The disappearance of rituals

Last updated Feb 27, 2023

The disappearance of rituals

Sadly I think I’m not smart enough to understand the book, but the few reflections I did understand resonated with me. Namely the thoughts about the current state of excessive attention to the self, and how everything is being subordinated to production.


We can define rituals as symbolic techniques of making oneself at home in the world. They transform being-in-the-world into a being-at-home. They turn the world into a reliable place. They are to time what a home is to space: they render time habitable. They even make it accessible, like a house. They structure time, furnish it. — p. 9

Today’s crisis of community is a crisis of resonance. Digital communication channels are filled with echo chambers in which the voices we hear are mainly our own. Likes, friends and followers do not provide us with resonance; they only strengthen the echoes of the self. — p. 18

The demand for empathy can be heard in particular in atomized societies. The present hype surrounding the concept has primarily economic causes: empathy is used as an efficient means of production; it serves the purpose of emotionally influencing and directing people. Under the neoliberal regime, a person is not only exploited during working hours; rather, the whole person is exploited. In this context, emotional management turns out to be more effective than rational management. The former reaches deeper into a person than does the latter. — p. 19

The so-called ‘community’ that is today invoked everywhere is an atrophied community, perhaps even a kind of commodified and consumerized community. It lacks the symbolic power to bind people together. — p. 20

Rituals contain aspects of the world, and they produce in us a strong relationship to the world. Depression, by contrast, is based on an excessive relation to self. Wholly incapable of leaving the self behind, of transcending ourselves and relating to the world, we withdraw into our shells. The world disappears. We circle around ourselves, tortured by feelings of emptiness. Rituals, by contrast, disburden the ego of the self, de-psychologizing and de-internalizing the ego. — p. 21

One hearty laugh together will bring enemies into a closer communion of heart than hours spent on both sides in inward wrestling with the mental demon of uncharitable feeling. — p. 29

In the society of authenticity, actions are guided internally, motivated psychologically, whereas in ritual societies actions are determined by externalized forms of interaction. Rituals make the world objective; they mediate our relation to the world. The compulsion of authenticity, by contrast, makes everything subjective, thereby intensifying narcissistic tendencies. — p. 30

No one tries to be heard or to attract attention. Attention is primarily directed at the community itself. The ritual community is a community of common listening and belonging, a community in the quiet unity of silence. Where such primordial closeness disappears, excessive communication takes its place. Community without communication gives way to communication without community. — p. 38

Rites of passage give structure to life in the same way seasons do. Whoever passes a certain threshold has concluded a phase of life and enters into a new one. Thresholds, as transitions, give a rhythm to, articulate, and even narrate space and time. They make possible a deep experience of order. Thresholds are temporally intense transitions. Today, they are being erased and replaced by an accelerated and seamless communication and production. This is making us poorer in space and time. — p. 42

God does not rest on the seventh day simply to recover from the work he has done. Rather, rest is his nature. It completes the creation. It is the essence of the creation. Thus, when we subordinate rest to work, we ignore the divine. — p. 43

Where everything is subordinated to production, ritual disappears. — p. 49

Formative education is not a means to an end but an end in itself. Through formative education spirit relates to itself instead of subordinating itself to an external purpose. — p. 49

Money, by itself, has an individualizing and isolating effect. It increases my individual freedom by liberating me from any personal bond with others. I can have someone else work for me by paying her, and this avoids entering into a personal relationship. — p. 50

What must be won back is contemplative rest. If our life is deprived of all its contemplative elements, we become suffocated by our own activity. — p. 53

Today, to live means merely to produce. Everything moves from the sphere of play to that of production. We are all workers, and no longer players. Play itself is watered down; it becomes a leisure-time activity. Only weak play is tolerated, and it forms a functional element within production. The sacred seriousness of play has entirely given way to the profane seriousness of work and production. Life subordinated to the dictates of health, optimization and performance comes to resemble mere survival. It lacks splendour, sovereignty, intensity. The Roman satirist Juvenal expressed this well when he spoke of ‘losing the reasons to live for the sake of staying alive’ (propter vitam vivendi perdere causas). — p. 61

What destroys sexuality is not the negativity of prohibition or deprivation but the positivity of overproduction. The pathology of today’s society is the excess of positivity. It is a ‘too much’, not a ‘too little’, that is making us sick. — p. 96