Notes on Anti-Structure: sontagian musings on a taylorian idea

Notes on Anti-Structure: sontagian musings on a taylorian idea April 25, 2023

*“There is a heightened excitement at these moments of fusion, reminiscent of Carnival, or of some of the great collective rituals of earlier days…[During] these times of collective effervescence…what is shared is something else. Not so much an action, as an emotion, a powerful common feeling. What is happening is that we are all being touched together, moved as one, sensing ourselves as fused in our contact with something greater, deeply moving, or admirable; whose power to move us has been immensely magnified by the fusion…[in] which both wrench us out of the everyday, and seem to put us in touch with something exceptional, beyond ourselves.”

-Charles Taylor

The philosopher Charles Taylor writes about the phenomenon of “anti-structure”–temporary moments of collective dissociation from the Apollonian norms that govern everyday life. Common in societies that ascribe to metaphysical worldviews in which the spiritual and material are intertwined (rather than existing dualistically on parallel planes), these are moments when the “release valve” is loosened. The community is permitted to unleash their Dionysian energies and commune with spiritual forces–both sacred and demonic.

Whether the Spanish running of the bulls, the Brazilian Carnaval, Italian saint processions, or the Greek panigiri festivals, these celebrations allow for deviation from common respectability, to put themselves in touch with, to revel in, the transcendent. Reaching for God, toying with demons…and everything in between, the feasts permit ecstatic bursts of both religious devotion and indulgence of the flesh…it’s a given that one may fall into sin during these days, but the confessional is only so far away the morning after.

*In Greece, panigiria (which literally translates to “a gathering of all people”) are traditionally held from the afternoon of a major saint’s feast day into the morning hours the next day. These gatherings, held in large outdoor spaces have been known to welcome up to 3,000 attendees, and feature locally made dishes and wine, and dancing to live music.

The greatest panigiria are held on August 15th, the feast of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, after locals and visitors will pay their respect at the village church for a several hour-long liturgy, complete with chanting and incense, and a procession of the icon of Mary three times around the outside perimeter of the church building and the blessing and distribution of sweet bread, after which everyone prepares for several more hours of celebrating. The sacred morning is followed by a night of pagan revelry. Gorging on food, chugging down liters of wine, chain smoking cigarettes, dancing sensuously…some might even get lucky as the hours pass into the night–it’s common to see couples hooking up in plain view on the sidelines.

*Greeks have abnormally high rates of people with personality disorders and other forms of neurodivergence. And yet they turn out to be shockingly well-adjusted people…at least they are better adjusted than the people I grew up with in suburbia and the ones I spent my days with in college. Perhaps it’s the beautiful blue sea they wake up to in the morning. Perhaps it’s the fact that few of them actually get up to go to work in the morning thanks to the expansion of the social welfare state. Perhaps it has something to do with the integration of life forces embodied by cultural phenomena like the panigiria…or that Greece has the highest statistics of cigarette smoking in all of Europe (a whopping 40% of the population!). The smoking of tobacco is said to ground schizophrenia patients.

My grandmother, who was born in Chios (an island vying for the title of best panigiria in all of Greece), had paranoid schizophrenia. She claimed to speak to a variety of invisible people, ranging from the Virgin Mary to a mysterious man who planned on burning down our house. In addition to enjoying sitting on the beach for hours to watch the waves crash on the shore and singing Byzantine chants at the church, she dabbled in folk witchcraft, reading fortunes in coffee cups (which nine times out of ten came true).  At times, my grandmother, paradoxically, came off as more sane and well-adjusted than most of the neurotypical, college-educated American normies I knew.

*Holy Week in Seville is a globally renowned time of anti-structure, where the duende is left to run amok. Hundreds of men–some doing penance, some as offering for a grace request and others giving thanks for a grace granted–engage in the masochistic, sacrificial act of carrying a several ton platform holding emotive statues of an agonizing Christ being scourged by Roman soldiers, or of his sorrowful mother fabulously decked in layers of elaborately woven garments and surrounded by flowers and hundreds of lit candles, on the back of their necks, slowly shuffling their way throughout the city streets. The floats are surrounded by hooded candle-bearing penitents walking barefoot, clergy and acolytes, and bands playing music–equally gloomy and robustly triumphant.

The highlight of the week begins on Holy Thursday, where women dressed in mourning, wearing traditional Spanish veils and all black dresses and stilettos, walk the cities streets posing for photos in front of the statues, as they prepare for their emergence from the churches at midnight for La Madruga–the procession that lasts until the dawn of Good Friday. The processions commence with a the opening of a balcony window on a building adjacent to the church. A woman emerges from the dark singing a saeta–a dark Flamenco-style hymn–dedicated to the dying Christ or to his mother.

*“The Anglo-Saxon fears overpopulation and crowding…The Anglo-Saxon relaxes in a clean, orderly, neat, virtuous world; he has a terror of noise, confusion, dirt, human density, tangled emotion. (Contrast a New England Congregational church with a Spanish chapel or Jesuit baroque.) But the terror is not clearly stated. The Anglo-Saxon trusts the human heart and the benevolence of nature only under certain conditions: when both are under the control his own will has imposed. The Anglo-Saxon is not ‘at home’ this universe; he must master it. Fundamentally, it terrifies him.

Not so the Italian, the Slav, the Spaniard, the Greek Southern and eastern Europeans have a far more ‘pagan’ attitude toward life. Their passions are kindled by nature; they love the earth. Religion for them is, so to speak, an earth religion rather than the religion of a sky-god…What Anglo-Saxons mean by religion is control, propriety, conscience, order, mastery. All their symbols run in the patterns of dominating reason. For that reason alone, technology and science and hospitals are natural expressions of Anglo-Saxon culture; they are the soap-and-water experts of the world. If cleanliness is next to godliness, soil is next to satan: soil, germs, bare feet in the wine presses, sweat streaming from the arm pits, unsightly hairs–disgusting things.”

-Michael Novak, The Rise of the Unmeltable Ethnics

*A tradition initiated by Italian immigrants nearly 125 years ago, the annual feast of St. Gerard in Newark, New Jersey includes trucks selling sloppy meatball sandwiches and zeppoles smothered in powdered sugar that inevitably will end up all over one’s mouth, shirt, and pants…as well as blaring music, games, blessings with relics of the saint’s bones, Mass, and an extravagant procession of the saint’s statue to which devotees pin dollar bills.

*In dualistic puritanical societies, Apollonian order is the perpetual ideal. The cult of respectability yields a monolithic cultural imaginary, where everyday life drones on monotonously in our ears with no possibility of escape. This repressive pressure cooker breeds entire deviant subcultures…where escape into the Dionysian is not a momentary fling but an all encompassing “lifestyle choice.” Take born-again charismatic Christians and other weird religious cults, and those who frequent bars dedicated to gay cruising and drag shows. Further, the Dionysian impulse is not only moved completely into the underground, hidden from the public realm, but it is taken to newfound extremes. It’s no longer a question of occasional indulgence in sexual vice or drunkenness. All brands of wild sexual experimentation are explored. The mind is altered not just by alcohol and cigarettes, but by a plethora of substances.

In non-dualistic cultures, it was taken for granted that “respectable” people would  take advantage of public celebrations of deviance, while a small minority would immerse themselves in underground deviant subcultures (brothels, opium dens, etc)…which would remain in the underground where they belonged. But in the puritanical world, the amount of people flocking to the fringes inevitably expands to the point that the underground can no longer contain them. One doesn’t “air out” their deviant impulses in contained public shapes, but fully unleashes them in a parallel universe.

*“Vivid and instructive is the matter of the gay underworld, which no longer really exists in our time. But in the 1950’s and a little before then, when the system of global tyranny was being firmly erected, it should not be a surprise from everything that has been said, that the gay underworld was the “negative” of the new world order, its sieve and pressure valve. The gay underworld was part of “the remainder.” The phenomenon of “homosexuality” in the modern world reaches up to the most profound of political and social problem: it was always the ghost world, the underworld left over that the engineers of our time couldn’t manage or account for in the erection of the Leviathan. This underworld included far more than the gays of that time, of course: that’s the point. But the gays formed a kind of “bulk population” that allowed an easy bridge between this world and ours. They made it far more permeable to others as well…But now that this world has disappeared, you have no easy way of even knowing where to start. Its boundaries were policed, its entry points were surveilled, but it always existed as a space of freedom outside the pervasiveness of domestication in post-industrial civilization. Let’s not forget, I repeat, that the “gay underworld” was hardly just the gays, but precisely that world penetrated by all types of deviants, perverts, whores, pimps, impresarios, night club owners, mafia, gangsters, spooks, intelligence services of all kind…The space of night that gays created for themselves, in which such types could at least fee/ they had new opportunity to expand and act, was nuked in the 1980’s with AIDS first of all, and then at the same time with the “gay rights” and “gay identity’ movement, through which they came “into the open,” and became the worst and most merciless enforcers of the global slave state.”

-Bronze Age Mindset

*The Apollonian impulse–unable to retain explosion of deviancy–seeks rather than to eliminate it, to incorporate it with the respectable aboveground realm. Not according to the non-dualistic model that forges a complementary Apollonian-Dionysian synthesis, but in a manner that absorbs the Dionysian into the Apollonian, that normalizes deviancy. Subsequently, “normal” vices are demonized. Thus why one will find ads in the New York City subway for PrEp, encouraging people to engage in safe sodomy, alongside ads for “This Free Life” campaign, discouraging LGBTQ identifying people from smoking cigarettes.

*Anna Khachiyan: [BAP] is right [to say that] women and transvestites are oracles of antiquity, but it loses its oracular power when it becomes absorbed into the mainstream…as you fit it into the human rights framework. 

Dasha Nekrasova: And as do these sites of vice or the city…he says parts of cities untouched by regimented first world hygiene. When he talks about the brothels and the red light districts and the centers of depravity that one has to descend into. But that is the point–that those things, smoking, doing drugs, should be regulated into this gay niche underworld. And once those ideas become disseminated into the mainstream ones, like being gay or trans becomes part of the corporate agenda, that really just accelerates the social decline.

AK: I think this was a very good insight. He’s right in saying that that “those in whom the pain of civilization and modernity is most advanced, like gays and trans, unwittingly helped to further uncouple reality from nature and to make our progressive domestication more totalitarian and aggressive, even though in spirit they want to revolt against it with every fiber of their being.”

Red Scare podcast, “Welcome to the Longhouse”

*I keep seeing ads about how cig companies have targeted lower income black communities by trying to sell them menthols at low prices. I’m sure many black people have died because they smoked too many menthols. I’m even more sure even more black people have died by abortion (50% of black deaths in the US). They might want to start making ads about how Planned Parenthood was founded by a eugenicist who wanted to keep “unfit” [black] people from procreating and thus planted clinics in black neighborhoods [peep the NYTimes piece by the CEO of PP who acknowledged that she was “done making excuses for our founder,” but apparently isn’t done with downsizing the black population]. With such deceptive posturing coming from people in power, who could blame anyone for wanting to light up a Newport?

*Caffe Reggio in New York’s West Village known for its Baroque/Renaissance Italian decor and being the home of the original cappuccino machine. Reggio’s is covered with art, from statues, photos, religious icons, and paintings–including two originals by students of Caravaggio. While seated outdoors on a warm April afternoon sipping my authentic Italian cappuccino, I thought I’d do like authentic Romans do and light up. Some random tourists seated behind me started coughing performatively and ostentatiously waved the smoke out of their faces. The waitress asked me to either put my bogie out or step into the street to finish it. I thought this was supposed to be an “authentic” Italian cafe.

*Dominican barberias in the Heights are among Manhattan’s greatest spaces of Dionysian anti-structure. The sacred and profane oscillate like waves against the shore of Punta Cana (which my barber told me to never go to…total tourist trap): upon walking in, one may grab some complimentary condoms sitting in a bowl near the waiting area, or they can flip open a Bible propped up on a stand, not far from the condoms. One minute the speakers blast Dembow, the next they blast a sermon from a fiery Adventist preacher. A variety of visitors saunter into the shop just to make conversation and pass their time,  ranging from the drunk guy who occasionally sweeps up the hair on the floor and other times tries to dance merengue with moms waiting for their sons as they get their haircuts, and a woman clad in a white robe and turban who starts theological arguments with the barbers and their patrons. It is a space of a vibrancy, a spontaneity that the Anglo suburbs will never know.

Check out Notes on Anti-Structure: The B Sides

*adapted from my upcoming essay in American Vulgaria.

$upport CracksInPomo by choosing a paid subscription of this page, or by offering a donation through Anchor. Check out my podcast on Anchor and YouTube and follow me on Instagram and Twitter.

Photo taken at the Feast of St. Gerard in Newark.

"I have a friend who, having ancestry in the Nordic countries, identifies culturally more with ..."

Against non-ethnic Orthobros
"I can't think of a time in Western and Middle Eastern history in which religion ..."

The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and ..."
"As someone who indeed takes anti-Catholic discrimination in the US quite seriously, I take exception ..."

The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and ..."
"You've highlighted some of the differences between these two men, but even in the presence ..."

Why Ron DeSantis is Evil, and ..."

Browse Our Archives