Ritual and Its Consequences: An Essay on the Limits of Sincerity

Ritual and Its Consequences: An Essay on the Limits of Sincerity

Ritual and Its Consequences: An Essay on the Limits of Sincerity

Ritual and Its Consequences: An Essay on the Limits of Sincerity

Synopsis

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.

Excerpt

Like all good ritual—and good science, for that matter—this book is the product of a collective effort. the four of us wrote it together, over the course of time and as part of quite a few ongoing conversations, shared research, a good deal of frustration, and many laughs. “Science,” as Werner Heisenberg remarked in his Physics and Beyond: Encounters and Conversations, “is rooted in conversations.” If shared speech (of a certain kind) makes up the stuff of science, so shared practice (of a certain kind) makes up the stuff of ritual. a book on ritual hovers somewhere between the two: a bit more of a joint social world than shared speech and perhaps a bit less than shared practice.

This book originated in an increasingly expanding conversation with authors and interlocutors, both dead and living. It began with an exercise that Rob and Adam shared in a comparison of Confucian and Jewish funeral manuals. These were texts intended for popular audiences. in the Jewish context, we read the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, a nineteenth-century handbook available to every householder, explaining how to live a ritually correct life. in fact, we used Adam’s grandmother’s copy, published on Duane Street in New York, in 1900. For the comparable Confucian text we made use of Patricia Ebrey’s translation of the eminent neo-Confucian philosopher Zhu Xi’s Family Rituals, which was first published in the twelfth century, but versions of which remain widely available in the Chinese world.

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