Role of Rituals in Establishing Community Without Communication

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Scott Beauchamp:

(in a review of Byung-Chul Han’s book, The Disappearance of Rituals)

"“Rituals,” Han tells us in The Disappearance of Rituals, “are symbolic acts. They represent, and pass on, the values and orders on which a community is based. They bring forth a community without communication; today, however, communication without community prevails.” At a glance, Han’s definition, as clever as it is, almost seems to suggest that rituals are merely instrumental. That they are just the connective tissue within a larger tautological structure and have no independent value of their own. But he goes on to explain that “We can define rituals as symbolic techniques of making oneself at home in the world . . . They are to time what a home is to space: they render time habitable.”

Rituals are the process by which we fully inhabit time in the way that humans are meant to. Do we experience time in clicks? In bandwidth? In quantifiable streams of data, raw and mindlessly accumulating? “Today,” explains Han, “time lacks a solid structure. It is not a house but an erratic stream. It disintegrates into a mere sequence of point-like presences; it rushes off. There is nothing to provide time with any hold [Halt]. Time that rushes off is not habitable.”

This ritualistic meandering within time belongs to the symbolic order. “Rituals are constituted by symbolic perception,” Han reminds us. And the symbol is a sign of recognition and repetition. Its historical meaning was a recognition of the relationship between guest and host, sealed with the promise of recurrence. In truer sense, Han’s sense, symbols are perceptions of “the permanent: the world is shorn of its contingency and acquires durability.”" (