Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sacrifice

Midway through the semester, and attempts at defining sacrifice still seem half formulated. I find no answers, really, in the scholarly works we have read. Perhaps I ask too much of this academic life. Is it possible to find a way to understand the tangles of human life in these written pages?

Sacrifice so far is always about that moment of violence when an animal is killed. But what about the daily sacrifices? Is this really the same thing? What do we mean when we say we sacrifice something? Are we just trying to furtively grab at something, latching onto a word and asking that word to bear too much meaning?

Lately, I feel that words fail. I have not found hope in the pages like I used to. Even poetry does not offer me answers. Nothing with language seems to help. And each time I read about sacrifice I still try to find into those theoretical texts something that will offer light.

What is sacrifice? Is it really about death? I don't know any longer. I know it is a violence. And before today, I wanted that violence to be some kind of beautiful gasp. But it is not. The violence of sacrifice is violent because really it is not about death. It is about losing something vital. And the violence comes in that the negation of that vitality does not kill you. Instead, you are left with something missing. A hole that really does not ever go away. Sacrifice does not replenish what you have lost. That piece, that vitality is left smouldering in the ashes.

14 comments:

John B-R said...

This is a beautiful meditation. Am I reading you right to think that you are suggesting that perhaps sacrifice is the futile attempt to remedy the the lack (to fill the "hole")? If so, where do you think the hole comes from?

Ginger As in Green Tea... said...

Hmmm...the way you're thinking about it is not how I'm thinking about it but leads me to whole other thoughts. There may be some kind of cycle that I need to think about more.

I was actually thinking that sacrifice causes the hole. It's the moment when you destroy something that is yours or that is part of yours or some kind of formulation thereof.

DJavaman said...

Not really related,, but have you read A Mercy of Hell (or something like that). It's a bunch of dross, but it's very interesting dross. I suspect you may enjoy it.

Leelee said...

But what about the causation of the sacrifice? Sacrifice leaves a lack, or a hole, but what of the gain from the sacrifice?

Ginger As in Green Tea... said...

That's just it. I'm not convinced that there is a gain.

Jon said...

Have you read Bataille's _The Accursed Share_? He posits an economy based on excess, rather than on lack (as I guess traditional economists do). This has clear consequences for understanding sacrifice: it is expenditure. You don't get anything from it, but you get rid of something as a gift.

I guess this sounds opaque. I'm trying to think of another example. Think of gifts: they are not about receiving (I'm thinking in the general and not Derridean sense of the gift), but about giving, about causing pleasure. The second possibility is something like exercise: you don't get anything direct out of it and you expend a lot of energy. Admittedly you get endorphins etc, but I think that's a side effect.

Bataille's ideas on sacrifice make a lot more sense to me when I start thinking of sacrifice as a form of expenditure. I'm not entirely sure that is what sacrifice is, but it does make sense when looked at that way...

John B-R said...

Why would anyone create a lack? Why would anyone give a gift?

Tho I don't know wheter this answers my questions, the most famous and ongoing sacrifice in my culture's called The Covenant.

Leelee said...

I agree with Jon's statement looking at it from an economics point of view. I guess, being an analyst, I'm not surprised.. "There's no free lunch", and it works both way.. You can't sacrifice something without getting SOMETHING gained. If it was one sided, that would screw up the entire concept of balance.. yin-yang, push, pull, for every action there's an opposite and equal reaction.. so I don't think you CAN sacrifice without gain.....unless you want to blow up the whole time-space continuum.. :)

Ginger As in Green Tea... said...

LOL that's my goal Lisa:)

Jon, haven't read that yet but a prof. recommended it to me. Over the summer.

I guess that my attraction to violence has colored some of my thinking. And yes I am wrong about the gain. There is always something. I guess I should clairfy that I am not sure that what is gained makes up for what was lost.

Leelee said...

Doesn't it have to be at the very least equal???
equal and opposite reaction...

Having read The Accursed Share, I can tell you that it all meshes together what you're saying (with the theory of potlatch, and going back to violence and human sacrifice), BUT, what about the concept of reciprocity from Marcel Mauss,or Derrida even?

Ginger As in Green Tea... said...

I don't think I buy that. At least in terms of personal sacrifices people often give away much more than they get back. I know I have...

John B-R said...

"At least in terms of personal sacrifices people often give away much more than they get back."

Because if you don't, the gods to whom you sacrifice will chew you up and spit you out before dinner ...

The gods are a bunch of mean motherfuckers, every last one of em. And they're VERY insecure.

Ginger As in Green Tea... said...

John...that made me smile a little although I doubt it was supposed to...

I don't think sacrifice involves an equal exchange. I don't think the gift metaphor works. When you sacrifice you give up something so much greater...that's the point. And sacrifice transforms you in ways that are not...I don't know...damaging? I think of Abraham being asked to sacrifice his son. Yes his son was spared but forever there is that moment when Abraham holds that knife over his son, prepared to kill him for God. Does the ram really replaced that moment?

John B-R said...

Ginger, as you imply, the ram is relatively unimportant. What really signifies in that story is Abraham's willingness to suck up big time, so big he'd kill his own son if need be.
You're totally right - or at least I totally agree with you - that sacrifice is not a gift exchange. The sacrificer gives up something in the hope that the gods will chill a while before demanding even more. Is the relationship damaging? I'd say yes, to both parties. But I hesitate to make that judgment because it sounds like a judgment of sadomasochism. Do you consider submission damaging?