'From here to eternity.'
What happens at the heart of ritual: where temporality becomes eternity, and eternity sets the seal on the return of a chastened temporality? Is this in any way different to the workings of the universal proposition, where tautology always implies an appeal to the extra-temporal and axiomatics shores up this putative extra-temporality by sacrificing dissent? The pretensions of the universal proposition represent ritual at its coldest (unembodied repetition). The world of 'objectivity' here consists of a (ritual) washing away of the self matched by a blindness to the rhetoric of eternity. Ritual henceforth becomes hot, requires the ever-increasing imbrication of the self and its emotions. The distant horizon of eternity is balanced as on the finest scales with the immediacy of the affect.
Eternity once attained stabilises temporality for a future no longer waiting apart, but happily sutured into the present. The bar of ritual is now placed firmly behind one, simultaneously distancing the past (with its worn down and faulty forms) and preserving its preferred features (ritual as ritual Aufhebung after Hegel). Before ritual; anticipation of ritual: after ritual; anticipation of the future...
(I) In a space, a time, accentuated to infinity by a framing of this same space by physical means (boundaries, the end point of a journey, a sense of place) by the framing of this same time by its removal from everyday time, a time set aside, sacrificed from temporal ends, a time echoing a chain of similar times, a passage of occasions, final support in the bridge of repetition - the latest of these special times. In a space, a time, a sacrifice (an exchange as made, over and above the cost of the time and space so designated, a further sacrifice, a gift, a personal offering for the better motivation of personal involvement). The greater the sacrifice, the greater the depth to which the roots of the exchange enter the body (whose time and energy has been spent to pay for this moment, to set up a debt; of the mind to its bodily expenditure, as of the gods to ourselves, of ourselves to them - a debt incurred at the price of great sacrifice) and the greater the sacrifice, the greater the sense of occasion. In a space, a time, intensified to the point of temporal disruption, of spatial transport, a further dislocation; the transformation of mere things, worldly possessions, into the property of the sacred, possessing sacred properties. Otherworldly. A plenitude of objects, sacrificial gifts, mimic the wished-for plenitude of the sacred realm; our presents guarantee our presence there, their plenitude, our presence.
(II) All the resources of the present, of the moment in which we live, in which we live forever, while we live and are conscious, are brought to bear and accentuated by the sacrifice and the accompanying sense of occasion. The framing of space and time themselves is such that their figurative attributes may be brought to bear at the maximal productive pitch. All these factors are brought into play to summon the eternal in the present - to allow the unending aspect of the 'now' moment of the present to predominate. The 'now' moment in the 'eternal now' flattens out, is forgotten, the horizon that constitutes the temporal expands to infinity: no past, no future, only an eternal present. In the crucible of the ritual experience only an unending presence remains. Self in community bathes in the light of the eternal, Grail and guarantor of sublunary law, site of Law, abode of gods, universal propositions, and all morality - it is this exposure that resets the flow of the temporal into a comprehensible and safe ordering, a flow no longer chaotic but navigable by all.
(III) Finally set on course for the future, certain of itself, its place and its goals, identity finds itself again secure (having survived its shaking in the game of ritual transgression) cemented, positioned... poised, into a sense of community (real or imaginary). Returned to a space, a time, where all co-ordinates have full meaning, into a metaphysics, where what lies beyond the senses, beyond sense itself, itself makes sense (even if only as a 'mystery') and so contributes to the ordering of first and last things that constitutes a 'world'; the subject (ourselves); through the copula ('is') of ritual.
In minimal forms (a handshake, a greeting, a stare) a minimum exchange, a basic exchange of recognition, is sufficient. If a different quality of identity is involved (and a different quantity of affect invested and harvested), it is nevertheless a ritual exchange which functions in the same way as its less frequently observed, but costlier, cousin. If the general effect, the function of self-positioning, is lighter and dispersed over a wider area, then the sheer quantity of transactions involved (encompassing synchronic as well as linear repetition) makes up for any apparent lack of intensity. While privatised in form (but not private, not a set of private rituals personal to someone and defining their personality, rather a ritual of civil society), such repetitions can produce an affect shared by millions, productive therefore a social force to be reckoned with - certainly one to be recognised. (It is here that we witness the flavour of a culture as conveyed by its greetings, by its public forms of sociability).
This fundamental form (appearing here in minimal guise and so suggesting meiosis as the trope of essence) when augmented by the ostensible trappings of ritual, will once again begin grow proportionately in influence and intensity. With the addition of extra layers, with the compaction and accretion of many strata of experience, as space and time, sacrifice, all the drama, all the ingredients of rituality, are more clearly formalised, concentrated and focused upon their aim, so the boundaries of meaning covered by the ritual act begin to stretch and expand until infinity (the comprehension of all as one) is again successfully attained. And so we return toward the glow of the great event, the millennial rebirth, the fountain of renewal, that sets us once again certain on our course in the ocean of life.
Copyright 2004 Peter Nesteruk