Ritual and Its Consequences: An Essay on the Limits of Sincerity
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This pioneering, interdisciplinary work shows how rituals allow us to live in a perennially imperfect world. Drawing on a variety of cultural settings, the authors utilize psychoanalytic and anthropological perspectives to describe how ritual--like play--creates "as if" worlds, rooted in the imaginative capacity of the human mind to create a subjunctive universe. The ability to cross between imagined worlds is central to the human capacity for empathy. Ritual, they claim, defines the boundaries of these imagined worlds, including those of empathy and other realms of human creativity, such as music, architecture and literature.
The authors juxtapose this ritual orientation to a "sincere" search for unity and wholeness. The sincere world sees fragmentation and incoherence as signs of inauthenticity that must be overcome. Our modern world has accepted the sincere viewpoint at the expense of ritual, dismissing ritual as mere convention. In response, the authors show how the conventions of ritual allow us to live together in a broken world. Ritual is work, endless work. But it is among the most important things that we humans do.
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overcoming of ambivalence as well as of ambiguity is one of the prime functions of ritualization. For as we love our children, we also find them unbearably demanding, even as they will soon find us arbitrary and possessive. What we love or admire is also threatening, awe becomes awfulness, and benevolence seems in danger of being consumed by wrath. Therefore, ritualized affirmation, once instituted, becomes indispensable as periodical experience and must find new forms in the context of new
discrete objects, temporal events, and spatially positioned units, which ties to the human reliance on language, forms a fundamental aspect of our way of knowing the world. Such distinctions-and the need for such distinctions-exist in the social world as well. We must distinguish between different social roles and types of relationships. We mark the sets of responsibilities and obligations to each, to keep track of our complex and multilayered relationships to a myriad of others, whether within
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