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Rituals – Voices Words by Martin L. Davies


“This is what they did every Friday (so I was told)”


This ritual, for example: making a cocktail. Not every day would you do it. (You have to keep a clear head at all times.) But sooner or later – sooner rather than later – the time comes, maybe a special time, the end of the day, of a long day. She says: I want to wind down. You respond: OK, let’s have a drink. – First, you set out the tall, delicate glasses, the shaker, the measures. Then you arrange the bottles. Then you fix up the lemon or orange or whatever decoration, then the ice. It’s like a magic spell for a magic potion. It requires an incantation: two measures brandy, two measures sweet vermouth, a teaspoon sugar syrup, a few dashes Angostura bitters. You shake it until the shaker frosts over and your hands ache with cold. Slowly you pour it out. You drink, – you taste a delightful interlude and, with the liquid’s flavour sufficiently intense, a moment of epiphany.


Ritual is a self-conscious sequence of gestures and body movements. Its self- consciousness patterns the enacted sequences. It is choreography, performance. There is in it something not just organic, but integral to matter itself. Its being self-conscious is the surface reflex of ontic organisation. All matter is organised: the ratio between adjacent numbers in the Fibonacci sequence (the golden section) governs the spiral structure of star nebulae as it does whorls in sea- shells. An aesthetic intention inheres in matter, be it in the geometrical regularities of quartz crystals or in the loops and spots on an exotic butterfly’s ornate wings. In the human organism the same intention governs tropisms operative within consciousness. One such tropism would be the impulse to interrupt the experiential flux


of dreary routine functioning by taking a line of flight, an escape route, ephemeral though it may be, towards the sacred...


Chorus-girls dance in lines uniformly: social theorists saw it as the factory assembly-line in its cultural form. Otherwise dance styles are de-regulated (like the free market); but the disco-beat, above all synthetic, indifferent, partly a throbbing pulse, partly an unrelenting measure, would eventually fray the human figures under its spell with its convulsive automatisms. (The exhausting dance marathon was once a characteristic of mass culture (as Siegfried Kracauer remarks).) Ballroom dancing is sinister in a different way: it has all the engineered precision of a military drill. It is the epitome of the militant banality of bourgeois culture. But in the pole-dancer there is purity, purity of form and motion, – an intense, liquid sculpture, the measured but exotic convergence of athletic prowess and erotic enchantment. Her movements are choreographed by a collage of provocative Gestalten, primordial erotic configurations embedded deep in the bio-structure of the psyche, in the repertory of the most archaic of human responses. (To connect the erogenous with the cosmological is not a male conceit but a true imaginary, – as in Courbet’s painting, L’Origine du monde and in the principle of natality. The world that human beings create has to be born to come into being, so that with birth – as with the Nativity – a new beginning always means hope.) The audience mainly male is entranced, though some gape in insolent incredulity: either way they are hooked. These men think they know why: she is the object


of their desire, clearly she must desire them. They can see themselves only in their narcissistic fantasies obviously making use of her body regardless of who she is. As for her, who she is for herself, I think she’s thinking: when I’m through here I shall go backstage, slip on a wrap and have, as she always does, a mug of tea she will make with a routine as dextrous as her dance.


Any line of flight towards the sacred will be ephemeral, because in the disenchanted world the sacred is transient, exceptional. It is a state of attentiveness, of rapture, of ecstasy, of epiphany that is humanly unsustainable. So ritual must be perpetual conjuration, conjuration perpetually reiterated. Think, for example, of the conjuror’s compulsive gestures, his distracting sleights of hand, his abracadabras, the magic hocus- pocus, the wonderment. All an illusion. There is no transcendental, immaterial entity to which ritual conjuration appeals. It seems to make sense, but only because the appealing gesture in itself projects transcendence. But then sense is an inherent property of reiterated conjurations, of patterns and sequences (as in binary code or the structure of DNA). They need not signify anything! The conjuring gestures need not gesture towards anything. And what, if they could, would they gesture towards? Deep down everyone knows there is nothing out there, that human life is a cosmological eccentricity, that above all consciousness is fatal, – a remote observation-post in uncharted territory. What an absurdity, death included, except for just one, single compensation, – love! Ritual, though, does something miraculous. It makes something out of nothing, it galvanises ontological destitution.


It supplies the rest, the rest that potentialises existence, empowers it. It invests in it an essential, self-sustaining dynamic. What drives it is melody and dance, as in the cult of Dionysus: rhythms of musical movement, rhythms of voice in the song. In enchantment there is chant, itself sustained by the binary code in measures such as the iambus (v –) and the trochaeus (– v), the dactyl (– v v) and the anapaest (v v –), the choriambus (– v v –) and the antispast (v – – v). For once the utilitarians have a point (says Nietzsche): poetry is useful because rhythmic measure is omnipotent. There is nothing it cannot do: it magically drives labour forward, compels God to take heed, bends the future to one’s will, and purges the soul: ‘to lack rhythmic measure is to be nothing, to possess rhythmic measure is to become virtually divine.’


This is what they did every Friday (so I was told), at the end of the week, when they finally – at last! – had the time to be together closed off from the world. It was as if they were marking the Sabbath with a feast. It was, though, for her sake. He would light a sea-blue candle in her honour. As a preliminary ceremony the table would be set, the champagne flutes signifying solemnity. The food would be simple but elegant: a gratin dauphinois, perhaps, fillet steaks saignant, a salad tossed in a light vinaigrette, and then a pavlova and espresso coffee for dessert. One would serve the food, the other with nonchalant dexterity would open the ever effervescent wine and fill the flutes. Once seated (I was told), automatically they would raise their glasses and, before imbibing, with grim determination exclaim: Death to our enemies!!!! – But (apparently) they never could discover if


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