Whatever the angle from which we choose to look at the problem of the predecessor, one thing is certain: in order to be, in order to speak, the predecessor must be sacrificed. Otherwise life with him/her is impossible.
Living with the predecessor is like dragging yourself through an impossible marriage. Like a spouse who wouldn’t let go, the antecedent comes as a compulsion as well as an interdiction. Their work needs to be known in order to avoid tautology, but at the same time it needs to be avoided - and for the same reason. As such, he/she parasitizes the present act of writing to the point where it causes the writing self to be stuck in a state of mute inaction. Some forms of the legendary writer’s block are caused precisely by this fear of the words already uttered. The writer who fears this, fears the look of the words on the page because the appearance of those words will be the confirmation of the forbidden repetition.
Divorcing the forebears
As I have been insisting for some time now, the precedent has to be annihilated. This is not only an imperative; it is also the way things are.
Take the cult of the ancestor. The immense respect the thinking/writing subject appears to pay to those who came before them is in fact an attempt at removing said ancestors from the immediacy of life.
The concreteness of life is refused to the dead; it remains the exclusive domain of the living. Think. Nothing in life is venerated. In life, things happen. They happen without significance. In order for significance to be attached to them, these things-that-happen need to be looked at in hindsight. At the moment of the encounter they were nothing. They started being (and becoming) once they were removed from the realm of the unconscious and the trivial.
The ancestor is in a similar situation. They exist now because they have passed the test of significance. They are now venerated. They mean something. They have, indeed, an excess of meaning. But it’s precisely this respect with which they are regarded that pushes them aside. Through veneration, the ancestor is delegated to the domain of the special. There are festivities dedicated to them; there are special marks in the calendar to remind the living of their pre-existence.
This is the crux of the matter: in order to exist, the ancestor needs to be brought into existence; they need to be remembered. Membered again, piece by piece, the bones put together again so as to recreate the skeleton, the flesh pasted onto those bones to generate the person whose veneration is the object of the cult.
Of parasites and cults
The ancestor can only come to be through an effort of the living. This effort, this energy spent in bringing about an object of veneration that no longer exists, transforms the predecessor into a parasite.
In medical terms, a parasite is an organism that lives upon another organism, which is chosen as host because it is a functioning organism - an organism that produces. A parasite, therefore, is an organism that doesn’t produce; it only consumes, and it consumes that which the host has brought into being through labour.
So the parasite feeds on the host’s labour. In order to allow the parasite to live, the host needs to work twice as hard. Therefore, the nonproductive parasite is really, in the most medical of senses, a burden.
|Source: Kevin Sloan|
The ancestor is a burden because it forces the living to deploy twice as much energy than what would have been needed in a concrete, day-to-day life sequence. The ancestor is a surplus that needs to be taken care of. To ease this burden, a techné needs to be developed. A techné, i.e. a craft, as well as a trick. This techné, with its operations and affordances, consists of a radical separation from the ancestor. The holidays that result from the compulsion to venerate, the offerings, the special dishes one cooks in order to please the ancestors, all these things are operations of this techné. Repetition, which is the principal mechanism in the machinery of a cult and at the same time the function of a techné that works, is at the same time remembrance and reassurance.
By repeating the ritual of veneration, the subject sighs in relief knowing that the parasite is well fed at low costs. Doing things the way they need to be done means, in reality, reducing energy to the minimum. If the cult was well put together and well implemented among the subjects, one does not need to labour and come up with ways of venerating. Those ways have already been devised.
Tradition is built on shortcuts.
The ancestor is fed on leftovers.
Their very image is replicated on cheap paper.
Venerated ancestors generate more kitsch than any hated predecessor.
Hatred would have required, indeed, originality - homelessness, unrecognizability, perpetual renewal. See how many ways we are still devising to hate Hitler, to reject Stalin, to accuse the Devil. But how little we really do to love Christ, Mahomed, the Buddha.
The ancestor that demands respect demands in fact the simple techné of repetition. And repetition is simply a way of putting the ancestors to rest.
The fact that repetition is so simple, perhaps horribly easy to perform, is the reason why institutions, discourses, ideologies have been devised. They have come not as aids to the ancestors but as ways of imposing the authority of their own memory. They don’t complicate things in any way. On the contrary, they simplify them, in the sense that they estrange the ancestors even further, by hiding them behind rituals that are more important than the ancestors themselves.
An end to love?
So the festival commemorating the ancestor is a reminder of the separation created between the living and the dead. The ancestor must go, must be hidden behind ritual and felicity in order to be present at all; in order not to come as a perceivable burden (which would radically change their status from something cherished into something loathed).
Yes, the annihilation of the predecessor is embedded in things. It comes with veneration itself. Without reducing them to the status of special events (i.e. things that don’t occur very often) the predecessors would be too much to bear.
Without this annihilation, the predecessor would be a cause of perpetual anxiety. An ancestor too present would transform the worshiper into a depressive.
So now it should be quite easy to see that the rejection of the precedent that comes with every act of creation (with every renewal) is the natural, organic way of things. The world should not rage against the original, since the original (that which belongs to the source) is the only way out of the aporias perpetually created by traditions.
Tradition is, indeed, a state of being stuck, of being immobilized by the pressure of repetition. There’s nowhere to go. There’s only here to stay: a here that is perpetual (the here of the ritual).
But this being-stuck is, funnily enough, the way out of the problem I have described as the surplus of the precedent. If the predecessor is kept within this repeatable cycle, he/she is no longer a threat (if by threat we understand the threat of the original, of the unprecedented). Hence prayers that demand love, ceremonies that promise bliss.
Love, the easy way out of the problem...
Love, the unconditional compliance...
Love, the desertion of reason...
Love, the barrier to questioning...
Love, the acceptance of dogmas...
Love, the end of strife...
Love, the beautiful but oh, so permissive...
This is true insofar as a loop is only one loop, one of the many possible loops, one of the particles of sand in a vast desert.
Love is not one Love but many loves – particular, regimented loves; they make sense in closed (and enclosed) systems and cannot migrate into other systems. The Christian principle of agápē annuls these particular loves; but, generous and promising as it may seem, it proposes a utopia, a quasi-impossibility, since “love of all” is impossible in the world.
|Source: Raichel Williamson|
When Gilles Deleuze spoke of deterritorialization (this complicated, barbarous term that makes tongues twist), he spoke of a necessity to dissolve the borders of territories, to break the cycle that creates those loops, to open the world. To do so one needs to accept the challenge of being homeless again, of being barbarous like the word that describes the situation, of arriving at things by a back alley, furtively, like petty criminals who steal what’s not their own. Like thieves, like plagiarists.