about myth which Lévi-Strauss derives from the musical analogy bears on the nature of the structure which myth presents non-linearly, the polarized character which makes the structure interesting for the native and worth presenting. He puts the proposition in rather formal language. ‘The purpose of myth is to provide a logical model capable of overcoming a contradiction (an impossible achievement if, as it happens, the contradiction is real)’ (). This statement suggests that the polarization has a strict logical form and a definite social status—that it is a contradiction felt in the society at large. Neither suggestion is borne out in Lévi-Strauss’s analyses and is safely worth examining (81–2, emphasis added).

Whatever ebullience leads to these analytically vacuous statements does not leave no tree in the work or the consequences that come from the work. Moreover, when  writer accepts that truth constitutes a property of statements, i.e., when one takes an essentially naïve realist stance vis-à-vis ‘objective reality,” then it seems fair, if not necessary, to insist on the same kind of one-to-one correspondence to “truth” that such statements epistemologically rest on. Ebullience or embitteredness in such a context turns almost immediately into ideology, if not agenda. In her ultimately dubious analysis of Freud and Lévi-Strauss, Rubin (1975)**** diagnoses a part of the problem as “substitutions”:

There are points within the analytic discussions of femininity where one might say, “This is oppression of women,” or [paraphrasing Freud] “we can demonstrate with ease that what the world call femininity demands more sacrifices than it is worth.” It is precisely at such points that the implications of the theory are ignored, and are replaced with formulations whose purpose is to keep those implications firmly lodged in the theoretical unconscious. It is at these points that all sorts of mysterious chemical substances, joys in pain, and biological aims are substituted for a critical assessments of the costs of femininity. These substitutions are the symptoms of theoretical repression, in that they are not consistent with the usual canons of psychoanalytic argument. The extent to which these rationalizations of femininity go against the grain of psychoanalytic logic is strong evidence for the extent of the need to suppress the radical feminist implications of the theory of femininity. (Deutsch’s discussions are excellent examples of this process of substitution and repression) (202–3, emphasis added).

Thus, the kinds of substitutions, whether the goalpost-moving Pettit (1975) identifies extensively in Lévi-Strauss or that one may find continuously in Canetti as well (e.g., one does not notice stings/one notices stings, one cannot get rid of stings/one can get rid of stings, one must pass a sting immediately along/this happens automatically in crowds issued order, with the exception of armies, which do not constitute crowds—all of these examples I’ve drawn from two pages of Canetti’s text), thus point to symptoms of theoretical repression, by which I take Rubin to mean not an inclusion of repression (in woman) as part of Freudian or structuralist theory (though this as well), but repression of the theory itself—an ideological or dogmatic insistence on a point contrary to the very consequences of the theory itself; hence Rubin says that these substitutions “are not consistent with the usual canons of psychoanalytic argument” (203) in the first place.

*Douglas, M. (1967). The meaning of myth. In E. Leach (ed). The structural study of myth and totemism. London: Tavistock.

** Pettit, P. (1975). The concept of structuralism: a critical analysis. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

***Lévi-Straus, C. (1958). Structural anthropology. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

**** Rubin, G. (1975). The traffic in women: notes on the ‘political economy’ of sex. In R. R. Reiter (ed.). Toward an anthropology of women. New York: Monthly Review Press.

[6] Recall that “power discharges commands like a hail of magic arrows” (305).

[7] Obviously, Canetti has fired up again, and did so earlier in this section, his breathless appreciation for the “herd”. So long as the herd flees in a collective direction from the predator’s threat, they do not panic—this denotes his ‘flight crowd”. By contrast, when encircled (as when caught in a net or a burning theater) then neighbor becomes enemy and panic sets in. Canetti writes, “It seems very likely that sacrifice originated in this state of crowd fear” (309, emphasis in original). “A lion pursuing a herd of gazelles, all fleeing together in fear of him, desists from pursuit as soon as he succeeds in seizing one of them. The animal, his victim, is a kind of sacrifice which procures a respite for its companions in the herd. As soon as the other gazelles see that the lion has got what it wants their fear abates” (309, emphasis added). Incorrect. The gazelles cease to flee, when they do, because the lion ceases to pursue them. Here again, as in so much of Canetti, his fascination with power makes him focus on the wrong element, or at least grant exclusive attention to one element in the analysis of an event. Thus, he imagines that the accidental death of one gazelle, which from the gazelle’s standpoint caused (rather than signaled) the end of the lion’s pursuit, becomes the deliberate slaughter of one of their individual—as  sacrifice—that ‘serves to halt the pursuit and, for a while, still the hunger of the hostile power” (309). This proposes a far too-narrow sense of sacrifice, even perhaps as an explanation for the emergence of the practice of sacrifice in the first place. One basic distinctions involves whether one propitiates the gods or honors them and then, beyond this, whether by enacting the sacrifice one becomes the gods or that one demonstrates faith in the gods by conspicuous destruction of one’s valuables. In these latter two cases, one finds no question of staving off a hostile power: for those who become the gods, they become the hostile or beneficent power, while sacrifices intended to show faith presume upon the beneficence of the gods to replace what we destroy. In Mesoamerican cultures, as Todorov (1984)* details, cultural outsiders for the most part comprised victims of sacrifice, and in for example the horse sacrifice of the Brahmins, this offered no substitution of the horse for a human sacrifice, insofar as a horse had a greater cultural value. If the gazelle losing a gazelles constitutes the original image of sacrifice, as  staving off of a hostile power, then how does one arrive at the variety of sacrifice one finds in the human record, and above all the substitutions of non-gazelles (non-humans, including humans deemed non-human by virtue of their outsider status). Amongst the Warramunga and several other tribes in Australia, rituals that required the sacrifice of goods resulted not in the staving off of hostile forces but the increase of totemic creatures. In these cases, the human predator (the one making the sacrifice, the lion) generally tabooed eating the sacrificial creature. For it incapacity even to address these issues, much less account for them, Canetti’s conception here seems grossly inadequate.

* Todorov, T. (1998). The conquest of America: the question of the other (trans. Richard Howard). Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press

[8] At least, so Canetti claims at least once; “Within the crowd there is equality. This is absolute and indisputable and never questioned by the crowd itself. It is of fundamental importance and one might even define a crowd as a state of absolute equality” (29, emphasis in original).

[9] One may fancifully try to insist that somehow cells within crowds form packs in the sense I describe and that these manage to aggregate in some way, but the actual playing out of crowds usually belies nothing of the sort. Such an explanation in any case merely pushes the problem back. Why, in the mass of gathered people, did an individual manage to “call forth” a locally organized pack, and why did the authority of that pack become the “authority” to call forth, to aggregate, other packs, &c?  Conceptually, this seems like an explanatory dead end in general.

[10] For Canetti, the moment of discharge demarks the boundary between crowd and not-crowd, but this puts the cart before the horse. The whole problem of a crowd’s boundaries, &c., remains unaddressed by Canetti.

[11] That is, he belies no sense of its symbolic consequences.

[12] Maybe the most obvious “lightning rod” in a group of people is the group of people itself. For those who have ever idled in a car at a train crossing while a long, long train passes, the moment may come when someone up ahead decides to hang a U-turn and leave. With that one example, others might follow; some will remain. It seems an error to suggest that the first one to depart acts as a leader. Notwithstanding we know nothing about the person in the car, they leave presumably without any thought that others might follow their example. And we might talk about “sheeple,” placidly sitting at the railroad crossing “mindlessly” helpless before the bad luck of the crossing train, in comparison to the “audacity” of the one who decides to turn around and leave, but this equally misreads people’s motivations as well. Once that first person goes, some who felt helpless and put upon by the situation might realize they have an escape; some might take courage from the example, having imagined they might turn around, but were embarrassed or scared to (what if a police officer sees them turning around illegally—without knowing if such a U-turn actually is illegal), and so forth. Whatever motivation in the person who first turns around, and whatever the motivations in those who subsequently turn around as well, parsimoniously we may say only that given an initial condition (of waiting for the train to pass), one of the people waiting enacted an alternative, and others did or did not similarly enact that alternative as well. Conventionally, we say they “followed” the example, but this denotes a following without a leader, because the first person made no demand that anyone follow her example. Similarly, those who did not enact the alternative don’t constitute cowards who lacked audacity or whatnot.

[13] Errington, F, and Gewertz, D. (1987). Cultural alternatives and a feminist anthropology : an analysis of culturally constructed gender interests in Papua New Guinea. Cambridge [Cambridgeshire], New York: Cambridge University Press.

[14] Reiss, H. (2004). Elias Canetti’s attitude to writers an writings. In Lorenz, DCG (ed.) (2004). A companion to the works of Elias Canetti, pp. 61–88. Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK: Camden House.

[15] This desire gets complicated by the fact that Canetti’s description of Stendhal presents the French author more like a socialized narcissist than any sort of genuine alternative to the malignant sociopathy of leaders (celebrities) in general. Whether Stendhal warrants Canetti’s description or not, the problem of “the artist as an alternative to the survivor” recurs in the fact that the “socialized narcissism” in Canetti’s text still also does not provide a genuine alternative to the “malignant narcissism of celebrity”.

[16] Often, the emotional trauma of the reaction of adults to the sexual abuse of a child leaves more profound scars than the physical abuse itself (e.g., the mother who says the child has lied that the father molested her). Similarly, the hypocrite who acts holy does a double disservice to society—not only does he commit wrongs, he models that the operation of the good itself rests on the commission of wrongs. Per Suttner (2005), the task of the intellectual (not necessarily the intelligent) involves framing the inchoate experience of people generally into a coherent explanation of the world To the extent that the artist stands as an intellectual in this sense, then to act hypocritically in that capacity commits a double wound against society: not only does he commit wrongs in his framing of the explanation of society, he models that the operation of the artist itself rests on the commission of such wrongs. As a reaction to the “wound” of the world—as an explanation for the bewildering and sometimes disheartening character of the experience of the world—such a hypocritical reaction in a text may leave a far deeper emotional trauma in the person who has experienced that would—more so than from the wound itself. While grotesque to assent to any theory proposing that some people simply by race stand as inferior to others, this does offer an intellectual framing of the experience of injustice in the world—“why do I suffer? Because I’m a nigger.” The life-long and earth-shattering consequences of taking up such an intellectual framing results in far greater social damage than a racist calling me a nigger on the street. So I must reserve judgment whether the artist “gets a pass” as innocent of all malignant narcissism of celebrity.

[17] Thus, even in terms of the “direction” of a crowd, the equality of all members Canetti insists on remains untenable; those swept along by the crowd unwillingly mark a heterogeneity within the crowd contrary to “equality”. Only the members and commanders of the riot squad trying to control the crowd thinks everyone in a crowd seems equal. That we must shift the framework from those in the crowd to those who look at the crowd to see where those who ‘see equality” stand denotes a telling elision in Canetti’s discourse.

Summary (in One Sentence)

In the feminist and antifeminist discourse regarding whether or not males and females might coexist without dominating one another, this discourse usually progresses without any recognition of—or, frequently enough, a disheartening apologetics for—the justifications offered that adults do and should dominate children.

Pre-Disclaimer

Last year in 2012, I set myself the task to read at least ten pages per day, and now I’m not sure if I kept up. I have the same task this year, and I’ve added that I will write a book reaction for each one that I finish (or give up on, if I stop). These reactions will not be Amazon-type reviews, with synopses, background research done on the author or the book itself, unless that strikes me as necessary or if the book inspired me to that when I read it. In general, these amount to assessments of in what ways I found the book helpful somehow.

Consequently, I may provide spoilers, may misunderstand books or get stuff wrong, or get off on a gratuitous tear about the thing in some way, &c. I may say stupid stuff, poorly informed stuff. There are some in the world who expect everyone to be omniscient and can’t be bothered to engage in a human dialogue toward figuring out how to make the world a better place. To the extent that each reaction I offer for a book is a here’s what I found helpful about this, then it is further up to us (you, me, us) to correct, refine, trash and start over, this or whatever it is we see as potentially helpful toward making the world a better place. If you can’t be bothered to take up your end of that bargain, that’s part of the problem to be solved.

A Reaction To: Errington and Gewertz’s (1987)[1] Cultural Alternatives And A Feminist Anthropology : An Analysis Of Culturally Constructed Gender Interests In Papua New Guinea

My thesis or sense comes to this: while one may readily identify some of the elements or roots of patriarchy at work in cultures organized according to or ultimately derived from settled agricultural societies, i.e., those societies now deemed by history as initiating civilization and, indeed, history itself, one might reasonably hope to find less patriarchal social structuring in “non-civilized” cultures, i.e., those typically framed as pastoralist and non-agricultural.[2] However, from the anthropological record—and we may put all the necessary caveats in place regarding not simply the process of the representation of the Other but also the very reason and sociomoral/political interests that such a representation gets undertaken in the first place—I find no tidy correlation between patriarchal social organization (or simply patriarch) and “civilization” on the one hand, and non-patriarchal social organization and “non-civilization” on the other.

For clarity, by patriarchal social organization I mean an arrangement of the social order that prioritizes the needs and values of (adult) males over others (non-adults, and non-males).[3] Patriarchy does not mean, then, that women have no value, but only that their values get framed in light of male values.  To some degree, and this degree matters substantially in each society, the public recognition of women’s ability to value themselves in their own terms gets de-valued (or un-valued, or non-valued), if not suppressed, inhibited, or punished.

Three key points then.

First, the distinction of patriarchal and non-patriarchal does not directly analogize with patrilineal or matrilineal descent systems or patrifocal or matrifocal marriage systems, and the like; one might have patriarchal matrilineality or (at least in principle) non-patriarchal patrifocality.[4] Second, the typical view of patriarchy holds it as oppressive, but this oppressiveness does not play out identically for everyone in a society; in other words, certain people (males and females alike) will locate agreeable spots within patriarchy, just as other (males and females) will not. This agreeableness (e.g., the points where certain women , usually with a marked degree of privilege compared to other women) points to a critical leverage point. In Errington and Gewertz’s (1987) book, for instance, they insist that men neither dominate women nor women men—“in most cases, men and women are able to pursue their separate concerns without domination by, or even interference from, members of the other group” (13)—but whatever the relative adequacy of this description, not only does the Chambri social order but even Errington and Gewertz’s text belie a heavily patriarchal organization that places more emphasis and focus on male activity; the authors admit that, in order “to provide a complete portrayal of Chambri gender relationships, we must necessarily devote somewhat more space to the discussion of the strategies of men than of women” (13).

Second, then, we must remain alert to not allowing some group within a society to unilaterally make effectively unchallenged descriptions about the social order.  What verdict might we render on patriarchy when some men and women within it call it agreeable and others do not? We may begin by remembering that patriarchal social organization—like the vast majority of social organizations—have hierarchal structures and that, as American Express assures us, privilege has its rewards. But even those at the bottom of the social order may find—would act smartly to find—and make peace with the social order in some way—after all, besides a resort to suicide, we all must live. What I consider when I consider patriarchy then involves, amongst other things, these two elements: that patriarchy establishes an order of privilege from which judgments about patriarchy (and how one lives) emerge and that it demands as well and offers certain varieties of “coming to terms” with the social order.[5] Whatever hierarchal arrangement a society reflects, we will find at least find these two factors. Errington and Gewertz expose this in discussing an event where Gewertz (a woman) discovers that she had not gained access to all of her (male) informant’s ritual paraphernalia—paraphernalia the informant now readily displayed to Gewertz’s husband (Errington).

After Deborah protested to Yorondu that she had always been privy to his ritual knowledge, he allowed her to accompany Frederick to this new display. He, however, did send his wife, daughter, and several visiting kinswomen from the house before he explained the significance of these objects to us. These women were far from disconcerted by their exclusion and continued to chat with each other, somewhat bemused by Yorondu’s preoccupation with ritual items (3).

That Yorondu had previously excluded Gewertz, and would have continued to do so but for the coincidental presence of another male, prompts the authors to ask, “But why exactly should this annoy her, we later wondered, when it scarcely even occasioned the notice of Chambri women?” (3). In Author’s () “Article”, she describes a culture in France where the entire geographic range of some women’s lives may amount to no more than the house she grew up in and the house literally next door. In this extremely circumscribed movement, Author describes the scoffing and ridicule that women often expend on the “café culture” that their husbands, brothers, and fathers participate in; the degree of outright enmity between the male and female sphere in this work comes across as very striking. Author makes clear that most women—socialized to embrace this form of social organization—do not experience it as a gross imposition; it would affront their dignity even to venture out to such a worthless locale like a café to have idiotic discussions about nonsense, &c. None of this should persuade us that such agreeableness on the part of French women or the bemusement of Chambri women over male preoccupation with ritual baloney have nothing problematic about them.

Third, this all points to the degree of actual violence or threats of violence (coercion) involved in the “functioning” of the patriarchal constraints within a society.[6] More simply, if we take up as a matter of intrusive attempts at social justice, we might look at those places (or sub-places within places) where patriarchy affects domination. Errington and Gewertz allude to, but may not finally provide their own distinction for, “the definition of dominance widely held within our culture” (44):

dominance is a relationship between individuals (or groups) in which one unjustifiably deprives the other of his or her capacity to make an enact what are regarded as reasonable decisions (44).

Instead of “reasonable” decisions, I would say “meaningful” decisions, but otherwise I consent to work within this framing of dominance. Moreover, I can imagine a hierarchical social order not necessarily colored by dominance;[7] by contrast, a characteristics of hierarchical social organizations where dominance begins to emerge as a structural feature involves those that assign positions in by class not qualitative distinctions. The double-sense of class here (e.g., as “middle class” and “member of a class”) provides a happy semantic intersection. In racial terms, this operates as prejudice, so that one’s membership in the class of the “wrong race” excludes access to participation in cultural life in important ways that unjustifiably deprive that Other of his or her capacity to make meaningful decisions. In sexual terms, this operates as chauvinism, so that one’s membership in the class of “women” excludes access to participation in culture life in important ways that unjustifiably deprive women of enacting her capacity to make meaningful decisions. Errington and Gewertz (1987) note:

A significant part of the cultural meaning of dominance for the Chambri is that only those deprived of power consider it unjustifiable that another has incapacitated them.[[8]] Particular cases apart, Chambri men consider it perfectly reasonable, indeed essential, given their view of entropy, that they seek to dominate over one another (48).

Here we see not simply a politics of envy, i.e., a critique of the social order by a (disenfranchised) member of the social order, who likely raises this critique on the basis of his exclusion from this ability to dominate others rather than as a critique of domination itself,[9] but also the “cheek” of privilege itself inherent in a dominance, that [the privileged] “consider it perfectly reasonable, indeed essential” to enact the rigors of that privilege on others, even other privileged others. What makes this unjustifiable, in the view of the politically envious, involves the prevention of their capacity to make and enact meaningful decisions. In the case of the politically envious, the objection to (privileged) others arises precisely in terms of fairness: all males have the right to enhance their reputations in these and those ways and yet here some few inhibit that right. Errington and Gewertz would insist, and do, that women have no interest (cultural or affective) in such stuff, so the patriarchal arrangement that denies them the opportunity—or makes extremely socially costly any attempt to demand such a kind of an opportunity—never comes up for them.

Errington an Gewertz insist that:

Chambri men and women experience the world through a set of non-Western cultural premises concerning the nature of indebtedness and the nature of power. The primary debt is for physical and social existence itself: individuals are indebted to those who have engendered them and to those who have lost ancestral power to give them viability and social position” (17).

First, as a point of procedure, how do Errington and Gewertz know to look at the Chambri as “non-Western”?[10] And then, beyond this, how does such indebtedness for one’s physical and social existence mark itself as different in kind from “Western” obligations to one’s parents and the larger community that en-members those parents?[11] Most assuredly, the specific way that Chambri men and women manage and repay that debt not only distinguishes that way interculturally from other (Western and non-Western) social arrangements but also intraculturally (i.e., differentially between males and females). Thus, from the outset, culture declares to those who find themselves born into it: you owe this debt, you repay it this way.

This imposition involves no distinction of sex or gender (male and female), but rather one of age (adult and non-adult), which points to the priority (and virtual invisibility) of this distinction as the “original” enslavement.[12] Although they somewhat acknowledge the qualifiers one might add, in distinguishing dominance from constraint, Errington and Gewertz write, “Few would, for instance, interpret as dominance the insistence by a parent that his or her teenaged child eat with knife and fork. To the extent that the constraints are regarded as reasonable and normal, they will be interpreted as acts of legitimate control rather than of dominance” (44). This opens various cans of worms, but all I want to emphasize at the moment involves that the example Errington and Gewertz select—one of which they write, “we have intentionally chosen a simple example” (150)—not only gets selected from the world of adult n child but also gets presented as uncontroversial, simple, and taken-as-obvious.

From this initial imposition as a framing of the problem of culture (“you owe this debt”) by adults upon children, culture—as the set of constraints on human behavior in a given society, subject to modification by the people in that society—then stipulates through the same framing the solution to the problem of culture (“you repay that debt this way”). So, the individual may work out how to enact the (deemed culturally necessary) solution to the problem within the framework provided or imposed, but they do not have any say (and certainly not as a child) in how that solution got framed for them.

In this we see the unjustifiable deprivation of the other of his or her capacity to make an enact what are regarded as reasonable decisions, and it remains crucial to remember that exactly here—at the adult/non-adult juncture—that Errington and Gewertz invoke the distinction of justifiable dominance, as constraint. The issue here does not at all involve any abstract question of whether a non-adult can participate in some way (while still a non-adult) in the framing of the problem and solution of culture. By the very definition of what a “non-adult” constitutes, adults preclude attribution of qualities to children that would recognize adult capacities—the most obvious of these from the legal world involves the declaration that children cannot consent to sex.[13]

Consequently, adults simply declare justifiable (as a constraint) their unjustifiable dominance of non-adults, just exactly as Chambri men consider it perfectly justifiable, indeed essential, that they seek to achieve dominance over others. Errington and Gewertz example of a teenage child even points to the politicians of envy, insofar as the teenage child represents the non-adult who has enough experience of the world to attempt to dialogue (with the adult world) about the solution of the problem as adults have framed it upon them; hence the familiar parental, “When you own your own home, you can make your own rules. But while you’re under my roof, you’ll live by my rules.” &c.

Whatever the seemingly reactionary elements in this book, some cognizance of class issues prevails within it, and the authors close unambiguously in noting the dominance of women in the US milieu.[14] If the authors’ view of the Chambri as holding out the possibility of non-dominance between the sexes rings unconvincing finally, they at least stand resolutely opposed and make apparent why one should stand resolutely opposed to US dominance of its women by its males. Whether this advocacy for women’s practice of subjectivity in US culture proceeds at the expense of women in non-US cultures seems less clear.

Endnotes

[1] Errington, F, and Gewertz, D. (1987). Cultural alternatives and a feminist anthropology : an analysis of culturally constructed gender interests in Papua New Guinea. Cambridge [Cambridgeshire], New York: Cambridge University Press, pp. i–ix, 1–185.

[2] Frequently, this means they get deemed prehistoric as well—accompanied or not with a layer of racial chauvinism.

[3] I could split a hair here whether “males” or “men” denotes the most adequate term, where what constitutes a man in any given society follows from that society’s definitions. Thus, a male who remains too young to have gone through initiation rites still has yet to become a “man”—this may still remain true, even if the “boy” is 25 years old. &c. Complicating this, just as women get ascribed not no value by patriarchy but a particular value seen through the patriarchal lens, so also for “non-adults”; consequently, among non-adults distinctions may prevail between girls and boys, s future non-males and future males (or men) alike. &c.

[4] Also, in formal terms, the distinction of “non-patriarchal” requires more specification. Definition, logically, it proposes a social organization

[5] In practice, the implied class distinction here does not simply play out in an uncomplicated way. The generation of young Russian aristocrats who, following the emancipation of the serfs, were prompted by social conditions to become literal revolutionaries often found themselves confronted by a bewildering complacence with the status quo in the former serfs they set out to liberate. More recently, one might point to the higher incidence of suicide among the rich as compared to the poor. Privilege may have its rewards; it has its rigors as well, which the poor do not suffer from. I say this not as an apology—I think I’d rather have the problem of losing $100,000 dollars out of my multi-million dollar portfolio than trying to figure out how I’ll make rent this month, &c.

[6] One of the disingenuous critiques of Utopia involves the insistence that it “is bad” even though its inhabitants “are happy”. Most former serfs—as populist activists discovered to their chagrin in the late nineteenth century—seemed happy to go on thinking of the Tsar as wonderful, just as most impoverished conservatives—as social activists discovered to their chagrin in the early twentyfirst century—seemed happy to go on thinking of Bush Jr. as on the right track. But if Utopia “is bad” despite that its inhabitants “are happy” then Utopia also “is good” despite when its inhabitants “are sad”. But it doesn’t do to proceed like this—again in part because those most empowered to pronounce publically what the discourse of culture should or does consist of constitute exactly those most of the time who most benefit from that particular discourse. More precisely, if Errington and Gewertz accuse Mead’s earlier work as driven to provide a picture of the actual possibility of non-domination of women by men, the Errington and Gewertz’s desire to correct that bias with a view of men and women neither dominating nor dominated suffers from the same imputation.  This desire resembles the same dream Rubin (1975) expresses, as she torturously argues for not abandoning what she calls two of the most sophisticated ideologies of sexism to date: Freudianism and structuralism. This gesture toward progressivism—a dream of equality—that has strikingly reactionary overtones—the embrace of foaming ideological sexism and a shallow rejection of historical materialism—has its parallels in Errington and Gewertz’s work as well. In describing an ideal—a social world of non-domination—not only do the authors continually point to garishly patriarchal elements of Chambri culture but they also relentlessly deny subjectivity to Chambri people, e.g., “none derives identity through an inner subjectivity” (154). Logically, let’s admit the applicability of the criticism that Mead (as also other anthropologists) unduly imposed Western notions of subjectivity when encountering (at least presumably) non-Western cultures, it does not follow that no “non-Western” subjectivity exists. Whether one intends a compliment or insult by saying, “You have no Western subjectivity,” this merely reproduces the kinds of positive and negative orientalism Said (1980) detailed. Just as Spencer and Gillen (1904) were accused of ideological bias when insisting that the aboriginal cultures they studied gave no evidence of a Supreme Being, those who made the accusation were equally ideological in saying tribes like the Warramunga did have a Supreme Being (see Nicholls 2007).* An important detail in this, I cannot determine to what extent Spencer and Gillen (1904) spired to brand aboriginal people as “godless” in order to warrant some policy treatment by the colonizing Australian government; I can determine that those who insisted the aboriginal people did have a belief in a Supreme being had every intention of evangelizing them with Christianity—prerequisite to that project being, apparently, to demonstrate a capacity “in the native” for such “advanced spiritual thinking” in the first place. Similarly, whatever ax Mead had to grind—whatever “exploitative” use she wanted to make of the representation of Chambri people in her local US context—I find it more worrisome what (exploitative?) purpose Errington and Gewertz’s insistence on non-subjectivity may entail for those inhabitants of a place more and more filling up with non-locals. On this point, the downstream use of Spencer and Gillen (1904) to make policy determinations about aboriginal people because someone had “found” they had no Supreme Being did take on political consequences for aboriginal people, and efforts were made to counteract the imputation of any “lack” (of advanced spiritual capacities, &c). This itself points to the whole knotted problem of the Outsider (here, actually, the colonized already-Insider) having to prove in colonial terms their worthiness of address as human beings.

*Nicholls, A. (2007). Anglo-German mythologies: the Australian Aborigines and modern theories of myth in the work of Spencer Baldwin and Carl Strehlow. The History of Human Sciences, 20(1): 83–114. DOI: 10.1177/0952695106075077

[7] I feel like I ought to provide examples. When I say “social organization,” I do not imply a scale, so while I find it difficult to imagine an entire society that lacks dominance, I can easily imagine a group of friends going out to eh movies or an anarchic work environment where we might impute dominance only by an ideological insistence that we must find it everywhere. This, again, where dominance means “a relationship between individuals (or groups) in which one unjustifiably deprives the other of his or her capacity to make and enact what are regarded as [meaningful] decisions”. A problematic element of these non-dominant soil organizations (within larger, dominating social orders) involves to what degree do the relative freedoms of such organizations ameliorate and thus help to perpetuate the undesirable larger-scale domination?

[8] Errington and Gewertz include a footnote here, which features one of the more striking insistences on their part regarding subjectivity and the Chambri:

Even though there is general recognition that competition for power is inherent in the nature of Chambri political life, a man may, nonetheless, respond with (what seem to be) fear and anger to a loss of, or threat to, his power. It should be emphasized, however, that these emotions do not constitute evidence for the existence of a sense of subjectivity. Rather than, for instance, marking someone as distinct by virtue of a unique cluster of dispositions, capacities and perspective, they are regarded as manifestations of human nature, as responses generally characteristic of persons (152).

I find myself unable to give a charitable reading to this pointed insistence “that these emotions do not constitute evidence for the existence of a sense of subjectivity.” Earlier Errington and Gewertz contrast Chambri phenomenology with a “Western inner subjectivity”; dubious as that might seem, the adjectives at least point to the possibilities of non-Western, external subjectivities, whatever those would consist of, but here the adjectives have fallen away, and a human enactment of emotion—of fear and anger no less—get qualified as “what seem to be” and denied status as “evidence for the existence of a sense of subjectivity”.

[9] And, indubitably, feminist and civil rights critics have ultimately devolved, whether with malice aforethought or simply as a consequence of things, from a denied enfranchisement to a denier of others’ enfranchisement. What discourse one finds of xenophobia by assimilated immigrants toward the latest wave of immigrants exhibits with particular acuteness the issues and ironies involved.

[10] This proposes a high-level philosophical debate within anthropology that anthropologists have conducted extensively amongst themselves. Errington and Gewertz summarize some of it in their attempt to characterize Mead’s “Western bias” for interpreting Chambri culture. Instead of some impossible retreat from bias—which leads, as we see, to question begging the Chambri as non-Western in the first place—I propose the provision of multiple examples from different human beings explicitly from their biases. My justification for this approach takes the Hindu example of seeing as unproblematic the unending multiplication of avatars in the face of an unknowable, ineffable One.

[11] I admit to some confusion on my part here. When Errington and Gewertz write that “individuals are indebted to those who have engendered them and to those who have lost ancestral power to give them viability and social position” (17), I understand the phrase “those who have engendered them” clearly enough, but how does the rest of the sentence attach to that phrase? Do “those who have engendered them” and “those who have lost ancestral power” indicate one or two different groups, for instance? In their description, the primary debt of males lies not with their mother but with their mother’s father, who provided the mother-to-be to someone in marriage. Meanwhile, these wife-givers (as a daily part of Chambri politics) must constantly shore up their reputation, which experiences continuous entropic diminishment. And so it seems that “those who have lost ancestral power to give them viability and social position” points to these wife-givers, who gave wives (future mothers-to-be) as part of their (political) effort to maintain access to and identification with ancestral power and thus social viability.

[12] Contra Lerner’s (1987) Creation of Patriarchy, which sees women as the original slaves.

[13] I have no intention to grind the whole ax on this point, but one notes the vast and many ways that adults assume—frequently where punishment gets involved—that a child must have consented to do some bad thing, but that when it comes to any capacity to consent (to sex), even at age fifteen, suddenly that capacity to consent gets rigorously and absolutely denied. In the legal domain, this denial of capacity arises simply as an arbitrary matter of law, like any other matter of law (i.e., drinking ages, driving ages, ages at which one may draw Social Security, and the like). When one says “children can’t consent,” one should not remain naïve about the choice of phrasing (“children can’t consent” rather than “teenagers can’t consent”) or the fact that the speaker rarely intends to invoke a legal sense of the word ‘consent’. Saying all of this has no purpose except to point to the massive cultural inconsistency that occurs at the nexus of the word “consent” with respect to non-adults.

[14] Their unambiguous rejection of the notion of “separate but equal’ as it pertains to the men’s (economic) world of work and the women’s (domestic) sphere of non-work offers a strong case in point. By distinguishing what men do as work and what women do in the home as non-work, and then by tying self-worth to one’s work, clearly then women get denied access to ways to validate their worth; non-work remains non-validating. Moreover, since the domestic sphere—even if the woman prevails in it like a queen—remains economically dependent and thus contingent on the one who does “work” (as culture recognizes it). Thus, separate but equal in the world of male/female sexual relations remains wholly untenable.

Abstract

In the supposed compliment involved in the patriarchal image of Sophia as Wisdom, our high-minded pother about it (and our love of it) hides in its idealization that “wisdom” actually denotes nothing more (and nothing less) than information; and information is power, of course. For a ruler, this information amounts to intelligence in both the cognitive and political sense, so that we see clearly how the denigration of women amounts not simply to a denial of whatever intelligence she brings but points also to an ideological suppression of women for the sake of maintaining patriarchal power.

Background & Disclaimer[1]

orig2The fourth post in a series that adds commentary to Nichols’ (1980)[2] Jungian commentary on the major arcana of the Tarot, here I engage with card 2: the High Priestess.

Over the past two or so years, I’ve been reading a lot of Jung’s writings,[3] and will continue to do so,[4] in part not only because his approach to psychology resonates with my own experience but also because when I read his works I experience a dislodging of psychic imagery that seems interesting and/or fruitful and/or inspiring. Also, I have been doing Tarot card readings since 1986,[5] when my friend in college introduced them to me, and have even worked “professionally” as one.

So it proved very on-point and kind of my friend to think of me when she saw a copy of Nichol’s (1980) Jung and Tarot: an Archetypal Journey. This series then comprises my reactions to and commentaries on Nichol’s commentaries, &c, and will work through the major arcana (the trumps) of the Tarot deck in order from 0 to 21. Here I comment on card 2: the High Priestess.

The Popess: High Priestess of Tarot[6]

In the role as Popess (so-named in the deck Nichols analyzes), or as I still prefer High Priestess, Nichols points to the fundamental magic of childbirth and then notes that the High Priestess “has the qualities of Isis, Astarte, Ishtar, all goddesses who reigned over the rituals of women’s mysteries” (72).

g__tarot___the_high_priestess_by_bailiwick-d4b1i7uIn my estimation, the High Priestess in her own way represent every bit as much the charlatan as the Magician. The particular snake-oil she sells usually comes in oracular form, an like the hope that the Magician peddles, the information the High Priestess peddles stands as equally, if not more, essential, especially for the powerful who consult with Her. In the most ideal sense, the Magician and High Priest both function as spokespeople for something, and nothing prevents them from suffering from Jung’s godlikeness and taking on airs that they actually “have the qualities [of Isis, Astarte, and Ishtar]”, i.e., of the entity they speak for. Doubtless there exist intradepartmental debates in the White House press corps as to whether or not the White House spokesperson (for the President) should take on the demeanor and “qualities” of the president represented, and that some notoriously did. But none of this justifies such identification and godlikeness in symbolic terms.

Similarly, while Woman did, has, does, and will distinguish herself by the magic of reincarnation (or incarnation, i.e., birth), this often remains magi in potential for priestesses of the Great Goddess in various cultures—some were committed virgins, others were ritual prostitutes. Precisely by controlling this process one demonstrates magical superiority; whether one really can “call the shot” becomes the site where credibility lives or dies. Thus, the ancient forms of birth control and abortifacient herbs provide key elements in the High Priestess’ magical arsenal, in just the same way the Magician as alchemist claims his (not entirely illegitimate) hocus-pocus of salts and mercury and vinegar and honey will yield a given outcome.

This brings out the similarity with the Magician

This brings out the similarity with the Magician

Thus, the ostensible passivity as merely a vessel through which another speaks Nichols attributes to the High Priestess attaches to the Magician as well.; as Jung (1954)[7] noted, “the alchemists knew that the production of their stone was a miracle that could only happen Deo concedente” (¶448),[8] i.e., “god willing”. If the Magician seems more of an agent, operating his bellows, tending the flame of his retorts, and grinding material in his mortar and pestle, &c., this has its exact analog—if not simply its precedent—in the High Priestess operating the bellows of her lungs, tending the flame of her burning consciousness, and grinding material between the pestle of her tongue in the mortar of her mouth and teeth to bring about the miraculous outcome.

Nichols also takes the yoke (on the card she examines) to indicate that the High Priestess “will bear her burden with oxlike patience and serve the spirit with humility” (72). This surprises me. For one, the symbol of the ankh (not shown on the card Nichols considers) derives from the ox’s yoke, so as a preeminent symbol of life and the enabling of life, it seems odd Nichols would not draw out this (obvious) association. Moreover, the word “yoke” itself derives from the same root as yoga, i.e., the (spiritual) practice to which we bind ourselves for enlightenment, salvation, &.[9]

Nichols also emphasizes the book of wisdom or prophecy that the High Priestess holds open, adding, “traditionally, woman does not make the law, she is the instrument of its enactment” (72). One might remember in this regard the Egyptian wall sculpture showing Isis bringing wisdom from a garden to Osiris while he sits outside on a stone. From this sculpture itself, we cannot say with any certainty who built the garden, i.e., who crafted the wisdom that Isis brings her husband, but we can say two things: Isis has access to the garden, not Osiris, and she provides him wisdom he does not have.

Osiris provides us an image of one of the oldest culture heroes, i.e., brings of civilization, that we have, so we might readily see in him as an “innovator” of the discourse of the male civilizing figure the anterior and lingering traces of earlier female civilizing figures. Thus, Osiris can do little as far as wisdom goes without the assistance of Isis, the older power structure. Most famously, this occurs when Isis (literally) re-members her slain husband and magically begets with a golden phallus their son Horus.

highpriestess111Conventionally, the figure of Sophia, as Wisdom (with a capital W), gets a lot of ink and adulation in patriarchal culture. For artists, she appears (nine-fold) as the Muse(s); for Jungian analysts, she appears (if often somewhat grumpily, due to neglect) as the anima.  In Jackson’s (2001) Lord of the Rings, she appears as Galadriel, with all of her numinous majesty intact. &c. The figure of Sophia accrues such prestige that she becomes the very root of human wisdom itself: philosophy (love of Sophia). This adulation, as an idealization, skews all sense of Woman in a patriarchal context and leads to no end of trouble—most frequently, amongst males of human culture, in violence (physical or verbal or emotional) dished out to female-bodied people who disappoint such males by failing to live up to this impossible ideal.

But we should go one step further with this. Ellis (1989)[10] observes that as the industrial revolution began to bring the formerly middle classes into the upper echelons of power, society underwent a wholesale reorganization; one that proposed women should, and would, remain solely in the home, leaving men to go out into the fallen world of work. In a very real sense, women became kept women (along with their children). Women (and their children) got construed and made deliberately innocent, i.e., ignorant, and the justification or deal-sweetening element of this resided in the fact that women (and children) got credited with a salvific power—thus, we see the emergence (or the beginning of the emergence) of the notion of the domestic angel.  An integral part of this shift involves preferably not forcing but rather simply obtaining the assent to it by women. Ellis (1989) points out how the notion of a domestic angel in effect undoes the crime of Eve and gives women a special role in saving the world. Tompkins (1932),[11] digging in the eighteenth-century trenches of the discourse at the time, notes:

The supposed oblates of this rigid discipline [the condition of ignorance imposed on the domestic angel] … seldom complain of the different standard of morality applied to men. No delicate woman would envy [a man’s] freedom; rather they glory in being measured by a stricter standard and, to some extent, warded from temptation, for they see in this behavior not so much the effect of selfishness or mistrust as the recognition of their own finer fibre. “Ever appearance of vice in a woman is sometimes (something?) more disgusting than in a man,” wrote Clara Reeve; “which I think is a presumption that woman was intended to be a more perfect creature than man”—a quieting and sustaining conclusion (154).

high-priestessThus, at this particular period of social readjustment, we find a (by no means universal of course) discourse that re-visions the rôle of women in society. I imagine that something similar must have occurred in the shift from female civilizing heroes to male, and I propose that Sophia provides the most overt representation of that shift. In the image of Osiris, for example, we see that he can do nothing without Isis providing him wisdom, while adding nothing more to the story whether or not she made the garden or wrote the book of wisdom in the first place. In this, we see the essential participation of Isis, but rather than leading society, she provides wisdom to the one who does. In the “bargain” between men who would rule and women who stand as already acknowledged social forces, the male innovation compliments the female role by insisting on its essential character. This recurs with far more sexist overtones when Zeus’ alliances with supposedly mortal women around the Mediterranean beget all of the Greek heroes; here, Greek tradition simply demotes actual (local) goddesses to merely mortal status, but in this remains the cultural flattery (to those who worship the goddess) that she birthed a mighty hero.

But to my mind one of the most essential shifts that occurs in this, and which seems almost completely masked, precisely involves this word Wisdom, Sophia. Whether Isis (or the Delphic oracle) wrote the words in the book of prophecy, what precisely does the goddess supply in the form of “wisdom”? Wisdom has such a noble and lofty sound to it, and the fine art of kingship seems often to flout such high-mindedness on strictly pragmatic or psychopathic grounds; so “wisdom” shows itself as at least occasionally not obligatory. In Dyer’s (1997)[12] analysis of the BBC production of the Jewel in the Crown, he underlines how the book’s author implies that the presence of moralistic meddling by women causes a great deal of misery and suffering in an otherwise (morally dubious, but politically stable) India.  In a similar way, Wisdom may create a similar ruckus, and in our daily lives, we may often know precisely exactly the right thing to do, though doing so will have undesirable consequences.

The_High_priestess_by_azurylipfeSo, this supposed compliment in this image of Sophia, as Wisdom, begins to show its cracks. In the non-obligatory quality of Wisdom taken in this sense, in its non-binding demand (there we see the “yoke” again), we may already smell the patriarchal subordination of Woman: “if I want your opinion, woman, I’ll ask it” the new (patriarchal) social organization says. However, at a still more basic level, this high-minded pother about “wisdom” (and the love of it) hides in its idealization that “wisdom” denotes nothing more (and nothing less) than information; and information is power, of course. For a ruler, this information amounts to intelligence in both the cognitive and political sense. In this, then, the denigration of women amounts not simply to a denial of whatever intelligence she brings but points also to an ideological suppression for the sake of maintaining patriarchal power. We see this suppression very literally in the denial of education to women in the period Ellis (1989) examines, where men and women alike make a virtue of being innocent, i.e., ignorant; that same pattern has since gotten extended to everyone in the United States that observers have noted as dumbing-down. Some now make ignorance a positive virtue, c.f., Sarah Palin.

With the image of Sophia, then, the milieu did not permit denying intelligence to high priestesses except by supplanting them with male priests, i.e., denying them sacred education, as gradually happened among in the main priest-bearing cultures: the Romans, the Celts, and Indo-Aryans. Hence, when Nichols further notes:

She does not control her destiny. It will evolve as it was written. This woman takes no action to seek out her fate, for the essence of the feminine is receptivity. She does not choose; she is chosen. It will happen to her as it was foretold “in the beginning” (72).

this seems merely to represent a terminal point in the transformation of the High Priestess’ power into a “mere” messenger. Moreover, recalling that the Magician, Strength, and the evil comprise a triad, here the triad consists of the High Priest, the Hermit, and the Tower; if a demonic aspect of Eros hides behind the Devil (we needn’t assume this), then this becomes an overreaching hubris in the Tower card, as the end of the world as we know it. But more plainly, the Tower also points to the so-called ivory tower, as the literal body of visible, manifest intelligence. Hence, the denial of intelligence (and education) to women further illuminates the empty, idealized “love of Wisdom” evinced by patriarchy. Such wisdom, as not only the capacity to utter intelligence reports but also to archive and thus remain enabled to consult old reports, gets denied and displaced by male prerogatives; Wisdom wanders in the streets, as it were, with no access to “the garden”—so we might clearly have an answer now who “planted the garden” or, more precisely, built the library.

c6bcbcbe8ef2a6c4f1d74848d8d75b43In any case, I see no benefit in perpetuating that particular denigration of displaced “Wisdom”—that which we might more properly call information and intelligence—though also without succumbing to the mystique and mystification that the High Priestess attempts to pull off, just as the Magician engages in sleight-of-hand. Both of these symbols embody “naïve” points of view: the “energy” of youthfulness makes their expostulations ring with authority but their lack of experience makes them subject to completely off-base whims.

With the magician, he performs some hand movements, says some words, but we supply the magic as we smile in wonderment, “Where did the ball go” or “How did that rabbit appear?” So too with the High Priestess: she waves her hands, rolls her eyes, makes some kind of mysterious pronouncement, and we provide the sense of it, i.e., we make sense of it and thereby the magic of it. The best Magician and High Priest, then, manifests as the one who does not get in our way of doing this, in exactly the same way that we do not want the apparatuses and props of movie-making to appear in the movie frame; that disrupts the “magic”.

More briefly, the Magician provides an event as a spectacle, as a  sensation—he gives us a sense of something—the High Priestess provides us the opportunity to make sense of something, to ascribe a meaning to events. Their passivity, then, arises not only from an actual incapacity on their part to do what we credit them as doing (magic, spiritual channeling) but also of a necessity, because the successful “performance” depends upon our own senses and sense-making to make the magic. With the Magician, this seems unproblematic to say, because the way we don’t emphasize his (masculine) agency particularly stands in marked contrast to the way we do emphasize the (feminine) lack of agency in the High Priestess. Whatever merit we might find in the distinction of activity and passivity, once we link that to men and women, respectively, social problems emerge. And so it seems that much more necessary to emphasize the agency involved in the High Priestess’ activity and the “bluff” of agency at the root of the Magician’s passivity (and helplessness) with respect to our magic-determining watching of him. In a rather literal sense, the High Priestess does not depend upon us; she may utter her gibberish whether anyone listens or not, but a Magician who performs for no one does no magic, but simply rehearses.[13]

As another curious point, Nichols insists that “the powers of the Popess are essentially nonverbal” (81). Perhaps she adduces this in the fact that the book “speaks” for her, but inasmuch as she has just referred to the Delphic Oracle as “no disembodied spirit she, floating about in pallid gauze and ectoplasm” (80) this de-ascription of a verbal element seems out of the blue. In point of fact, just as the Magician has manifold techniques to set the stage for us to perceive (not receive) his magic, so must the High Priest, both verbal and nonverbal, somatic and non-somatic, &c. This insistence on non-verbality seems to commit a particularly twentieth-century error, of taking language as the master metaphor for expression.

Arcane-Arcana-02-papesse-high-priestessWe express ourselves in all kinds of ways, not all of them by any means linguistic. Nonetheless, the “discovery of language” in the twentieth century created the misprisions of, say, the language of film, the language of dance, body language, and the like.

As Lakoff and Johnson (2003)[14] illustrate, the function (and so also the peril of a metaphor) has three main effects. To illustrate these with an example, consider war is hell. (Terminologically, grammarians call the word “war” the tenor of the metaphor and “hell” the vehicle of the metaphor.) By calling war hell, this (1) the metaphor adds attributes or properties to war (the tenor) otherwise more properly common to hell (the vehicle); for example, we generally think of hell as eternal, as wars are not; similarly, hell proposes that one’s sufferings arise from one’s personal faults as sins, whereas the suffering of war originates generally from factors external to oneself; (2) the metaphor masks or subtracts attributes or properties of the tenor (war); for example, to wage war requires an enormous industry of munitions manufacturing and the like that benefits directly from the waging of war, and while we might imagine some sort of spiritual economy where the heavenly hosts “benefit” from the “industry” of hell, the actual discourse sees only waste and non-industry in the notion of hell—and so, by calling war hell we erase this human input to the actual character of war; (3) the metaphor sets the discourse so that it operates in social life in terms of its vehicle (hell) rather than its tenor (war). Thus, we come to think of war as an irremediable condition of human existence—not only does war propose an awful human experience, but it becomes one that we will never get rid of.

So in the metaphors the language of film, the language of dance, or body language—or Lacan’s desire to describe the unconscious in terms of language—we find proposed a change to the understanding of these forms of expression (dance, film, bodies, consciousness) in terms of a linguistic metaphor. When I feel impatient with such talk, I will ask, “Tell me, then: what are the nouns of film? Please provide for me the genitive declension for dance. Give me a sonnet of body language” and so forth. Hence, describing the High Priest (if incoherently) as non-verbal seems implicitly marked by a privilege of language as the means of expression. Not that Nichols provides the first insistence on such non-verbal emphasis: commentators on some of the Stone Age Venuses often will remark on the absence of a mouth on the figure, and Hello Kitty notoriously has no mouth. Tacitly, this gets taken as an inability to express—so no wonder those who find themselves born unable to speak get unjustly called “dumb”.

All of this stand moot, however, since the High Priestess does not lack for verbal expression in the first place, and even were she mute, she can still write on the pages of the book of prophecy she carries with her.

highpreistessWhat seems at stake in this rather farcical description of non-verbality involves protecting the “mystery” of Woman, which in any case would seem to belong more properly to the Great Goddess herself, to Isis, Astarte, Ishtar, Hathor—not to Her representative. Speaking to this “mystique” of woman, that makes her a mystery even to herself, unnecessarily genders this point. On the one hand, whatever strangeness women encounter in and from themselves, qualitatively it cannot differ from the strangeness men encounter in and from themselves. Whatever differs between men and women, the Unconscious proposes the Other of consciousness, however one’s conscious manifests.

Beyond this, however, the insistence of the unknowability of Woman puts women in a subordinate position, if only because men arrogate to themselves the claim to know themselves (and women, and everything). One thing that irks me but also seems very valuable to me in Jung’s writings concern how, when he begins to talk about the anima or to generalize about the psychology of women, his own psychological theory explains why he so often seems to go off the rails: the anima possesses him and in his ego-inflation holds forth like an oracle. Of course, at root this involves Jung’s ideas about women, not Jung’s observations of women, and in this Jung provides clear evidence of our patriarchal social organization. Specifically, Jung declares when women get animus possessed they become foolishly opinionated—a usefully foolish opinion on Jung’s part.

Jung, continuing the patriarchal bargaining I noted earlier in the construction of the domestic angel or in the essential role of the (divinely appointed) messenger, ascribes great sensitivity and skill to women in “horizontal” interpersonal/social senses—hence an emphasis on eros. This same kind of “compliment” accrues when we claim women stand ‘closer to nature” (as Nichols does). The problem with these compliments arises from the fact that man (i.e., humans with penises) design to subordinate nature and that “horizontal” human relatedness, however pleasant or necessary, does not in its “soulful” content get credited with generating the real significance of a life, which hinges on the “vertical” spiritual aspect of man (i.e., humankind). Similarly, this ascription of earthiness to women (or Africans or primitives or natives), the veritable insistence upon it, becomes necessary as an anchor for an otherwise hyperidealizing spirituality (on the part of men), who stand to float off into the starry empyrean, never heard from again.

hphphp1A most essential task in deploying Jungian insights involves de-linking the gendering of its concepts—a far more useful, relevant, and fruitful task than the similar task in a Freudian context of de-linking perversion, insanity, neurosis, and incestuous murder from everyday human consciousness, and this all the more so since were one able or inclined to rescue Freudianism from its absurd insistencies and ego-inflation, then it would still remain necessary after that to de-link the gendering of its concepts as well. We might simply say, though the consequences of doing so do not in any sense work out simply, that whatever sex, gender, and masculine/feminine identity we adopt or claim, the Unconscious stands as the Other of that in all of its total and sometimes overwhelming numinousness. With all of the links to ocean, darkness, moon, and the like—to those processes that go on invisibly beneath the surface of the earth or behind the blue veil of the sky whose consequences thus appear to us as magic—one can hardly blame human beings for typically construing those transpersonal processes in divine and feminine.

At the same time, however, human mythology maintains a distinction between chthonic and empyrean processes, between the earth (mother) and sky (father), although I do not ignore (so I read somewhere) that at one time Egyptian mythology did not distinguish deities for night and day: rather, night and day (as we now call them) comprised simply different phases of a sky goddess. Similarly, Eliade’s (1996/1958)[15] research traces evidence of sexually undifferentiated figures of Nature who pre-date the (more widespread, more well-known) figures of the (sexually dimorphic) Great Goddess. Most assuredly, and Jung seems sensitive to this and usually does not lose his bearings so far as I have read, the Unconscious can have no gender; like Brahman in Indian philosophy, nothing we might say about it applies: “existence then was not nor nonexistence”. &c. The problem of encountering the Other marks itself continuously in our lives, but we needn’t accept the equation that woman denotes the Other for a man and vice versa. In fact, borrowing from India’s insights, as soon as we believe we have named the Other (the Unconscious in terms of “man” or “woman”), then we may rest content we’ve gotten it wrong.

hp1

This emphasizes the High Priestess as the Woman of Books

Nichols closes with a fantasy-conversation between herself and the High Priestess I will not address at length, since most of it hinges on denying or excusing the subordinate position of Woman vis-à-vis Man in ways that resemble the sort of feminine reassurances Tompkins referred to above. At least one piece of Nichol’s wit deserves repeating, however. She asks the High Priestess, “They say that Eve was an afterthought of the Creator—Adam’s rib, you know. Is this true?” The High Priestess replies, “Nonsense! Adam’s rib was completed before he was, if it comes to that. Adam just didn’t get around to noticing her until later, that’s all.” Although the high Priestess denies priority, she still resorts to it in her explanation: she existed prior to Adam’s recognition of her. She did not draw attention to herself, but remained content to keep to herself. Adam ha busied himself with whatever he busied himself with, naming the world, declaring how things should get arranged, so that this “different standard of morality applied to men [seems] not so much the effect of selfishness or mistrust [on the part of Adam] as the recognition of [Eve’s] own finer fibre” (154); the “quieting and sustaining conclusion … that woman was intended to be a more perfect creature than man” (154). As memory serves, Tompkins also (though perhaps Ellis) notes that this sort of fiction becomes necessary if women will maintain a sense of dignity and self-esteem, in precisely the kinds of ways the high Priestess argues here from Nichol’s pen.

The current patriarchal order may require such compensatory gestures to make life bearable, but I reject any claim of necessity for these kinds of excuses and justifications in a more just world unmarred by the male chauvinism of patriarchy.

Endnotes

3928945676_4750111273_z[1] As a general context, I do not believe Tarot cards are in any way inherently magical; I’m not someone who becomes psychically disturbed if you touch my deck or someone who claims you’ve ruined the vibe if you do. Personally, doing Tarot readings for people is one place in my life where my intuitive and intellectual sides work in tandem, rather than being at odds with one another—and that sense of co-operation is a pleasure to experience. For others—for the “us” that exists during the duration of the Tarot reading—it is a chance to have a conversation; as an example, I’ve had a radio show where I did Tarot card readings on the air with formerly incarcerated individuals in order to let the world listening hear the reality of incarceration, &c, but the conversation is also for the other person, to examine the forces, the patterns, the trends in her or his life, and to have the opportunity to change them. I continually ask questions when doing Tarot card readings; I don’t pretend to be or act psychic. And having said all that, to the extent that the imagery in the Tarot operates archetypally (as Nichols claims), to the extent that it can inspire images and dislodge psychic impressions in those using and viewing the cards, then I agree that the Jungian approach Nichols brings to the Tarot stands to be helpful, insightful, and useful—hence this commentary on her commentary.

[2] Nichols, S. (1980). Jung and Tarot: an archetypal journey. New York: S. Weiser.

[3] Psychological Types (Collected Works 6, [1921], 1971), Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious (Collected Works 9, Part 1, 2nd ed. 1968), Two Essays on Analytical Psychology (Collected Works 7, 2nd ed 1966), Psychology and Alchemy (Collected Works 12, [1944], 2nd ed. 1968), Alchemical Studies (Collected Works 13, 1968), Mysterium Coniunctionis (Collected Works 14, [1955-6], 2nd ed. 1970).

The-High-Priestess-Tarot[4] I have Symbols of Transformation (Collected Works 5, [1911-12], 2nd ed. 1967), Aion (Collected Works 9, Part 2, [1951], 2nd ed. 1968), and Psychiatric Studies (Collected Works 1, 2nd ed. 1970) lined up next, and need still to find affordable copies of Experimental Researches (Collected Works 2, 1973) and finally The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche (Collected Works 8, 1970).

[5] I began with the Crowley-Harris (1972) Thoth Tarot, which I used for many years, acquired but didn’t find myself inspired by Dali’s (1955) Universal Tarot, owned, found myself inspired by, but did not use Tavaglione’s (1979) Stairs of Gold Tarot, used Brian William’s (1988) Renaissance Tarot during my professional phase, in part because the trumps readily leant themselves to that kind of setting, Gerhardt & Zeeuwen’s (1996) Terrestrial Tarot, which one reviewer describes as very unsettling yet still possessing a “strange magnetism,” and finally, Sergio Toppi’s (2000) Tarot of the Origins—Toppi being, as it turns out, one of my favorite illustrators of all time (see here and here, for my reviews of two of his books).

[6] The title used for this header comes from the title of the chapter in Nichol’s book.

[7] Jung, CG (1954). Psychology and religion: west and east (Vol. 11, Collected Works, 2nd ed., Trans. R.F.C. Hull) Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

[8] As a nice piece of synchronicity, in the very same paragraph Jung specifically rejects the notion of alchemy as an ‘abortive chemistry”, which shows again how the magic of the Magician has deep links with the magic of the High Priestess.

[9] Significantly, the parallel term in Romance language traditions (and now English as well), religion, means to “re-bind”. We might locate an entire distinction between eastern and western spirituality in this; that in the west, one believes in a necessity of re-binding, whereas in eastern tradition, no question of binding again arises because no detachment ever occurred in the first place. The yoke proposes something one takes up, not something one gets re-bound to.

Redon_cactus-man[10] Ellis, KF (1989). The contested castle: Gothic novels and the subversion of domestic ideology. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

[11] Tompkins, JMS (1932). The popular novel in England 1770 to 1800. London: Constable & Co.

[12] Dyer, R. (1997). White: Essays on race and culture. New York, NY: Routledge.

[13] One may infer, in this light, how I respond to the notion that while the Magician “controls by quick force, knowledge, and idea, [the High Priestess] rules by slow persistence, love, and feminine patience” (73). Not at all—one my watch and listen to Diamanda Galas channeling/performing her composition The Litanies of Satan to understand immediately that the High Priestess doesn’t always resort to the mode of slow persistence, love, or (feminine) patience—whatever “feminine patience” (as opposed to masculine patience) means. And no shortage of media have delivered their divine message as screaming execrations. We might call it demonic, but the ejaculations of the possessed as emanations from the “darkest” chthonic recesses most assuredly find their root (pun not intended) in the earth. And the howling, as also sometimes the very coolly delivered, utterances of the mentally ill stem from a possession in Jung’s sense. In saying all this, I suspect I may have jumped the gun of Nichol’s exposition; perhaps she will elaborate all of this before the chapter ends. Meanwhile, it seems as if aspects of the goddess (the Empress) have high priestess 1crept into her sense of the High Priestess—a not entirely unsensible thing to have happen, though one may still carefully keep distinct the representative and the representation of the Goddess. For instance, when she writes, “She encompasses all, embracing both good and evil—even life and death. She who is the mother of life must also preside over death” (73–4), this seems to denote a clear infringement into the domain of the Goddess herself, not her representative.

[14] Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (2003). Metaphors we live by. [New ed.]. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[15] Eliade, M. (1996). Patterns in comparative religion. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Abstract

The Magician, as the union of all opposites, serves as the reminder not simply that every position has a complementary opposite, but that one finds the location of any position itself (as a distinction) between those two contraries on the distinction itself.

Background & Disclaimer[1]

magicianThe third post in a series that adds commentary to Nichols’ (1980)[2] Jungian commentary on the major arcana of the Tarot, here I engage with card 1: the Magician.

Over the past two or so years, I’ve been reading a lot of Jung’s writings,[3] and will continue to do so,[4] in part not only because his approach to psychology resonates with my own experience but also because when I read his works I experience a dislodging of psychic imagery that seems interesting and/or fruitful and/or inspiring. Also, I have been doing Tarot card readings since 1986,[5] when my friend in college introduced them to me, and have even worked “professionally” as one.

So it proved very on-point and kind of my friend to think of me when she saw a copy of Nichol’s (1980) Jung and Tarot: an Archetypal Journey. This series then comprises my reactions to and commentaries on Nichol’s commentaries, &c, and will work through the major arcana (the trumps) of the Tarot deck in order from 0 to 21. Here I comment on card 1: the Magician.

The Magician: Creator & Trickster[6]

As remarked in my previous post about the Fool, Nichols’ blurring together of Trickster imagery in that card and this one receives more amplification here, and she frequently (and helpfully) uses statements about the Fool to contrast the Magician. Before getting more specific, however, an image: imagine a massive crowd desiring to get into a concert hall with only one entrance, one doorway; not only does a great deal of force and pressure exert itself on the singular point of that doorway, but ultimately the whole range and variety present in the crowd seems to (or actually does) make an appearance in it.

RWS-01-MagicianIn this image, the doorway illustrates how an elemental or fundamental symbol may often interpretively function; in itself, it represents nothing but an opening, a frame, but experience, imagination, or interpretation sees so much—the whole crowd, the whole world—crammed into and through it that all of that variety begins to seem a part of the symbol itself.

This sort of thing colors the interpretation of the Magician. As card 1, all of the limitless numerical symbolism associated with “the one” seemingly accrue to it, even if “more properly” that sense of “the One” more aptly attaches to the circle, i.e., the zero. Hence Nichols reminds us, “The number one is said to represent man’s consciousness because, like man, it stands erect connecting heaven and earth” (53), and further admits, “this number [nevertheless] has hidden ambiguities, for its very concept implies another” (53). This seems an intention echo of Jung’s (1956)[7] remark, “One is not a number; the first number is two, and with it multiplicity and reality begin” (Mysterium Coniunctionis, ¶659).

That Nichols refers to the Magician as Trickster and Creator also shows how she folds the three-fold avatar of the Fool (as goofball, creatrix, and holy terror, or Old Nick, Lucifer, and Satan) into the Magician; logically, she even includes a digression about the Devil in her discussion. The part I want to emphasize here concerns how the least glorious figure of these trinities—the goofball, the common roadside devil of folklore that one might outwit (Old Nick), or simply the magician in his most mundane form—receives comparatively short shrift. An example of this emphasis on the more grandiose occurs at the end of the chapter, where the Magician becomes “the central character of our dreams … Of this Dreamer, McGlashan says:

Like the mysterious Juggler of the Tarot Pack, the Dreamer is continually doing the apparently impossible, capsizing our solemn ultimates of birth and death, manipulating space and time with a breath-taking impudence, riding roughshod across all our most treasured and assured convictions.[8]

t5For me, this entails too much jumping the symbolic gun. In her salient discussion of magic and synchronicity—obviously apropos of the Magician—she suggests how this figure may twit our usual notions of linearity and progress;

As our Trickster shuffles the order of our cards, we can hear him say with a smile, “You see—everything was here all the time. It’s only because your aperture of awareness is such a narrow slit that you experience events sequentially, one by one. Come! Have another look at the world with the great, round eyes of my magic spectacles!” (63, italics in original).

The points both Nichols and McGlashan make here call for no immediate objection, but only that in freighting the figure of the Magician so heavily with much inestimable significance its more quotidian elements tend to vanish. When comparing the Marseilles deck and Rider-Waite deck Magicians, however, Nichols emphasizes how the latter card irons out or erases the ambiguities and more dubious qualities of the former card. Instead of a motley contrast of costume in the Marseilles deck, the Rider-Waite deck suggests something more monochromatic and thus, by implication, pure. Instead of snaky locks in the former, Nichols emphasizes “the severe non-nonsense coiffure of the priestly Establishment” (56) evident in the latter. Instead of the slanted angles and floppy lemniscate (infinity-symbol-shaped) hat of the Marseilles deck Magician, the symbol itself floats above the Rider-Waite deck Magician’s head, turn a suggestion of a symbol into a blunt statement of one. Similarly, while the magicians in both decks hold aloft a wand, on the table before them in place of the dice and dice cup, balls and coins, penknife[9] and stylus of the Marseilles deck, these suggestions of the Tarot suits of cups, coins, swords, respectively, the Rider-Waite deck renders these suggestions literally as a cup, sword, and disc (pentacle).[10]

For the sake of precision, however, the Rider-Waite deck includes representative symbols for all four suits on the table: quarterstaff or walking staff (wand), chalice (cup), sword (sword), and shield (disc/pentacle). As noted, the Marseilles deck provides a more ambiguous, less explicit, representation for all four suits. While the dice and dice cup (cups), the balls and coins (discs), and penknife and stylus (swords) seem interpretively representative enough, there remains one object: seemingly an upturned hat out of which a ribbon drapes—an emblem of the magician’s famous rabbit-producing hat and his infinite ribbons.

TheMagicianKatBlackGoldenTarotImmediately, one could justly question why or how aptly a rabbit-producing hat and/or infinite ribbon should represent the suit of wands. Certainly, we might trace or tease out sacred or magical traditions surrounding games of chance and divination (the dice of chance), the almost infinite variety of magic potions and philters (imbibed from cups and chalices), and the massively overdetermined religious and symbolic associations implicated not only in discs (as gold but also pentacles insofar as they permit control of and mastery of chthonic forces) but also writing (in the forms of scripture, numerology, cabbalistic investigations, and the Hindu matrika, &c) in order simply to emphasize the implicitly magical character of all of these objects, including wands, rabbit-producing hats, and infinite ribbons. In the Rider-Waite symbolism, the swords and discs might further or also stand for the magic sword and shield such per se, such as the wielded by Perseus in his patriarchal incursion against and usurpation of Medusa’s divinity. Nonetheless, the bridge between or from rabbit-producing hat and infinite ribbon to (magic) wand needs building, as otherwise the assertion still seems too stretched.

As stated in my previous post about the Fool, I assert that one may discern in Tarot symbolism a complex archaeology wherein a patriarchal reinterpretation or imposition overlays an earlier and more matriarchal (or at least less dogmatically patriarchal) symbolism. Not to see wombs everywhere, but a rabbit-producing hat seems hard to miss as classical image of fertility, the rabbit (and egg-laying Easter Bunny) themselves representing still the still visible “pagan” symbol retained in the Christian annexation and reinterpretation of Ēostre (or Ostara). If this seems an over-reading, the infinite ribbon only reinforces such an interpretation, its endlessly renewing and snake-like quality the traditional accompaniment to the Goddess as creatrix in the first place. On this view, the transformation of female creation imagery into the bluntly phallic imagery of the wand or staff provides the link and evidence of the imagery’s patriarchal transformation. In this regard, and not simply because Nichols alludes to Aaron’s biblical staff that Moses uses to smite a rock and make water, that self-same staff, which Aaron claimed control and mastery of, could transform into a snake and back again; demonstrations of this priest’s wondrous prowess consisted primarily in this specific magical demonstration. And so the staff (the suit of wands) represents not the serpent as the eternal consort of the Earth Goddess, but the claim of masculine mastery over that principle. By this, we see that the linking of the rabbit-producing hat and infinite ribbon to the suit of wands becomes rational, and so we may further understand not simply again the long-standing association of the suit of wands with (masculine, phallic) willing of creation but the underlying and obscured (feminine, hysteric).

i_the_magician_seven_tarot_cards_posters-r6e2508f2fab94117910c90707279585a_aw85j_8byvr_512Now, I am well aware of the connotations audible in juxtaposing phallic and hysteric in this way,[11] but if the world expects us to take a word that simply means “womblike”  in a wildly negative sense then “phallic” should have a similar expectation or else we might simply reverse both trends. Regardless, this points again to the patriarchal defamation at work in the kind of symbolic reinterpretation notable (in the current instance) in the differences of the Marseilles and Rider-Waite deck. Todorov (1984) notes that Aristotle provides one of the cornerstones of the argument for fundamental inequalities between human beings and thus also the putative sexism involved in the patriarchal claim to have mastered, i.e., gained control of, female magic:

Is it not Aristotle, precisely in the Politics, who establishes the famous distinction between those who are born masters and those born slaves? “Those, therefore, who are as much inferior to others as are the body to the soul and beasts to men, are by nature slaves …. He is by nature slave who … shares in reason to the extent of apprehending it without possessing it” (Aristotle, 1254b) (152). [Moreover,] in regard to female emancipation, Christian doctrine would be more or less in agreement with Aristotle: woman is as necessary to man as the slave is to the master (170).

Whether realized in a masculine or feminine vernacular, the linking of magic and synchronicity and the Magician seems appropriate and apt. In a general way, magic involves an apparent suspension or violation of the perceived order of things; in this respect, the magical and the miraculous become identical. If Todorov (if memory serves) has noted how the supernatural in fairy tales serves to buttress or make up for a defective empirical causality, the Jung’s (1952)[12] remark about the miraculous cited by Nichols deserves repeating:

Miracles appeal only to the understanding of those who cannot perceive the meaning. They are mere substitutes for the not understood reality of the spirit. This is not to say that the living presence of the spirit is not occasionally accompanied by marvelous physical happenings. I only wish to emphasize that these happenings can neither replace nor bring about an understanding of the spirit, which is the one essential thing (¶554).

Tarot_card___The_Magician_by_asuka111What Jung means—or what Nichols takes him to mean, and I agree—points to how, by an investigation of the miraculous, by an active, conscious and imaginative reflection on the miracle as a seeming contravention of “reality,” we may gradually come to see that this “violation” of reality purports no violation at all. Just as in any circumstance where an apparent contradiction turns out to involve simply our understanding of the matter, so too here does an understanding of the miraculous propose nothing less, and also nothing more, than a broader grasp of “how things work” (in the broadest sense), hence the meaning[13] of the miracle.

On this view, the Magician does not perform miracles (or magic) but only seems to. As Nichols emphasizes, he performs tricks, not magic—tricks we find ourselves typically delighted by. Precisely this sense of appearing to perform magic links the Magician to māyā (the “illusion of distinctions” in Indian philosophy); charmingly, the word māyā closely resembles the phrase mayā (“by me”), so that māyā mayā: by me I make the illusion of distinction.

This marks my strongest point of departure from Nichols’ exposition. She ascribes, here at card 1, magical effectiveness to this lowly, inaugural character. In my estimation, the Magician stands as the charlatan or rogue par excellence, in the best possible sense of the word. The snake-oil salesman who surely bilked us also made us believe in miracles, if only for the duration of his sales-pitch. Were the magician in addiction recovery, he might borrow the phrase from Gordy Graham, “Fake it till you make it,” or from theater and advertising the phrase, “Never let them see you sweat.” In one respect, it seems Nichols (and others) have fallen for the Magician’s spiel when he claims the mantle of (capitalized) Trickster or Creator per se, failing to spot his goofball’s bluff under all the bluster.[14] And whatever genuinely innocent charm we may find in this masculine representation of women’s magic, once claims of masculine superiority enter the picture, then the specter of patriarchy’s destructive rigors for all involved rears its head.

2638353287_7f90ba5983For the sake of this essay’s continuity, I might to banish to an endnote what follows, but I think we can’t overlook it that way. The temptation exists to pinpoint an emergence of patriarchy at the same time as settled intensive agriculture—by patriarchy I mean the arrangement of society around the needs and values of men. This does not make women valueless, but only that whatever social value gets accorded to them arises through the lens of masculine needs and values. For instance, an innovation of the European bourgeoisie involved morally supraordinating Woman above men while, for the very reason of protecting that moral superiority, requiring them also to remain in the home and as innocent, i.e., ignorant, of life outside the home as possible.[15] This paternalistic compliment to Woman did not liberate her but only (in principal) eased her servitude.

Outside of the social organizations that derived first from agricultural and later from industrial production, i.e., so-called civilization, we might hope to find no garish subordination (or impossible idealization) of Woman, but such hopes only occasionally find such fulfillment, if ever. Lerner (1986)[16] bluntly asserts no culture puts females truly on an equal footing with males; moreover, numerous pre-agricultural and pre-industrial cultures fill the annals of anthropology with often brutally sexist social patterns.

As a caveat, the two arguments here point out that (1) cultural bias on the part of “civilized” ethnographers may account for the production of texts imputing “barbarous” and “savage” habits to “primitive” males vis-à-vis females, and (2) that all such ethnography occurs only in a context of post-contact, especially where contact already has a long-standing history. For instance, Canetti (1960)[17] reprises a notorious historical episode of cattle-slaughtering (as a case of millennialism) amongst the Xhosa people of southern Africa. The standard narrative emphasizes the collective and traditional madness that gripped the Xhosa people, but Peires (1987)[18] demonstrated not only the rationalist and non-traditional elements constituting this episode but also the specifically Christian elements that prevailed amongst the Xhosa people only due to a long history of contact and warfare with White settlers and Christian missionaries. Similarly, still-accumulating accusations of forgery, conflicts of interests, and spurious methodology surrounding Chagnon’s (1968)[19] previously seminal ethnography Ya̦nomamö: the Fierce People have led to the claim that the violence of the Ya̦nomamö people documented in Chagnon’s book and films stem directly from him providing people in various tribes with shotguns, machetes, and axes. &c. So one must certainly not ignore these factors, but just as we might justly question the validity of captious ethnographies we should not pretend either that efforts to not demonize or exploit the cultural Other automatically results in valid findings.  Todorov (1984) analyzes and contrasts Sepúlveda’s avowedly racist and anti-(Mesoamerican) Indian discourse to Las Casas’ pro-Indian discourse, and remarks:

If it is incontestable that [Sepúlveda’s] prejudice of superiority is an obstacle in the road to knowledge, we must also admit that [Las Casas’] prejudice of equality is a still greater one, for it consists in identifying the other purely and simply with one’s own ‘ego ideal’ (or with oneself) (165).

Jean_Dodal_Tarot_trump_01On this view, we may suspect a strain of the (European) discourse of the noble savage in any insistence that male brutality toward women[20] in pre-agricultural or pre-industrial cultures can rise only from contact with Europeans.[21] Clearly enough, ethnographers from highly patriarchalized cultures may have little access to female informants in culture studied not only as males per se but also because they fail to recognize any equal significance in female members of a tribe, but this does not mean they may only misread or fail to see whatever patriarchal structures that do prevail in the cultures they study. In the most cheesy of ways, when male tourists go out whoring with local inhabitants, to emphasize some underlying cultural disconnect rather than a shared culture of patriarchy seems willfully blind.

Saying all this, in Spencer and Gillen’s (1904)[22] Northern tribes of Central Australia, an ethnography whose age alone might warrant a suspect sidelong glance, actually go out of their way at times to minimize male violence towards females.[23] The “most damning” example, however, strikes me as the habit, noted in all of the tribes that Spencer and Gillen studied in their book, of the men of the tribe actively deceiving women and children about a Supreme Spirit, who gets differently named in different tribes. The men of various tribes explain that they tell this story to women and children to frighten them, and that when a young man finally comes of age, an important moment in his initiation involves divulging to him that the “bogeyman” who has occupied his imagination all of his life does not exist. During a young man’s initiation, the older men disclose multiple other secrets, none of which women may learn about on pain of death to the one who divulges them. Similarly, in countless rituals, women typically get banished even from hearing, much less seeing, the goings-on. Beyond this collective secret that the men congratulate themselves for and hold themselves superior to women in consequence of possessing, the casual “lending” out of wives to strangers, visitors, and other tribesmen t times provides another unflattering portrait of male license. Nonetheless, one reads in Spencer and Gillen’s (1904) book some ritualized social gestures that point toward or suggest a trace of previous cultural forms where women had a less unexalted position.[24] In two cases—with the arrival of strangers and upon the return of a revenge group—those approaching the tribe’s camp get met first by women or a woman; similarly, during Warramunga lamentations, which begin before the person has fully died, women first cover the dying body with their bodies. Only after these initial gestures do men step up. In the general impression of female subordination created by Spencer and Gillen’s (1904) book, the priority of women in these cases stands out.

Somewhat cynically, one could read this kind of female “advance group” in sacrificial terms; that, due to the lesser esteem of women, the men (out of fear) send a woman or women to encounter the tabooed or dangerous object approach the tribe, whether in the form of strangers, a revenge group (possibly haunted and hunted by the spirit of the man killed in the course of the revenge) , or the spirit of the dying person him- or herself. But whether women must throw themselves at danger because men deem them expendable or because they possess an inheritance that qualifies them in such cases to address or field a sudden presence of Otherness in the vicinity of the tribe, one nevertheless may see a tacit acknowledgement of such female capacity and superiority, even if patriarchal culture has to cloak this in a (scornful) discourse of expendability.

TheMagicianThis may seem like a stretch, but several other features of the tribes Spencer and Gillen (1984) studied belie a pitched concern—it seems like “neurotic” would not overstate things too much—with controlling females. The most obvious of these: one apparently all-tribal (and familiar enough) prohibition given to all newly initiated males involves not messing around with other men’s wives. In addition, following the death of one’s husband, men impose and enforce taboos for up to two years against speaking by the widow. Similarly, amongst those who practice an initial tree burial of the dead, the widows find themselves obligated to sit beneath the corpse and allow some of the decaying ichor to dip down onto them. To be sure, the staunch and severe enforcement of such moral obligations applies to men in many things as well—a son-in-law may never look at his father-in-law, for instance. In general, however, the presence of taboo suggests a tacit acknowledgment of anger and power, i.e., the sacred. So whatever lowly status women get accorded, this arises in part from a (neurotic) desire by males to keep that dangerous and powerful sacredness under control.

Where one may see this most clearly involves subincision.[25] To put it bluntly, subincision results in one’s penis resembling (perhaps as much as a penis may) a vagina. And when rituals call for blood, either as a substance per se or to adhere various decorations to a body, it frequently gets extracted from a man’s subincised urethra.[26] This mimicking of menstrual blood gets literalized in some Papua New Guinea tribes, where men will cut their genitals in order to simulate menstruation on a monthly basis. Amongst the Ya̦nomamö, as simply one example of hundreds, taboos against blood oblige women to sequester themselves at the time of their period. And the biblical Law of Leviticus spare nothing in a neurotic version to menstrual blood.

To speak of superstitious horror does not go too far, and one may rather easily correlate comparatively egalitarian social arrangements with relatively less severe menstrual taboos. Thus, the rather embarrassingly obvious substitution of a stout (magic) wand for the supple and slippery serpent of the Goddess for once justifies the reductio ad sexualem of Freudianism. That Perseus had to avoid Medusa’s gaze to avoid getting hard (turning to stone) illustrates the need by (heterosexual) males to avoid a (male-projected and male-imputed) female power, one that like Circe turns men into pigs if not to stone. The argument that women must veil themselves or men will be forced to rape them[27] provides a more contemporary version of this aversion. We may compare this to the favorable vision of Woman’s power from Egypt, where Isis brings Osiris wisdom from a grove he otherwise cannot access or when Isis achieves an immaculate conception following Osiris’ dismemberment, when she literally reassembles and re-members him with a golden phallus in order to beget their son Horus.

This disavowal of female power, whether for ideological or neurotic reasons, informs a misprision of symbolism involved in the tarot—the transformation of the rabbit-producing hat and infinite ribbon into a wand provides unambiguous evidence of that.

Majorit01That said, whether patriarchy emerges partly as an act of revenge against women for “being inherently magical or superior” or whether males (understandably enough) sought to understand or at least give themselves some reason for their incarnation in the cosmos, the figure of the Magician stands indubitably male and certainly points to the fact that males and females alike may and must undergo individuation.[28]

One might, and should, argue that the discourse of individuation already privileges the masculine sufficiently if not too much, but I would suggest that this privileging—as an idealization—corrupts whatever actual course of individuation a male might (or should) experience. The neurotic masculine avoidance (“I am not female”) shows manifold undesirable cultural patterns all over the globe and to the extent that male individuation, exemplified perhaps by the Magician, continues to rest on a stolen or misappropriated metaphor of creativity (from Woman)—as Neumann’s (1949)[29] Origins and History of Consciousness argues extensively and as texts like Campbell’s (1949)[30] Hero With a Thousand Faces argue in their reification of the hero quest for all (and minimally all male) people into a single monomyth—then we shall always reproduce the undesirable consequences of the not-female paradigm for males.

Nichols alludes to but does not exhaustively pursue the obvious link of the Magician to the alchemist—a figure that occupied three major texts by Jung and much of the last portion of his life. Alchemy provides a master metaphor in Hung’s work, and if it has an egregiously male emphasis, at least the original alchemical texts he studies were (in Jung’s estimation) descriptions of the process of those men’s individuation—I might add, heterosexual men. European alchemy, as a product of a patriarchal culture, does not escape the misappropriation and theft of “women’s magic” any more than any other product, except that the wealth of empirical detail transcribed seems less consciously colored by patriarchal ideology than in more didactic or polemical culture productions. However, I do not want to attempt to excuse or find a workaround for the wealth of arguably sexist—or at least patriarchalized—imagery in European alchemy. If one may find a way to excuse Hemingway’s gross abrogation of his obligation as an artist by saying he at least held, as it t’were, a mirror up to nature, then the alchemists (and Jung) similarly map out with a mirror-like faithfulness the “realism” at stake in patriarchal masculine individuation.

1magician-joiedevivre-cardThus, the “highest” sense I feel comfortable to locate in the Magician, when he provides for us something other than the rogue, the troubadour, the snake-oil salesman who provides a kind of hope, panacea, or at least solacing relief from the travails of life, involves the Magician as an alchemist. At root, Jung’s intuition that the combination of opposites provides something like a genuine foundation for understanding not only individuation but the “wisdom” of living life itself seems on the mark. The Magician, as such an alchemist, represents a first and initial incarnation of this. In terms of my arrangement of the major arcana—in five rows of four cards each, with the Fool and the Universe as the enclosing “circle” of those five rows—then card 14 (Temperance or Art) stands as the “greater” or “higher” manifestation of this.

This card follows card 13 (Death), positioned “vertically” above the Magician in the same column, thus suggesting an affinity between the Magician and Death (as a prerequisite to Art or Temperance or, in its most conventional form, “Wisdom”). Outside of our excessively patriarchalized cultures, the figure of the shaman may better represent male individuation.[31] A key feature of the shamanic calling involves precisely dying metaphorically, i.e., psychically, sometimes by periods of affliction, madness, or sickness, and often by the (dreamt) removal of one’s bones and the replacement of them with new ones. This belies the linkage of the Magician and Death, though at the point of the Magician card itself (in position #1), we stand still very far from that moment of the 13. This shamanic air, which even in our own era no shortage of rock stars aim to channel (Jim Morrison seems to have done so not just deliberately but perhaps even with just cause), may get turned to PR purposes only; “being shamanic” can have the pretense of a brand (if not a band), and no shortage of male and female fans have given up their goods on a couch, in a van, or backstage to the charismatic charm of a Magician whispering sweet somethings to them.[32]

What I would (in brief) emphasize in all of this involves the visionary, whether this marks the shaman’s interior vision that guides him or her or the magicians outward provision of an illusion to delight us. This particularly emphasizes inspiration (from without) and conceptualization, especially to the extent that we then offer descriptions in language (to ourselves and to others) of this visual (visionary) experience.  For all that Jung wrote about the alchemists, for all that he noted their maddening propensity to endlessly elaborate synonyms—most of all for the philosopher’s stone—he seems to have overlooked an even more elemental point: that they’d named their experience; something, of course, that characterizes Jung’s own writing to an exquisite degree as well.

One might run a long way with this point, calling the Magician the first scientist, seeing in him the figure of Adam, given the task of placing everything in creation into a taxonomic relationship with everything else. With this, also, comes the error of naïve realism, which denotes the epistemological error that words refer to actualities—an unrepentant (Western) habit historically recorded in the many arguments involving nominalism and realism.

Tarot_cards___the_magician_by_ShingoTMBut before running away with this, we may remember that the Magician remains simply the first expression of this. The magician denotes a scientist exactly as an alchemist denotes a scientist, i.e., an unhappy marriage (both on the side of “scientific objectivity” and “axiological subjectivity”) between the theologian and scientist in the current sense. The alchemist represents an empiricist, which makes him suspect on the side of theology and religion for his reliance on observation rather than revelation, and suspect on the side of “knowledge” and “science” for his reliance on interpretation rather than “perception”—I have to put these terms in quotation marks because, at this point, we take knowledge, science, and perception all to reflect faithfully (I use the word ironically) an objective reality.

Per Jung, the figure of Mercurius figured centrally for most alchemists. As a symbol, both of the prima material (the starting point) and the final philosopher’s stone itself (the ending point), Mercurius serves as the home of every opposition imaginable, and thus becomes hopelessly overdetermined as regards what could get included or attributed to him as a symbol. Thus, the Magician may remind us, as soon as we want to believe we have got ahold of “it” and try to run with it that we should not lose sight of the opposite of “it” as well. The alchemist who believes he has discovered facts about matter itself took on the conceit of a scientist and thus erred, or who believed he had found proof of metaphysical verities took on the conceit of a theologian and also thus erred, these alchemical errors have by no means dropped out of our daily experience. We regularly believe our descriptions of reality constitute reality itself, which illustrates exactly the alchemist’s error all over again, including his non-differentiation between empiricism as observation and empiricism as interpretation. At the level of language and linguistics, we commit this error in thinking that a word (whether used in the abstract or to refer to something in particular) brackets off that “something” from the “not-something” it distinguishes itself from. As such, a word does not denote a thing but rather comprises the distinction between the thing and no-thing distinguished. Psychologically, this constitutes the reminder that ego-consciousness does not provide the center of consciousness, but comprises one locus of the Self while the Unconscious provides the other.

If one of the great moments of human experience involves Kepler’s rejection of a desire for (perfect) circular orbits in the face of (actual) elliptical orbits—a moment that must have cost him dearly to accept—then we might recognize in Jung a similarly Keplerian recognition as he sometimes tacitly, sometimes almost uncomfortably allows that consciousness (much less ego-consciousness per se or the persona) does not form the “center of gravity” of the Self. In fact, I’m not sure if it isn’t “my” discovery to suggest this in Jung’s writings: that an ellipse, not a circle, forms the orbit of consciousness—and probably not even a regular ellipse but a chaotic one of near recurrence.

tarot_magicianIn terms of the deck Nichols uses for her illustrations, this makes the rabbit-producing hat and infinite ribbon that much more apt as distinct from the magic wand, even one that may become limp as a snake. If the “system” of the four elements purports a “total understanding,” one moreover grounded in a circular (and fundamentally pragmatic) orbit of thought, then the “impossibility” of the infinite ribbon and the potential for creative chaos that a rabbit-producing hat might produce—what else might it produce, for example—serve to point to the alternative to such a totalized orbit. And if this points to an incursion into the well-established temenos of civilization, it also proposes an escape from the oppressively established prison of ‘reality”.  If we could follow the infinite ribbon snake to its source, if we could go down the hole that produces the rabbit—precisely not to reproduce; reproduction constitutes already the problem of this world—but to find our way out the other side, or simply back to the Source, then there, at the ground where all opposites meet, we might discover the needed alternative to the present status quo that so badly fails to meet the needs of most people on the planet.

On the personal level, this precisely denotes individuation as Jung describes it.

Endnotes

[1] As a general context, I do not believe Tarot cards are in any way inherently magical; I’m not someone who becomes psychically disturbed if you touch my deck or someone who claims you’ve ruined the vibe if you do. Personally, doing Tarot readings for people is one place in my life where my intuitive and intellectual sides work in tandem, rather than being at odds with one another—and that sense of co-operation is a pleasure to experience. For others—for the “us” that exists during the duration of the Tarot reading—it is a chance to have a conversation; as an example, I’ve had a radio show where I did Tarot card readings on the air with formerly incarcerated individuals in order to let the world listening hear the reality of incarceration, &c, but the conversation is also for the other person, to examine the forces, the patterns, the trends in her or his life, and to have the opportunity to change them. I continually ask questions when doing Tarot card readings; I don’t pretend to be or act psychic. And having said all that, to the extent that the imagery in the Tarot operates archetypally (as Nichols claims), to the extent that it can inspire images and dislodge psychic impressions in those using and viewing the cards, then I agree that the Jungian approach Nichols brings to the Tarot stands to be helpful, insightful, and useful—hence this commentary on her commentary.

[2] Nichols, S. (1980). Jung and Tarot: an archetypal journey. New York: S. Weiser.

Major01[3] Psychological Types (Collected Works 6, [1921], 1971), Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious (Collected Works 9, Part 1, 2nd ed. 1968), Two Essays on Analytical Psychology (Collected Works 7, 2nd ed. 1966), Psychology and Alchemy (Collected Works 12, [1944], 2nd ed. 1968), Alchemical Studies (Collected Works 13, 1968), Mysterium Coniunctionis (Collected Works 14, [1955-6], 2nd ed. 1970).

[4] I have Symbols of Transformation (Collected Works 5, [1911-12], 2nd ed. 1967), Aion (Collected Works 9, Part 2, [1951], 2nd ed. 1968), and Psychiatric Studies (Collected Works 1, 2nd ed. 1970) lined up next, and need still to find affordable copies of Experimental Researches (Collected Works 2, 1973) and finally The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche (Collected Works 8, 1970).

[5] I began with the Crowley-Harris (1972) Thoth Tarot, which I used for many years, acquired but didn’t find myself inspired by Dali’s (1955) Universal Tarot, owned, found myself inspired by, but did not use Tavaglione’s (1979) Stairs of Gold Tarot, used Brian William’s (1988) Renaissance Tarot during my professional phase, in part because the trumps readily leant themselves to that kind of setting, Gerhardt & Zeeuwen’s (1996) Terrestrial Tarot, which one reviewer describes as very unsettling yet still possessing a “strange magnetism,” and finally, Sergio Toppi’s (2000) Tarot of the Origins—Toppi being, as it turns out, one of my favorite illustrators of all time (see here and here, for my reviews of two of his books).

[6] The title used for this header comes from the title of the chapter in Nichol’s book.

[7] Jung, CG (1970). Mysterium coniunctionis: an inquiry into the separation and synthesis of psychic opposites in alchemy. (Vol. 14, Collected Works, 2nd ed., Trans. R.F.C. Hull) Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, i–xix, 1–702.

Card03[8] McGlashan, A (1967). The savage and beautiful country. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, p. 147.

[9] On the cover of the Yale French Studies (1984)* Concepts of Closure, one may see a medieval illustration of monks writing—in their right hands they hold a stylus and in their left a stylus-like blade used to hold the page in place and keep it from moving, i.e., a penknife. These seem the implements occupying in part the Marseilles deck Magician’s table.

*Hult, D. (ed.) (1984). Concepts of closure (Yale French Studies 67). Princeton: Yale University press.

[10] For the sake of precision, the Rider-Waite deck includes representative symbols for all four suits on the table: quarterstaff or walking staff (wand), chalice (cup), sword (sword), and disc, perhaps a shield (pentacle). The Marseilles deck provides more ambiguous representation for all four suits. While the dice and dice cup (cups), the balls and coins (discs), and penknife and stylus (swords) seem representative enough, there remains one object: seemingly an upturned hat out of which a ribbon drapes, an emblem of the magician’s rabbit-producing hat and his infinite ribbons. I question why or how aptly one should claim this represents the suit of wands. In various ways, we might trace or tease out those traditions of the sacred familiar to games of chance and divination (the dice of chance), to various sorts of magic potions and philters (imbibed from chalices), and all of the religious and symbolic associations implicated not only in discs (as gold but also pentacles insofar as they permit control of and mastery of chthonic forces) but also writing (as scripture, numerology, cabbalistic investigations, and the Hindu matrika, &c). In the Rider-Waite symbol, swords and discs might stand simply for the magic sword and shield such as wielded by Perseus in his patriarchal incursion against and usurpation of Medusa’s divinity. Considering how readily all of this links to magical traditions, we might simply note the magical qualities of rabbit-producing hat and infinite ribbon as providing a link (to the suit of wands) by analogy with the literal magic staff normally associated with the suit of wands. Nonetheless, the bridge from rabbit-producing hat and infinite ribbon to wand needs building, as otherwise the assertion seems stretched.

[11] The “controversy” here involves my use of the word hysteric as the complementary term of for phallic. “Hysteric” derives “from Latin hystericus, from Ancient Greek ὑστερικός (hysterikos, “suffering in the uterus, hysterical”), from ὑστέρα (hustera, “womb”)”; generically, hysteria denotes womb-frenzy; doubtless, it would help to add the connotation of “dick-frenzy” to phallic. Meanwhile, Todorov’s invocation of Aristotle at this moment seems apt, since in the Greek’s Metaphysics, the word ὑστέρα contextually occurs in a strange passage strangely. As Aristotle wrangles with the terms substance, matter, and form in his argument in this passage, he insists, “[1029α] τὴν μὲν τοίνυν ἐξ ἀμφοῖν οὐσίαν, λέγω δὲ τὴν ἔκ τε τῆς ὕλης καὶ τῆς μορφῆς, ἀφετέον, ὑστέρα γὰρ καὶ δήλη:”, i.e., “The substance, then, which consists of both—I mean of matter and form—may be dismissed, since it is posterior and obvious” (Metaphysics, 1029a.30, full English passage here; Greek here). Now, I in no way wish to enter into an ignorant analysis of this sentiment, but clearly, the word womb or uterus fails to appear in this passage; according to the translators, ὑστέρα contextually means “posterior,” which might almost pose a witty riff on “fanny,” so perhaps that explains the absence. How fascinating, however, should this passage where the substance that consists of both matter and form gets dismissed if in some way such matter explicitly (in Aristotle’s argument) links to the womb.

01-Major-Magician[12] Jung, CG (2010). Answer to Job. (Intr. Sonu Shamdasani, paperback Fiftieth Anniversary Edition). Reprinted from Jung, C.G. (1968). Psychology and religion: West and East. (Vol. 11, Collected Works., 2nd ed., Trans. R.F.C. Hull). Princeton: Princeton University Press. Jung first composed this essay in 1952.

[13] Nichols specifically contrasts an excess of appreciation for meaning in a non-personal sense and at least protects the value that meaning should also have a specifically personal meaning as well. This proposes an and/both not an either/or.

[14] To whatever extent we can implicate this rogue, his fundamentally good-natured or well-intentioned effort to discover his own form of (masculine) magic in relation to or as distinct from feminine magic lays the groundwork for patriarchal sexism. Just as the doctrine of separate but equal got rejected as a principle in the social world, separate but equal magicks for males and females seems to have led ultimately to the enslavement of women under claims of masculine superiority.

[15] This discourse treated children the same way.

[16] See Lerner, G (1986). The creation of patriarchy. New York: Oxford University Press.

[17] Canetti, E. (1981). Crowds and Power (trans. Carol Stewart), 6th printing. New York: NY: Noonday Press.

[18] Peires, JB (1987). The central beliefs of the Xhosa cattle-killing, Journal of African History, 28(1987): 43–63 (available from here)

[19] Chagnon, NA. (1977). Ya̦nomamö, the fierce people. 2d ed. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

[20] (and also homophobia as well).

[21] I heard n especially suspect edition of this personally when an ostensibly secular African-American scholar asserted in all seriousness that prior to the arrival of white people in Africa homosexuality never occurred.

[22] Spencer, G, and Gillen, FJ (1904). Northern tribes of Central Australia, London: Macmillan, available from here, pp. i–xxxv, 1–787.

879386_3512-550x500[23] The ax Spencer and Gillen supposedly have to grind involves denying a Supreme Deity to the tribes they study. As Nicholls (2007)* details, this accusation comes most from an armchair missionary interested in granting these “Noble savages” the kind of fitness to religious conversion that Las Casas emphasizes over and over with regard to the Mesoamerican Indians. It would take no effort to wrap oneself in a supercilious flag of indignation regarding the paternalism and/or cultural superiority evinced at times by Spencer and Gillen, but we might remember again Todorov’s point that—in comparing the effect on knowledge production between a pretense of superiority compared to a pretense of equality—the pretense of superiority permits a more detailed view of the Other.

*Nicholls, A. (2007). Anglo-German mythologies: the Australian Aborigines and modern theories of myth in the work of Spencer Baldwin and Carl Strehlow. The History of Human Sciences, 20(1): 83–114. DOI: 10.1177/0952695106075077

[24] Spencer an Gillen’s (1904) book runs form 800 pages; I do not intend to cover every example I might cull from it.

[25] Males and females alike get circumcised.

[26] (though not always; one might draw blood from an arm as well.)

[27] This instance justifies if not demands the passive voice.

[28] The sexism of patriarchal culture guarantees that when mining back into the twentieth century (and earlier) we must take with salt-blocks the androcentricity of nearly all thought. Consequently, Jung’s attention on individuation as he presents it in his writing seems frequently exclusively male; consequently, Neumann’s (1949)29 Origins and History of Consciousness describes everything as a separation from various forms of the Great Mother he codified in his later (1955)* The Great Mother. Whatever sense or use this has for the origins and history of Women’s consciousness and individuation remains problematic at best.

*Neumann, E. (1955). The great mother: an analysis of the archetype. [New York]: Pantheon Books.

[29] Neumann, E. (1970). The origins and history of consciousness. (translated RFC Hull.) [Princeton, N.J.]: Princeton University Press.

gig1[30] Campbell, J. (1972). The hero with a thousand faces. 2d ed. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

[31] This does not preclude that there should be, could be, were, or are female shamans, but this devolves more to  matter of definitions. I don’t want to try to argue some lame distinction too difficult to defend due to problematic evidence from anthropology, &c.

[32] Nichols points that the Fool reminds us, “The cards only appear to be a sequence; linearity is an illusion of time” illuminates how the Magician (card 1) and Death (card 13) may create  sense of overlap, giving the rogue as charlatan per se the numinous mystique of a shaman as wonderworker.

Abstract

Consider as a comprador* intellectual** those who come up from the colonized domain of “obscurity” (the crowd) to become a spokesperson for and a normalizer especially of the violence, oppression, and abuse of the colonizing discourse of “celebrity” (power).

*comprador : “a native of a colonised country who acts as the agent of the colonizer”—in this case colonization refers not only to exogenous colonization, i.e., the colonization of the cultures of other people outside of a national border, or colonization in its usual sense, but also endogenous colonization, i.e., the colonization of all people within a national border as well, also known as acculturation.

**intellectual: those “who transform what may previously have been the incoherent and fragmentary ‘feelings’ of those who live in a particular class or nationally oppressed position, into a coherent account of the world” (Suttner, 2005, 130).[1]

Introduction & Disclaimer

This is the thirty-sixth entry in a series that ambitiously addresses, section by section over the course of a year+ Canetti’s  Crowds and Power [2] and the fifth to address Part 6 (The Survivor), which Canetti breaks up into several sections.  Here I cover sections 9, “The Resentment of the Dead”. [3]

As a partial framing, it has become clear that Canetti’s sense of what a survivor is may be equated with people tending toward or clinically expressing what today is called narcissistic personality disorder; these traits include (and it will be helpful to keep this in mind while reading through the following):

Reacting to criticism with anger, shame, or humiliation; taking advantage of others to reach own goals; Exaggerating own importance, achievements, and talents; imagining unrealistic fantasies of success, beauty, power, intelligence, or romance; requiring constant attention and positive reinforcement from others; becoming jealous easily; lacking empathy and disregarding the feelings of others; being obsessed with self; pursuing mainly selfish goals; trouble keeping healthy relationships; becoming easily hurt and rejected; setting goals that are unrealistic; wanting “the best” of everything; appearing unemotional. In addition to these symptoms, the person may also display dominance, arrogance, show superiority, and seek power. … Narcissists have such an elevated sense of self-worth that they value themselves as inherently better than others. However, they have a fragile self-esteem and cannot handle criticism, and will often try to compensate for this inner fragility by belittling or disparaging others in an attempt to validate their own self-worth. It is this sadistic tendency that is characteristic of narcissism as opposed to other psychological conditions affecting level of self-worth (from here).

Although individuals with NPD are often ambitious and capable, the inability to tolerate setbacks, disagreements or criticism, along with lack of empathy, make it difficult for such individuals to work cooperatively with others or to maintain long-term professional achievements. With narcissistic personality disorder, the individual’s self-perceived fantastic grandiosity, often coupled with a hypomanic mood, is typically not commensurate with his or her real accomplishments (from here). Other people are either manipulated as an extension of one’s own self, who serve the sole role of giving “admiration and approval” or they are seen as worthless (because they cannot collude with the narcissist’s grandiosity) (from here).

The Resentment of the Dead

What must be made clear right off is that Canetti does not mean the resentment of the dead by the living, but rather the resentment of the dead for the living, and he does not at all make clear if he is speaking of human cultural forms arising from beliefs about the dead or whether he means that the dead really actually are fucking people over, e.g., “the dead envy the living all the objects of daily life” (262).

With typical overstatement, Canetti speaks of “the universal fear of the dead” (262) and that “it is certainly remarkable that the same feeling should be attributed to the dead everywhere and under the most varied conditions” (262). In the process, he conflates “dead” as equivalent of “spirits,” thus muddling or conflating “actual” cases of haunting (by the departed) with the varieties of atavistic spirits who are responsible for bad luck, disease, plague, &c—what either Suvin (1970)[4] or Todorov (1993)[5] meant when he referred ghosts, spirits, fairies, and the like as providing an explanatory principle for an otherwise defective causality, i.e., that supernatural elements provide an explanation when our usual empirical explanation prove insufficient. Similarly, he places under the category of “fear” certain handlings of the dead that are fundamentally involved in righting the crime of a person’s death, as is described extensively by Spencer and Gillen (1904).[6] One may fear the wrath of disrespected dead, of course, but there is a significant difference between a fear of the dead that has a dominant of superstition, versus a “fear” of the dead that is concerned with humans killing one another via evil magic. And so Canetti infers that the dead resent being survived; they “cannot resign themselves to this injury which was inflicted on them, and so it is natural that they should want to inflict it on others” (263).

Besides that Canetti is telling stories here—and at least one basic process of culture involves coming up with stories, with explanations for experience that form our cultural discourses—even as a story one may object to his bland supposition that “it is natural” that the dead should be resentment. Properly speaking and by the typical sense of the word, to be natural would mean that it is of Nature to feel such resentment—but in the first place, humans are not of Nature, and our spirits (if we have any) are typically, by definition, super-natural. I’m not just playing with words by this. Since Canetti has no argument—rhetoric doesn’t necessarily need to have an argument—he resorts to the appeal it is natural.

When one makes an argument, this proceeds by a statement grounded on the evidence for that statement; thus, “I’m going to the store” (statement), “because I am hungry” (evidence).  It is principally the “because” that makes this into an argument; the statements “I am hungry” and “I’m going to the store” by themselves are simply statements about the state of affairs.[7] I might also say, “I’m going to buy a car, because I’m hungry.” We might say this second example is incoherent or not very convincing, but it’s still an argument. What is to be noted is: how is it the first one sounds rational while the second doesn’t? It is because underlying whatever statement we make to adduce or support our argument are cultural warrants; that is, there are culturally recognized forms of justification for a given argument. If I am going to eat food, it is culturally recognized (just about everywhere) that being hungry is a culturally recognized warrant for that; not so much that my buying a car is warranted by being hungry (even if that is exactly how my psyche operates).

When making an argument, being sure to get the right warrant tends to be crucial. The kid who tells his mother he’s going to his friend’s house to study—even though he’s really meeting his friend to have sex—understands the importance of picking the right warrant: doing homework is a culturally recognized warrant for going to a friend’s house. Trying to use the wrong warrant makes for an uphill battle, though it’s still possible to prevail. Additionally, one may try to introduce new warrants, though this typically involves an uphill battle as well. When interracial marriage was still forbidden in the United States, the warrant “I want to” (i.e., I want to marry someone of a different race) was more difficult to lodge in the craw of the Law; the warrant, “it’s fundamentally discriminatory not to let me” (marry someone of another race) ultimately proved more successful.

So Canetti’s argument is that “it is natural,” which rests on a warrant that whatever is “natural” cannot be disagreed with. The fact that homosexuality occurs in Nature provides one argument against those who would discriminate against people who are not heterosexual; that homosexuality is “natural” allowed my adoptive father to stop feeling guilty that I’d turned out gay, because (so the discourse runs) it was going to happen, no matter what he did. Some might object to the natural; they might find it offensive—they may be appalled at barbaric human (homosexual) nature, for instance, but because it is natural, i.e., because occurs in Nature, it becomes incoherent to deny its existence.

Thus, Canetti’s point is identical in form to: if you sock someone in the nose, it is natural she should resent you for it. And sometimes the obvious must get belabored: here, it is obvious that resentment need not be the only—and may not even be the most frequent—response to getting socked in the nose or having been survived by the living. Moreover, to pretend that, having been socked in the nose, that one resents it or doesn’t appreciate it or laughs at it or punches you back are all the same is unconvincing, but it also subordinates the verities of lived human experience to an oppressively ideological or dogmatic insistence, which itself is a crucial abuse of power. Moreover, the conception of Nature tends to be unitary and monolithic; that is, there is only one Nature, albeit organized (in some conceptions) into something like a Great Chain of Being—just as a human being is unitary though comprised of many parts, so is Nature ultimately One, despite its variety of parts. This tendency to veer into the One or to collapse into it is present in a great deal of Canetti’s rhetoric because he constantly—often implicitly but, in the present case, explicitly—rests his appeals on “it is natural”. So when he says, it is natural that the dead should feel resentment, he asserts—whether with malice aforethought or not—that resentment is the only possible response, in the face of course of innumerable counterexamples, some of which he sometimes attempts to explaining away, work-around, or simply ignore and move on, as he did with Adorno (2003).[8]

So one might ask then why it should be natural that the dead would respond this way? As supernatural beings it is not even clear what they “nature” might be and so their reactions should be obscure as well.[9] However, if spirits are responsible for bad luck and other malevolent things, then they must similarly be responsible for good luck and benevolent things, and so forth.[10] More pertinently, we might ask why it should be natural that Canetti would make this argument—that is, what warrant allows him to assume as natural that the dead would react resentfully?

In terms of the framework Canetti has been advancing, it would be that the dead re those who are denied the chance to lord it over others, i.e., the ones who do not get to feel unique and special; they’re just one of the faceless hundreds destroyed; they don’t stand out.[11] Canetti’s argument immediately turns to the individual dead man, not masses wiped out in a catastrophe, but he really needs to pick a metaphysics and stick with it, particularly since these things vary in every culture of the world.

In his example, he returns to his aboriginal example; the people who have cause to lament the dead person:

are also survivors. They lament their loss, but they feel a kind of satisfaction in their own survival. They will not normally admit this, even to themselves, for they regard it as improper, but they are always perfectly aware of what the dead man’s feelings must be. He is bound to the them, for they still have what he has lost, which is life (263).

It’s hardly necessary to object to this with the needed qualifiers to salvage it from being an empty overgeneralization; I want to point out Canetti’s resort of declaring how people (must) feel; that they feel a satisfaction that they won’t admit, out of propriety. This kind of manoeuver, especially when a gesture of power, is crucial to narcissism, especially malignant narcissism. In my previous post, I lambasted the kind of victim-apotheosis advocated for in this kind of narrative[12] about suffering—or how we approach suffering, more precisely, in part because it wraps the victim in the role of a narcissist, if not a malignant one. This insistence on not just claiming to know better than people, but actually declaring how they do feel, despite any protest to the contrary, certainly is redolent with the habits of Freudianism, but also of those forms of abuse of power that we can experience in the most painful way in daily life. This is where it becomes familiar as narcissism to us, though the clinical language of the term introduces its own variety of undesirable problems.

There are two major kinds of narcissism. For one, in terms of the self-involvement that narcissism’s namesake exhibited, the criticism is that the person seems detached from others but also, and importantly, he or she is at least not hurting anyone else actively. Harm may be occurring socially, insofar as she or he is not “showing up” in the world; duties may be getting neglected; tasks that could be done that would benefit all are not being accomplished, and so forth. The Bhagavad-Gītā flags down this problem when commentators caution that merely to walk out of one’s life and to become a renunciate in the forest (before one’s proper time) is socially harmful.[13] By contrast, the self-involvement of the narcissist in the clinical sense explicitly involves actively harming others—hence in its most extreme form, as malignant narcissism or sociopathy or psychopathy, it has been described as the “quintessence of evil”.

We should not let the physical mayhem inflicted by psychopaths—by outward narcissists of the most extreme sort—distract us from the nonphysical suffering inflicted by outward narcissists who are not so extreme. If the inward narcissist takes everyone and everything as a reflection of himself or herself and acts accordingly, the outward narcissist projects his or her self on everyone and then “treats” them accordingly. “Treat” is an appropriately ambiguously term for this, since a treat may be a sweet delight or it may be subjecting you to electroshock “for your own good”. In terms of the person encountering the narcissist, it may be extremely difficult to sense whether I am being “acted toward” or whether I am being “treated” but there is nevertheless a very key difference, which again is reflected in the inward narcissist (as the one from the self-gazing myth) as opposed to the outward narcissist (the psychopath, in the worst cases). While the inward narcissist, just as much as the outward narcissist, misperceives and misunderstands you and will act accordingly, there is not usually or primarily any insistence that that misunderstanding must be correct.

An illustration. I may misperceive you as not heterosexual and have a massive crush on you. And when it turns out that I am wrong, I might be all kinds of hurt, I might resent you, I might wish things were otherwise, I might even try to insist that you are lying to me—but however it goes, once the scales tip and I am disabused of my misunderstanding, then that will be the end of it. Whatever new misunderstanding I then have of you—that you’re a homophobic bastard, or whatever—will become the prevailing one. With the outward narcissist, however, for the sake of mental coherence it becomes necessary to insist on the misunderstanding. This is exactly (I suggest) why Canetti insists that people have a certain satisfaction in surviving the dead, even though no small amount of life experience provides manifold counterexamples. In this kind of case, the rapist who “knows the slut wants it,” for the sake of his mental coherence—for the sake of maintaining the state of mind he has gotten himself into and believes needs to be maintained—must insist on that misunderstanding. It becomes necessary to over-power the Other, because otherwise the world will fall apart. It becomes necessary to enforce the misunderstanding, with force if necessary. Canetti’s style of discourse emblematizes outward narcissism in this case. Their own need for denial becomes the cornerstone of their denial of the Other’s world and experience. The Other cannot be allowed to continue to exist as they are because they have become perceived as a threat—and so they may be silence, either by literally killing them, by suppressing their voice (or point of view), or by emotionally arranging things so that they themselves shut up an stop speaking for themselves; a most satisfying state of affairs for the outward narcissist, because it not only gets them what they want, it also makes it seem like you’ve agreed with them.

We could avoid the term narcissist entirely, and simply refer to egotists and then track the more and less extreme forms of it, in its inward or outward manifestations. Again, a key difference is that the inward egotist seeks to arrange her “mental environment,” while the outward egotists aims to control his physical environment. This is what makes outward egotists more socially problematic. This is what makes them rage and thunder at scantily clad ladies because scantily clad ladies “tempt them”; or the conventional shibboleth that women must be veiled or else men will be “induced” to rape them. Thus, Canetti imagined the dead as outward narcissists, who must rage against the living. This normalization of outward narcissism implied by saying “it is natural”—like the normalization of rape in rape culture and the normalization of torture in the United States in the twentyfirst-century—must be resisted, obviously. Rape and torture aren’t natural; neither is telling stories that the dead are resentful.  The human act of providing an explanation for experience is not natural—it is human.

Canetti recites a long narrative about a grudge-holing spirit. What is most significant in this is the exceptional character of the situation—a fat that is evident from the narrative Canetti quotes. The people of the village are astounded by the bad behavior of the spirit, and so is the still-living brother of the dead man. The living brother declares, you were a bad fellow in life, and you continue to be a bad fellow in death—and this is the example that Canetti picks. Out of all of the well-behaving dead, Canetti zeroes in on an antisocial egotists to gird his entire argument. But more than this: Canetti is determined to prove that the dead resent the living, and so the statement by the dead man that he italicizes is (the dead older brother is speaking”: “’I indeed died and left you with a village. You had a large village’” (Callaway, 1870, qtd in Canetti, 267, emphasis in original).[14] One might in fact not read resentment from this statement, even in a context where the older brother was an arch-egotist who started fights, refused to admit he was wrong, and took advantage of his younger brother when alive an dead. In this respect, Canetti’s remark is all-important:

“I am indeed dead”, says the elder brother, and this sentence contains the core of the dispute, the dangerous illness and the whole sequence of events. Whatever the dead man’s behavior and demands, he is indeed dead, and this is sufficient reason for bitterness. “I left you a village” he says, and adds quickly, “You have a large village”. This village is the other’s life, and thus he might also have added, “I am dead and you are alive” (269, emphasis added).

The dead brother might have added that, but in fact he didn’t. And since one needn’t read resentment out of the statement, “I am indeed dead and left you a village” so Canetti resorts to putting words in the dead man’s mouth in order to (try to) make his case. Since Canetti insists that this “village is the other’s life,” I will point out the footnote the author Canetti is quoting provides here; the phrase “I indeed died, and left you with a village” (Callaway, 1870, 176) is the translation for: “Nga ku shiya, nomuzi, I left you with a village, that is, I died, leaving you to inherit the property which I possessed” (156). So the specific phrase in question does not even reference dying itself, but only “I have left you a village”. Besides the fact that one might only guess at what sort of emotional register this could be delivered in, it seems more in the area of an accusation of ingratitude toward the living brother than arising from resentment on the part of the dead brother.

But this unsettlable hair-splitting aside—because we no longer have the original interlocutor to ask what the emotional register was of the dead bream-brother—it is not innocent what Canetti does to this phrase.

In the text, he correctly copies “I indeed died and left you with a village” (267)—except for omitting a comma in the original after “died”—but turns this into “I am indeed dead” in his paraphrase; moreover, this part of Callaway’s text is appended with an entire gloss (“says the elder brother, and this sentence contains the core of the dispute, the dangerous illness and the whole sequence of events. Whatever the dead man’s behavior and demands, he is indeed dead, and this is sufficient reason for bitterness”) before getting to the rest of the phrase, “and left you a village”—which Canetti again slightly misquotes as a stand-alone sentence, “I left you a village” (267).

Why this especially matters, once again, is because in both Canetti (“I am indeed dead”) and the original (“I indeed died,”), there is no mention of dead or died, but rather only “Nga ku shiya nomuzi, I left you with a village”. Callaway himself, perhaps simply for the point of clarifying the meaning of nga ku shiya nomuzi adds the element “died” where it is not in the original, and Canetti then translates that verb, died, into a state of being, an adjective, “I am indeed dead.”[15]

Am I being clear enough? The phrase “I indeed died,” is not a part of nga ku shiya nomuzi, so all of

“I am indeed dead”, says the elder brother, and this sentence contains the core of the dispute, the dangerous illness and the whole sequence of events. Whatever the dead man’s behavior and demands, he is indeed dead, and this is sufficient reason for bitterness (267)

is not supported by the text Canetti cites. And since this must be perfectly obvious to anyone who looks at Callaway’s text, with its attention to intellectual integrity as evinced by his footnote, Canetti’s disregard for this fact, and his charging onward to impose his own desired (pre-decided) conclusion on a text where it does not apply exemplifies the sort of outward narcissism described above. The way that it reprises European misprisions of Noneuropean experience and all that has and still does currently entail may be left to some other essay. Nor does Canetti limit himself to this; he writes, “‘He wants to kill me,’ says the younger brother, and adds to himself, ‘because he is dead’” (269). There is no “adding to himself” in the text Canetti cites—that’s utter fabrication. And even the phrase “he wants to kill me” in the original (from the living brother) reads, “I am angry, and say he just wants to kill me” (Callaway, 148; Canetti, 266). The declaration “he wants to kill me” is the opinion of the living brother; the dead one does not say this. What’s more, it is the living one who says, “I am angry,” and clearly evinces in his complaint to the people that he resents his dead brother’s impositions; he specifically states, “He wrongs me” (Callaway, 150). Moreover, the consensus of the people is that the dead brother desires to harm the living one because he was wicked in life and now also death—not “because he is dead”. They take this argument so far as to surmise even that the spirit may not be the dead man’s brother.

I mention in passing that Canetti seems to have very unfaithfully copied large portions of Callaway’s transcription, just as he neoliberally edited Spencer and Gillen’s (1904) report on Warramunga grieving rites. Unlike with Spencer and Gillen (1904), however, I have not and am not going to undertake a specific analysis of where and how he edited his selection. One can hardly ignore, however, that on both occasions where I had the opportunity to take a peek at the original Canetti cites, in both cases there are very dubious decisions evidenced about what to keep and cut. In this second case, with Callaway (1870),[16] I had to go no further into the text than the phrase that Canetti italicized and made most central to his argument. It takes no effort to imagine that some compiler, with enough time to waste, might keep herself (or himself) busy for quite some time detailing the many instances of questionable editorializing Canetti treats his texts with.

Narcissists, like snake oil salesmen, mountebanks, and charlatans, make a habit of screwing people over and then simply moving on to the next victim without any acknowledgment of the fact whatsoever. Just as when Adorno (2003) called Canetti out on the inadequacy of his example, and Canetti went on to another, equally inadequate, example with no substantial acknowledgment of the inadequacy of the prior one.

Canetti ends with a piece of orientalism I cannot be wholly disgusted by. He imagines that ancestor worship in China provides a salutary alternative to the mean-spirited злорадство (or Schadenfreude)[17] he imputes to sons (and probably all people) as survivors of their fathers (and parents generally).

The fact that ancestors remain separate and distinguishable individuals for some generations is also important. They are known as individual and venerated as such, only those of the remotest past fusing into a crowd. Between every living man and this crowd stand separate and clearly defined individuals such as his father and grandfather, and the very nature of the relationship between him and them means that any feeling of triumph in his own present existence which comes to tinge his veneration will be of a very mild and moderate kind and carry no temptation to increase the number of the dead. His own death will some day increase it by one, but this he naturally wants to defer for as long as possible. Survival loses its crowd characteristics; as a driving passion it would be absurd and incomprehensible and thus it ceases to be murderous. Piety towards the dead and awareness of self have entered into an alliance. The one merges into the other, but the best of both is preserved (272).

I quote this at length principally because it is a rare case of Canetti not allowing himself to be merely crass or sloppy with his broad-brushing; however, there are obvious problems here, especially as the next sentence reads: “if one reflects on the figure of the ideal ruler as it takes shape in Chinese history and thought one is struck by its humanity. It is probable that the absence of brutality in this image is due to the particular form of ancestor worship” (272). Here is where his idealism of China seems to be a case of positive (idealizing) orientalism.

However, Canetti does say the image of the ideal ruler. As is typical with him, then, he is not speaking of lived human actualities in Chinese ruling culture but representations of (in this case hoped for) lived actualities. The Chinese ideal features non-brutality, presumably in distinction to non-Chinese images of rulers, which included brutality.  Of course, the brain howls in objection, “Yeah, but what about any number of actual Chinese rulers?Just as the Bhagavad-Gītā et al. may be accused not simply of not having made enough of a dent for example in the moral failing of the caste system but also actually of being a part of that problem, or just as one may say of the US Constitution, about which Jefferson declared, “Let this be the distinctive mark of an American, that in cases of commotion he enlists under no man’s banner, but repairs to the standard of the law,”[18] not only fails to protect the rule of law it claims to embody but actually assists in the undermining of that rule of law, so then may the image of the ideal ruler in China be not only insufficient to secure that ideal image but also is part of the problems one may find in that ruling culture.

But we needn’t lose the forest of Canetti’s point for the trees of his example. Notwithstanding that his embittered or narcissistic diagnosis needn’t be taken as the only, or even, the primary story “in the West,” then his treatment for that diagnosis also needn’t be taken as absolute, or even necessary. At root, he simply wants something better, which is perfectly understandable—and the first place to start would be in his own thinking, which shows how it works in his finding the one terrible example (e.g., the ungrateful ghost mentioned above in a world of good people and good ghosts) and then not only spinning that up into the basis for a totalizing generalization but doing so by fraudulently falsifying the evidence with misquotations and invented hearsay. Canetti’s focus on the discourse of rulership (its representation in an ideal image) draws attention back to the question: what discourse is he deploying? Insofar as he continuously has his nose in books (in representations of lived actuality), this invites examination of the stories he is telling—and if the ideal image of the Chinese leader may be seen as a problem of actual Chinese rulership, then the narrative Canetti is spinning may be recognized for the part of the problem it comprises in the hegemony of the culture he writes in—part of which includes the positive (idealizing) orientalism of “the East” (or also, in this case, “the past”).

I’m not at all averse to finding alternatives to the current order of things, which are so poorly arranged for the overwhelming majority of people on Earth. I don’t at all fault Canetti for desiring an alternative but rather his assent to and promotion of a view of the world that is disabling in the first place and thus entirely consonant with the needs of the culture that motivates him to desire an alternative.

In its penultimately worst embodiment, this makes Canetti a comprador intellectual[19] insofar as he came up from the colonized domain of “obscurity” (the crowd) to become a spokesperson for and a normalizer of the colonizing discourse of “celebrity” (power).[20]

Endnotes

[1] Suttner, R. (2005). The character and formation of intellectuals within the ANC-led South African liberation movement in T. Mkandawire (ed.) African intellectuals: rethinking politics, language, gender and development, pp. 117–54. London: Zed.

[2] All quotations are from Canetti, E. (1981). Crowds and Power (trans. Carol Stewart), 6th printing. New York: NY: Noonday Press. (paperback).

[3] The ongoing attempt of this heap is to get something out of Canetti’s book, and that of necessity means resorting to the classic sense of the essay, as an exploration, using Canetti’s book as a starting point. I can imagine that the essayistic aspect of this project can be demanding—of patience, time, &c. The point of showing an essay, entertainment value (if any) aside, is first and foremost not to be shy about showing the intellectual scaffolding of one’s exposition as much as possible. This showing, however cantankerous the exposition, affords the non-vanity of allowing others to witness all of the missteps, mistakes, false starts, and the like—not in the interest of merely providing a full record (though some essayists may do so out of vanity or mere thoroughness, scholarly drudgery, or self-involvement) but most so that readers may be exasperated enough by the essayist’s stupidities to correct his or her errors and thus contribute to our collective better human understanding of ourselves.

[4] Suvin, D (1970). Afterword. In S. Lem, Solaris (trans. Joanna Kilmartin and Steve Cox), pp. 205–16. New York: Faber Walker.

[5] Todorov, T. (1993). The fantastic: a structural approach to a literary genre (trans. Richard Howard). Ithaca: NY: Cornell University Press.

[6] Spencer, G, and Gillen, FJ (1904). Northern tribes of Central Australia, London: Macmillan, available from here, pp. i–xxxv, 1–787.

[7] We could make them into arguments: “I’m hungry, because I haven’t eaten today.” Or we could get into an argumentative situation: “You’re going to the store? We don’t have that kind of money.” That’s peachy as well, and simply beyond the immediate example.

[8] Adorno, T. and Canetti, E. (2003). Crowds and power: Conversations with Elias Canetti (trans. R. Livingstone) in R. Tiedemann (ed.) Can one live after Auschwitz? A philosophical reader, pp. 182–201, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

From my previous post: “With many animals it is the armed mouth itself which does the seizing, instead of the hand or claw” (204); “It is true that in some archaic cults the victim was still clawed, but the actors were disguised as animals and what they did was deliberately bestial. For the real job, men came to rely on their teeth” (205). The imaginative veracity of this could at least be dignified with consistency or enough intellectual thought to make the case coherent. This kind of sloppiness—“just say anything and move on without regard to coherence”—is the sort of nonsense his swooning fans appreciate (see here), and which Adorno (2003) flags down as being an grossly subjective approach (see here).

What strikes the thinking reader of your book, and may even scandalize him, regardless of whether he calls himself a philosopher or a sociologist, is what might be called the subjectivity of your approach. … The reader of your book cannot quite rid himself of the feeling that as your book develops [that] the imagined nature of these concepts or facts [i.e., the concepts or facts about crowds and power]—the two seem to merge with each other—is more important than the concepts or facts themselves (184)

Significantly, Canetti does not address this point at all, but defends his notion of invisible crowds instead. This procedure is typical apparently. Let us remember:  A particularly obvious case of Canetti insisting upon his view in the face of its genuine contradiction occurs where he offers to Adorno what he believes to be an example of an archaic society, i.e., the invocation of locust repeated from the section “Invisible Crowds” (Crowds and Power, 46), at which point Adorno interrupts:

Adorno. But doesn’t this come from a very late stage of society that is already organized and institutionalized, that has a state and an organized religion—in contrast to natural conditions? ¶ Canetti. That could be argued. The Shih Ching is very ancient, but … ¶ Adorno. But it still presupposes a highly developed and even a hierarchical society. ¶ Canetti. That may well be true. That is why I would like to give you another example.” (Adorno, 193–4).

The fact that his example is refuted by Adorno has no meaningful acknowledgment from Canetti; rather, he just blusters ahead into another example, and offers two full paragraphs of material about the origin of the bandicoot totem in aboriginal culture, after which Adorno replies,

I would say that this takes us too far afield. I do not think we can fully discuss the matter here since we are dealing with an ambivalent phenomenon. There is undoubtedly an archaic element that gives rise to diversity, to the amorphousness and the multiplicity of forms. But there is also the opposite element, and it is probably no longer possible, or so it seems to me, to distinguish clearly between what is primary and what is secondary, as indeed it is in general difficult to separate them so that such discussions tend not to lead very far (194–5, emphasis added).

Here, Adorno is specifically questioning whether Canetti’s reversal of the native people’s understanding (what is primary and what is secondary) may be untenable.

[9] Here again, then, the reminder that the notion of spirits provides an explanatory framework for an otherwise defective causality..

[10] Distinguishing between असुर (ásura, “an evil spirit, demon, ghost, opponent of the gods”) and देव (devá, “deity, god”) and the like makes this distinction more explicit. However, this sense of ásura as an evil spirit is the third usage or sense of the word; the first is “spirit, good spirit, supreme spirit (said of Varuna).” This ambiguity likely points to a tribal or cultural rift that occurred long go, but this “muddle” only helps to make clear the human discourse involved in naming the nature of the supernatural.

[11] The incoherence of Canetti’s argument is pretty thick here. It is in the crowd, precisely (and perhaps most of all in the crowd of the dead) that the fear of being touched is overcome, that functions (in Canetti’s description) as a sort of blessed relief from the neurotic aversion to people in general. Early on, he provided the image of man (by which he means males) as windmills, their blades keeping others at a distance; there, in that fear of being touched, the crowd offered itself as a place of respite. And yet here being anonymous amongst the crowd of the dead gets spun into resentment.

[12] Of which I have to say (and said) this:

First, in principle, deifying the person in the center presupposes that the person is actually there. Who decides who is “suffering”. Do I get to put myself in the center of a ring when i walk down the street and treat everyone accordingly? And who decides the hierarchy of outer rings. My ex-wife considers herself to be an immediate family member; my wife objects. Who mediates that? The assumption is that these hierarchies are stable (that’s the minor sin) an enforceable (that’s the major sin). And what if, on a ring larger than me, there is child: do I get to dump out on the child just because they’re on an outer ring? bullshit. Are there people on an outer ring equally in a position like a child, i.e., not prepared to handle dumping? Or even yet more saliently, if I am someone banished to the fifth ring of significance, then why does that license someone on the inside to dump on ME, when I am being defined, from the outset, as someone peripheral. This whole set-up accomplishes nothing except to make the victim into an untouchable, sacrosanct oracle. ¶ Second, it also mandates only a certain kind of response (i.e., comfort in, dump out). When I am suffering, what I WANT is advice; I don’t want to be told things’ll be fine or whatever. but this merely autobiographical point is all to say that if we’re going to offer comfort, then comfort should be of the type desired (by the sufferer), and similarly that one’s ability to dump (which tacitly makes you a sufferer on an outer level) can be met by someone who wants to hear, i.e., who can provide “comfort” in the necessary mode. This might mean giving advice, slapping you to get your attention, who knows. The only way we can know is absolutely positively NOT by ASSUMING some pre-scripted course of action, like this article demands. ¶ When I say I’m sad, and someone says “I’m sorry,” I understand that they are trying to be sympathetic, but in point of fact, what they are doing is (1) engaging in a cultural convention because it’s culturally accepted to be “safe” or (2) they’re giving a response that makes THEM feel good, either because they did something nice (offered me sympathy) or made themselves less uncomfortable (by deflecting my imposition of telling you I’m sad). Notice, this article is all about what a person can say so as to say right, i.e., feel good. ¶ The original friend, who said, “This isn’t only about you” was 1000% right. This whole ring theory demonstrates tacitly that it is not only about the sufferer, otherwise the hierarchy couldn’t be fashioned at all. Sickness and death are the very stuff out of which communities are forged–dealing with these things. It’s most assuredly not only about the sufferer, and making them the untouchable holy center of a hierarchy (a rule by the sacred) shatters the importance of community by turning it into pure individualism. Something that is obviously going to be very popular in our neoliberal, hyperindividualistic culture (in the US).

[13] Perhaps in extreme cases of autism one might find a link with narcissism in this sense?

[14] From Callaway, H (1870). The ancestor cult of the Zulus: the dead man and his brother, in H Callaway (1870). The religious system of the Amazulu: Izyingyanga zokubula, or divination, as existing among the Amazulu, in their own words, with a translation into English, and notes, pp. 146–59, Natal: John A. Blair.

[15] Whether this is an apt example, we nevertheless see the liberty an license involved in the (European, Christian, White) representation of the Other. Callaway may simply have been trying to make the original reporter’s phrase clear in its sense, because “I left you a village” might be misunderstood as referring to a village and not simply to the property the dead brother had left behind. In the process, he apparently felt it was necessary to underline the fact of having died first. Just as Canetti does, Callaway—if asked, “Why did you put that in there?”—might have responded, “He might as well have said that.” Canetti then repeats the error, though with far less plausible deniability, most of all because Callaway’s footnote makes clear that the original actually reads: “I left you a village; you had a large village.” Canetti finds a phrase he believes he can work with (“I indeed died, and left you a village”) and then distorts that further: “I am indeed dead. I left you a village.” Callaway’s insistence on what he is hearing may be innocent enough; at a minimum, he gives us enough text to see what he has done at that moment in the text. Not so with Canetti, who distorts both the sense of the original an even Callaway’s text to maintain his point.

[16] Some might think I should object to the age of this text as well as Spencer and Gillen’s (1904).

[17] злорадство (zlorádstvo) n :: schadenfreude (delight in someone else’s misfortune)

[18] Quoted in Barber, BR (2002). Constitutional faith, pp. 31–2. In MC Nussbaum with respondents, J Cohen (ed.), For love of country? (A New Democracy Forum On The Limits Of Patriotism), pp. 30–7, Boston: Beacon Press.

[19] A comprador is: “A native-born agent … formerly employed by a foreign business to serve as a collaborator or intermediary in commercial transactions”; cast in an anticolonialist discourse, Dabashi’s (2011)** Brown Skin, White Masks, thus frames the comprador intellectual this way:

Writing about the US, Edward Said had identified the “exilic intellectual” as a locus of dissent at the heart of empire that had managed to squash critical public intellectuals. Dabashi, however, sets out to explore the ‘darker side of intellectual migration.’ Thus he writes about how from ‘the selfsame cadre of exiles are recruited native informers who are no longer telling their imperial employers what they need to know but rather what they want to believe in order to (…) convince the public that invading and bombing and occupying the homelands of others is a good and moral thing.’ ¶ Dabashi calls these immigrants who service empire ‘native informers’ and ‘comprador intellectuals.’ After developing these concepts in reference to anthropological and historical studies, Dabashi explores in some detail the modus operandi of comprador intellectuals. A chapter on ‘Literature and Empire’ concentrates on Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran, while another chapter on ‘The House Muslim’ delves into the writings of Ibn Warraq who has been celebrated in the media as a ‘dissenting voice’ and an ‘ex-Muslim.’ Tapping into his extensive knowledge of literature and the history of Islam, Dabashi provides a devastating critique of these comprador intellectuals (¶9–10, from here, italics added).

** Dabashi, H. (2011). Brown skin, white masks. Pluto Press.

[20] However, Canetti seems to come from a well-heeled family from way back,

The original family name was Cañete, named after a village in Spain. In Ruse, Elias’ father and grandfather were successful merchants who operated out of a commercial building, which they had built in 1898. Canetti’s mother descended from one of the oldest Sephardi families in Bulgaria, Arditti, who were among the founders of the Ruse Jewish colony in the late 18th century. The Ardittis can be traced back to the 14th century, when they were court physicians and astronomers to the Aragonese royal court of Alfonso IV and Pedro IV. Before settling in Ruse, they had lived in Livorno in the 17th century (from here).

though what advantage this afforded him is debatable. His father died when he was seven, and the family moved about to Lausanne, Vienna, Zürich, and Frankfurt—we may assume this disaster functioned like a “loss of world” (akin to Abraham’s and Noah’s), despite his nasty observations about how sons feel in the presence of their tyrannizing fathers. Whether his mother dragged around her conceits of aristocracy or whether the loss of the father’s capital venture gave Canetti a sense of being a down-at-the-heels aristocrat or Burgher can be left an open question; one of the reasons the family moved to Switzerland during World War it was due to “the impossibility of transferring money from Britain to Austria” (Reiss, 2004, 72–3)***; Reiss, imitating Canetti’s penchant for speculative hearsay, adds, “though doubtless her hatred of war and the warlike atmosphere in Vienna was another” (73).

Following the Anschluss of Austria, at the very least, Canetti had the means to move to London—perhaps another loss of world. However all of these details figure into things, as someone who seems to have been relatively privileged, Canetti may more resemble Josephus than Isaac—Josephus being the relatively privileged leader who, whatever obscurity he may have once occupied, rose to celebrity ant hen behaved in the most despicable way—as Canetti (and the historical record) attest. There is a major difference, one has to say, between the disenfranchised survivor (who may nevertheless rise from that to cultic arrogance) compared to the enfranchised survivor, who may have been a partial author of the very disaster they survive. In any case, the purpose of this distinction is that, if the second-worst framing here is the comprador intellectual discourse that normalizes the current order of things that Canetti gives voice to (if he does not actually embody it himself), then the worst framing is the hegemonic discourse itself as given voice to by power (and Canetti in his text). In Solzhenitsyn’s (1974)* Gulag Archipelago, he states unambiguously—and one might infer this from Koestler’s (1941)** Darkness at Noon as well—that the most morally reprehensible prisoners in the gulag were those who had enjoyed power and privilege in the Soviet bureaucratic structure. In a word, this means they were the most selfish and the whiniest, as might be expected from those who have tasted the limelight and then returned to or placed in “the trenches”; the theme is prominent in Howard’s (2008) Frost/Nixon as well and from any number of other literary and nonliterary sources. It could be called the politics of envy, but we must distinguish the envy of those who are barred from power who never had it from those who are barred but once did. The latter in particular, if Canetti’s insistence has any teeth—that leaders are pathologically narcissistic—means we must take any griping from the disenfranchised with an entire block of salt.

*Solzhenitsyn, A. (1974). Gulag archipelago (trans. TP Whitney). New York: Harper & Row

**Koestler, A. (1941). Darkness at noon (trans. D. Hardy). New York: Macmillan

*** Reiss, H. (2004). Elias Canetti’s attitude to writers an writings. In Lorenz, DCG (ed) (2004). A companion to the works of Elias Canetti, pp. 61–88. Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK: Camden House.

Summary (in One Sentence)

One may question the ethnocentric assumptions of the authors’ observations of tribes in Northern Central Australia without necessarily rendering useless their observations of events, objects, &c.

Pre-Disclaimer

Last year in 2012, I set myself the task to read at least ten pages per day, and now I’m not sure if I kept up. I have the same task this year, and I’ve added that I will write a book reaction for each one that I finish (or give up on, if I stop). These reactions will not be Amazon-type reviews, with synopses, background research done on the author or the book itself, unless that strikes me as necessary or if the book inspired me to that when I read it. In general, these amount to assessments of in what ways I found the book helpful somehow.

Consequently, I may provide spoilers, may misunderstand books or get stuff wrong, or get off on a gratuitous tear about the thing in some way, &c. I may say stupid stuff, poorly informed stuff. There are some in the world who expect everyone to be omniscient and can’t be bothered to engage in a human dialogue toward figuring out how to make the world a better place. To the extent that each reaction I offer for a book is a here’s what I found helpful about this, then it is further up to us (you, me, us) to correct, refine, trash and start over, this or whatever it is we see as potentially helpful toward making the world a better place. If you can’t be bothered to take up your end of that bargain, you’re part of the problem to be solved.

A Reaction To: Spencer and Gillen’s (1904)[1] The Northern Tribes of Central Australia

Given the more than 800 pages of this book, this reaction simply collects various notes and such that caught my attention while I was reading it. Some portions of this book I had previously read in response to my Crowds and Power posts, so there are far more detailed reactions in those, which I’ve pointed to in the notes below.

The authors lived amongst the Australia native people for over twenty years and were considered fully initiated members of the tribe. One may be skeptical of this and question the ethnocentric assumptions of the authors without necessarily rendering useless their “factual” observations of events, objects, &c.

So far as they could determine, there had never been territorial disputes between the tribes studied. “Now and again they may have intertribal quarrels and fights, but there is no such thing as the acquisition of fresh territory. No idea of this or its advisability or otherwise ever enters the head of the Australian native” (13).  This may be due to the alcheringa.

When two savage peoples at anything like a decided different level of culture come into contact, there is hardly likely to be any true amalgamation. The men of the lower grade have no chance of marrying into the higher grade, but on the other hand their women are lawful prey to the men of the stronger group (16–7).

Relationship is by class; that is, a person who is called father or mother is plural and is represented by everyone in an equivalent position. Thus, amongst the Urabunna, a woman who is lawfully marriable is the wife of all men who may lawfully marry her and vice versa.  Thus, groups of men and women are married to one another, not individually. In other tribes, individual marriage prevails.

It would seem that upon birth one would enter into a given marriable class (eventually), though how that occurs is not clear.

Tribes are divided into moieties and generally have cross-moiety marriage requirements. Urabunna tribe are matrilineal; Aranda and others are patrilineal.

“It may be pointed out that whilst these rules prevent individuals who are actually closely related by blood from intermarrying, they also equally prevent others between whom there is no blood relationship at all, and it is at least extremely doubtful if the origin of the restriction has anything whatever to do with the deliberate intention of preventing the intermarriage of individuals whom we call cousins” (98). This is in the southern Aranda tribes specifically.

Warramunga, &c., have gender distinctions for subclass names. A Tjupila man is the brother—blood or tribal—of a Naralu woman.

See p. 119 for intermarriage diagram and discussion.

On p. 291 are food prohibitions for members of a totem. If I am understanding this correctly, one does not eat of one’s totem much, so that the increase rites (intichiuma) re for the sake of everyone else.  Amongst the Arunta, intichiuma ceremonies end with the increase of the creature and the decline to eat the totem animal; amongst the Warramunga, &c, there are performed series of ancestral wanderings, rather than types of ceremonies of increase as seen in the Arandan tribes. Amongst the coast tribes, intichiuma ceremonies are not required “the idea being that [increase of the totemic creature] will take place without the intervention of any magic” (312) on people’s parts. There are magic ceremonies, however. A summary of this starts on p. 315.

It is a striking feature of dream-time stories that hunters in the day regularly ate their totem animals, whereas currently there are (as noted above) strict taboos against eating ones totem creatures.

About totems, most are (of course) animals or plants, but also sometimes elemental occurrences (wind, rain, water, the sun), and there are two that are curious: the laughing boy, the adult male, and Wollunqua ( presumably still alive massive snake).

The oldest initiation rite seems to be knocking out a tooth, but this has come to be indiscriminately practiced in places, replaced by subincision and circumcision. “The natives themselves have no idea in regard to their significance, and it is a rather curious fact that they have no invented some tradition to explain their meaning” (330). Notwithstanding the long time spent by the authors amongst these tribes, one has to admit the possibility that they were not initiated enough to be privy to such information.

The eagle-hawk and wild cat are not eaten, in part because they were cannibals during the alcheringa (c.f., p. 336).

Amongst the Warramunga (who alternate sex each reincarnation), women are not banned from potentially witnessing the subincision ceremony.

Warramunga fire ceremony: jeering, teasing, all manner of license save sex; there is a seemingly serious attack on the women, who retreat to their wurley and then jeer at the men after they run away. The stated object of the fire ceremony is

that of bringing old quarrels to an end. If, for example, there be two men who have had a serious dispute which has not been finally settled up, they must now meet and, so to speak, fight it out with dry fiery wands, after which it may never be referred to again. They are supposed to, and in fact actually do, become quite friendly towards one another. This fire ceremony is, indeed, regarded as a method of settling accounts up to date and starting with a clean page—everything in the nature of a dispute which occurred before this is completely blotted out and forgotten” (386–7).

Numerous totem ancestor stories are recounted. As noted already, it is a striking feature of these stories that the ancestors consume their totems, as opposed to the current totem members. “Origin of Men of the Water Totem: A Purula Man Splits into Two” (p. 418) is especially evocative. In another story, women possess Churinga, which is unusual for present-day 1904. Also, in many stories the elder brother declares courses of action and accomplishes things younger brothers fail to do, but not in “Winithonguru, the Wild-Cat” (p. 424). The wild-cat totem is noted for almost never being eaten, and also for having practiced cannibalism in the alcheringa. It is not clear if this exceptional status is being reflected in this elder/younger brother reversal. In this particular story, it is not that the younger brother is always only successful—but when it comes to cutting the ground to call forth water, the younger brother is consistently more successful.[2] In another story, of making fire, it is the elder brother who declares how it will be done (after the younger brother’s rejected proposal), and once the fire is lit, the younger brother burns himself on the fire-stick (620). Another example: (p. 591), in the Alcheringa, an elder brother in the mantera (a snake) totem decided to pull their teeth out, but the younger insists on knocking it out. And that is what is done.

Of magic, there are various objects (often bones) that one may use for hurling evil magic at another to haram him or her. There are also various locations, most left over from the alcheringa, where rubbing the left-behind heaps of stones and the like may send evil magic out to others. This can occur inter- and intra-tribally. The prevalence of this imagined form of grievance settling is not stated by the authors.

“The obtaining of a woman by magic is one of the most fruitful sources of quarrels amongst all of the tribes” (473)—this means intra-tribally, I believe. If a lawfully marriable woman is achieved through magic, the man who obtained her will eventually have to fight the man who lost her. If she is not lawfully marriable, both will almost certainly be killed. Women can resort to such magic as well. Either way, women are always blamed for any elopement.

Seeing the often extremely cruel treatment with which the women who are guilty of elopement usually meet, it is really a matter of wonder that they ever consent to it. In addition to being knocked about with a fighting club and most severely handled, the enraged husband, when his erstwhile wife falls into his hands, will, on some occasions, push a lighted fire-stick into the vulva, often thereby causing terrible injury, though at the same time it is marvelous how rapidly and completely the women recover from wound which would likely prove fatal to a civilised person (474).

Amongst the Warramunga and Tjingilli, wearing a wife’s head-band can cure headaches and stomachaches.  After they’re thrown into the bush, the wives retrieve them eventually and wear them normally again. Magic also for making girl’s breasts, young women, and skinny women grow plumper. The Tjingilli perform wantju “to make both young men and women grow strong and well favoured” (476).

Hair is considered as endowed with the attributes (of a dead man) and therefore harvested and kept for that purpose.

Amongst the central tribes, the powers of the medicine man are generally only for withdrawing of evil magic. This is largely because anyone can perform evil magic. The authors (on p. 479) point out from Roth that elsewhere medicine men are specifically endowed with the ability to send out evil magic also. All of his bones are swapped out—that this specifically involves removing evil bones colors the sense of “bone replacement” in other shamanic becoming processes.

Amongst the Anula, uniquely, the position of doctor is hereditary and may be male or female, but only of the falling-star totem “who are especially associated with the unfriendly spirits living in the sky” (488). They only give bones, and the tribe has spells to ward these effects off. In serious cases, they can call in a medicine man from a nearby tribe.

Thus, we have a proper range for dealing with evil magic. Where anyone (including a doctor) might do evil magic, a doctor is provided to counteract those effects. Amongst the Anula, who are curiously afflicted by sorcerers, the tribe itself takes up the role of banishing evil magical effects or, when that fails, calling in help from a neighboring tribe. This leaves missing the cases of a group doing evil magic that an individual can counteract (perhaps Roth noted medicine men who could counteract corporate evil magic from neighboring tribes), and the case anyone might ward off evil magic as well.

Ameliorated by an Individual

Ameliorated by a Group

Inflicted by Individual

Warramunga, &c

Anula

Inflicted by a Group

?

?

Inflicted by an individual, cured by an individual; inflicted by an individual sorcerer (medicine man), cured by the group; inflicted by a group, cured by an individual; inflicted by a group, cured by a group.

Details or notes related to burial and mourning, the revenge party, and the welcoming party are detailed in other posts, i.e., here and here and here and here (sometimes explicitly, sometimes rather indirectly, and perhaps most directly, i.e., in the greatest concentration, here).

Amongst the Urabunna, one’s name changes at initiation but there are no sacred names (that Spencer and Gillen uncovered) in this tribe. Amongst the Warramunga, the common name of males is widely known, prohibited in use by women, and not used much by men, preferring to use relationship terms or subclass names (like Thapanunga, Thakomara, &c).[3]

Whereas the Arandan people have a wealth of alcheringa ancestors in each totem, the Warramunga tend only to have one or two, and thus far fewer names—there being a tendency among the Arandan to choose a man’s sacred name[4] according to whatever reincarnated ancestor they represent.

Summary:

(1) In the Arunta, Kaitish, Ilpirra, and Unmatjera tribes there is:—(a) an ordinary name in common, everyday use, and (b) a sacred name known only to the members of the totemic group, and supposed to have been formerly carried by an Alcheringa ancestor.

(2) In the Warramunga group of tribes there is (a) an ordinary name, the exact equivalent of that in the Arunta tribe, and (b) a sacred name carried by some individual who lived since the Alcheringa. This is known only to the fully initiated men, but, unlike what takes place in the Arunta, to men of various totemic groups and belonging to both moieties of the tribe.

(3) In the Gnanji tribe there are two names—(a) an ordinary one in common use, and (b) that of some blood or tribal grandfather, if a man, or a grandmother, if a woman.

(4) In the Binbinga, Mara, Anula, and coastal tribes there is a single name which is that of the grandfather or grandmother. There is no truly sacred name, but the one name is the equivalent of the second name in the Gnanji and of the sacred name in the Arunta, Kaitish, and Warramunga tribes (586–7).

Knocking Out Teeth: Knocking out a tooth might have once been initiatory, but not so much anymore. Amongst the Aranda, the rain and water totem principally do it; amongst other tribes, anyone might, male or female. The claim is that it is cosmetic. Once the tooth is knocked out, it tends to be thrown in the direction of the person’s mother’s alcheringa camp—the people do not worry about the tooth being found or magic being done to or with it. Amongst the Warramunga, women more often than men knock out a tooth; afterward, the tooth is pulverized (by the operator), placed in meat, and eaten (by the girl’s mother).  For men, it is given to his mother-in-law. For women, this tends to happen around the close of the wet season, for the men after a heavy fall of rain so that no more will fall (see p. 593). Amongst the Gnanji, the tooth is thrown into water holes to stop the fall of rain and increase the water lilies.

Giving Blood: Amongst the Kaitish and Aranda, blood for ceremonies must come from the same moiety and the operation must not be seen by the other moiety; amongst the Warramunga and Tjingilli, exactly the opposite. Blood sometimes gets used as water, to quench thirst, sprinkled on heads to cool—younger men man spritz blood on an older. Generally, exchanges of blood imply bonds—initiatory blood is disposed of to other relatives, or the atninga party douses itself in shared offerings, &c. When ill, people are given blood to drink—“when drawn from a woman it is always from the labia minora” (599); amongst the Warramunga, “this is done in only very serious cases”. Often, taboo accrue from these kind of blood exchanges that must be dealt with in various ways (cf p. 600). During menstruation, women are carefully avoided, and the first menses gets addressed by sequestration, &c (601).

Customs Relating to Hair: complicated details—read page 602–05; however, hair is periodically cut and given to other people; “This disposal of the hair is evidently associated in some way with the idea of payment, on the one hand to the man who has the disposal in marriage of the woman, and on the other to some member of the group to which the wife’s mother belongs. Thus in the Arunta it is given to the wife’s father, and he has the disposal of the woman; in the Warramunga and Tjingilli it goes to the mother’s brother, and here again he is the man who gives the girl away” (602); there are still yet other details however. “The only occasions on which hair is ever destroyed are those on which it is cut off as an emblem of mourning, in which case it is always immediately burnt” (604). The continuance exchange of hair as “a very valuable article of barter” (605)—or perhaps one should say a very visible sign of mutual obligation—prevents hair from being used in magic against others, Spencer and Gillen (1904) suggest.

Customs at Childbirth: “Every individual is regarded as the reincarnation of an ancestor. In all cases the spirit was very definitely associated with a special totemic group. Sometimes, as in the Arunta, Kaitish, and Unmatjera tribes, the ancestors of the totemic groups were many in number; at others, as in in the Urabunna, they were few in number, often only one or two; at others, as in the Warramunga, there was one great ancestor, from whose body spirit individuals emanated. In every instance, however, the spirit is supposed to deliberately enter the body of the mother” (606).

Food Restrictions: Besides totemic food restrictions, there are others. For example, amongst the Aranda, “a man is strictly forbidden to eat the flesh of any animal which has been killed, or even seen, by another man standing to him in the relationship of ikuntera (father-in-law) … [or] food secured by his umba (sister’s children), mura women (wife’s mothers), and ipmunna [maternal grandmother or maternal grandmother’s brothers] men and women” (609). However, having successfully hunted, such a man will send some of it to their ikuntera, i.e., the direction of taboo is not reciprocal. The Warramunga and Urabunna are more relaxed about this; sons-in-law are not necessarily prohibited from eating food secured by their fathers-in-law, but the younger are expected to provide food to the elder. In general, prohibitions function to give the best foods to old men; younger men are under food restrictions that gradually lift as they age, women are under yet stricter prohibitions (which presumably do not lift as they age). (While a woman is pregnant, the spirit of the child may accompany the man out hunting, and ruin his chances by warning the game or deflecting the direction of his boomerang or spears.) Various food taboos upon initiation and during pregnancy. The only taboo on vegetables: amongst the Aranda, menstruating women may not gather the Irriakura bulb—“a staple article of diet for men and women” (615)—as that would “result in the failure of the supply of the bulb” (615).

Nose Boring: “To the north of the Arunta there do not appear to be any ceremonies attendant upon the operation of boring the nasal septum” (615). At this point, the gesture seems decorative; amongst the Kaitish it is performed during warm weather—possibly linking it (I suggest) to knocking out the tooth, which goes with wet weather. Amongst the Warramunga, the doctors wear their kupitja (the mark of their medical profession) in the nose.

The sun is female; the moon is male.[5] “The Kaitish people call it Arilpa, and have only very vague traditions about it. They say that in the Alcheringa the moons at down as a very old man at a place called Urnta, a big hill near to Barrow Creek. He came to Urnta from the north-east, and on arriving there said he was very sorry he had come, and went back again.  Big stone arose to mark the place where the old man sat down, and he can still be seen in the moon carrying a great tomahawk” (625).

The designs on various implements rarely have any imitative quality, being strictly geometrical (concentric circles, spirals); as far as decoration on objects, the people spoken to say they have no significance except s decorations:

So far as painted designs are concerned, the great majority of implements and weapons are merely coated over with red ochre, but in some cases a special design may be added. As a general rule this is strictly geometrical in nature, and it is extremely rare to meet with any design which can be recognized as a biomorph. The natives themselves say that these decorations have no meaning of any kind, and that they are added merely to make the object look better (708).

In the case of the bands worn by the Arunta and Kaitish on special occasions, the general resemblance between the decorations on them and those on the Churinga is very striking, but the natives say that they have nothing whatsoever to do with one another. It is a noticeable fact that it is only amongst the people who use Churinga most frequently—that is, the southern central tribes—that we meet also with the concentric circles and spirals as common designs on everyday articles such as the forehead-bands (715).

Endnotes

[1] Spencer, G, and Gillen, FJ (1904). The northern tribes of Central Australia, London: Macmillan, available from here, pp. i–xxxv, 1–787.

[2] Note: it is not until later in the story that both perform subincision, so there may be some significance in being as yet not fully initiated. At the beginning of the story following circumcision, they are declared to be thrumbruknurra (properly developed men). After subincision (not much narrative is left), the younger only follows the elder.

[3] I recall this as one of the potentially more confusing things in Vietnamese, where our term “you” is finely graded into relationships in Vietnamese pronouns, with the consequence that one might be called “you” by a range of different terms in a conversation, depending on who is addressing “you.”

[4] If women have sacred names, Spencer and Gillen do not note it. On p. 586, they mention that amongst the Gnanji, the sacred name of men and women is the paternal grandfather and maternal or paternal grandmother, respectively. (They suggest this follows the Warramunga custom of deriving a name from out of the Wingara.) These are collective groups of people, not specific biological forebears; amongst the Binbinga, Anula, and Mara tribe only this “second” name is given as a first.

[5] “The moon (Atninja) is regarded by the Arunta tribe as being especially associated with the opossum totem. According to one myth he was originally an opossum man, who came up on to the earth and was carried about by another old opossum man in a shield as the latter went about hunting for opossums. A grass-seed man stole him, and the opossum man, being unable to overtake the thief, shouted out to the moon telling him to go up into the sky, which accordingly he did, and there he has remained ever since” (625).