Unreal Nature

September 24, 2014

Annealing Hardships

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:45 am

… but for the “twice-born” … the sting of that domain — its ambitions, envies, and power struggles — has been removed.

This is from Dramas, Fields, and Metaphors: Symbolic Action in Human Society by Victor Turner (1974). The first sentence, below, quotes Sartre; the square bracketed second word is Turner’s:

… “I [agree] that social facts have their own structure and laws that dominate individuals, but I see in this the reply of worked matter to the agents who work it. Structures are created by activity which has no structure, but suffers its results as structure.” I see liminality as a phase in social life in which this confrontation between “activity which has no structure” and its “structured results” produces in men their highest pitch of self-consciousness. Syntax and logic are problematic and not axiomatic features of liminality. We have to see if they are there — empirically. And if we find them we have to consider well their relation to activities that have as yet no structure, no logic, only potentialities for them. In long-established cultural systems I would expect to find the growth of a symbolic and iconographic syntax and logic; in changing or newly established systems I would expect to find in liminal situations daring and innovation both in the modes of relating symbolic and mythic elements and in the choice of elements to be related. There might also be the introduction of new elements and their various combination with old ones, as in religious syncretisms.

The same formulation would apply to such other expressions of liminality as Western literature and art.Sometimes art expresses or replicates institutionalized structure to legitimate or criticize; but often it combines the factors of culture — as in cubism and abstract art — in novel and unprecedented ways. The unusual, the paradoxical, the illogical, even the perverse, stimulate thought and pose problems, “cleanse the Doors of Perception,” as Blake put it.

… In everyday life people in tribal societies have little time to devote to protophilosophical or theological speculation. But in protracted liminal periods, through which everyone must pass, they become a privileged class, largely supported by the labor of others — though often exposed by way of compensation to annealing hardships — with abundant opportunity to learn and speculate about what the tribe considers its “ultimate things.”

… It would seem that where there is little or no structural provision for liminality, the social need for escape from or abandonment of structural commitments seeks cultural expression in ways that are not explicitly religious, though they may become heavily ritualized. Quite often this retreat from social structure may appear to take an individualistic form — as in the case of many post-Renaissance artists, writers, and philosophers. But if one looks closely at their productions, one often sees in them at least a plea for communitas. The artist is not really alone, nor does he write, paint, or compose for posterity, but for living communitas. Of course, like the initiand in tribal society, the novelistic hero has to be reinducted into the structural domain, but for the “twice-born” (or converted) the sting of that domain — its ambitions, envies, and power struggles — has been removed. He is like Kierkegaard’s “knight of faith” who having confronted the structured and quantitative crowd as “the qualitative individual” moves from antithesis to synthesis and though remaining outwardly indistinguishable from others in this order of social structure is henceforth inwardly free from its despotic authority, is an autonomous source of creative behavior. This acceptance or forgiveness, to use William Blake’s term, of structure in a movement of return from a liminal situation is a process that recurs again and again in Western literature, and indeed, in the actual lives of many writers, artists, and political heroes …

… Symbols may well reflect not structure, but anti-structure, and not only reflect it but contribute to creating it. Instead, we can regard the same phenomena in terms of the relationship between structure and communitas to be found in such relational situations as passages between structural states, the interstices of structural relations, and in the powers of the weak.




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