Philip Rieff


1) Let there be fight? And there was. And there is. James Joyce's pun, on the words of Jewish second world creation, Genesis 1:3, is more than mildly amusing; it gives readers the most exact and concise account I know of the sociological form of culture. Culture is the form of fighting before the firing actually begins. Every culture declares peace on its own inevitably political terms. Unless a culture is defeated politically, as the Jewish was from the Roman conquest to the founding of Israel, it will assert itself politically. A living culture, even one that imitates life by politicizing its cultural impoverishment, works for itself. That cultural work is the matter and manner of disarming competing cultures, inside and outside its previously bounded self. In its disarming manner, a culture makes the ultimate political means of enforcement, armed force, unnecessary.

The other and superordinate sociological form of culture is complicit in its fighting form: world creation/rule. Our church civilization is being, like all others, constantly re-created. In those re-creations, worlds are ruled authoritatively. There are no uncreated worlds. All are supranatural. The morning prayer of observant Jews includes thanks to the Creator for renewing the world. The Our Father in the Roman liturgy concludes at its world without end.

Unending, world creation comprises the historical task of culture: namely, to transliterate otherwise invisible sacred orders into their visible modalities-social orders. As transliterating institutions of sacred order into social, cultures are what they represent: 'symbolics' or, in a word that represents what it is, 'worlds'. Cultures are the habitus of human beings, universal only in their particularities, symbolically inhabited. In being so, symbolic, cultures are what they represent.