Archive for March, 2009

Three songs that go well together:

  • “Vienna” by Billy Joel
  • “Vienna” by Ultravox
  • “Leipzig” by Thomas Dolby

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What accompanies us

Among all forms of prehistoric religion, the strangest and most difficult to understand in our own day seems the cult of the dead, the constant presence of the dead in every aspect of life. To a prehistoric man, in contrast, our strangest and most mysterious form of worship would be our use of books. Yet these two forms of belief converge. Concretized as portable objects that accompany us—our parasites, persecutors, comforters—the dead have settled on the written page. Their power has never diminished, even though it has been wondrously transformed.

— Roberto Calasso (trans. by William Weaver and Stephen Sartarelli), The Ruin of Kasch, pg. 330

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In his book The Ruin of Kasch, Roberto Calasso argues that humanity lost an important outlet when we banned the ritual of sacrifice, because the craving to sacrifice now permeates life rather than being bounded and limited by the tradition of a ritual. The Aztecs killed a few to (as they saw it) appease their gods; the Khmer Rouge killed one in five Cambodians to (as they saw it) purify their society.

“In surrendering part of the world to the divinity, the sacrificer wants the divinity to surrender the rest of the world to him, and to cease intervening in its arbitrary, uncontrollable way. The sacrificer also wants the divinity’s permission to use the world. Thus, the first consequence of the eclipse of sacrifice will be that the world will be used without restraint, without limit, without any part being devoted to something else. But here, too, the end overlaps with the origin, like a reflection and hence reversed: once sacrifice is dissolved, the whole world reverts, unawares, to a great sacrificial workshop […] [N]ow the world sacrifices, under other names, itself to itself, for the divinity has vanished.”

— Roberto Calasso (trans. by William Weaver and Stephen Sartarelli), The Ruin of Kasch, pg. 138

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