Monday, July 16, 2012

ceremony masters, tricksters and liminality/mimesis/schismogenesis

Yes, of course we discourage use of Wikipedia as a scholarly source..

 ....but where else will you find this helpful section (it may be someone's thesis), but on the Wiki for "liminality".

I will have fun with this section in developing the role (rôle)of the pastor as "ceremony master/holy trickster in liminal space and time"  (Isn't that my job description? (:  ...add it to the list, along with this and this and this)

Liminal experiences in large-scale societies

The concept of a liminal situation can also be applied to entire societies that are going through a crisis or a “collapse of order”.[46] Philosopher Karl Jaspers made a significant contribution to this idea through his concept of the “axial age,” which was “an in-between period between two structured world-views and between two rounds of empire building; it was an age of creativity where ‘man asked radical questions’, and where the ‘unquestioned grasp on life is loosened’”.[47] It was essentially a time of uncertainty which, most importantly, involved entire civilizations. Seeing as liminal periods are both destructive and constructive, the ideas and practices that emerge from these liminal historical periods are of extreme importance, as they will “tend to take on the quality of structure”.[48] Events such as political or social revolutions (along with other periods of crisis) can thus be considered liminal, as they result in the complete collapse of order and can lead to significant social change.[49]
Liminality in large-scale societies differs significantly from liminality found in ritual passages in small-scale societies. One primary characteristic of liminality (as defined van Gennep and Turner) is that there is a way in as well as a way out.[50] In ritual passages, “members of the society are themselves aware of the liminal state: they know that they will leave it sooner or later, and have ‘ceremony masters’ to guide them through the rituals”.[51] However, in those liminal periods that affect society as a whole, the future (what comes after the liminal period) is completely unknown, and there is no "ceremony master" who has gone through the process before and that can lead people out of it.[52]
In such cases, liminal situations can become dangerous. They allow for the emergence of “self-proclaimed ceremony masters”, that assume leadership positions and attempt to “[perpetuate] liminality and by emptying the liminal moment of real creativity, [turn] it into a scene of mimetic rivalry”.[53]

[edit]Permanent liminality

Turner suggested that “a liminal state may become ‘fixed’, referring to a situation in which the suspended character of social life takes on a more permanent character.”[54] This idea of permanent liminality has been elaborated on extensively in numerous works by sociologist Arpad Szakolczai.

Within the context of ritual passages, a key feature of liminality is the final stage of reintegration, in which the initiand is recognized as a part of the social order and is welcomed into that order with a new role, “stamped by the formative experience”.[55] When this reintegration process does not take place, liminality becomes permanent, and can also become very dangerous. In his bookReflexive Historical Sociology, Arpad Szakolczai argues that there are three types of permanent liminality, each closely related to one of the phases of the rites of passage.[56] He acknowledges that “liminality becomes a permanent condition when any of the phases in this sequence becomes frozen, as if a film stopped at a particular frame”.[57] Szakolczai provides three examples of each type of permanent liminality: “monasticism (with monks endlessly preparing the separation, [representing the first stage]), court society (with individuals continuously performing their roles in an endless ceremonial game, [representing the second stage]), and Bolshevism (as exemplifying a society stuck in the final stage of a ritual passage)”.[58]

Imitation, leadership, and the role of the trickster

Mimesis, or the imitative aspect of human behavior, is an important aspect of liminality.[59] Individuals that are trapped in a liminal situation are not able to act rationally for two reasons: “first, because the structure on which ‘objective’ rationality was based has disappeared; and second, because the stressful, emotive character of a liminal crisis prevents clear thinking”.[60] This can lead to “mimetic” behavior on the part of the trapped individuals: “a central characteristic of liminal situations is that, by eliminating the stable boundary lines, they contribute to the proliferation of imitative processes and thus to the continuous reproduction of dominant messages about what to copy”.[61] Without stable institutions (which are effectively broken down in a liminal period), “people will look at concrete individuals for guidance”.[62]
This notion of imitation is closely tied to that of the trickster figure. The trickster is a universal figure that can be found in folktales and myths of nearly all cultures. These tricksters can be characterized as follows:
[they] are always marginal characters: outsiders, as they cannot trust or be trusted, cannot give or share, they are incapable of living in a community; they are repulsive, as – being insatiable – they are characterized by excessive eating, drinking, and sexual behavior, having no sense of shame; they are not taken seriously, given their affinity with jokes, storytelling, and fantasizing.[63]
In the context of liminality, the trickster is a very dangerous figure: “in a liminal situation where certainties are lost, imitative behavior escalates, and tricksters can be mistaken for charismatic leaders”.[64] This means that in their search for guidance, the individuals caught in the liminal situation might choose to follow a trickster, whom they confuse with a charismatic leader capable of “saving” them. Liminal periods that affect entire societies are characterized by the absence of a “master of ceremonies” (the leadership figures that are supposed to lead the initiands out of the liminal phase), which can in turn lead to the rise of tricksters into positions of power. When a trickster enters into a position of leadership, “liminality will not be restricted to a temporary crisis, followed by a return to normality, but can be perpetuated endlessly”.[65] This can be explained by three important characteristics of the trickster: his lack of a home (the trickster is, by definition, homeless and an outsider), lack of deeply felt human relations, and lack of existential commitments.[66] These traits cause the trickster to have no interest in solving the liminal crisis; “on the contrary, being really at home in liminality, or in homelessness, his real interest lies in its opposite, in perpetuating such conditions of confusion”.[67] On the other hand, the trickster is also a mime. “Imitation, whether in learning or in social activity, is only possible in so far as we are not aware that we are actually imitating…because as soon as we do so, imitation becomes a mere miming and would produce no effect in learning or no pleasure in involvement”.[68] Seeing as the trickster is incapable of “experiencing learning or the pleasure of sociability” as others do, he can be considered a mime rather than an imitator.[69] He thus appears to act just as everyone else does. With this in mind, there are “two characteristics [of the trickster] that under certain conditions could turn to be profitable, even [leading him to gain] unlimited and total power”: “his permanent state of exteriority helps him to think rationally and makes him a good mime: he cannot learn by genuine imitation but learns how to mime others and this produces laughter; thus he receives appreciation that otherwise he would never obtain”.[70]

The term schismogenesis, developed by British anthropologist Gregory Bateson, can be used to describe situations of permanent liminality. Through this concept, Bateson suggested “that societies can be stuck for a long time in a state where the previous unity was broken, and yet the schismatic components are forced to stay together, producing an unpleasant, violent, harrowing, truly miserable existence”.[71] Bateson further suggested that “entire cultures might systematically produce schizoid personalities” and, by combining such an idea with the work of Turner and anthropologist René Girard, one could say that the trickster is capable of founding such a culture. Girard’s concept of mimetic desire (and, more importantly, the phenomenon he called the “mimetic crisis”) can be linked to the trickster and to absence of masters of ceremonies in large-scale instances of liminality:

When a mimetic crisis is artificially staged in the ritual process, it always happens in the presence of a “master of ceremonies” who maintains order once the stabilities of everyday life are dissolved in the rites of separation. When the schism takes place in real life, however, it is not certain that charismatic heroes emerge that are up to solving the situation through eidetic perception, in the Platonic sense.[72]

In any normal situation, the trickster would not be able to gain any appreciation from others, but in a crisis situation (which, as an outsider, the trickster has no emotional connections to), “might come up with a rational way of ‘solving’ the crisis by turning things into his own image”.[73] It is precisely in these situations that “schismatic doubling and copying are escalated, and the erratic, even repulsive, becomes normal”.[74] Once others become aware of the true nature of the trickster’s behavior, it “becomes a genuine problem as a trickster character cannot be altered, so there is genuinely no solution”.[75] It is also not possible for the trickster figure to be punished, as “punishment is only meaningful if there is a chance of correction and improvement, which is hopeless in the case of a trickster character”.[76]
Some examples of trickster figures of 20th century politics include Adolf HitlerBenito MussoliniVladimir Lenin, and Joseph Stalin.[77] Szakolczai describes what can happen when such tricksters emerge in positions of power:
When trickster figures are mistaken for saviors, then emotions will be continually and repeatedly incited, until the community is reduced to a schismatic state. Societies can maintain themselves in such situations of oppression and violence for a long time, without returning to normal order, if stable external referent points are absent. This is why schismogenic societies need to maintain themselves in a perpetual state of war; presumably surrounded by enemies who try to conquer and destroy them.[78]
Thus the culture that is established by such tricksters following their rise to power “can have its structure and persistence, as the negative sentiments of hatred, hostility, fear and envy, based on vital instincts of self-preservation, can indeed maintain in the long term a social order in a relative state of stability”.[79] But in addition, this same society would “preserve, forever, its broken, fragmented, schismatic character”.[80]

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