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Severi C - Language

Severi C - Language

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582
DON
HANDELMAN
Theorizing
ritual framing leads one to question the universal valid-
ity
of the
Durkheimian
separationof thesacred
from
theprofane.
The
Durkheimian distinction,
one fitting
well
with
the
Theory
of
Logical
Types
and one essential to the
modem
study of ritual inanthropology and religious studies,
issues from
the more monotheticpremises of
monotheistic
theologies. This
likely
is no
less
so for otherofthe clean-cut distinctions that have gained
great prominence
in
ritual
studies,
like
thoseof the Van Gennepian tripartiteschemeof
rites
des
passage,
especially
as
adapted
by
Víctor
Turner.
31
Lineal
fram-
ing,
premised on hierarchical
ordering
ancl
the
surgical
incising ofoutside
from
inside, has
validity
for many
instances
of ritual
analy-
sis.
Yet this framing fits
much
too neatly
within
monothetic ideas ofritual
organization.
The ways in which lineal framing is formulated
limit,
skew, and reduce our comprehension of how change in ritual
emerges
from
ritual
practice
itself,
and
draw attention
away fromcomplexities of the interpenetration of the interior and exterior ofritual.
Seeding
ritual framing with
fuzzier
qualities, more Moebius-
like
and braided, may enable the whole concept to flourish in waysmore compatible with the complexities of ritual phenomena.
LANGUAGE
Garlo Se veri"To us
anthropologists,
the meaning of any
significant
word, sen-tence
or
phrase
is
the
effective
change
brought about
by the
utterance
in
the context of the situation to which it is
wedded." "Now,
a mag-ical formula is neither a piece of
conversation, ñor
a statement ora communication.
What
is it? We were
led
to the conclusión that
the
meaning
of a
spell
consists
in
the
effect
of the
words
within
their
rit-
ual
context."
1
Since Bronislaw
Malinowski
made
these
famous
remarks
in
Coral Gardens
and
their
Magic,
the
analysis
of ritual
acüon
and thestudy
of
language
have been
closely
related in the field of anthro-pology.
Language
has
been seen
as a
paradigmatic
model
in
three
!
respects: as a way to study the construction of meaning in the rit-ual context, as an image of the
internal
order that structures ritual
:
actions, and eventually as a
pragmatic
context for
understanding
the
effectiveness
of ritual.
Ritual,
Language,
and the
Construction
of
Meaning
The study of the construction of meaning in ritual generally dependson two very
different
'paradigms'.
The first could be described asintellectualist and is based on a
conception
of religión
inherited
from
Edward
B.
Tylor
and
James
G.
Frazer.
2
Rituals, like other
mani-
festations
ofreligión,are
considerad
to be theexpressionof
'world
pictures' or
'theories'
about the world, either of a cosmological kind
3
or comparable, at least in
their
function,
to
scientific
theories.
4
Ritual
51
V.W.
Turner
1969.
B.
Malinowski,
Coral Gardens
and
their
Magic
(London,
1935),
II, 214 and
241.
See
E.B.
Tylor,
Primitwe
Culture.
Researches
mto
tlie
Deuelopment
of
Mytholagy, Philosophy,
Art,
and
Custom,
2
vols.
(Loncion,1871);
J.G. Frazer,
The
Goiden
Bougk.
A
Study
in
A'lagic
and
Religión
(London,
abridgcd
ed.,
1923).
3
E.g.,
M.
Griaule,
Dieu
f'eau.
Entrenáis
anee
Ogolemmeli
(Paris, 1948).
'
E.g.,
J.
Skorupski,
Symbol
and Themy. A
Philosop/ncal
Study
of
Theories
of
Religión
iu
 
584
GARLO
SEVERI
actioii
is
then seen
as
merely
the
translation
into acts
of
this con-sistent
and explanatory 'discourse',
which
is
said
to be
bound
up
i
with
each
culture.
In
contrast
to the
intellectualist
interpretation,
:
developments
in
structuralist
anthropology
havc led
many anthro-
pologists to
propose
a
semiological view
of
ritual action.
For the
description places
emphasis
on the way in
which each
syrnbol isincluded—through
metaphor and
metonymy—in
networks
of
arbi-
trarysigns.
5
The field of
ritual
symbolism is
thus
described
as the
reorganization
by analogy or
contrast
of
notions
presentinother
áreas
of
tradition, such
as
myths
and
proverbs.
Where the
study
of
meaning
is
concerned,
the two approaches—
intellectualist
and
semiological—deny
or
minimize
certainproperdes
of
ritual which
in the
eyes
of the
participants
are
essential.
Thus
mostrituals
carry
obscure
or
contradictory
messages
and
sometimes
use
formulas
and enunciatory
situations
that
impede communication,
.
contrary
to
what
is
assumed
by an
intellectualist approach.
As for
the
semiological approach,
by
neglecting
the
specific
form
of
ritual
symbolism—the
particular
way in
which
it
unites
gestares, words,images,
and
objects—it
not
only
disregards
the ritual's
emotional
andcognitive
dimensions
but also
fails
to
define
what
distinguishes ritual
i
from any
other
aspect
of a
culture.
Ritual
is
considered
as
masked
speech.
When
we
follow
this path,
we
turn
ritual
action into
the
redundant
accessory
of a
socially regulated discourse
or the
impov-
'
erished
versión
of a
cosmology.
In
short,
the
specific
complexity of ritual
cannot
be
fully
accounted
for
by
looking
into
the
discourse
it
implies
or
into
its
social
func-
tion.
In
both
cases
the
concern
is always with the
premises
or con-
II
sequences
of ritual.
What
is
really
necessary, however,
is to
consider
the
organization
of ritual
action
itself.
,'j
From this
perspective,
the
reference
to
language
for the
study
of
ritual
becomes
even
more essential.
It
ceases
to
focus
solely
on the
processes
of the
construction
of
meaning
and
becomes
a
full
episte-
mológica!
model.
Like
any
linguístic
phenomenon, ritual possesses
a
form.
A
fundamental approach
to the
problem
of ritual
form
was
offered
by
Claude
Lévi-Strauss
in the
concluding
section
of
The
Naked
Social
Anthropology
(Cambridge,
1976);R.
Horton,
"Tradition
and
Modernity Revisited",M.
Hollis
and S. Lukes(eds),
Ratwnalily
and
Relativism
(Oxford,1982),
201-260.
3
E.g. Leach 1976
and
Fernandez
1972.
LANGUAGE
585
Man.
6
Over
and
above
the
standard question
of the relationships to
be
established
between
myth
and rite, the main
part
of his criticism
concerns
the
very
nature
of mythology:
[MJythology
exists
in two
clearly
different
modalities.
Sometime
it is
explicit
and
consists
of stories which,
because
of theirdimensionsand
internal
organization, rank
as works in their own right. Sometimes, onthe
contrary,
the mythic
text
isfragmentary,and
is
made
up, as it
were,
only of
notes
or sketches;
instead
of the
fragments
being
brought
together
in the light of some
guiding
principie,
each
remains
linkecl
toa
particular
phase
of the ritual, on
which
it
serves
as agloss,and it
is
only recited in
connectionwith
the
performance
of ritual
acts.
7
Yet,
he
continúes,
"contemporary
theoreticians
of ritual",
8
including
first and
foremost
Víctor W.
Turner,
approach
ritual by
illegitimately
mixing
into
it
elements
of
"implicit"
mythology, with
the
result that
"they
fmd
themselves
dealing
with
a hybrid
entity
about
which
any-
thing
can be
said: that
it is
verbal
and
non-verbal, that
it has a
cog-nitive function
and an
emotional
and
conative
function,
and so
on".
9
Lévi-Strauss proposes that
ritual be studied "in
itself
and for
itself",
10
and
that,
accordingly,
"we
should
on the
contrary
begin by remov-
ing
from
it all the
implicit mythology which
adheres
to it without
reallybeing
part
of it, in other
words,
those
beliefs
andrepresenta-
tions
which
are
connected with
aphilosophyof
nature,
in the
same
way
as
myths
. .
."."
How, then,
is
ritual
to be
defined?
For
Lévi-Strauss
the
move-
ments that compose
ceremonial
activities
"serve
in
loco
verbi;
they
are
:
a
substitute
for words",
12
in
order, through action,
to
actualize
a
mythology:
"ritual
condenses into
a
concrete
and
unitary
form pro-cedures which
otherwise would
have
had
to be discursive".
13
It is
precisely this
supplementary
function that
on his
view distinguishes
6
Lévi-Strauss 1981.
7
Lévi-Strauss 1981, 669.
8
Lévi-Strauss
1981,
669.
9
Lévi-Strauss
1981, 669.
Meyer
Fortes advances
a
similar
positíon
when
he says
that
"it is but a short
step
from
the
notion
of
ritual
as communication to the
non-
existence of ritual
per se"
(M.
Fortes,
"Religious
Premises
and
LogicalTechnique
in
Diviriatory
Ritual",
Philosoplncal
Ttansactwns
QJ
tke
Royai
Socieíy
ofLondon
251
(1966),
409-422;
cited
after
Rappaport 1979, 178).
"' Lévi-Strauss
1981,
669.
11
Lévi-Strauss 1981, 669.
'-'
Lévi-Strauss
1981,
671.
13
Lévi-Strauss
1981,
671.
 
586
GARLO
SEVER!
ritualacts
from
similar operationsin
everyday
life.
From this
stand-
point the
specificity
of ritual
lies
primarily
in the particular way inwhich it enacts mythology. In other words, ritual is distinguished notbywhatit
says
but by how it says it. Lévi-Strauss then
identifies
two
complementary 'procedures':
repetitíon and fragmentation, or touse the
term
adopted by his English translators, 'parceling'. The sys-tematic application of these procedures, he argües,
may
be thoughtto
lead
to a certain type of communication
specific
to ritual.
More
precisely, he considers that these procedures have the
effect
of reduc-ing to a minimum in the experiential content of the ritual
itself
thecriticaldistinctions establishedby the
classificatory
thought charac-teristic
of
mythology. Whereas myth
by
definition
distinguís/íes
betweenopposing pairs of terms, ritual cultivates the illusion of a reconcilia-
i
tion
of
opposites: "Ritual,
by
fragmentingoperations
and
repeating
1
them unwearyingly
in
infinite
detail,
takes
upon itself
the
laborious
task
of patching up holes and stopping
gaps,
and it thus encouragesthe illusion thatit ispossibleto runcountertomyth,and to
move
back
from
the discontinuous to the continuous."
14
A number ofauthors, including
Turner
himself,
have
seen
in the
establishment
of
such a transcendent context a liminality that 'revitalizes' society orthe conditions for the
participants'
adherence to the actions they
undertake.
Lévi-Strauss sees
the ritual
form
in a
completely differentlight: it is a
"desperate,
andinevitably
unsuccessful,
attempt"
15
.
Thus
he continúes:
When Turner
15
states
that
religious
rites
"créate
oractualizethe
cat-
egories by means of which man apprehends
reality,
the
axioms
under-
lying the social
structure
and the
laws
of the moral or natural
order",
he is not
fundamentally
wrong,
since
ritual
does,
of course,
refer
to
these categories, laws or
axioms.
But ritual
does
not créate
them,
andendeavoursrather,if not todeny them,at
least
to
oblitérate,
tem-
porarily,
the distincüons and oppositions they
lay
down,
by
bringing
out all sorts of ambiguities, compromises andtransitíonsbetween
them.
17
Henee, these two authors consider the place of ritual
frorn
radically
different
viewpoints.
For
Turner
it is
because
the
calling
into ques-
tionof the social structure
during
the ritual is first and foremost
Lévi-Strauss
1981,
674.
Lévi-Strauss
1981,
675.V.W. Turner
1967, 7.
Lévi-Strauss 1981,
680.
LANGUAGE
587
symbolic that it may be regarded in positive terms as an essentialgenerative forcé. For Lévi-Strauss,who
gives
obvious
precedence
tothe construction of meaning on the basis of alinguisticmodel, thestarting-point is a mental structure that corresponds to universal pat-terns.
Consiclering
that actions have
only
an expressive role, then,thecalling into questionofthis structure duringtheritualcan beviewed only from a destructive angle. For
one,
ritual is the
"qum-
tessence of custom"
18
; for the other, "a bastardization of thought,brought about
by the
constraints
of
life".
1!l
However,
at a
more gen-
eral
level
these two authors are in
agreement
since both view ritualaction as the expression of a disorder: the distinctive
feature
oí rit-ual action
lies
precisely in arelative
lack
of structure.
While
perceiving
ceremonialactivityin a perhaps
more positivelightthanLévi-Strauss, a number of authors have pursued the analy-
sis
of ritual
along
lines
similar to those he has suggestecl. We find,
for
example,
an
equivalent
standpoint, developedin a
more sys-tematic
fashion,
in the writings of Roy A. Rappaport, who pleadsina seminal article of the
same
period for a study not of the "mys-
terious,
symbolic
or
functional
depths"
of rituals but of the
various
formal
properties
that constitute their "obvious aspects".
20
This
sharedperspective,
then,
sees ceremonial
behavior
intermsof a set ofspe-
cial
'procedures'
or
characteristic
morphological
features: conven-tionality, repetition, fragmentation or
'parceling',
fixity,
framedness,condensation or
fusión
of meaning, numinous experience,
etc.
51
Gonfronted
by the highly stylized and
often
obscure
or
non-expres-
sive
nature of ritual utterances, most of these authors have lookedonce again to the study of
language
for
inspiration.
Some
22
havesought
to
adapt
to the
analysis
of
ceremonial
phenomena the
con-cept of 'performatívity' derived
from
the workofJ.L.
Austin:
23
regarded
in
the aggregate as performative statements, rituals are held to real-
ize
theveryactions they
describe
(linguistic examples of performa-
tives
include 'promising', 'condemning',
and 'baptizing'). The
limits
8
V.W.
Turner
1967,50.
9
Lévi-Strauss
1981, 675.Rappaport 1979, 173-174.
See,
e.g.,Mooreand
Meyerhoff
1977, 7-8;Tarnbiah1981,
119;
and Grimes1990,
14, for
sample
lists
of
such attributes.
-
E.g.,
Finnegan
1969; Bloch 1974;
Tambiah
1973; Grimes 1990.
'
J.L. Austin,
How to Do
Tkoigs
with
Words
(Oxford, 1962).

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