Monday, March 05, 2007

ToR Part 4: Sacrifice and the Festival

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

The foregoing is was basically a description of the situation that forays into the sacred attempts to temper. The world has moved from total continuity to general discontinuity, and now we can begin speaking of attempts to return to continuity.

So, the sacrifice. The first fruits of any harvest or the best of the livestock are sacrificed in order to remove these objects — along with the producing humans — from the world of things.

The violence of sacrifice is not random, or complete; the aim of this violence is to destroy the thing in the victim. It destroys the utility of the livestock, and the stock raisers ceases to be just a stock raiser. The sacrificer in fact acts from sovereignty, the uncalculated, perhaps non-discursive world of the spirits; it is from this position that he calls the victim from out of the alienated world of utility.

That call is a monologue, of course, and this presents another tension. The victim neither understands nor replies; sacrifice has no real relations here. No reciprocity. If these relations were taken into account, it would destroy the nature of sacrifice, which is to disturb the world of things and therefore the relations; this is what makes sacrifice appear gratuitous. The sacrificer can’t both destroy value and utility while accepting their limits.

Sacrifice does not require killing per se, but the greatest overturning of the real, valued order is the one most favorable to the appearance of the mythical order.

In the immanent state introduced by the disruption of the real, life and death lose their common significance. In immanence, death is not a negation of life.

Why? Because the world of things has duration as its foundation. No thing has a separate existence unless it is in time. Death is a threat to this; but what the real order rejects is not so much a negation of life as the affirmation of intimate life, of the immanence found in death. This affirmation of intimate life is, of course, a threat to stability, a threat to production and utility.

Death and sacrifice are not synonymous. Sacrifice restores a lost value through a relinquishment of that value; it is not necessarily violent or destruction — it is a radical giving, which is why objects that have spirits are the primarily victims. It is the antithesis of production; the ideal of sacrifice is radically anti-utilitarian. Production is concerned with the future, with duration; sacrifice is something that happens only in the moment.

In sacrifice, the individual identifies with the victim; anguish is experienced. Anguish is the fear of the loss of individuality; work in the world of discontinuous objects and the fear of dying are interrelated. Anguish is the sign of individuality; a defensive reaction on its behalf.

Because the individual identifies with the victim, the individual is partly immersed in immanence - they experience the sacred, to whatever degree.

Now, the festival presents yet another tension. In the festival, with its crazy, insane overflowing of energy and drives, the real order is utterly threatened. Everything is drowned in immanence.

The real order, however, is impossible to destroy; humanity cannot stop being human. The sacrifice threatens it, but ultimately, the sacrifice finds itself put to useful ends. The community needs to endure; it exists in time. The sacrifice is placed in service of this, with the spirit world as a mediator. The sacrifice is said to be made to the spirits - for the sake of crops and whatnot. The sacrifice is a vital part of the creation of a community; it offers both the experience of the sacred and duration.

This is the tension: the festival is only possible for the community because it rejects what it is. The sacrifice and the return to immanence - the destruction of utility - can only be performed in a community if they themselves have a utility. This is because man is tied to clear consciousness - a consciousness that distinguishes between subjects and objects.

This is what Bataille diagnoses as the basic problem of religion — it fails to see that consciousness is searching for that intimacy; sacrifice is interpreted in other ways such as atonement. Religion, as a search for lost intimacy, is the effort of a clear subject/object consciousness wanting to be a complete self-consciousness; but this is futile because intimacy refuses the clarity of consciousness.

The festival is the internal sacrifice of a group. It is a violence that has utility at the margins; however, when utility moves to the focal point of a group, the violence must become external. Why blow your own stuff up when you can blow somebody elses’ up? Hence, the origin of war as externalized violence.

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