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Introductory Comments on the Essay
– Feb. 18, 2013
This essay was first drafted around 2007-08 and has gone through a couple edits since. It found no success in publication; though, it is rather long, and rather hybrid, so I wasn’t expecting such success. Though, it has been used in the law classroom by Neville Cox, whose book on Irish blasphemy law is featured within.
The importance of this essay to my own thought and work cannot be overstated. It was one of those confluence of events that I am sure many people in academia can attest to. Neville Cox was teaching at the law school; in consequence I read his book on blasphemy law and wanted to write a paper, having from the go a critique in mind that would take the ideas beyond the limited moment of Irish law and deeply into the theoretical. In my preliminary research I came upon Berger’s The Sacred Canopy, which I had purchased not too long before. And it was precisely the book I needed. And then, wholly out of left field, came Manet and Olympia. And thus, to use the overused phrase, the perfect storm.
My graduate education was heavily influenced by theory, specifically the post-structuralists, and all that led into them. (I had read most of Nietzsche long before, so I was primed for them. Post-structuralism offers the world of thought what is, essentially, a grand unification system. Positivists and positivistic social theorists would deny, but that is the nature things: it is the necessity of the positivistic to deny the non-positivistic; whereas post-structural thought does not reject the positivistic, but accepts it for what it is. (The best book to understand this is Barthes’s Criticism and Truth. It is short, not terribly complex, and very elegantly explains the two modalities of human reality – what I call the nomic and the aesthetic – and the relation between them.)
The Sacred Canopy approaches the post-structuralist ideas from the side of the nomic, and in such presents a vocabulary with which to speak of the nomic. And a potent vocabulary at that. (Most post-structuralist writing, on the other hand, is concerned with the aesthetic: necessarily so, for its project; but so much so that it often fails to give vocabulary to the nature of the nomic.) Berger’s little book fills a whole in the study of language and thought, and has merit beyond its recognition.
And, as I said, it was exactly what I needed. I had a donneé; I had a critique, and then I had an energy source (Berger). It was terribly far into the writing that I then found my hook: or, I should say, recognized my hook: blasphemy. It was the thunderbolt that smelts the raw ore into a purer metal. Ever since, the idea of blasphemy (blasphemy as a social concept/legal concept, and blasphemy as an aesthetic concept), has been central to my thought.
There are some problems with the essay, looking back upon. One or two which I recognized at the start. Though, they are not so much errors as moments that are incomplete, or needing deeper consideration than what the essay itself would demand or accept. It is my intent to reread, and to add comment where comment is needed or merited. This at some point. And then it is also my intent that others read and offer comment. To put it to use – here, or elsewhere.