What I still need to work on: the agalma

Tons and tons of things of course. But further reflection on my Lacan and Neopaganism post has left me with more questions than answers. Which I am taking as a good sign.

The main issue with the sketch I presented has to do with neopaganism itself, and its own paradigms, of which there are many. So is this Lacanian “flowchart” a rough schematic for a more macro-level process that can be improvised upon and retooled by others to fit into their own practices, or a more granulated description of a particular type of neopaganism?

I am leaning toward the latter, but nonetheless I want to test these Lacanian symbolic relationships against main currents of thoughts in neopaganism (in all of its incarnations).

John Halstead’s post here on three “centers” of neopaganism might be a good place to start.

earth-centered paganism (“those Paganisms [among others] concerned primarily with ecology, those more local forms of Paganism that I would call ‘backyard Paganism’…and many forms of (neo-)animism which view humans as non-privileged part of an interconnected more-than-human community of beings.”): the encounter with the Real brings the human being into a deprivileged realtionship beyond nature, a kind of re-sacralization beyond the sacred. But upon further reflection this isn’t the only way in which the Real can be encountered.

Self-centered paganism (“includes Jungian Neopaganism, many forms of Wicca and feminist witchcraft, and more ceremonial or esoteric forms of Paganism…Authenticity is determined by one’s relationship with one’s Self, with that larger sense of Self which extends beyond the boundaries of one’s ego and one’s individual person.”): Lacanian thought seriously complicates any notion of a fixed Self, but taking the idea of Self as “many conceptions of personhood”, there is a lot of resonance here. One thing that could be built upon further here is the phenomenology of paganism–how our senses interact with and process information around us into constructing that self. However, one other aspect of this that doesn’t align with Lacan is idea of “personal development.” Lacanians, I think, would lean toward see the idea of personal growth as itself an ideological construction and a Big Other. I also think this is necessary, in order to avoid New Age obscurantism.

(This mini-essayic answer, however, provides some tantalizing cross-currents between Jung and Lacan. I had no idea that Lacan had studied under Jung briefly! And I do think that Jung himself is under-utilized in Continental Philosophy.)

diety-centered paganism (“includes many forms of polytheistic worship, many Reconstructionist or Revivalist forms of Paganism, including those which are closer to Heathenry, and those which borrow techniques (i.e., aspecting) from African-diasporic religions.”): because of a lack of belief in actual gods, I at first considered this a dead end. However, when one does take materialism into account, an intriguing possibility opens up that had escaped me previously: The Lacanian Real has almost avataristic properties when it bleeds into the Imaginary and the Symbolic Order. Could this be the nigh-incomprehensible god lurking behind the curtain? Such a personification might be considered wrong-headeded, or even obscene, from a clinical Lacanian perspective. But, here, we are not clinicians.

When I had my dream that has begun this entire search of mine, it was indeed with a persona, a being of some sort in my thought-space. And so…I can’t discount this entirely, even if it would be from a standpoint that traditional practitioners would consider quite bastardized.

So my takeaway between these differing traditions and Lacan? It’s a mixed bag, with intriguing possibilities but no clear through-lines that point to one paradigm solely over another. If I had to choose one (and actually, I don’t!), I am most drawn toward Lacan as an animistic foil, while leaving the idea of a “soul” in abeyance. But indeed this is only a starting point.

The other main issue has to do with other thinkers from Continental Philosophy, and how they interrelate. Deleuze, in particular, which I am keen to dive into more in regards to flow, striation, and bodies without organs. Perhaps it’s a matter of sketching out how (to take an example) a Deleuzian animism might work out, or rather the tentpoles to the tent, rather than attempting to create a summa theologica synthesizing many, many different thinkers. Which would be impossible anyway, for me! I don’t necessarily think that building a loose system on Lacan makes a loose system built on Deleuze “false”, or vice versa, but nonetheless I don’t want to rely on a false sense of relativism either. However you look at it, it’s a huge undertaking.

In researching for this post, I found this passage:

In the seminar of 1960-1, Lacan articulates the objet petit a with the term agalma (a Greek term meaning glory, an ornament, an offering to the gods, or a little statue of a god) which he extracts from Plato’s Symposium. Just as the agalma is a precious object hidden inside a relatively worthless box, so the objet petit a is the object of desire which we seek in the other. (source)

In this work of mine, what is my agalma? I realize it is in many ways a fool’s errand, driven by my own desire to square circles and circle squares, to develop practice on the fly, and to simultaneously really think things through and not to overthink things. I often feel out of my depth, but that is countervailed by the disenchantment I see all around me. Perhaps escape is its own form of the sublime. And dwelling in this new space and actually invoking paganism gives me a strength to carry on with this field work, all while trying to be a “good guest” in communities that are not quite my own, though with the hopes that that will change.

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