Thursday, June 21, 2007

Summer Thoughts

Predella - (1879) - Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Over at Right Reason, Pejman Yousefzade posted a light-hearted "Nietzsche and the Eternal Return" based on the hugely insightful and funny movie, Groundhog Day.

It's a great concept, and I don't like to throw cold water on recollections of Bill Murray writhing in all his purgatorial splendor. So, consider this reflection not a squelching of Yousefzade's post, by any means, but instead a commentary on how mimetic theory sees Nietzsche's "eternal return."

In his choosing Dionysus over Christ, Nietzsche was rightly seeing the only alternatives, but he was choosing the way that Girard called "the primitive sacred."

The eternal return is the way that violence "makes gods" and establishes (at least) three elements necessary for culture formation: myth, ritual, and prohibition. After the founding violence during which a victim is arbitrarily chosen and cast out or murdered, myth develops, making the now unified people feel good about their actions of violence. Ritual too accrues vital importance, re-enacting the founding violence so as to "bind back" (religare) the people to what made them unified. This accounts for the universal presence of a sacrificial altar at the heart of every culture. And, finally, prohibitions keep people from falling into behaviors that threaten to destroy culture (murder, adultery, incest, etc.) before ressentiment can be siphoned off in the sanctioned, ritualized, cathartic events of sacrifice.

The "eternal return" takes place in Girard's understanding when the ritual no longer carries sufficient cathartic effect to cohere the culture. It spirals into a sacrificial event (the prologue called "sacrificial preparation") during which prohibitions, distinctions, and taboos are erased, and cultural "meltdown", as it were, occurs.

Disregarding the themes that bombard us in newspapers, internet news reports, blogs, and websites, many see western civilization in the throes, structurally, of just such a stage of the "eternal return."

Personally, I don't think Groundhog Day symbolizes Nietzsche's "eternal return" at all. But go rent it and enjoy -- the cool, snowy scenes may make summer more bearable!

No comments: