Re: Mutilation and Ritual

Robert Snower (rs219@IDIR.NET)
Thu, 11 Jul 1996 21:55:03 -0500

At 10:39 AM 7/11/96 -0400, Adrienne Dearmas wrote:
>In a message dated 96-07-10 01:30:13 EDT, rs219@IDIR.NET (Robert Snower)
>>A lot of people have thought the way to get at this problem is by way of a
reference >>to the past: to primeval situations which revealed both the
unity in these disparate >>parts, and the intensely significant social role
they played. These people would >>include not only Harrison and Frazer but
Weston, Cornford, Gilbert Murray, Freud, >>Jung, and most of all Shapiro, in
terms of sociobiology. Of Freud, one might note >>that he started out by
referring everything to the infantile source, and ended up >>talking about
"the infantile recurrence of totemism."

Adrienne says:

>I almost want to say that comparing contemporary tattooing of prisoners as a
>subculture of American culture and Maoris of the past who tattooed is like
>apples and oranges. Now I'll admit I am in over my head here, but I'm going
>>research and I apologize if I have created the impression that I was
>excluding the past. Not so at all. I just think that tattooing today in
>Americna subcultures may be just as vaild to the people who do it as the
>tattoos of the Maoris 200 years ago. Maybe the fact that everyone had them
>(Maoris), made them less meaningful.

I say:

We have entirely different time frames in mind. My Harrison quote referred
to tattooing which was taking place some 3000 years ago. The "totemic
system" she was alluding to was a conjecture of what may have prevailed
perhaps 30,000 years ago. She is saying, and Freud and Shapiro are saying,
that the "primeval situations which revealed both the unity and intensely
significant social role" of mutilations, etc. are older still. They were
necessary components in the creation of society among a species which was
not biologically adapted to socialization. Back to basics: evolution is
driven by sexual competition. This is the method of Natural Selection.
Nothing else. On the other hand, sexually driven competition is anathema to
socialization, rendering it literally impossible, in the absence of
controlling factors, because it renders the cooperation essential to
division and specialization of labor impossible. Mammals are not very
social creatures (Wilson), but, except for Homo sapiens, at least they have
the biological control of a seasonal mating which leaves them uninterested
for much of the time. Not Homo sapiens. Yet Homo sapiens succeeded in a
degree of socialization which, in differentiation and specialization of
labor, is rivaled only by some insects. How? Not the biological way the
insects managed it, but by cultural devices. Mutilation was, on the
evidence--which you are collecting, and others have collected--a component
of this cultural trauma, and trauma it undoubtedly was, leaving many
vestiges today, and yesterday, e.g., Catherine of Siena practised asceticism
since the age of seven, and dedicated her virginity to Christ. Her
betrothal was confirmed, she wrote, "not with a ring of silver but with a
ring of his holy flesh, for when he was circumcized just such a ring was
taken from his holy body.". . . "his eyes, his ears, his beard ran with
blood; his jaw distended, his mouth open, his tongue swollen with blood; his
jaw distended, his mouth open, his tongue swollen with blood. His stomach
was pulled in so that it touched his spine as if he had no more intestines."
Catherine . . . hardly ever spoke of . . . her bridegroom without mentioning
blood. . . . Sangue was in every sentence; sangue and dolce (blood and
sweet) were her favorite words. (Tuchman 1978)

R. Snower