Friday, September 26, 2008

Rituals Of Spontaneity

The story of spontaneity - and of ritual's decline - I have to argue, is the story of the secularization of goodness, but one that is not so smooth or evenly paced as has been supposed. It is the story of seventeenth and eighteenth-century English men and women coming to understand goodness less in the traditionally religious terms that had been rendered problematic by seventeenth-century enthusiasm and the wars of religion, and more within the logic and language of an increasingly empirical and economic rationality and in the forms of the expanding marketplace, with which it was, to understate matters, by no means immediately compatible.  Spontaneous emotional effusion - both the sort Young claims and the sort that had earlier found expression in enthusiasm - was taken as evidence of the condition of one's heart...

With secularization, other unforeseen consequences followed on succumbing to the siren call of the spontaneous, and each chapter of this study attends carefully to the costs and losses incurred by conflictedly religious, empirical, increasingly possessing and possessed modern subjects under what quickly became in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries an imperative for spontaneity. The ideology of spontaneity that emerges in this period is marked, I argue, not just by the displacement of traditional rituals, but by the inventions of new ones necessary for maintaining a sense of freshness and felt certainty. Not recognized as ritualistic, these "rituals of spontaneity" - free prayer, Dissenting and philosophical forms of self-scrutiny in the quest for natural moral responses, and the behaviors associated with sensibility, including effusions of joy, weeping, or poetic inspiration - are the sacraments of an increasingly consumeristic culture and tend to bear three striking behaviors, namely buying and selling, authorical production, and readerly desire and consumption; they give rise to an array of painful anxieties about individual authenticity and the performance of spontaneity; and they render agency difficult to imagine, making the very moral improvement at which they aim highly problematic and ultimately undermining the quest for an empirically verifiable, universal morality. In fact, the peril of maintaining a sense of agency and responsibility in modernity is the key note resounding in the etymology of the word spontaneous and its shifting  usage in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

... Rituals Of Spontaneity: Sentiment And Secularism From Free Prayer to Wordsworth, Lori Branch


Anonymous said...

young, iris marion?

TheHoopoe said...

nope - edward young.