The Ritual Model of Form

The following article is not exactly a Classic or Re-Run; it is a chapter from Bill Routt’s PhD thesis and was selected by Bill for inclusion here.

Popular art, which is as often highly individualized as it is not, is certainly art in which “lived reality” plays an important role. Those whose ideas we have just been considering have used the analogy of organic structure partly to explain how the apparent conflicts between lived reality and structure, individual and species (genre), may actually not be conflicts at all. If we are to understand anything specifically about popular art, however, we have to reject the organic model as being too general for our purposes. It applies to all art, not just to popular art. In popular art we are confronted on the one hand with an idea of form derived from the concept of lived reality – a form which can be understood along the model of performance, a major component of which is its emergent, living quality. On the other, we have developed an idea of popular art as conventional form – that form which can be understood along the models of myth and genre, major components of which are their timeless structures. The basic opposition should by now be a familiar one, for it was expressed in the materials of popular art as that between ephemerality and perdurance. Here our task must be to locate a single formal model that will be as true to the immediate experience of a popular artwork as it is to the long-lived structures that underlie the unique experience.

Performance itself might provide such a model, at least in the terms with which it was discussed in chapter V. There the conventions limiting performance were presented as keying devices that invited audience participation and as patterns of “events, acts, genres and roles in highly structured and predictable combinations.”[1] It was pointed out that even innovative performances were built on a foundation of convention, and indeed that they presumed conventional boundaries with which to interact. In addition, as we have just noted, the emergent quality of performance (“necessary to the study of performance as a means toward comprehending the uniqueness of particular performances”)[2] gives it the formal aspect of lived reality necessary to popular art. Yet in spite of the aptness of this understanding, the fixed and conventional aspects of performance are not, in fact, a major feature of one’s formal experience of it. In that experience it is the sense of something coming into being that predominates. The uniqueness and immediacy of what is happening color all other responses, and the intensity of what is going on may push the conventional ground down to a virtually subliminal level. However, a model for the form of popular art should not be subject to the sort of misunderstanding that one’s experience of performance can lead to: too much emphasis on the ‘creative’ side and not enough on the side of tradition. Precisely that skewed emphasis made performance a useful model for understanding how popular artworks are shaped, but it would make for a distorted description of that shape itself.

This argument is hardly a very strong one, and it is not meant as such. It is based on common understandings and common experiences and does not constitute a case against the use of the term ‘performance’ by specialists. The neutral, ‘purely formal’ connotations of the word may prove attractive to those who find my own choice too rich in associations, just as some may prefer formula or genre to myth because of the associations of the latter term. For my part, I will reserve ‘performance’ for the unique instance – the specific work as it unfolds – and cover a broader understanding of form as the generality of which performance is the instance by using the term ‘ritual.’

Rather than rejecting the myriad associations of this word, I would like to enter a plea that they all be kept in mind. This means not only the priest in vestments raising up the chalice, but the lyre bird dancing in the Australian bush, the crowded celebration of tribal achievements and the isolated compulsiveness of a neurotic, the killing of the Corn King and the greeting of a friend. In spite of the fashionableness of the term, ritual is still thought of as esoteric or arcane, when in fact it is one of the commonplaces of our existence. Although in what follows I shall be moving towards a non-specialized understanding by eliminating various contexts in which the term has been placed, those contexts also serve to suggest the extent and the importance the concept has, and it is a pity to have to lose the life they impart to the idea along with their strictures upon it.

The idea of ritual as a formal model for popular art has already received a limited attention in the literature. John Cawelti, in The Six-Gun Mystique, suggests that western stories and films may be apprehended as social rituals or ritual dramas, drawing upon a basic understanding of ritual that seems derived from the socio-literary theories of people like Sir James Frazer, Northrup Frye and Kenneth Burke.[3] Cawelti’s suggestion was, in fact, the initial inspiration for my own enquiry – which has ranged much further from the realm of sound literary commonsense than his, and has become involved with much that is not germane to his concerns. Since 1973 The Journal of Popular Culture has carried three articles using ritual models. Each one adopts a different understanding of the term as its point of departure. Paul A. Bouissac uses Lévi-Strauss’ distinction between myth and ritual to inform a carefully presented discussion of the differences between the ways in which wild animals are displayed in zoos and in circuses.[4] His is perhaps the most sophisticated understanding of ritual in the three pieces, but it is more limited than ours must be – for it is confined to physical performances and does not include what I have called “indirect performance.” In a brief section on the use of ritual as a model for understanding some popular artworks written in 1975, Gregor Goethals utilizes an approach derived from religious phenomenology (itself heavily indebted to Emile Durkheim in this area). The concepts of a special sacred time and sacred place are discussed and the applicability of a ritual model to the study of “sports, rock concerts, happenings, political rallies”[5]  is suggested. Again, the term is limited to rituals in which the audience participates physically or by “proxy” (via television in national events). Finally, in 1976, a standard anthropological comprehension of ritual underlies an article that mentions demolition derbies, Truth or Consequences, businessmen’s conventions, Halloween and New Year’s Eve as “rites of reversal” or Saturnalia-type ritual structures. The authors see these outrageous-yet-condoned events as providing opportunities for the culture to let off steam, in much the same way as ‘structure-function’ social anthropologists have seen similar rituals in traditional societies. It is clear that here too, only physical participant performance rituals are meant.[6]  A fourth article, appearing in the sister publication, Journal of Popular Film in 1975 uses ritual more broadly. In it Walter Evans deals with the parallels between the narrative structures of popular horror films and the structure of initiation rituals. Evans draws upon the religious phenomenologists again, as well as upon socio-psychology studies and, I think, weakens some of his argument by suggesting that horror films fulfill a social niche similar to that occupied by rites of passage in traditional societies.[7]

Each of these pieces draws upon a different understanding of ritual and thus, in spite of their use of the word in common, there are few overt points of comparison between them. My task will be to reach a broader understanding than these, but in order to do this I think it is important first to comprehend the various approaches to ritual underlying these articles on a level that will clarify their differences. Only in discerning where basic concepts of ritual differ will we be able to reach a general understanding of it adequate for our particular needs. At the same time, however, this is not the place for an exhaustive review of an exhausting body of literature. Key authors from certain of the disciplines that have made ritual a particular object of investigation must instead be subjected to a summary treatment, as those ideas that bear upon our enquiry are rudely plucked from their proper contexts. In so doing several important theorists must be left out in the cold, as their work can be subsumed under that of others or is not directly at issue here. Thus Frye, Burke, Weber, the ‘structure-function’ and the ‘affective’ anthropologists, as well as Van Gennep and the religious phenomenologists are not discussed in what follows, although they are referred to in footnotes.

In the understanding I have implied heretofore, myth and performance elements reach some formal balance in ritual, where ‘myth’ is taken to signify traditional and structural elements and ‘performance’ to signify creation and action. Perhaps the strongest justification I can offer for preferring the term ‘ritual’ is that it, more certainly than either ‘myth’ or ‘performance,’ embraces ideas of both space and time, giving them equal conceptual weight. ‘Myth,’ as we have seen in the discussion of Lévi-Strauss, veers towards the spatial, whilst ‘performance’ gives the nod to the temporal dimension. ‘Ritual,’ which I believe is intuitively apprehended as at once static and fluid, suggests above all movement in space, defining and defined by that space. This has not been a common way of understanding ritual. A more widely accepted understanding is one that subsumes it under the heading of ‘symbolic action.’[8] The economy and directness of this formulation are admirable, and there can be little doubt that it covers instances of ritual behavior among animals as well as humans (which cannot be said for any understanding of the term that includes ‘myth,’ for instance). Historically, however, the word has had religious associations.

Ritual comes to us from ‘rite,’ which is turn has a Latin origin – ‘ritus’: a word that Lewis and Short’s A Latin Dictionary defines as “the form and manner of religious observances; a religious usage or ceremony, a rite.”[9] Significantly, it seems that the meaning “habit, custom or usage” occurs only either as a specialized syntactical adaptation or in a relatively late (post-Augustan) or relatively arty (poetic) context. In any case, the religious connotations of the word are unavoidable. The Oxford English Dictionary advances the following (among other definitions):

A prescribed order of performing religious or other devotional service …
Ritual observances; ceremonial acts …
The performance of ritual acts.[10]

Both convention, in the sense of “prescribed order” and action, in “the performance of … acts,” are present here, and seem to act as conceptual lynchpins for the word.

Certainly religion did play a central part in the seminal work with ritual and myth undertaken by Sir James Frazer in the decade from 1890 to 1900 and enshrined in The Golden Bough. Frazer’s ambition seems to have been nothing less than to encompass the wide range of ‘primitive’ religious thought within the limits of a single (extensive) text. What he did, seriously flawed in execution as it was, remains nonetheless a staggering achievement the virtues of which seem rarely acknowledged today. Principle among these virtues is an unstated assumption that in dealing with ‘primitive’ or traditional religious conceptions, one is dealing with a form of systematized thinking: that there are rationally apprehendable concepts and patterns at work beneath such religious systems. Frazer’s ideas about the importance of “homeopathic,” or sympathetic magic in traditional religion[11] led him to methods of classifying and explaining by analogy, according to parallels between objects or actions – that is, he treated matters of religion as symbolic matters and regarded his task as the systematic exposition of symbolic allusions.

Frazer’s point of departure is what is currently regarded as a ritual of very dubious authenticity involving “The King of the Woods” – “at once priest and a murderer … For such was the role of the sanctuary: a candidate for the priesthood could succeed to office only by slaying the incumbent priest in single combat, and could himself retain office only until in turn he was slain by a stronger or craftier.”[12] This remarkable ceremonial of succession provided the foundation for twelve volumes of explication, as the relevant topics of magic, kingship, taboos, death and rebirth, agricultural deities, purgation, saturnaliae, and a wonderfully evocative and thoroughly misguided explanation of the complex of phenomena supposedly encapsulated in the golden bough itself, were each given exhaustively documented treatment.

The author’s presentation of the basic ritual is in the form of a drama. First he describes the setting – the lake of Nemi, its wooded banks, its northern shore, its sacred grove, the trees within the grove “round which, at any hour of the day and probably far into the night, a grim figure might be seen to prowl. In his hand he carried a drawn sword, and he kept peering warily about him as if at every instant he expected to be set upon.”[13] One has the sensation of being in the audience for a play just as the curtain is going up. The passage even reads like a stage direction of the literary sort fashionable in Frazer’s day. A little later this impression is underlined again:

… we picture to ourselves the scene as it might have been witnessed by a belated wayfarer on one of those wild autumn nights when dead leaves are falling thick, and the winds seem to be singing the dirge of the dying year. It is a sombre picture, set to melancholy music, the background of forest showing black and jagged against a lowering and stormy sky …[14]

And much more to the same purpose.

Yet Frazer does not describe the action of the ritual combat itself in dramatic terms. Anticipation of that action broods behind the scene, but the violence he evokes does not erupt. The ritual of which Frazer writes never takes place: its existence is thus, only a potential one. In spite of this, the absent ritual provides a master pattern for the investigation and for much of traditional religion. In this Frazer’s treatment of ritual resembles nothing so much as Aristotle’s treatment of tragedy – for in neither case is actual performance considered an integral element of the thing in question. Like Aristotle, Frazer can find the significance of what he is examining in a written description and has no need to experience it directly. Such a willful confusion between the performance of ritual and its abstract evocation has a parallel even in the dictionary’s understanding of the term. One of the Oxford English Dictionary’s sub-definitions of ritual reads thus: “A book containing the order, forms, or ceremonies, to be observed in the celebration of religious or other solemn service.”[15]

It should be apparent that Frazer regards ritual as a species of code. Ritual is something to be read – deciphered. It conceals its own true form (in this case the Ur-ritual of a murdered and resurrected Corn-King[16] ). The symbolic half of the phrase ‘symbolic action’ is, then, the dominant one for Frazer. Action, in the sense of performance, hardly counts at all.

Something the same may be said of Sigmund Freud’s understanding of ritualized behavior within the framework of psychoneurosis, although at first there may seem to be very little that would ally ideas designed to aid in understanding the behavior of the mentally ill with ideas intended to explain the core religious concerns of western culture. The 1907 essay of Freud’s that concerns itself with certain informal parallels between “obsessive actions and religious practices” makes a great point of the fact that although neurotic ceremonial activities

… seem foolish and senseless … it is precisely this sharpest difference between neurotic and religious ceremonial disappears when, with the help of the psycho-analytic technique of investigation, one penetrates to the true meaning of obsessive actions … It is found that obsessive actions are perfectly significant in every detail.[17]

Tellingly Freud remarks

… that as a rule the ordinary pious individual, too, performs a ceremonial without concerning himself with its significance, although priests and scientific investigators may be familiar with the-mostly-symbolic-meaning of the ritual.[18]

The notion of code is strong indeed here, reinforced by Freud’s earlier statement that, “the performance of a ceremonial can be described by replacing it, as it were, by a series of unwritten laws.”[19]  Indeed, the descriptions of ritualized actions that do occur are in the highly generalized mode of psychoanalytic dream descriptions elsewhere. On one of this female patient’s ritual activities Freud says, for instance, that:

She would run out of her room into another room in the middle of which there was a table. She would straighten the tablecloth on it in a particular manner and ring for the housemaid.[20]  [Emphasis mine]

I have chosen to stress the phrase “in a particular manner” here because, of course, it is precisely the peculiarity of her manner that is never described to us. In this context, it is assumed that not the specific action but a generalized verbal simulacrum will serve.

At the same time, with Freud we have moved at least one step away from Frazer. The meanings Frazer discovered behind the ritual code were ones the simplicity of which he felt constrained to acknowledge almost apologetically:

… readers of this work will hardly need to be reminded that the order presupposed by magic differs widely from that which forms the basis of science. The difference flows naturally from the different modes in which the two orders have been reached. For whereas the order on which magic reckons is merely an extension, by false analogy, of the order in which ideas present themselves to our minds, the order laid down by science is derived from patient and exact observation of the phenomena themselves.[21]

The meanings Freud discerns are, however, of a more complex and personally significant order.

Those who are familiar with the findings of psychoanalytic investigation into the psychoneuroses will not be surprised to learn that what is being represented in obsessive actions or in ceremonials is derived from the most intimate, and for the most part from the sexual, experiences of the patient.[22]

The exposition he gives of the mechanism whereby these experiences become expressed ritually is typically dense, and emphasizes the contradictions such actions manifest as “a compromise between warring forces of the mind.”[23] Moreover, the similarity of obsessive actions to those enjoined by religion adds a dimension of complexity even to the simplest of religious beliefs. It is possible “to regard obsessional neurosis as a pathological counterpoint to the formation of a religion, and to describe that neurosis as an individual religiosity and religion as a universal obsessional neurosis.”[24]  Religion, then, partakes of the mystery of neurosis and may be restored its own lost mystery thereby.

But for our purposes perhaps Freud’s most significant point is one for which he specifically disclaims any originality. He begins the essay by declaring that he is “certainly not the first person”[25] to be struck by the formal similarities between obsessive actions and religious ritual activities. He does seem to have been the first person, however, to presume that such formal similarity cloaked as essential similarity, so that by the end of the essay he could suggest that the two types of action were in fact species of the same genus. The similarities Freud deems crucial are that both types of ritualized actions can provoke guilt if they are not performed or performed improperly; that both are performed in painstaking detail; and that both are performed in “complete isolation from all other actions.”[26]  Previously he had said that “any activities whatever may become obsessive actions … if they are elaborated by small additions or given rhythmic character by means of pauses and repetitions.”[27] For Freud, then, the form of ritual is that of highly elaborated rhythmic action performed with close attention to detail in such a way that it cuts itself off from other, ordinary activities. (That mistakes or omissions in these actions will produce a guilt reaction is important for Freud’s arguments, but not a formal criterion.)

Once such a formal understanding of the term has been adopted, it can be extended to cover a wide range of human activities. It can also cover non-human actions. Ethologists use ‘ritualization’ to refer to these sorts of actions in animal species. Konrad Lorenz points out that the formal properties of ritualized actions are what make these movements particularly well-suited to the ethological investigations: “they are conspicuous, clear-cut and easily recognizable”[28]  – cut off, in other words, from other, ordinary activities. Julien Huxley says simply, “ritualized behavior-patterns can all be broadly characterized as displays.”[29] They are cut off from – but not unrelated to – other activities. Ritualized movements in animal species “have evolved from everyday functions,”[30] according to Lorenz. Huxley defines ritualization:

… as the adaptive formalization or canalization of emotionally motivated behavior under the teleonomic pressure of natural selection so as (a) to promote better and more unambiguous signal function, both intra- and inter-specifically; (b) to serve as more efficient stimulators or releasers of more efficient patterns of action in other individuals; (c) to reduce intra-specific damage; and (d) to serve as sexual or social bonding mechanisms.[31]

Each of the functions of ritualized behavior that Huxley adduces are the results of a single overall function – that of communication. For the ethologists too, ritual is code (indeed, Lorenz uses the concept of code to explain the utility of the conventions of ritualized movements for comparative phylogenetics[32] ).

Adaptation to communication has, however, had a formal effect upon behavior, so that ethologists explain the formal aspects of ritual as the results of an evolutionary process, “quite obviously brought about by the selection pressure exerted by the survival value of communication.”[33]

The first of the formal qualities thus produced is that of “mimic exaggeration.” “All those elements which, even in the unritualized primary movement, produce visual or auditory stimulation, are strongly exaggerated, while those serving the original, mechanical function are greatly reduced or disappear altogether.”[34]  Lorenz points out that this quality of animal behavior is “closely akin to a symbol and … produces a theatrical effect.”[35] Indeed, formally speaking I doubt that mimic exaggeration can be distinguished from the stylization we associate with human symbolism. Only the meaning that we presume inheres in a symbol serves to set it apart from other highly formalized manifestations – the ‘love song’ of the nightingale, the ‘awesome beauty’ of a sunset. In other words, it is stylized action, not symbolic action, that characterizes ritual from a formal point of view. That we impute meaning to stylized things is a function of our humanity perhaps: certainly meaning is no more physically present within such things than it is within ourselves. What makes an action a ‘ritual’ action is not, then, that it has meaning, but that it proclaims meaning – not that it is symbolic, but that it is stylized.

In addition, we may derive from the ethologists an understanding of ritual as being, in most instances, patterned behavior. That is, it consists of units of “a single obligatory sequence” made up of “a great number of elementary, instinctive movements.”[36] Although Lorenz nowhere suggests it, we may speculate that such units of movement will constitute the basic units of meaning in the code of ritualized behavior. Like Levi-Strauss’ mythemes, these are units and “bundles” of integers that lack significance on their own.

Lorenz notes that “the speed and amplitude of ritualized movements are strictly regulated” and that such actions are characterized by “frequent rhythmical repetition, which very often is in itself sufficient to recognize a behavior pattern as ritualized.”[37]  Rhythm, which Freud adduced as a formal characteristic of human ritual activity, is here ascribed to animal behavior as well – an element of the stylization we have stressed, but one with peculiar overtones; for it is an element which seems to lack much linguistic significance, although it is prominent enough in this phenomenon to have commanded the attention of two different types of observer. Ethologically, rhythm seems to function only as a part of the display and to play no part in the message. Again we are implacably drawn back to Aristotle, for whom the spectacle and the music of tragedy served no meaningful purpose.

Rhythm is, however, a property specific to action, and, whereas the authors we have been examining have tended to abstract action into code, they have also – albeit obliquely – recognized certain presumably ‘non-code’ aspects of their common subject which Freud summarizes under the heading of “rhythmic character.” This particular element of stylization also serves to mark off areas of meaning beyond which ethologists do not seem equipped to venture. A specific rhythm is one of the properties of a ritualized action which makes that action typical of one species or another. Thus, it is individualized on the only level of individuation deemed significant by ethologists.[38]  But the messages communicated in ritual behavior are usually not so much species-specific as survival-specific. They are, as mentioned above, canalizations of aggression or bonding mechanisms: rituals of dominance and submission, rituals of mating, and the like. The realm of variation between species has no direct significance in a code read on such a level of generality as this. Ethological studies tend to make detailed and specific observations of behavior, only, when interpreting that behavior, to ignore the detail and the specificity in order to get at the generic communication involved.

Yet the “conspicuous, clear-cut, and easily recognizable” displays are precisely what, through their stylization, have signaled the presence of meaning at all. In arriving at the meaning behind ritual displays, ethologists throw out these displays themselves. This has the paradoxical effect of preserving the mystery and the magic of specific ritual activity, for the specific stylization which signals meaning is what is left unexplained. Only a generalized meaning is offered, while the accidents of evolutionary history are presumed to account for the specific manifestation under investigation.

In tracing the alliances between human ritual behavior and magic, Huxley suggests the mechanism through which symbolic systems operate to preserve the magical qualities of ritual. Huxley claims that “all symbolic rituals and ceremonies are essentially magico-religious in origin,”[39] and goes on to argue that

… when we say that we are ‘under the spell’ of beauty or great music, or call a view of a work of art ‘magical’, we are acknowledging the existence of magic, in the extended sense of non-rational, emotional, and often unconscious formalizing or patterning forces, which are essential for all transcendent experiences.[40]

Lorenz says that we adopt the pattern of such forces because of

… a mechanism whose survival value is obvious. An animal which has acquired a certain habit and has ascertained that it leads to the desired goal without incurring danger, is well advised to stick slavishly to all the details of this procedure, because, not possessing any insight into the causal connexions of the whole, it cannot possibly know which details are essential to success and safety, and which are not. Many human superstitions, like touching wood, etc., involve this principle: one does not quite know what might happen if the custom were violated![41]

Huxley describes magical ways of thinking as “logical, but not rational: they are based on the non-rational premises of primitive projective thinking,”[42] which accounts for the same ritualized behavior according to a pattern of thought. Significantly, both explanations involve action or the mental equivalent. For Lorenz, specific actions are repeated; for Huxley, “projective thinking” accomplishes in the mind what the body may or may not do. The reading of symbols is itself such a projective activity, as we have already suggested.

We are on the threshold here of an understanding that will link up the symbolic and the action parts of ritual and take us beyond the one-sided linguistic understanding that serves as a common denominator in the work of Frazer, Freud, Huxley and Lorenz.[43] Historically the most important representative of this understanding is undoubtedly Emile Durkheim, whose remarks on rationalist explanations of religion bear directly upon our situation.

The theorists who have undertaken to explain religion in rationalist terms have generally seen in it before all else a system of ideas, corresponding to some determined object … As for the rites, from this point of view they appear to be only an external translation, contingent and material, of these internal states which alone pass as having any intrinsic value.[44]

To this must be contrasted another sort of understanding, common to believers. Such people claim that rationalist explanations do “not correspond to their daily experience.” For them the purpose of religion “is to make us act, to aid us to live,”[45] and the means by which such an object is accomplished are not linguistic ones alone:

… it is necessary that we act, and that we repeat the acts thus necessary every time we feel the need of renewing their effects. From this point of view, it is readily seen how that group of regularly repeated acts which form the cult get their importance … The cult is not simply a system of signs by which the faith is outwardly translated: it is a collection of the means by which this is created and recreated periodically. Whether it consists in material acts or mental operations, it is always this which is efficacious.[46]

The foundation of Durkheim’s understanding of religion is, then, a particular type of experience. It is to be expected that he is concerned not with what rituals say, but with what they do. What they do is sustain society:

… society cannot make its influence felt unless it is in action, and it is not in action unless the individuals who compose it are assembled together and act in common. It is by common action that it takes consciousness of itself and realizes its position: it is before all else an active cooperation. The collective ideas and sentiments are even possible only owing to these exterior movements which symbolize them, as we have established. Then it is action which dominates the religious life, because of the mere fact that it is society which is its source.[47]

“[T]he idea of society is the soul of religion,”[48] Durkheim goes on to say, and it follows that the experience of society is the experience of ritual. But this means that the result of ritual action is mental affect. The “material manoeuvres” of ritual

… are only the external envelope under which the mental operations are hidden … there is no question of exercising a physical constraint upon blind and, incidentally, imaginary forces, but rather of reaching individual consciousnesses, of giving them a direction and of disciplining them.[49]

Here is where Durkheim makes explicit the implicit mechanism of magic presented by Huxley and Lorenz. Ritual operates through the experience of it: the code is cracked not so much by reading it as by living it. Huxley’s projective systems of thought and Lorenz’s routinely repeated actions are in fact ways of understanding ritual meaning that conform more surely to the object of that understanding than the usual code-breaking techniques do. Ritual analysis must, then, be experiential analysis; and like experience itself, it must proceed upon the basis of a linear temporal dimension.[50]

[Claude] Lévi-Strauss pursues a perversely Durkheimian understanding of ritual to profound and unexpected conclusions in the closing pages of L’Homme nu, the fourth volume of Mythologiques. Like Durkheim, he specifies that “l’opposition entre le rite et le mythe est celle due vivre et du penser,” but he continues in non-Durkheimian fashion by saying that “le rituel représente un abâtardissement de la pensée consenti aux servitudes de la vie.”[51]  Lévi-Strauss sees ritual as failing in its object: to re-establish the continuity of life that mythic thought has shattered:

… tandis que le mythe tourne résolument le dos au continu pour découper et désarticuler le monde au moyen de distinctions, de contrastes et d’oppositions, le rite suite un mouvement en sens inverse: parti des unités discrètes qui lui sont imposées par cette conceptualisation préalable du réel, il court après le continu et cherche à le rejoindre, bien que la rupture initiale opérée par le pensée mythique rende le tâche impossible à jamais.[52]

The insight here expressed is not so far removed from Durkheim as one might think. Durkheim founds his understanding of religion upon a primordial and irreparable discontinuity: the gulf between the sacred and the profane. He is adamant about the discontinuity thus established: “it is absolute.”[53] However:

This is not equivalent to saying that a being can never pass from one of these worlds into the other: but the manner in which this passage is effected, when it does take place, puts into relief the essential duality of the two kingdoms. In fact, it implies a veritable metamorphosis.[54]

The example of such passage that Durkheim adduces is the ritual of initiation. Indeed, for Durkheim ritual always attempts to re-establish the continuity of existence that the dichotomy of the sacred and profane has broken. Moreover, that dichotomy is a mental one: the foundation of all religious systems of beliefs. The split between sacred and profane is the essence, one is tempted to say, of Durkheim’s understanding of la pensée sauvage.

So for Durkheim, no less than for Lévi-Strauss, it is true to say that

Le rituel n’est pas une réaction à la vie, il est une réaction à ce que le pensée a fait d’elle. Il ne répond directement ni au monde, ni même à l’expérience du monde: il répond à la façon dont l’homme pense le monde. Ce qu’en définitive le rituel cherche a surmonter, n’est pas la résistance du monde a l’homme mais la résistance, à l’homme, de sa pensée.[55]

The difference is that Durkheim believes that the manifestation of society in ritual resolves this mental contradiction through experience, whereas Lévi-Strauss does not. In the Durkheimian system that which has been presumed to bear the strongest witness to the sacred – the religious experience – is in fact that which most certainly embodies the profane – society. The enactment of ritual, then, bridges the gap and effects the continuity between the two: action provides the link. For Lévi-Strauss the mind is dominant and immutable and the discontinuities of which he speaks (which are not, let it be noted, the Durkheimian dichotomy) are inherent in the mind. Ritual may seek to supply bridges, but the effort is doomed to failure – for the mind cannot be changed through action.

The effort to forge continuity will, however, define the form of ritual; and it is the form, not the failed function, with which we are concerned here. Even for Lévi-Strauss, then, we would expect ritual form to be especially marked by continuity. This is in fact the case in the anthropologist’s discussion, although he arrives at this conclusion somewhat indirectly. Let me track the spoor of his reasoning, for it has a bearing on what we are about here.

In the first place, Lévi-Strauss makes a firm distinction between ritual proper and the myths that may inform it.[56] The distinction is a disingenuous one, it seems to me, because it fails to mark off the element thus isolated (ritual-minus-myth) from the complex of ritual-plus-myth as it appears in all societies and at all times. To call only the action of ritual ‘ritual,’ which is what is done by Lévi-Strauss, is to add confusion, not clarification to the issue.

For all of that, the distinction has analytic utility. It is not the same as our distinction of mythic and performance elements, but something of the same division between the verbal and the motor aspects of ritual is operative in both instances. By isolating the action of ritual, Lévi-Strauss offers us the opportunity to consider its qualities apart from the totality, and thus to gain some insight into what makes ritual significantly different from myth (which is certainly not a question that seems to have unduly troubled Frazer and his followers). Lévi-Strauss is careful to follow the implications of this separation to their logical extreme:

… enfin au rituel à l;état pur dont, à la limite, ou pourrait concevoir qu’il perde toute affinité avec la langue parce qu’il consisterait en paroles sacrées – inintelligibles pour le vulgaire, ou provenant d’une langue archaïque que personne ne comprend plus, ou même formules dénuées de signification intrinsèque comme on en trouve souvent dans la magie … A ce moment le rituel, comme la musique à l’autre bout du système, passe définitivement hors du langage, et si l’on veut comprendre sa nature distinctive, c’est évidemment en face de cette forme pur, non des états intermédiaires, qu’il convient d’emblée de se placer.[57]

The gestures and objects that play so important a part in religious ritual have in fact as their primary purpose that they enable ritual to avoid confusing itself with language.[58] How things are done becomes more significant than what is done in such an understanding, and Lévi-Strauss divides ritual into two principle formal processes: “le morcellement” (fragmentation) and “le répétition” (repetition).[59] At first the two seem to contradict one another and, what is worse for us, “le morcellement” suggests anything but continuity. But Lévi-Strauss does not see it that way: “en fait, le premier procédé se ramène au second qui constitue en quelque sort sa limite. Des différences devenues infinitésimales tendent à se confondre dans une quasi-identité.”[60] The image under which he subsumes both is one famous in French thought (and one which we have encountered before) – the motion picture film, “qui décompose le mouvement en unités si petites que des clichés consécutifs deviennent indiscernables et paraissent se répéter.”[61]

The effect of a motion picture when projected is one of continuous action, and that effect is achieved by ‘fragmentation’ and ‘repetition.’ So also, ritual creates the form of continuity, although perhaps not its substance – and the means by which it is enabled to create that form is action, which occupies a place outside of language and is thus not subject to the laws of discontinuity that govern material structures.

Continuity within a work suggests a temporal dimension different from that of seriality, which we have discussed in relation to genre and formula. Serial time, as restored to myth analytically by Turner and synthetically by Cawelti, implies the sequential ordering of discrete units – contiguity rather than continuity. Temporal continuity, on the other hand, recognizes that there are connections between whatever units may be (arbitrarily) established in the work; it implies that the whole work occupies a privileged position in one’s analysis of it, that the work is the fundamental unit of the enquiry.

But ritual suggests a further temporal dimension that has the effect of locating us securely in the domain of popular art, the art that is audience-related. Continuity, with its sense of internal sequence and connection, remains essentially a spatial concept. Continuity may be perceived ‘in an instant,’ and indeed is so perceived in spatial works like paintings. But the concept of duration is essentially temporal and dynamic. It involves movement, not merely connection. The emergent quality of a performance, for instance, is a function of the duration of that performance – not of its seriality or its continuity. It is this quality that makes the ritual model more apt for popular art than others – for it is this quality of ritual that lodges it most firmly in the insubstantial realm of experience, where popular artworks seem also to reside.

The source of most modern notions of duration is in the thinking of Henri Bergson. Bergson used this experiential concept of time to resolve a number a philosophic paradoxes that he believed were only the outcome of analytic thinking. For our purposes the most significant of these is the contradiction between convention and individuality – a problem in the form of popular art, as it has been in the material and the generation of popular artworks. Duration, as Bergson conceived it, was an experience of time first of all. As such, he often contrasted it with humanity’s innately analytic or scientific cast of mind.

When a poet reads me his verses, I can interest myself enough in him to enter into his thought, put myself into his feelings, live over again the simple state he has broken into phrases and words. I sympathize then with his inspiration, I follow it with a continuous movement which is, like the inspiration itself, an undivided act. Now, I need only to relax my attention, let go the tension that there is in me, for the sounds, hitherto swallowed up in the sense, to appear to me distinctly, one by one, in their materiality … In proportion as I let myself go, the successive sounds will become the more individualized … The farther I pursue this quite negative direction of relaxation, the more extension and complexity I shall create … the infinite complexity of the parts and their perfect co-ordination among themselves are created at one and the same time by an inversion which is, at bottom, an interruption, that is to say, a diminution of positive reality.[62]

Seriality, continuity and movement are all combined in the active aesthetic response Bergson describes, but it is movement particularly that differentiates it from what we have considered heretofore. The movement experienced in duration is, like the movement in a ritual, in no way aimless or unguided. On the contrary, it is shaped partly by what has gone before, by “the prolongation of the past into the present.”[63] Convention plays a crucial role in this sort of experience. Evolutionary time provides the most useful analogy here. In biological evolution, the formal effect of the past can be virtually taken for granted: “Evolution implies a real persistence of the past in the present, a duration which is, as it were, a hyphen, a connecting link.”[64]  Like the formal properties of a biological species, the conventional actions of ritual and the formulae of popular art demonstrate first of all the effects of the past upon the present. They are, moreover, the most noticeable aspects of whatever individuals are being considered, often to the point of eclipsing whatever other formal qualities may be presented to the viewer’s attention.

Bergson is anxious to avoid the pitfalls that a simple, mechanical idea of predetermination would present to an evolutionary biologist. Evolution presupposes innovation and change as much as it does the conservation of past forms, so the French philosopher stresses that the experience of duration is not one that can be had passively. Individuals are not borne along by the force of the past, they must create their own impetus:

The more we succeed in making ourselves conscious of our progress in pure duration, the more we feel the different parts of our being enter into each other, and our whole personality concentrate itself in a point, or rather a sharp edge, pressed against the future and cutting into it unceasingly.[65]

Thus the individual work – biological or artistic – is not so much a representative of past conventions as it is of present innovations. In the experience of duration “the past, always moving on, is swelling unceasingly with a present that is absolutely new.”[66] One exists always at the tip of the arrow of time. Conventions do not act in a rigid or unchanging manner; and our perception that conventional works are interchangeable stereotypes is only the result of human intellect which “can work only on what is supposed to repeat itself,”[67] and thus concentrates on conservative elements in what it observes. In fact, convention acts only to give direction to the work – but in the form of a generalized impetus, not of a detailed program of development. When the specific work is considered experientially, variety is the rule rather than identity and “reality appears as a ceaseless upswinging of something new.”[68] As events or works unfold before us in our experience of them, we cannot know what they will look like before they have come to be:

… foreseeing the form is out of the question. It may perhaps be said that the form could be foreseen if we could know, in all their details, the conditions under which it will be produced. But these conditions are built up into it and are part and parcel of its being; they are peculiar to that phase of its history in which life finds itself at the moment of producing the form: how could we know beforehand a situation that is unique of its kind, that has never yet occurred and will never occur again.[69]

These characteristics of the experience of duration correspond to the tension between the patterning and innovative elements in performance discussed by Richard Bauman, but they are more directly related to the emergent quality of performance, which we tried to suggest was one foundation of the audience’s creative role in popular art. Ritual takes the parallels further, however, because ritual is so clearly involved with the presentation of time. Ritual fragmentation and repetition are techniques that call attention to the time involved in them: the rhythmic character of ritual actions as well as their stylized speed and intensity are temporal qualities. Finally, there is ritual’s reliance on action in the sense of performance. Even ritual words are uttered rather than silently read – thus are actions in time rather than objects. Indeed, it is ritual’s temporal dimension that most fruitfully distinguishes it from myth – for it is existence in time that gives ritual specificity and individuality as against myth’s timeless generality, and it is existence in time that demands understanding in terms of duration and linearity rather than structurally.

The linear quality of popular art has bothered some writers on the subject. Abraham Kaplan has said that in popular art:

Our interest is focused on outcomes (as in the well-named “whodunit”), but not on the unfolding of events … so long as we only want to know how it all comes out, it comes out just as it does with no effort on our part, and we have only traced a shape rather than experienced a form.[70]

But this does not in fact seem to be the case for those who actually experience popular art. For them, the outcome is a matter of great importance, no doubt – but very few arrange to experience only outcomes, as they well might (watching only the denouements of television programs and motion pictures, reading the last chapters of detective novels, and so on). In addition, popular music relies very little on outcomes for its effect. Although there are numerous songs that build to a climax, they do so over repeated, regular patterns. Fading the music out as it repeats and repeats is currently a very common method of ending popular recordings. Moreover, the popular audience’s adherence to genres argues against Kaplan’s perception. The conventions of a genre dictate in advance “how it all comes out,” yet some audiences return again and again to their favorite genres or series. It seems to me difficult to support the contention that these spectators are “only tracing a shape” because their “interest is focused on outcomes.” Clearly there is an interest in the experience of form the artwork provides and not merely in the end of that experience.

The interest is, however, in a specifically linear formal experience. Certainly the outcome of such an experience is one important quality of it. Richard Demarcy describes this as “horizontal reading” of the works he is concerned with – the “spectacles” presented by theater, cinema, music-hall, publicity and the like:

Le mode de réception traditionnel du spectateur a pour élément premier “l’attente anxieuse de la fin”, de la Happy End, s’accompagnant d’une très forte implication dans l’action. En ce cas, l’attention du spectateur est essentiellement portée à l’anecdote avec ses péripéties, ses enchainements invisibles, son dénouement couronné par la catharsis – libération en fin de parcours.[71]

He recognizes that this type of response will necessarily be a superficial one, according to the usual standards.

Son attention n’est pas concentrée sur le contenu du plan, de la séquence, de la scène (de la phrase même) mais sur ce qui va “suivre” … Dans ce cas, le signe, qu’il soit visuel, sonore ou verbal, c’est-à-dire le véritable élément de base du spectacle, est toujours en position de retrait par rapport a l’intrigue toute-puissante, masqué par elle, déjà disparu de la tête du spectateur alors qu’il est encore réellement présent sur la scène.[72]

And he believes that the traditional structure of the spectacles he is considering is founded on this audience response. A movement towards resolution and a denial of anything unclear characterize such works.[73] But if “l’attente anxieuse de la fin” has determined that there will be a dominant movement towards resolution in these works, it has played no less a role in promoting clarity and denying opacity. The need for clarity and lack of ambiguity arises from the need to make the ending final. Speaking of one film that he deems a particularly successful demonstration of the latter quality, Demarcy says that in it, “L’Idée est là toujours présente. Le moment Attendu viendra inexorablement.”[74]

Much of Demarcy’s discussion of linearity is concerned with ways to avoid or go beyond “horizontal reading,”[75]  and even in what I have sketched out above a structuralist’s synchronic bias is apparent. But, as Kaplan’s example shows, one does not need to be a structuralist to confuse linearity with its endpoint. Bergson considers this an inescapable faculty of the intellect.

In our actions, which are systematized movements, what we fix our mind on is the end meaning of the movement, its design as a whole – in a word, the immobile plan of its execution … From mobility itself our intellect turns aside.[76]

In the linear experience of duration the endpoint is not something far off that reaches back to shape the experience. Such an idea contradicts the irreversibility of time, a datum which stands at the base of the concept of duration. Bergson himself says that “we perceive duration as a stream against which we cannot go.”[77]  Any “outcome” that acts to shape what has seemingly preceded it is clearly not at the end of the sequence but at the beginning. It occupies a place in the past, along with other shaping forces of like nature. The real “end” in duration can never be reached, because to do so would imply a finish to the eternal temporal movement of which the experience of duration gives us a glimpse.

Obviously one need not go quite so far to reinstate the experiential importance of linearity on an equal plane as that of its outcome, but it is the thrust of the ritual model to put the greatest stress on experience of, and involvement with, the action of the artwork (which is to say, with its temporal existence) and to downplay outcomes except insofar as they act as formal climactic devices: periods to action. Ritual provides a parallel to popular art here simply by being an example of a highly conventionalized linear structure in which the endpoint is not the most crucial factor and where involvement with the action and with the duration of the work is not the equivalent of “l’attente anxieuse de la fin.”

Involvement with the action is involvement with “the immediate experience.” Indeed, the sense of immediacy characteristic of popular artworks also finds a parallel in ritual and can be traced to the common experience of duration. Although Bergson would not use the term, there is a sense of the “presentness” of all time in the experience of duration. The persistence of the past “always moving on … swelling unceasingly with a present that is absolutely new”[78] is one of the ways the French philosopher characterizes duration. This sense of immediacy is not a moment-to-moment kind of experience – which may be why Bergson eschews the term “presentness” to describe it – but rather one of continuous and full consciousness such as ritual and ritualized forms seem crafted to evoke. By emphasizing and stylizing the elements of the particular linear experience that is its artwork, the ritual of popular art creates a realm of intensity and immediacy in every way comparable to that of ritual proper. From this point of view, then, the stereotypes and conventions of popular art are far from being the automatic shorthand devices that critics accuse them of being, far even from being mechanical cueing frames that a simplistic understanding of Bauman might suggest them to be. On the contrary, they are truly iconic in the sense that the unnatural stylization, of say, a popular song form or the drawing of a superhero comic book betokens a tremendous inner force that strains the bounds of “photographic realism”. Indeed, that force can be seen erupting into various extreme (and stylized) actions in almost every kind of popular art: into kinetic movement/dance as accompaniment to popular music, into combat and violence in some narrative forms and passionate caresses and pornography in others. Each moment of a popular artwork is concentrated, but at the same time, each flows imperceptibly into the next, leaving no space open for the attention to “relax” into contemplation or analysis. Sensationalism is one of the leading formal characteristics of popular art for this very reason. Sensational actions and effects convey the urgency and intensity of present experience to a degree that most other formal devices cannot. Sensationalism is a leading formal component of many rituals as well (not excluding the anthropaphagic rites of Christian communion). The “barbaric” ritual practices that have so often shocked observers are, I submit, evidence of ritual’s anxiety to evoke a sense of presentness and of the critical importance of each moment spent in contact with the sacred. The jolt thus imparted to the audience of a ritual or of popular art awakens it to the peculiar nature of the experience it is undergoing and to the differences between that experiential realm and the one in which it ordinarily persists.

But if the enhancement of presentness in popular art is partly a result of the intensity of experience implied in stylization and sensationalism, it is no less a result of the other leading formal characteristic of popular artworks, their mundane naturalism. Recognizable reality no less than extreme conventionality provides a direct line to experience. In this regard we must recognize that although human rituals are highly stylized in matters of costume, décor and gesture, they all center on human figures. In cases where a non-human being, like a crocodile, is the object of worship, humans nonetheless perform the ritual actions of worship. In cases where non-human beings, like evil spirits, are physically present, humans nonetheless take the roles of those spirits – and quite plainly too. The anthropomorphic shape of such visiting deities is as much a necessity of the participation ritual evokes as it is a matter of practical theatrics or “primitive” naiveté. By the same token, the naturalism which, for [Clement] Greenberg and [José] Ortega [y Gasset], formed a defining element of romantic kitsch offers an “easy” way into the work in popular art. The criticism that Greenberg voices – and Kaplan echoes[79] – that popular artworks provide “a short cut to the pleasure of art that detours what is necessarily difficult in genuine art,”[80]  is at bottom the perception that popular art operates on an experiential rather than a contemplative base, that its form corresponds to action and that its time is the continuous present of duration.

The foregoing argument suggests that the shape of the public is traced in the form of a popular artwork. The formal qualities of convention and realism are there more because the artwork is popular than because it has claims to being art. Thus, we have seen in this chapter what has been demonstrated in the chapters that have gone before: that the concept of a public is the principle distinctive element in understanding popular art. Audiences enter into the mass media and the cultural ideas that serve as popular art materials. Audiences exert a shaping impetus on popular artworks that gives them some claim to the status of popular artists. And here, in the forms of popular art, we have found the audience entering into an understanding of structure and of experience – the perdurant and the ephemeral poles of popular art form. Perhaps the best argument for the validity of the ritual model for the form of popular art is that it takes into account the relation of the audience and the work in a way that underlines the significance of that relation and reminds us how central it must be to any adequate understanding of popular art.


[1] Richard Bauman, “Verbal art as performance,” American Anthropologist v. 77, no. 2, p. 300. Bauman also associates performance and genre in a way that suggests that a performance may be an instance of a genre (p. 298), perhaps building on ideas of type/token ratios, but his understanding of genre is different enough from mine at that point to make further exposition a waste of space.
[2] Ibid., p. 302.
[3] John Cawelti, The Six-Gun Mystique (Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green University Popular Press, n.d.), pp. 31-34 particularly.
[4] Paul A. Bouissac, “Myths vs. Rites: a study of ‘wild’ animal displays in circuses and zoos,” Journal of popular culture v. 4, no. 3 (Spring 1973), pp. 607-614.
[5] Gregor Goethals, “Images and values: notes on some relationships between ‘museum’ and ‘street’ images,” Journal of Popular Culture v. 9, no. 2 (Fall 1975), pp. 471-479.
[6] Robert Jewett and John Lawrence, “Norm demolition derbies: rites of reversal in popular culture,” Journal of Popular Culture v. 9, no. 4 (Spring 1976), pp. 976-982.
[7] Walter Evans, “Monster movies and rites of initiation,” Journal of Popular Film, v. 4, no. 2 (Spring 1975), pp. 124-142.
[8] See, for instance, the monograph, Forms of Symbolic Action [edited by Robert F. Spencer, University of Washington Press, 1969), to which reference has already been made, in which Terence Turner’s analysis of the Oedipus myth appears alongside two articles dealing directly with ritual activity as it is traditionally understood.
[9] Lewis and Short, A Latin Dictionary, p. 1596
[10]  OED, p. 716/2557.
[11] Set forward in The new golden bough, ed. by T.H. Gaster (New York: Criterion Books, 1959), pp. 7-31.
[12] Sir James Frazer, The New Golden Bough, p. 3. Joseph Fontenrose, in The Ritual Theory of Myth, (Berkeley, Ca.: University of California Press, 1966), pp. 36-49, presents a pithy and devastating critique of the authenticity of this event. One sentence in Strabo provided Frazer’s inspiration (although there may be oblique references also in Virgil, Servius, Pausanias, Ovid, Valerius, Flacus, Statius and Suetonius), and there is nowhere any indication that the ritual had any great importance in antiquity. That Fontenrose’s is an accepted attitude is clear from what he says himself and from what Frazer’s editor says: “Frazer’s interpretation of the priesthood in Africa and of the rites which governed succession to it has been almost unanimously rejected by classical scholars” (“Forward” to The New Golden Bough, p. xvi).
[13]  Frazer, The New Golden Bough, p. 3.
[14] Ibid., p. 4.
[15] OED, p. 716/2557.
[16] Discussed in The New Golden Bough, pp. 401-486
[17] Sigmund Freud, “Obsessive acts and religious practices,” in The standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud, ed. and trans. by James Strachey, 9 (London: The Hogarth Press, 1959), pp. 119-120.
[18] Ibid., p. 122.
[19] Ibid., p. 118.
[20] Ibid., p. 121.
[21] Frazer, The New Golden Bough, p. 649.
[22] Freud, “Obsessive acts,” p. 120.
[23] Ibid., p. 125.
[24] Ibid., pp. 126-127.
[25] Ibid., p. 117.
[26]Ibid., p. 119.
[27] Ibid., p. 118.
[28] Ibid., p. 118.
[29] Julien Huxley, “Introduction” to “A discussion of ritualization” (loc. cit. supra), p. 250.
[30] Lorenz, “Evolution of ritualization.” p. 275.
[31] Huxley, “Introduction,” p. 251.
[32] Lorenz, “Evolution of ritualization,” p. 275.
[33] Ibid., p. 276.
[35] Ibid.
[36] Ibid., p. 277
[37] Ibid., pp. 276-277.
[38] “In man, individual variety is greater than in any other organism, and individuals can play a far more important role in influencing social activities and cultural evolution” (Huxley, “Introduction,” pp. 258-259). Lorenz’ discussion of ritualization from the point of view of ethology is concerned exclusively with phylogenetic matters (“Evolution of ritualization,” pp. 273-279).
[39] Huxley, “Introduction,” p. 264.
[40] Ibid., p. 265.
[41] Lorenz, “Evolution of ritualization,” p. 280
[42] Huxley, “Introduction,” p. 264.
[43] These are not the only authors whose approach to ritual has been to see it as a code. This is a particularly common way of thinking in the social sciences. Erving Goffman and Hugh Dalziel Duncan are among the sociologists associated with this point of view. The major anthropologists adherent to the doctrine include those who take ritual as acting as a mechanism for social integration: the code of ritual activity in this case concealing the social factors actually at work. Arnold Van Gennep’s Les rites de passage is the seminal work in this area (an English translation by Monika B. Vizedom and Gabrielle L. Caffee was published at Chicago by The University of Chicago Press in 1960). Bernard Malinowski, A.R. Radcliffe-Brown and Meyer Fortes are prominent among anthropologists treating ritual as social structure in code. However, Edmund Leach, a structural anthropologist, directly calls ritual a code in a paper given at the same conference as those by Lorenz and Huxley to which we have just had reference (“Ritualization in man in relation to conceptual and social development,” pp. 403-408), which suggest a commonality of outlook not usually admitted between the ‘new’ and the ‘old’ generation.
[44] Emile Durkheim, The elementary forms of religious life: a study in religious sociology, trans. by Joseph Ward Swain, M.H. (Glencoe, Ill.: The Free Press, 1947), p. 416.
[45] Ibid.
[46] Ibid., p. 417.
[47] Ibid., p. 418.
[48] Ibid., p. 419.
[50] The notion that ritual is to an important degree experience has been the central premise in the work on the subject done by religious phenomenologists and historians of religions, among whom Gerardus van de Leeuw and Mircea Eliade must be prominently numbered. It has also informed the thinking of certain social and cultural anthropologists – notably Mary Douglas, Clifford Geertz, and Victor Turner. Jean Cazeneuve’s Sociologie du rite (tabou, magie, sacré) (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1971), takes this point of view. In a series of penetrating literary and social enquiries, Kenneth Burke has taken this initial position as the foundation of a world view, now known as Dramatism.
[51]Claude Lévi-Strauss, Mythologiques IV: l’homme nu (Paris: Plon, 1971), p. 603.
[52] Ibid., p. 607.
[53] Durkheim, Elementary Forms, p. 38. See ibid, pp. 36-42 for a full exposition of what I presume nowadays needs no extensive exposition.
[54] Ibid., p. 39.
[55] Lévi-Strauss, L’Homme nu, p. 609.
[56] The discussion occupies L’Homme nu, pp. 597-600.
[57] Ibid., p. 600.
[58] Ibid.
[59]Ibid., p. 601.
[60]Ibid., p. 602.
[61] Ibid.
[62] Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution, trans. by Arthur Mitchell (New York: Modern Library, 1944), pp. 228-230.
[63] Ibid., p. 20.
[64] Ibid., p. 27.
[65] Ibid., p. 220.
[66] Ibid., p. 29.
[67] Ibid., p. 34.
[68]Ibid., p. 53.
[69] Ibid., pp. 32-33.
[70] Abraham Kaplan, “The aesthetics of popular arts,” Journal of Aesthetics and Criticism, v. 24, no. 3 (Spring 1966), p. 355.
[71] Richard Demarcy, Eléments d’une sociologie du spectacle (Paris: 10-18, 1973), p. 329.
[72] Ibid., p. 330.
[73]Demarcy calls these “le mouvement résolutoire” and “le refus de l’opacité” (see ibid., p. 346).
[74] Ibid., p. 333. The film is Once Upon A Time in The West [Sergio Leone 1969].
[75]Twelve out of twenty pages (ibid., pp. 329-349).
[76]Bergson, Creative evolution, pp. 170-171. Notice that Bergson’s understanding of “action” is not mine. Mine is closer to his concept of “movement,” inasmuch as it stresses continuity rather than discontinuity.
[77]Ibid., p. 45.
[78] Ibid., p. 219.
[79] “Popular art is simple basically in the sense of easy. It contrasts with art in the markedly lesser demands that it makes for creative endeavor on the part of the audience” (“The aesthetics of popular arts,” p. 356). I hope that what has gone before has instilled some doubt as to the acceptability of Kaplan’s position, a commonplace one among academics, as he states it.
[80] Clement Greenberg, “Avant-garde and kitsch,” in Mass Culture: The Popular Arts in America, edited by Bernard Rosenberg and David Manning White, (Glencoe: The Free Press, 1957), p. 105.

Created on: Monday, 16 August 2010

About the Author

Bill Routt

About the Author

Bill Routt

After more than 35 years teaching film, media and cultural studies, William D. Routt retired from academia in 1998. Since then he has published work on Australian film (including The Picture That Will Live Forever with Ina Bertrand), early cinema (including “Innuendo 1.5” in LOLA) and anime (including “De Anime” in The Illusion of Life 2).View all posts by Bill Routt →