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“Ritual is circular, reiterative. It is a conjuration of the very presence, the human presence, to which it owes its existence.”


this incantation worked, if it did the trick. Worse still, through the grapevine (so to speak), came intimations that, far from expiring, their enemies were doing rather well for themselves; that they might even be prospering. In response they could be reassured that their curse (like all curses) would be always active, potent in perpetuity.


However, in the everyday world ritual is displaced, then marginalised by its nefarious simulacrum. What remains gets sequestrated, refunctioned. Choreographed rhythms degenerate into routine behaviour in the socio- economic mega-machine. Sequences of gestures decline into epiphenomena of the systemic logic sustaining the administered world. Patterns of response are reduced to behavioural reflexes conditioned by organisational procedures. Measures translate the vindictiveness of managerial regulation: there is no quality that is not measurable. In facilitating calculation they provide the certainties, – the data, the statistics, the numbers – for the bureaucrat’s cold, psychotic gratification. (Psychotic? Did not Rousseau describe calculation as a form of depravity?) The socio-economic mega-machine radiates psychosis. It induces a distinctive psychopathology. The purely functionalistic rituals it enforces simulate neurotic repetition- compulsions. The superior faultlessness of its electronic apparatus, interrupted by frustrating malfunctions resulting from human-all-too- human clumsiness, provokes deep shame. Its relentless automatism, connecting directly with the automatisms of the unconscious, thus liberating regressive desires, outflanks


self-reflection and so generates anxiety. As an instrument of totalitarian terror it thus tears asunder the personality already alienated and exhausted by capitalist exploitation in order now to tap into and extract the maximum surplus- value from its vast unconscious resources.


Perhaps it resulted from driving for several hours in the tiring sun that my responses slowed so that, instead of turning into the crematorium- complex, I mistook for its entrance an adjacent drive-way into what estate-agents would call a secluded estate of upmarket “executive homes” otherwise indistinguishable from it. A deft three-point turn and a few minutes later I was parking my car in the congested crematorium car-park. I got out and made my uncertain way towards the crowds. Where was the group I was supposed to be joining? The scene – the rows of cars parked, people in groups waiting, an atmosphere of expectancy – reminded me of a frontier control-post in disputed territory that had closed temporarily or where travellers turning up without the correct papers or with expired visas had caused delays. (Well, I thought, we might not have the right papers or visa now but this particular frontier-post will admit us all sometime or other, sooner or later.) Then the same scene – the rows of cars, the people waiting, the expectancy – evoked a car-ferry port prior to departure, perhaps for a rough, night crossing. (But suppose, I thought, the transfer across the Styx was no longer with the fearsome Charon in a graceful gondola. In this culture of the death-drive, the dominion of Thanatos, it would surely require the capacity of a roll-on roll-


off ferry, a floating structure of cabin-like tombs, equipped with shops, restaurants and cinemas to alleviate the dreadful journey.) And then I recognised other members of the group and, as I joined them, we all moved towards the chapel that was already so overflowing with mourners that we had to gather at its entrance. It had been decided that mourners should wear bright, party clothes, T-shirts, jeans, flimsy frocks, because this was to be the celebration of a young life accidentally abbreviated and his friends, having done him proud with this dress-code, were certainly conspicuous. But on this mid-summer day I (like the other older participants) had still gone for black as a proper expression of deep sympathy and respect. With the service over, the music, the eulogies, the prayers all done, we filed out past the coffin isolated on its catafalque like a missile on a launch-pad about to blast off for the cosmos. There had been none of the usual hocus-pocus, the prestidigitation, so that after a prayer when you look up it has vanished. In the blazing sun outside on the neat, suburban lawn with its rose-bush borders we met and reflected in a sombre mood. I was introduced to one young woman who had the most reason to be deeply affected. To express her devastating grief she was wearing the most revealing party- dress. Everyone knows that the perpetual conflict between Eros and Thanatos that governs our works and days is vastly unequal, but it was as if, even in this deep crisis, she wished bravely to tilt the odds in Eros’s favour, as if in desiring to give a treasured keepsake to the now departed, she was symbolically giving herself. – And that (since you did say you wanted to know) is how I learned yet


again about the awful sadness of living ...


Ritual is circular, reiterative. It is a conjuration of the very presence, the human presence, to which it owes its existence. It defines a time within time, in the way that a piece of music (e.g. a Mozart sonata, a twelve-bar Blues) has its own time- signature, its own temporal structure. It defines a presence within existence that can occur only because it produces sense, because those the ritual involves believe in it. It is the imaginary architecture of a constructive illusion: without it life would be impossible. Ritual is the default recourse to sense production. – Along with marriage-rituals, burial-rituals are an essential, primordial constant in human behaviour. The very concept of humanitas comes (according to Vico) from the Latin humando (i.e. burying), the rituals of mourning affirming presence even in the moment of its demise, the human inextricable from inhumation. But ritualistic constancy has no defence against its institutionalisation. It then upholds the barren formality of tradition. It reinforces the entrenched authority of things as they are. Rituals remain vital only if they are spontaneously created. Or rather they must unexpectedly happen, suggest themselves, emerge unbidden into consciousness like a refrain, a particular melody, some lines of verse, evoking a state of mind, a situation, a complex of issues, a rhizome-like pattern of circumstances, whatever remains, the recollected remnants of having lived...


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