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Philosophie, Religionsphilosophie


Honold, Alexander, Luppi, Valentina, u. Anton Bierl[Hrsg.]


Ästhetik des Opfers. Zeichen/Handlungen in Ritual und Spiel. Hrsg. unter Mitarbeit v. S. Aeberhard u. S. Kleie


Paderborn: Wilhelm Fink 2012. 313 S. Kart. EUR 44,90. ISBN 978-3-7705-5418-8.


Douglas Hedley

The title Ästhetic des Opfers is strikingly paradoxical. What could be less aesthetic than some gory sacrifice? The title page is a Viking grave in Denmark: heavy primaeval stones of a heathen Europe. When the English novelist D. H. Lawrence lived in Cornwall, he delighted in that remote region’s primordial quality, particularly the great granite stones that are characteristic of the area. This evoked for Lawrence the mysteries of a pre-Christian age of blood sacrifices. The novelist found in this landscape mirrors of a ›blood-conciousness‹ deeper than the mental consciousness of the refined European culture that was destroying itself in the First world war. From Abraham and Isaac to Iphigenia and Pentheus, much of the great imaginative work of the ancient and modern Western mind has been shaped by the idea of sacrifice: in particular, human sacri-fice. Free-thinkers in the Enlightenment could muse upon the barbaric similarities between Christianity and pagan cultures, while de Maistre could reflect upon parallels between Aztecs or the practice of Sati during the British Raj. Ritual death in literature and Opera has played a central role in modern European culture. Quite apart from the persistence of Christian themes, we can find secular forms of the theme from Wagner’s Ring or Tristan to Stravinsky’s Dionysian human sacrifice generating renewal in his Rite of Spring (1913) or the virgin sacrifice in Schoenberg’s Moses and Aron (1930/32). The theme of sacrifice is deeply entrenched in Western art.
In the age of Racine and Goethe we find Iphigenia and versions of the sacrifice warded off. In 1925 D. H. Lawrence published a short story, ›The Woman who Rode Away‹ about a sophisticated woman who allows herself to be ›devoted‹ to the sun in a ritualistic sacrifice. The theme of sacrifice is often used as a mirror of the writer’s view of the relationship between nature and culture, religion and civilization. The overcoming of sacrifice in the European En­lightenment could reflect the rational critique of Priestcraft, religious tyranny and superstition. The early twentieth century there was a vogue for an aesthetics of bloody violence, depicted remarkably in Thomas Mann’s Doktor Faustus, especially his imaginative representation of the Kridwiss circle in Munich, devoted to Georges Sorel and an ata-vis­tic cult of barbarism. In a figure like Lawrence a violent sacrifice could represent the yearning for a more primordial relation to the world, one painfully lost by a deracinated ›civilisation‹. Yet this seems a specific feature of modernism: the search for energy re-pressed and diluted by the Waste land of bourgeois Europe.
This collection of essays has emerged out an interdisciplinary project in Switzerland. The German word ›Opfer‹ contains both the victim (victima) and the sacrifice (sacrificium). Are we talking about the aesthetics of the act of oblation or the thing offered? Yet the concern of the volume is the representation of sacrifice. The volume explores the cultural and religious roots of ›sacra facere‹ (e. g. Burkert, Vernant, Girard) as the foundation for myriad symbolic representations of sacrifice of in the theatre or in poetic-imaginative literature.
A strength of the volume lies in the rich and stimulating depiction of the theme of sacrifice in the ancient Hellenic world. An obvious instance of the importance of sacrifice is in epic and Greek tragedy. The reckless ›sacrifice‹ of the cattle of Helios and the baneful results (Luca Zieba, ›Frevelhaftes Opfer und seine Aesthetik‹) or in Hesiod (Almut-Barbara Renger on the Prometheus-Pandora mo­tif in Hesiod), Valentina Luppi (›Das polyvalente Opferritual am Ende der euripideischen Helena‹). We have reflections of the role of sacrifice in the ancient novel by Anton Bierl. One might think of Lollianus Phoinikika fragments, the Ephesian Tale of Anthia and Habrocomes by Xenophon of Ephesus. Bierl concentrates on The novel of the second century AD Alexandrian author Achilles Tatius and his The adventures of Leucippe and Clitophon. Bierl explores the staged pseudo sacrifice in the novel and draws parallels with the contemporary ›cheap thrill‹ of the horror genre in cinema.
This rich volume takes the theme of sacrifice through to Shakespeare (Titus Andronicus and Much Ado about Nothing), Bach (Das Musikalische Opfer MWV 1079), Goethe (Iphigeneia), Kleist (Penthesileas) up to the thought of Hugo von Hofmannsthal and Joseph de Maistre up to the cult of youth and nature in early twentieth century Germanophone culture. There is an intriguing essay discussing Der arme Heinrich: the middle High German tale by Hartman von Aue in which a Knight afflicted by leprosy is cured by a girl who is willing to sacrifice herself for him is subjected to psychoanalytic critique in an exploration of the ›sadomasochistic logic‹ of the tale. I remain unconvinced by an excessively sexual interpretation of the material. What, for example, of the innocent and non-sexual suf-fering of a young female like the figure of Cordelia in King Lear? Lear says to Cordelia, »Upon such sacrifices« (5.3.20). Cordelia like Lavinia in Titus Andronichus suffer dreadfully because of their fathers and their sacrifice forms a dire punishment for the erring Father. Part of the difficulty lies in the polyvalence of the symbol of sacrifice. What is the link between the widespread ritual of sacri-fice of animals or plants to the highly spiritualized views of sacri-fice of Buddhism or even the Eph’ hapax of Christian theology. If one is studying the imagination of sacrifice, this differs from the activity of an anthropologist view on different rituals or a theologian who wishes to explore the coherence of penal substitution. The ar­tistic imagining of the sacrificial act, agent or victim may have very little direct link with any practices that an anthropologist or scholar of religion might recognize.
This is a very useful volume that offers a series of precise and suggestive vignettes which together compose a useful synchronic overview for the philosopher or the theologian interested in the topic. Some of the essays have very detailed bibliographies, some do not. There is no index.