the universality of consummatum est, it is finished.

Consummatum est; it is done, finished, ended, consumed. The significance of endings and beginnings is old in anthropology. Van Gennep marshaled the logic adding to it an all important image – sure enough there can be no 'self' without beginnings and endings (or vice versa) - and the primary metaphor of end and initiation is a doorway or threshold (limen). Simmel muddies the water (literally perhaps) when he says that you can begin again as well by crossing a bridge, as by passing through a door, but the feeling tone diverges – the open door offers a narrowed glimpse of what is beyond. Over the bridge the horizon is free to view; you walk or ride or drive above an obstacle that you might have had difficulty wading through. The quantitative on/off narrowness of ritual - end-then-begin - seeps away when it blends into the multiform qualitative – Bridge of Sighs, suspension bridge, Bridge of San Luis Rey, clapper bridge, Bridge on the river Kwai… When they burst out freeze-frame into a hail of bullets, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid evade our moral-quantitative finite. We celebrate their infinitely postponed ending. As we do those sad non-endings of film noir.

Hegel and Marx add summative end-states as necessary frames for their philosophies of process – everything builds toward the finish, but then what? By contrast somewhere I think - I wish I could
remember where - Marx refers to that great indicator of democratic new beginnings, voting, as ‘wearing a lion shirt for a day’ – the end, he suggests, is not so big and the beginning is not so clever as we pretend. In St John’s Gospel, Christ is offered vinegar. He accepts it and says ‘it is finished’; then he bows his head and ‘gives up the ghost’. And, in one of his essays, Kant argues that without the notion of a theological end of everything - a great summing up - self-reflective morality would be impossible. Elsewhere he makes a parallel point – noone wishes for a fleet of 999 ships, they strive for the 1000th – the magic of quantitative culmination. Is it a particular Christian myth and a familiar architecture that continue to shape anthropological interest in rites of passage? – what of people who don’t pursue lives enclosed by walls. Without thresholds, can what they know of themselves begin and end in a comparable sense? Of course - as Leach says about ‘ritual’ - this matter of beginnings and ends can be as big or as small as you like – it can describe any attempt to punctuate what you feel you want to communicate.

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Comment by Huon Wardle on May 25, 2010 at 10:30am
metaphor - to carry pherein, across meta.

Time doesn't offer any metaphors - only the bodily relationship to the physical world; hence, for example,

longing - long, extension.

ending - end, from etym. opposite side, boundary (related to 'anti')

listing - list, from etym. edge, side (as in a ship that lists to one side)
Comment by Philip Swift on May 24, 2010 at 10:53pm
Joel's observation is helpful. Beginnings and endings may be just as much spatial as temporal. After all, Alice's adventures begin with a famous fall in space, down the rabbit-hole - although it's worth remembering that it's only her fascination with an unpunctual rabbit and his pocket-watch ('Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!') that leads her to take the plunge in the first place.

It might be useful to observe, in this regard, that Van Gennep's conception of ritual transitions was almost exclusively spatial or architectonic, of 'passage' as corridor, the means of navigating between different delimited spaces. Such passages, he emphasized, are often literally enacted - they 'are seldom meant as "symbols"'. (One might be tempted to read this as a clairvoyant critique of Turner!) Turner certainly expanded on Van Gennep's scheme, not least by stressing the processual. That is, if Van Gennep turned our attention to the rabbit-hole, Turner, among other things, added the pocket-watch.

Also, a quick gloss on Joel's point about Hermes. His name is understood to derive from the term herma, denoting a pile of stones that, as Burkert notes, were 'set up as an elementary form of demarcation. Everyone who passes by adds a stone to the pile and so announces his presence.' Hermes, of course, being the divinity who presides over passages and boundaries. When we talk of containers being 'hermetically sealed', then the god, I note, is still exercising his proper function.
Comment by Philip Swift on May 24, 2010 at 4:48pm
These suggestive comments about temporality, transits, traces, and places - beginnings, middles, ends - lead me to think about punctuality. To be punctual is, of course, to arrive on time. That is the point. But, conversely, what about cases of the un-punctual, the downright unexpected? Messianic time, according to Blanchot, is decidedly un-punctual. The Messiah can never actually arrive, on time and expectedly, as this would rupture the very concept of the messianic, a concept based on the rupture of the unexpected.

But a very different case, motivated by by very difference concerns, is that of ancient Roman ritual and the response to prodigies. Untimely interventions - ruptures, irruptions - of divinities were - it would seem - always socially and politically unwelcome, requiring neutralization through proper ritual responses (remedia).
And furthermore, to start any significant kind of public action, to begin, to inaugurate something, necessitated the action of augury, the divination of signs within a delimited space (the templum).

I don't know if these Roman reflections are pertinent - though was it not Huon's Latin tag about endings that started this whole thing off? - so I'll leave the last word to Lewis Carroll:

The White Rabbit put on his spectacles. 'Where shall I begin, please your Majesty?' he asked.
'Begin at the beginning,' the King said gravely, 'and go on till you come to the end: then stop.'
Comment by Joel M. Wright on May 24, 2010 at 4:25pm
@ M Izabel

The concept of being born again, a metaphorical rebirth believed by Protestant Christians, is circular and cyclical in progression of beliefs and virtues. Their practice of giving ten percent of their income to their churches called tithe is also non-linear since they have their own version of Karma-- the grace of giving.

Interesting take on karma.

Interestingly enough, one can also “backslide” in certain forms of Protestant Christianity. The idea is that a true Christian will hold Jesus in his or her heart and will thus act as Jesus would act. However, there’s lots of people who get involved in church, then later start to go back to old habits that are deemed “unchristinanly.” The concept of backsliding is usually described as like sliding back down the hill. So, within the pragmatics of Pentecostal (for example) experience, one moves forward in life, has the experience in which they are “broken,” then be come reborn. Later, they may revert back to their old ways, or backslide.

Of course, this pattern can, and is, couched in linear, biographical terms; however there is a certain sacred non-linearity to it.

I don't know if memory is part of eschatological last. Studying a last in culture is not about remembering.

I get what you’re saying here. For what it’s worth, though, I’m of a mind that all meanings rest on associations of memories in the exigency of the present.

There’s another point I’d like to bring up, though. So far, we’ve discussed beginnings and endings in terms of time; however, we’ve completely neglected considering space and entity, especially in terms of ritual or the sacred. Examples abound.

1. During the hey day of American racial segregation (which is still very much alive, just more relaxed today), African Americans could not even drink at the same water fountains as Whites. Perhaps this social demarcation of space is also about social beginnings and endings?

2. I think I first read “Hermes’ Dilemma” in Waiting: The Whites of South Africa. In it, Crapanzano notes that the ancient Greeks used to delimit homesteads by way of phallus stones that marked the edges of land holdings. If I remember correctly, what this meant was the boundary between oikos and cosmos.

3. In Fluid Signs, E. Valentine Daniel wrote about the permeability of the human body, and how it was considered important among the Tamils that he observed that one pay attention to the effects of kunams on his or her well-being. Without getting into too much detail, the idea is that everything is composed of three primordial elements that have congealed in various proportions in different places. If you, as a permeable being, reside in a place with an incompatible admixture of kunams, then you will not thrive. If you live in a place with a compatible admixture, then you will do well. This may seem like an odd example, but the whole concept of permeability means crossing a threshold from one environment (if you will) into another.

4. One last example: could we not talk about states in terms of beginnings and endings? What does a border mean, especially as distinct from a boundary? In “The Mexico-United States Border in Anthropology,” Josiah Heyman invokes that distinction between the two. A boundary is an actual demarcation, while a border is a zone between two states. Boundaries are more definite than borders. Interestingly, Heyman comments on what Rouse calls the, “long-term cyclical migration between interior western Mexico (Michoacan) and the San Francisco Bay region...”
Comment by Huon Wardle on May 24, 2010 at 3:43pm

'Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’
`That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.
`I don’t much care where–’ said Alice.
`Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.
Comment by Huon Wardle on May 24, 2010 at 11:45am
Or its last trace?
Comment by Huon Wardle on May 24, 2010 at 11:41am
Then the smile is the cat?
Comment by Huon Wardle on May 24, 2010 at 11:27am
I don't know where and how you got that strict distinction.
Well, in truth, I didn't 'get' a 'strict' division - the comparison was part of the things to be talked about and a heuristic for talking about them.

Now, several people quickly pointed out that in Greece and other places there are linear + cyclical models. Cyclical is not circular, of course, - the 'wheel of fortune' versus the self-similar pattern that motivates our awareness of family resemblances, for example (which is also seems apparent across cultures).

All of which still begs the question about the special emphasis - Joel gave a trenchant example - of end-time thinking in Christian eschatology. So, you can use eschatology to talk about death-as-the-last-thing-affecting-human-lives, as the anthropologists did in the case of the Apache, or we can attend to the rather specific end-time of Christian theology as it influences actual social behaviour - political choices, for instance. I don't suppose most end-timers are thinking about the apocalypse when they pick up their lunch - they can think cyclical too.

There was something very suggestive and enigmatic about the idea of 'last' as a footprint, a trace, a teaching. That image seems to open up a retracing of steps in either direction - the footprint that shows 'it was here' can also indicate and perhaps necessarily does indicate 'it is here still'. Not only linear and cyclical, then, but also synchronic - which is the basis on which ethnographers can say 'something I saw in 2008 gives the contextual clue to a behaviour that held my attention in 1992'. And that, likewise, is a necessary feature of any thinking at all. Here is a further provocation - our notion of end/begin cannot be merely cyclical and/or linear; it has to be synchronic as well.

Three steps, check. Beginning, middle, end, check. The middle has to be liminal, right? Wrong. Out of the ordinary? Right. A transition from one status to another? No, that misses the point.

So, not every experiential transit involves a shift of status - it could be a conservation, reiteration of the world as it was before. This suggests one of the other models of ritual as regulator/thermostat/governor redirecting power to where it is supposed to be applied.
Comment by John McCreery on May 21, 2010 at 10:51pm
Before I run, and I'm shortly off to a weekend of intensive practice with the chorus in which I sing, I will be offline for the next 48 hours or so, let me reiterate. All dramas have beginnings, middles, and ends. No big deal. Any discrete event has a beginning, middle and end. The question is what goes on at these moments, and it may not be the separation, the stripping down to bare humanity, the emergence in a new status of the kinds of initiation ceremonies that have, thanks to Van Gennep, Turner and others, had such a huge influence on anthropological thinking about ritual. Paying closer attention to the details reveals a variety of patterns, some of which--like the Chinese example I mention--turn out to be flagrantly magical in that classic Durkheimian or Malinowskian sense in which private and pragmatic is opposed to the public and obligatory that defines the religious. Where we anthropologists go astray is in trying to cram private and pragmatic ritual into boxes conceived for describing the public and obligatory; so we see a beginning, a middle, and an end on a special occasion that interrupts everyday life and start forcing what we see into the rite de passage model. Three steps, check. Beginning, middle, end, check. The middle has to be liminal, right? Wrong. Out of the ordinary? Right. A transition from one status to another? No, that misses the point.
Comment by John McCreery on May 21, 2010 at 10:35pm
John, are you saying that what we might perceive as a passage from one status to another is in fact a constant AC/DC fluctuation from patron to client?

No, not at all. I said I was old-fashioned. My premise is the classic Durkheimian one that ritual dramatizes social relations. Rites of passage dramatize moves from one status to another, e.g., weddings, funerals, joining the army or a secret society. Calendrical rituals, e.g. worshipping the ancestors at New Year, affirm existing hierarchies. But a lot of social life involves negotiations with powerful others from whom we want something. When the boss agrees to give us a raise or the doctor prescribes a cure, something happens; but it isn't a change in status. The boss remains the boss, we remain employees; the doctor remains the doctor, we remain the patients. Patron-client relations work like that, too. Clients ask for help; the patron may be inclined to give it. Or not, as the case may be. This may seem too worldly a description to fit what we think of as religion; but it fits very well, indeed, what goes on day-in, day-out at Chinese temples large and small. One of my favorite quotes (the source is historian Valerie Hansen) captures the mood precisely:

One day Li Mama told me she had gone to pray to a new god. I asked her why she had decided to pray to that particular deity, and she replied that the deity was ling. As I had never heard the word before, Li Mama explained that a god was ling when he or she responded to requests. People in Taipei usually prayed when sick, or before taking the competitive college entrance examinations, or when hoping for a child. And if the deity cured them, or enabled them to get into a good university, or brought them a son, then that particular deity was ling. Li Mama had visited this new temple hoping that the god was ling, but if he was not, then she would go to another god. Her point was clear: people pray to gods to get things done, and they judge gods on the basis of their ability to perform miracles. (Hansen, 1990: ix)


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