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Carlo Ginzburg. Rites of Passages

Carlo Ginzburg. Rites of Passages

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Rites of PassageAuthor(s): Carlo GinzburgSource:
The Threepenny Review,
No. 80 (Winter, 2000), pp. 28-29Published by: Threepenny ReviewStable URL:
Accessed: 23/02/2009 06:24
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available athttp://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unlessyou have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and youmay use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use.Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained athttp://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=tpr.Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printedpage of such transmission.JSTOR is a not-for-profit organization founded in 1995 to build trusted digital archives for scholarship. We work with thescholarly community to preserve their work and the materials they rely upon, and to build a common research platform thatpromotes the discovery and use of these resources. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.
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MISCELLANY
Rites ofPassage
CarloGinzburgEditor'sNote:Ifyouarelocated inauniversitytown,as weare,youannuallyhaveaccess to aspecializedartform-thatis,thecommencementaddress. Thisonewas deliveredto UCBerkeley'sHistory ofArtdepartmentinMay of1999.
IN EVERYCOUNTRYacademic
lifetakes adifferentform. Forsome-bodylikemyself,bornandeducated inItaly,themostobviousparallelto acommencementceremonywould be aninaugurallecture,likethe onefamouslydelivered,morethanfivehundredyearsago, byLorenzoValla,thegreathumanist,atLaSapienza,"TheWisdom"-thenamegiventotheUniversityofRome. ButAmericancommencementsaredifferent,and notonlybecausetheytakeplaceattheend,ratherthanat thebeginningofthe aca-demicyear.Evenmoredifferent istheircontent.Amixture ofcuriosityandworryledme tocheckentries fortheword"commencement"intheUCLAResearchLibrarycatalogue.Icameacross,amongnofewerthan920items,thefollowingtitle:Thefolly,guilt,andmischiefsofduelling:a ser-mon,preachedbyTimothyDwight,presidentofYaleCollegeandprofessorofdivinityinthatinstitution,inthe col-lege chapelat NewHaven,on thesab-bathprecedingtheannualcommence-ment,September,1804. Icouldeasilyquotemanytitles ofthis kind. Acom-mencementisthe secularversionof areligiousceremony,which foralongtime involvedasermon. This isfarfromsurprising.Icouldrecallhere thefamousremarkmademore thana cen-turyago byAlexisdeTocqueville,thatmostinsightfulobserver ofAmericansociety:"Thereligiousatmosphereofthecountrywas thefirstthingthatstruckme onmyarrival intheUnitedStates."One canimagineTocqueville'scommentwere he able towatchtoday'sAmericanpoliticalleadersofferingpub-licrepentancefortheirprivatesins:"pluscachange,plusc'est lamemechose."UCBerkeleys ofcoursequitea secu-larinstitution.But theidea ofdeliveringa sermon inaseculargarbmakes meratheruneasy,forreasonsIwillexplainina minute.Iprefertoplayadifferentrole,that of theparticipant-observernaratherexotic ritual. Theceremonyweareperforming,markedas it isbyaspecialattire,andbyaspecificsequenceofevents,isaritual,ofthe sort ana-lyzed byArnold vanGennep,theFlemishethnographer,in hisfamousbook,TheRitesofPassage."Ritesofpassage,"vanGennepwrote,maybesingledout "as aspecialcategory,whichunder furtheranalysis maybesubdividedintoritesofseparation,transitionrites,and ritesofincorpora-tion."Theveryword"commence-ment,"appliedto an eventwhich takesplaceat theendof anexperience,nicelypointstoan intermediatestage,toatransition.VanGennep'scategoriesaredeliber-atelygeneral,devoid ofempiricalcon-tent: indefiningthemhe didnothesi-tatetoinclude inthesamesentenceAustraliantribes andancientGreekcity-states.But thisuniversalizingten-dencyhadlimits,and theethnographernotedthat "toall theabove-mentionedgroupdistinctions,thesemicivilizedadd stillanother-onefor whichoursocietyhas no realcounterpart-adivi-sion intogenerationorage groups."Inthe firstAmericantranslationofvanGennep'sbook,publishedinChicagoin1960,aneditorialfootnotewasappendedtothissentence:"WritinginEuropein1908,vanGennepdid not knowtheawareness ofagedistinctionscharacteristic of mod-ernAmericansociety."ThatawarenesshasspreadfromAmerica to other con-tinents.Todayjuvenileculture isproba-blyaworldwidephenomenon.Howareteachers toreact to the exis-tence ofrigidboundariesbetween dif-ferent'agegroups, especiallyifthoseteachersgrewupinplaceswheresuchboundarieswereless formal?Ifteach-ingcannotserve as anantidote to thedistancebetweengenerations,it doesnotdeservethe name.Teaching,notpreaching.Therighteousnessof thepreacherisoften associated with amoreor lessexplicitly patronizingatti-tude,andthisrighteousness inevitablygivesrise toa more orlessbluntlydis-missiverejection.Butefforts to commu-nicateacrossgenerationscan failbecause ofmoreinsidiousproblems.OscarWilde'sironical advice-"Nevercontradictyour juniors"-would,iftakenseriously,pushtheoldergenera-tion toagrotesqueeffort torejuvenateitself. As Iattempttoanswer the kindinvitationIreceived tosharewithyousomereflectionsonhistoryand thevisualarts,Iwillnotdisguisethe dis-tance between thisaudience andmyself.Onlydistance(andthe aware-ness ofit)can makeintellectualexchanges interesting.The direstraitsinwhich art historystandswere stressed some timeago byHansBelting,the authorof The EndoftheHistory ofArt? "Both the artist andthearthistorian,"Beltingwrote,"havelostfaith inarational,teleologicalprocessofartistichistory,aprocesstobe carriedoutbythe one anddescribedbytheother."Beltingpointedto a "dis-continuity"bothinart and inarthisto-ry:"Art historians for themostpartdeclinedtotakepartinmodernism'schallenge,achallengewhichmighthaveinspiredaradicalreexaminationof theorthodox account of Westernart."AccordingtoBelting,this reexam-ination had beenso rare as tosuggest
28THE
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