The Disappearance of Rituals: A Topology of the Present

30 Oct 2022 10:02 - 01 Nov 2023 11:49
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    • tl;dr

      • [ Rituals ] turn the world into a reliable place. They are to time what a home is to space: they render time habitable.
    • Summary

      • He seems to be something of a conservative and a nostalgist for lost forms of meaningfulness (without being right-wing at all AFAICT). A sharp critique of the present but I'm not sure what he has to offer in its place. He reminds me of Christopher Alexander but Alexander had a program. His opposite would be Nick Land who sees the digital revolution as equally destructive, but also an inevitablity that should be embraced in all of its horror.
      • Also strong echoes of Technic and Magic. The enemy is the same, whether it is called neoliberalism, technic, dataism, etc (it used to be called capitalism or modernism or rationalism but those are sort of old-fashioned terms). Their valorized opposites are are also kind of the same: ritual, magic, re-enchantment, play.
      • Although play gets a lot of praise here, the book itself is kind of ponderous in tone, sometimes downright grim (although refreshingly clear at least). Contrast with Latour, whose scope is just as broad but whose style is infinitely playful, more cognizant of the human reality, which is richer than its ideologies.
    • Notes

    • Ch 1 The Compulsion of Production

      • My first concern: is he actually is using "topology" appropriately.
        like I am the math police tasked with not allowing the unauthorized metaphorical use of its languages.
        • Hm, the word only appears once in the text. It irks me when people throw around technical vocabulary without meaning anything. I suppose he is getting at the way rituals or their lack give a shape or structure to experience?
      • Recognition in the literal sense, knowing something again.
        • Symbolic perception, as recognition, is a perception of the permanent: the world is shorn of its contingency and acquires durability. Today, the world is symbol- poor. Data and information do not possess symbolic force and so do not allow for recognition.
        • Hm I wonder how to interpret it or whether I agree (or whether it is a genuine insight or a trite observation). But OK, there is a lack of good fixed meaningful anchors, things to believe in, church or state or cause or whatever. No question about it.
      • We can define rituals as symbolic techniques of making oneself at home in the world. They transform being-in-the- world into a being-at-home.
      • That is very interesting, it's not a definition of ritual I would come up with. I guess I think of ritual as an outsider, strange actions other people do to make their lives meaningful. But I am also a participant in rituals, and the above is as good an explanation of the dynamic as any, how they feel.
      • They turn the world into a reliable place. They are to time what a home is to space: they render time habitable.
      • A smartphone is not a ‘thing’ in Arendt’s sense. It lacks the very self-sameness that stabilizes life.
      • Impulse to quibble – don't smartphone apps have their own rituals? But yeah I get what he is saying.
      • Forms of ritual, such as manners, make possible both beautiful behaviour among humans and a beautiful, gentle treatment of things
      • Well OK. Smartphone rituals lack beauty and gentility, that's for sure. Not completely, because interaction on social media is still interaction, and it becomes gamified or ritualized...but not in a very stable or sustainable way. Even if FB is evolving towards a humane field of interaction, it will be replaced in a few years with something else (already has actually, but you know what I mean).
      • The emotionalization of commodities and the associated aestheticization of commodities are subject to the compulsion of production. Their function is to increase consumption and production. As a consequence, the aesthetic is colonized by the economic.
      • Yeah this is what I was saying, sort of. OK.
      • The neoliberal regime pushes serial perception, reinforces the serial habitus. It intentionally abolishes duration in order to drive more consumption.
      • Might quibble about the agentness of "the neoliberal regime", which doesn't deliberately do anything I think.
      • Rituals are processes of embodiment and bodily performances. In them, the valid order and values of a community are physically experienced and solidified. ... A ritual community is a communal body
      • Digital communication is increasingly developing into communication without community.
      • Think that is simplisitic; a lot of real communities have sprung forth from digital communication.
      • Everyone is producing him- or herself in order to garner more attention. The compulsion of self- production leads to a crisis of community.
      • Yeah OK
    • Ch 2 The Compulsion of Authenticity

      • Against Charles Taylor, he thinks drive for authenticity is narcissistic, driven by a need for capitalist performance.
      • Contrary to Taylor’s assumptions, however, authenticity is in fact the enemy of community. The narcissism of authenticity undermines community. In terms of its content, what is crucial is not its reference to a community or some other higher order but its market value, which effaces all other values...Within the cult of authenticity, the production of self becomes a permanent activity. Authenticity thus atomizes society.
      • The neoliberal regime exploits morality. Once it is able to present itself as freedom, domination becomes complete...You exploit yourself voluntarily in the belief that you are realizing yourself.
      • Ouch, that's grim. I kind of agree, but all this worry about authenticity sounds about 50 years out of date. Haven't the hipsters gone through about a dozen iterations of irony and anti-irony by now?
      • He's a bit culturally conservative, at least anti-counter-culture, in which authenticity was put forth as a high value and ordinary politeness devalued.
      • Politeness is an as-if ritual. Culture as such is made up of as-if rituals. If we remove the as-if gestures in the name of authenticity or genuineness, we destroy the element of civilization...A ritual of politeness is not an expression of subjective feeling; it is an objective act. It resembles a magical invocation that produces a positive mental state.
      • A ritual of politeness is not an expression of subjective feeling; it is an objective act. It resembles a magical invocation that produces a positive mental state.
      • Today, the arts are also increasingly rendered profane and disenchanted. Magic and enchantment – the true sources of art – disappear from culture, to be replaced by discourse.
      • OK see why the WS guys are fans.
    • Ch 3 - Rituals of Closure

      • Closure seems to mean something like temporal boundedness and specificity. A certain existential thingness, as opposed to the radically connected world of mystics or Latour, eg.
      • In the absence of the negativity of closure, what emerges is an endless addition and accumulation of the same, an excess of positivity, an excrescent proliferation of information and communication. Where everything is connected, no closure is possible. The loss of forms of completion that accompanies overproduction and overconsumption leads to systemic collapse.
      • Sigh, the internet and social media certainly drive home the truth of this.
      • The inability to bring about closure is connected with narcissism. The narcissistic subject feels itself most intensely not in what it does, in the work completed, but in ongoing performance. What is done, what is completed, exists as an independent, finished object, something inde- pendent of the producing subject’s self. Thus, the subject avoids bringing anything to completion
      • See this hypertext. Guilty of narcissism I guess. It's quite true I've never been very good at creating complete objects. Software is inherently always unfinished, and my writing tends to sprawl and be shapeless. I feel bad about it at least.
      • Collective consciousness creates a community without communication. For the villagers, there is one story, continuously repeated, and this story is the world: ‘They do not have opinions on this or that, but incessantly tell just one great story.
      • A narrative is a form of closure: it has a beginning and an end and is characterized by a closed order. Information, by contrast, is additive, not narrative. It does not combine into a story, a song, that could form the basis of meaning and identity. Information can only be endlessly accumulated.
      • Human beings are creatures of sites [Ortswesen]. Dwelling, staying, is only possible where there is a site. But a creature of sites is not necessarily a site fundamentalist [Ortsfundamentalist]. Being a creature of sites does not rule out hospitality. The destructive de-siting of the world by the global smooths out all differences and permits only variations of the same.
      • I think the thing about "site fundamentalists" is to put some distance between what he is pushing and right-wing nationalism. Which is good I guess.
    • Ch 4 Festivals

      • This was all true but seemed kind of old hat to me. We know the world needs festivals, and we all know pretty much that the commercialized events that go under that name these days are pretending to be something they aren't (Burning Man is valiantly battling to retain its sacral nature, with mixed success).
      • In ancient Greek, ‘school’ is scholé, that is, leisure. Schools of higher education would thus be schools of higher leisure. Today, they are no longer places of high leisure. They have become places of production, factories of human capital.
      • Did not know that etymology. I have to say I was lucky enough to have been able to treat school largely as a source of higher leisure, but most people can't do that.
      • We celebrate [begehen wir] a festival, but it is not possible to celebrate work [die Arbeit zu begehen]
      • The festival is also the origin of art: ‘The essence of our temporal experience of art is in learning how to tarry in this way. And perhaps it is the only way that is granted to us finite beings to relate to what we call eternity.’
    • Ch 5 A Game of Life and Death

      • The glory of play goes along with sovereignty, where sovereignty simply means being free from necessity, from purpose and utility.
      • Georges Bataille distinguishes between two types of play, strong and weak. In a society in which utility has become the dominant principle only weak play is deemed acceptable. Weak play fits into the logic of production because it serves the purpose of recreation, time away from work. Strong play, by contrast, cannot be reconciled with the principle of work and production. It puts life itself at risk. It is characterized by sovereignty.
      • Death is not a loss, not a failure, but an expression of the utmost vitality, force and desire.
      • The stuff on strong play recalls some of the passages on play in Blood Meridian
    • Ch 6 The End of History

      • I think I don't really understand Hegel a bit.
    • Ch 7 The Empire of Signs

      • Language as a medium of information has no splendour. It does not seduce. Poems are structures with strict forms that shine all by themselves. .... In poetry, language plays. For this reason, we hardly read poems any more. Poems are magic ceremonies of language. The poetic principle returns pleasure to language through a radical break with the economy of the production of meaning. The poetic does not produce. This is why '[t]he poetic is the insurrection of language against its own laws' (Baudrillard), against the laws that serve the purpose of producing meaning.
      • Politeness is pure form. Nothing is intended by it. It is empty. As a ritual form, it is devoid of any moral content...As a form of ritual, politeness is without heart and with- out desire, without wish.
      • That just seems wrong. A violation of politeness will generally also be taken to be a violation of morality. He's talking about Japanese culture here, but still.
      • In the empire of signs, the soul, psychology, is erased. There is no soul to infect the holy seriousness of ritual play. The place of psychology is taken by a passion for rules, a passion of form.
      • I can't say I find this vision very appealing. It may be a legit vision of how Japanese culture works, but I'm a gaijin and so are most people.
      • As a form of ritual, politeness is without heart and without desire, without wish. It is more art than morality. It exhausts itself in the pure exchange of ritual gestures. Within the topology of Japanese politeness as a ritual form, there is no inside, no heart, that would render the politeness a merely external etiquette. It cannot be described using the opposition of inside and outside...In the empire of signs, the soul, psychology, is erased. There is no soul to infect the holy seriousness of ritual play.
      • One of the few passages that actually mentions topology. I think I get what he's saying. A form that has no inside, sounds like the Japanese inhabit an experiential Klein bottle. Which doesn't sound very habitable! But he is saying that the deemphasis on private desires and the inwardness of soul in favor of external form is actually liberating, more playful.
    • Ch 8 From Dueling to Drone Wars

      • Cites Homo Ludens and the relationship between war and play.
      • Modern wars lack the character of play. Here, too, the basic formula applies: the compulsion of production destroys play. Modern wars are battles of production.
      • The industrial data-driven quality of drone warfare. He's right but this is not very original. And not so sure I buy the valorization of earlier ritualized combat.
    • Ch 9 From Myth to Dataism

      • But [ J. Huizinga ] turns play into something absolute, and he therefore misses the decisive paradigm shift within knowledge transfer in the history of the Occident, namely the transition from myth to truth, which coincides with the transition from play to work. Along the path towards work, thinking gradually distances itself from its origin in play.
      • Kant is deeply irritated by the idea of pure play as an end in itself...In this passage, Kant speaks explicitly of a ‘product’ and, as he often does, of a ‘business’...Play is subordinated to work and production.
      • Interesting...didn't know Kant was such a square. I'm half-sympathetic to this admittedly dreary stance, because while it is appealing to think of play as a kind of autonomous thing, independent of any practical goals, it doesn't make a hell of a lot of sense from an evolutionary standpoint.
      • The Copernican anthropological turn which made man an autonomous producer of knowledge is being superceded by the dataistic turn. ... No longer the producer of knowledge, the human being cedes its sovereignty to data. Dataism puts an end to the idealism and humanism of the Enlightenment. The human being is no longer the sovereign subject of knowledge, the originator of knowledge. Knowledge is now produced mechanically.
      • Update Jan 22nd, 2023 : Since I first wrote this (Nov 2022) ChatGPT and other LLMs have taken over the world, and prompted a lot of rather frustrating discussion about the very nature of knowledge and intelligence. This was not a hard trend to spot but give B-CY some prophet credits anyway.
      • The knowledge produced by big data escapes understanding. Human cognition is not powerful enough. Processors are faster than a human being precisely because they neither think nor understand; they only calculate. The proponents of dataism would argue that humans invented thinking because they cannot calculate fast enough, and that the age of thinking will prove to be a short historical interlude.
      • Wow, that is quite on-point.
      • The compulsion of production eliminates the space of games and narration. Algorithmic processes of calculation are not narrative but only additive, which is why they can always be accelerated. Thinking, by contrast, cannot be accelerated. Theories still contain elements of narrative. Algorithms count, but they do not recount.
      • Here is behind the times, because algorithmic narrative is a big research area (and driven mostly by game applications). He might dismiss all that as inhuman pseudo-thinking.
      • Dataism turns the production of knowledge into something pornographic. Thinking is more erotic than calculating. It is Eros who gives wings to thinking... Without Eros, the steps of thinking degenerate into the steps of a calculation, that is, the steps of work to be performed. Calculation is naked, pornographic.
      • Er wow. I have a whole new set of metaphors to apply to the data pipelines I work on professionally, not sure I want them
    • Ch 10 From Seduction to Porn

      • Seduction is a ritual (and thus artistic), porn is its neoliberal capitalist replacement – crude, quantitative, and as I-It as you can get.