The sacred world depends on limited acts of transgression It is the world of

The sacred world depends on limited acts of

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world is the world of taboos. The sacred world depends on limited acts of transgression. It is the world of celebrations, sovereign rulers and God. This approach is a difficult one, in that sacred simultaneously has two contradictory meanings. Whatever is the subject of a prohibition is basically sacred. The taboo gives a negative definition of the sacred object and inspires us with awe on the religious plane . Carried to extremes that feeling becomes one of devotion and adoration . The gods who incarnate this sacred essence put fear into the hearts of those who reverence them, yet men do reverence them none the less. Men are swayed by two simultaneous emotions: they are driven away by terror and drawn by an awed fascination. Taboo and transgression reflect these two contradictory urges . The taboo would forbid the transgression but the fascination compels it. Taboos and the divine are opposed to each other in one sense only, for the sacred aspect of the taboo is what draws men towards it and transfigures the original interdiction . The often intertwined themes of mythology spring from these factors. The only clear and comprehensible distinction between these two aspects of the taboo is an economic one. Taboos are there to make work possible; work is productive; during the profane period allotted to work consumption is reduced to the minimum consistent with continued production. Sacred days though are feast days. Then things which usually are forbidden are permitted or even required, though the upheaval is not necessarily as total as that following the death of a king. The values of the workaday world are inverted, as Caillois has pointed out.! From an economic standpoint the reserves accumulated during periods of work are squandered extravagantly at feast times. Here is a clearcut distinction. We are not perhaps justified in asserting that religion is based on breaking the rules rather than on the rules themselves but feast days depend on a readiness to make great inroads upon savings and feast days are the crown of religious activity. Getting and spending are the two phases of this activity. Seen in this light religion is like a dance where a !l1ovement backwards is followed by a spring forward. Man must combat his natural impulses to violence. This signifies an acceptance of violence at the deepest level, not an abrupt break with it; the feeling responsible for the rejection of violence is kept going in the background by this acceptance . Moreover the urge to reject violence is so persistent that the swing of accepted violence always has a dizzying efect. Man is seized first with nausea, then as it passes by a heady vertigo—phases of the paradoxical dance ordained by religious attitudes. By and large, then, in spite of the complexity of the impulses concerned the meaning is plain enough: religion is the moving force behind the breaking of taboos. Now, religion is founded on feelings of terror and awe, indeed it can hardly be thought of without them, and their existence causes some confusion. The recoil that inevitably follows the forward movement is constantly being presented as the essence of religion. This interpretation is obviously incomplete and the misunderstanding could easily be cleared up but for a misleading
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  • Winter '16
  • Jeff Hannan
  • organic life, Bataille

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