The Tacit Logic of Ritual Embodiments

Rappaport and Polanyi between Thick and Thin

in Social Analysis
Author:
Robert E. Innis University of Massachusetts Lowell Robert_Innis@uml.edu

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Roy Rappaport’s attempted semiotic schematization of the logic of ritual, relying on analytical tools from C. S. Peirce’s philosophical semiotics, is examined in terms of both its conceptual coherence and its relation to other schematizations of ritual, especially Michael Polanyi’s thematization of a ‘tacit logic’ of meaning-making. The Peircean foregrounding of sign types (icons, indices, symbols) is compared to Polanyi’s delineation of an irreducible from-to structure of consciousness, rooted in the distinction between focal and subsidiary awareness, and to his further distinction between indication and symbolization as ways of relating to and effecting symbolic complexes, such as rituals. One of the startling upshots of this comparison is that the distinctions between ‘thick ritual’ and ‘thin ritual,’ and between art and ritual, become extremely labile. Examples from Ralph Waldo Emerson, Philip Larkin, and Simone Weil illustrate this last point.

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Social Analysis

The International Journal of Anthropology

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