Aesthetics of Violece: Chapter 2: Ideologically Articulated Aesthetics of Violence

Chapter 2: Ideologically Articulated Aesthetics of Violence

Although one possible interpretation of Bourdieu’s concept of habitus might be taken to imply that these ‘structuring structures’ which give rise to the principles of their own generation as well as to objective social structures and practices, reproduce exactly the previously existing social structures and practices of a society, in fact this is not the case. If it were so, then no society would ever change, yet it is quite apparent that they do – over greater or lesser periods of time, and more or less dramatically. In short, if the habitus were immutable, then so would be the structures and practices they generate, yet this is clearly not the case. This potential misinterpretation of Bourdieu is the result of too static a view of the societies involved. One needs to consider not only the habitus and their corresponding social structures and practices within a given society, but also the relationships between the various habitus and how these affect each other; as well as how they may be affected by the introduction of new or alien habitus into the already existing network of habitus, which will inevitably modify, and itself be modified by that existing network – at least to some extent. The network of habitus which govern the principle of the generation of social practices is therefore dynamic rather than static.

In this chapter, I shall attempt to demonstrate how violence is aestheticised and how the resulting habitus, which I call ‘aesthetics of violence’ are articulated in the Iroquois, Aztec and Yanomamo societies. In the following chapters I shall describe how the habitus which are the result of these processes may be transformed over a period of time, depending on various historical factors, eg. in situations of the interaction of two or more cultures, the effect of the introduction of new ideologies, techniques or inventions, and how these effect transformations in cosmological images which in turn produce further transformations in the material conditions of existence.

First, however, we need to discover in what sense it can be said that violent experiences or practices can be said to be aesthetic experiences; in other words, just exactly how is violence aestheticised? The criteria with which this may be determined can be extrapolated from the previous chapter, in which the phenomenology of the aesthetic experience was analysed: For an object, action or experience to be regarded as aesthetic it must be a conscious, critically-controlled attempt at objective self-expression and the object of contemplative attention. To see whether these criteria can apply to violent experiences, we shall first examine Iroquoian ritual torture and cannibalism, then Aztec human sacrifice, and finally the central importance of (milder forms) of violence to the Yanomamo from the upper reaches of the Amazon.

Iroquoian Torture Rituals in the 17th Century:

Peggy Reeves-Sanday provides us with several descriptions of Iroquoian torture rituals, one of which, due to its completeness, is best suited to our purpose (Reeves-Sanday, 1986: 139-143). That the victim in this case was Iroquoian and the torturers Huron need not concern us, as they were in any case culturally similar and traditional enemies.

For want of space, I cannot describe the ritual as completely as does Reeves-Sanday, but a description of some of the more salient details will suffice (see Reeves-Sanday, 1986: 139-143).

When escorted into the village, the prisoner was beautifully dressed in a beaver robe with wampum beads draped around his neck and his head to form a crown, but he was in very poor condition. Both hands had been badly damaged and one arm had a deep cut while both arms were badly burned. After he had commanded him to sing, the chief addressed him, saying:

“My nephew, you have good reason to sing, for no-one is doing you any harm; behold yourself now among your kindred and friends.”

Several days later, after more feasting, and having travelled to another village, the chief again spoke to him, suggesting that at first he had intended that the prisoner should live and take the place of the chief’s lost relative in the tribe, but that due to the prisoner’s extremely poor physical condition he had changed his mind and that it would be a greater kindness that he should die. He encouraged the prisoner not to allow himself to be cast down by fear of the tortures. The captive asked how he was to die, and the chief answered,

“By fire…”

In preparation for his death the captive made his farewell feast, similar to the feast given by any man who thought he was about to die. Before the feast he addressed his captors, saying:

“My brothers, I am going to die; amuse yourselves boldly around me; I fear neither tortures nor death.” Then he and several of his captors sang and danced while food was given to those who had plates and the rest watched.

The torture began that evening in the house of the war chief, where the war councils were held, after the captain, reminding them of the importance of this act, which was viewed by both the Sun and the War God, encouraged them to do their duty. Torture was the work of the young men alone. The older men were seated on a platform which ran the length of the cabin on both sides. About eleven fires had been lit along the length of the cabin, around which the young men were seated. They were so crowded that there was hardly a passage along the fires where the victim was made to walk. The captain had ordered the young men to only burn his legs at first, so that he might hold out until daybreak, and as he marched up and down the length of the hut, this they did, imitating their victim’s shrieks.

From time to time they allowed him to rest and he was given food and water to revive him. As well as being burned, the bones in his body were broken, his ears were pierced with sticks and his wrists were bound with cords. During all this, the captive bore the pain with patience, whilst for their part, instead of anger or rage on the faces of his tormentors, there seemed to be only gentleness and humanity, and their words expressed only raillery or tokens of goodwill.

Just before dawn the victim was taken outside and made to mount a scaffold six or seven feet high and tied to a tree so that he was free to turn around. Three or four torturers mounted the scaffold with him and, displaying the excess of their cruelty to the sight of the Sun, the torture was intensified until, fearing that he would die otherwise than by the knife, one cut off a foot, another one a hand while a third torturer severed his head from his shoulders. The various body parts were distributed among those to whom they had previously been allotted, while the head was given to one of the captains for whom it had been reserved to make a feast with later, and the trunk was feasted upon the same day.

Throughout the proceedings the captive was referred to by his torturers in kinship terms, and he replied to them similarly. This emphasises, as Reeves-Sanday states, that whether a captive was allowed to live and replace a dead warrior, or whether he was to be tortured and eaten, he was incorporated into his captors’ kinship structures at the level of the person he was replacing.

In order to understand this ritual, it is necessary to understand something of the Iroquoian ontology, and in particular, their attitude towards death. Normally, if someone died the bereaved relatives would be given gifts to console them and they did not feel consoled if given nothing. Also, although the body would be buried, this was only a temporary burial. The body would later be disinterred and the remaining flesh cleaned from its bones, which would then be transported to a tribal burial ground for final reinterment during the Feast of the Dead, which took place every eight to ten years or so. The feast of the dead represented the greatest ritual in the Iroquoian calendar, and symbolised the re-introduction of the souls of the deceased into social communication with the souls of the tribal ancestors.

However, the attitude towards those who died a violent death was quite different, as Reeves-Sanday explains:

“A Huron who died a violent death did not receive the normal burial. If the body was brought back at all, his bones were not removed from the grave and reburied at the Feast of the Dead, as the people believed that those who died in war had no communication in the afterlife with other souls. Thus a kinsman killed in war was lost in more ways than one. The normal procedure for handling grief was unavailable and the social being grafted onto the physical individual was permanently lost, with no gifts to compensate for the loss. The solution to this dilemma seems to have been to find someone who could fill the social and emotional gap, as well as the gap in the afterlife occasioned by the death of a warrior.” (1986: 145).

For these reasons, if a notable person had lost a relative in war, it was customary that he be given an enemy captive to “dry his tears” and to assuage his grief. Sometimes the captive would be allowed to live and take the place of the bereaved person’s dead relative, fulfilling all his social duties and obligations as well as the social role formerly occupied by the person he was replacing. Otherwise he would be tortured and eaten. Either way he would be incorporated, physically or socially, into the dead warrior’s tribe at the level of the deceased. Thus, whether or not the captive was allowed to live, the socio-emotional aspects of grief were worked out:

“The torture ritual emulated the social processes of death and burial. The victim gave a farewell feast as was normal for a man about to die. The chief announced a burial feast to which all would be invited, including members of other villages. There is in all this a gruesome twist for it was the victim’s body that provided the feast and the focus for expending the sadistic fury associated with melancholia.” (Reeves-Sanday, 1986: 145-146)

The torture victim dies by fire, whilst being referred to, and referring to his tormentors, in kinship terms. He is thus simultaneously “cooked” and socialised before being physically incorporated into his captors’ group upon his subsequent dismemberment and consumption.

But perhaps the most striking feature of this ritual is the victim’s stoic endurance and acceptance of his fate, which is underlined by his refusal to allow any angry or impatient words to escape his lips, even addressing his captors as ‘brothers’ and encouraging them to ‘amuse themselves boldy’. This is reminiscent of Foucault’s description of the execution of the regicide Damiens, who, though a great swearer all his whole life, refused to utter one swear word or curse during his whole torment, enjoining his executioners to do likewise (Foucault, 1977: 3-15). For Damiens this was obviously a symbolic statement of his true repentance in the sight of the God before whom he was about to stand for judgement, and perhaps there is also something of this in the Iroquoian context.

However, the Iroquoian victim’s stoicism also contains different and culturally specific meanings. As Reeves-Sanday quite rightly points out:

“The ferocity of the torture rituals cannot be separated from the severity of conditions during the 17th century, where death from hunger, disease and warfare became a way of life.” (1986: 149).

Under such harsh conditions it is easy to see that the ability to bear great pain, hardship and suffering stoically and without complaint would have been immensely valuable to a people faced with these possibilities as part of their everyday experience. That such a high value was placed on these qualities is further evidenced by the role of the Evil Twin in the Iroquoian Creation Myth, who, after losing a competition to the Good Twin, was persuaded to help people cope with adversity by endowing them with just such qualities (Reeves-Sanday, 1986: 131-133).

The ritual was also watched over by the Sun and the War God, hence its importance to both victim and torturers and hence also the necessity for it to be consciously and critically controlled, so the victim could last until daybreak and die ‘by the knife’, rather than being simply an explosion of destructive rage. Only thus could the victim’s death, after proving his courage and endurance, become meaningful in the sight of himself, his enemies and his gods. And it is only after having proven his courage and endurance that he becomes worthy to be physically incorporated into the group of his captors by being eaten by them, in the act of which the captors also incorporated these highly desired masculine traits (Reeves-Sanday, 1986: 146).

Through an understanding of these values and how they structure the ritual, we can see how this ritual becomes a vehicle for modes of objective self-expression on the parts of both the victim and his tormentors and that although the meanings expressed in the ritual are different for the respective participants they are nonetheless expressed within the same a-priori affective categories. Moreover, although the meanings expressed in this ritual are different to the respective participants, they are quite readily appreciable and comprehensible to participants on both sides of this ritual, because in a different context, any participant may potentially play the role of either the torturer or the victim.

That such an event has a wealth of meanings (barely touched upon here) which have their origin in a mythologically chartered system of values clearly shows that such rituals, however violent, are nonetheless the aesthetic expression of a congruent social ideology with which they are articulated.

Aztec Human Sacrifice and Cosmology:

The relationships between aestheticised violence, cosmological and mythological (i.e. ideological) representations and social constructions of reality are even more clearly visible in Reeves-Sanday’s analysis of Aztec human sacrifice. Following Carrasco, Reeves-Sanday calls this nexus of relationships ‘cosmo-magical thinking’, and although she does not describe this in terms of habitus, it is nonetheless clear from her analysis that it does function as such. She describes cosmo-magical thinking as:

“…a mode of thinking that projects models for being onto the cosmos and derives from these models guidelines for ritual action and daily living. The perception of the divine programs human behaviour because only the sacred is real; the purely secular is trivial. Cosmo-magical thinking dramatises the cosmogony by constructing on earth a reduced version of the cosmos, usually in the form of a state capital.” (Reeves-Sanday, 1986: 174).

Thus cosmological or mythological ideologies were refracted throughout all of the social and political structures of the Aztec and entailed ramifications which manifested themselves even in the structure of the Aztec city and theory of the body, the effects of which served to reinforce both the socio-political structures and the original ideologies.

The Aztec theory of the body was principally concerned with three major ‘life-centres’, or forces, namely tonalli, teyolia, and ihiyotl, which corresponded to the head, the heart, and the liver respectively:

Tonalli is defined in terms of irradiation, solar heat, astrological destiny, soul and spirit, and established a link between man and the divine will. It was infused into the foetus by the creation gods and was maintained during life, principally in the top of the head and forelock, by exposure to the sun; a principal god.

Teyolia, located in the heart, was defined as the giver of life. It was also the entity which “goes beyond” to the world after death, and could be made divine by receiving divine fire. This infusion of divine fire was experienced by rulers and those who excelled in the fields of divination, art and the imagination, but could be damaged by immoral conduct, ailments due to other sources, or sorcerers.

Ihiyotl (breath) was located in the liver and identified as “night air”. Sinners inadvertently emitted harmful ihiyotl but some sorcerers could emit it voluntarily Reeves-Sanday, 1986: 174-175).

Health was maintained by keeping these three forces in balance, as a disturbance in one could affect the other two and they could also be affected by environmental factors. Through these three forces the body was intimately associated with the spirit world: the head was associated with heaven, the heart with the sun, and the liver with the earth. Thus the supernatural was implicated in the Aztec theory of disease, which was seen as a form of attack by supernatural forces (Reeves-Sanday, 1986: 175-176).

Because attendance at the temple schools was compulsory and enforced by both law and the fear of supernatural sanctions, and also because tonalli and teyolia were stronger in some individuals than others, (eg. nobles and priests) this ideology of the body functioned as an instrument of social control. This was also implicit in the belief in the capacity of a man to be infused with divine tonalli and teyolia, becoming thereby an hombre-dios or man-god the most exemplary model of which was Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl who was imitated by later Aztec priests.

It was, of course, the priests who communicated the wishes of the gods to the people and regulated the frequency and the manner of human sacrifices, offering life-force to the gods in the form of ‘precious eagle-cactus fruit’ (i.e. the heart of a human sacrificial victim, torn still beating from the living body of the victim), or else in the form of drowned, burned or beheaded victims. The manner of sacrifice was evidently determined by the calendar and the nature of the god to whom it was offered. For example, because the second month’s rites emphasised the two major life-centres associated with the heart and the top of the head,

“The victims were brought to the sacrificial stone ‘by the hair of the top of their heads’ where their hearts were torn out to ‘nourish the sun’. This act kept the sun on its daily course, increased the stature of the captor, and conferred godhood on the captive, assuring him of a place in the house of the sun and the joy of accompanying the morning sun on the first part of its daily journey for a period of four years. There was no feeling of hate or cruelty in sacrificial slaughter and the victim willingly accepted death on the sacrificial stone.” (Reeves-Sanday, 1986: 176-177).

Thus bodily symbolism was part of an elaborate schema uniting the divine and the human, which were also united in the symbolism of the city, which represented the divine in spatial terms and dramatised the cosmogony. However, apart from nourishing the gods on life-forces this sacrificial ritual also reiterated in symbolic form the legendary image and charter upon which the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan (Mexico City) was founded. (Reeves-Sanday, 1986: 177).

When the Aztecs, originally tribes of hunters, gatherers and horticulturalists known as the Chichimecas, first entered the Valley of Mexico, they encountered an already-flourishing culture of warring city-states dominated by the Toltec paradigm, upon which the Aztec grafted their own sacred traditions to found the Aztec empire. The migration had been commanded by their once-human leader Huitzilopochtli, who was deified after his death. He had told his people:

“Verily I shall lead you where you must go. I shall appear in the shape of a white eagle and wherever you go you shall go singing. You shall go only where you see me, and when you come to a place where it shall seem good to me that you stay, there I shall alight (come down) and you shall see me there. Therefore in that place you shall build my temple, my house…. Your first task shall be to beautify the quality of the eagle.” (Reeves-Sanday, 1986: 177).

On the shores of the present site of Mexico City they came upon the prophesied tableau: an eagle with a snake in its beak was perched upon a cactus in a pool of white water – the colour of sacrifice – and there they built the first shrine to Huitzilopochtli and founded their capital city, Tenochtitlan.

Because of the need to pacify the warring states and because the ‘quality of the eagle’ which it was their first task to beautify, was warfare (the eagle was associated with the sun – the god of war, and the highest military order of the Aztec was known as the ‘Eagle Knights’), the city of Tenochtitlan was founded on the principle of warfare.

But warfare was intimately associated with human sacrifice, because the captives of war provided the victims for these rituals. The principles of sacrifice were also depicted in the Aztec creation myth, wherein order was created – as indeed was mankind – through the auto-sacrifice of the gods, which alone ensured the continued motion of the sun, and which therefore set an example to be followed by men in their human sacrifices (Reeves-Sanday, 1986: 179-181). Moreover:

“Because gods must die in behalf of cosmic motion, the human victims were first made into gods; a destiny that many warriors felt was their just reward for living. The primary purpose of warfare was to acquire victims, whose sacrifice invigorated the cosmos by nourishing the insatiable craving of the sun and the earth for blood and hearts.” (1986: 181).

But if the acquisition of sacrificial victims was the primary purpose of warfare, yet warfare had another, equally important, though secondary effect: the establishment of political boundaries by the designation of certain areas as sources for sacrificial victims (Reeves-Sanday, 1986: 190). It is perhaps for this reason that Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl was deposed and banished when he attempted to impose an anti-sacrificial policy, although later priests attempted to emulate him in every thing but this. (1986: 189).

Thus it can be seen that the Aztec universe was both founded and maintained by the dual principals of warfare and human sacrifice, which principles, due to their function as the principle of the generation of social structures and practices through their articulation of cosmological meanings as well as the manner in which they structure social and ritual relations, function as an habitus, or ‘aesthetic’ of violence, perpetuating both themselves and the social system to which they give rise.

Yanomamo Violence and Social Relations:

Napoleon Chagnon describes the Yanomamo as the “Fierce People” because:

“That is the most accurate single phrase that describes them. That is how they conceive themselves to be, and that is how they would like others to think of them.” (1977:1).

Ferocity and a willingness to use violence and intimidation to achieve their ends are seen by this society as desirable traits. Indeed it would not be overstating the case to say that this willingness to use violence is the single most important value in the Yanomamo value-system, and that it structures every aspect of Yanomamo social practices and relationships. That the Yanomamo themselves see violence as the fundamental principle of their being is also demonstrated in their creation myth, in which men (but not women) are formed from the blood of one of the ‘first beings’, Periboriwa (Spirit of the Moon). Chagnon says:

Because they have their origin in blood, they are fierce and are continuously making war on each other.” (1977: 47-48, original emphasis).

Although Yanomamo warfare proper is the raid, this is only one form of violence in a graded series of aggressive activities, some of which, as Chagnon explains may even be considered the antithesis of war, as they provide opportunities for more or less regulated expressions of hostilities at both the inter-personal and the inter-village levels and represent an alternative to killing (1977: 118). Because the three most innocuous forms of fighting are controlled by strict rules as to how to strike and receive a blow, the contestants can continue to remain on relatively peaceful terns once the contest is settled. A fight may start with a chest-pounding duel for example, and depending on how high tempers are running, may or may not escalate to side-slapping and then to club-fights. If the fight is serious it may escalate to the use of machetes and then axes, but rarely achieves the level of a shooting battle with bows and arrows – the most serious form of Yanomamo aggression other than the nomohoni.

The nomohoni, or ‘treacherous feast’, is the ultimate form of Yanomamo violence, in which either the guests suddenly and without warning set upon their unsuspecting hosts, or vice-versa, although this form of violence is rare. It is largely fear of the possibility of the nomohoni, combined with fear of failure on the part of one’s allies to reciprocate help in warfare, or food, or women, that prevents one group from ever being able to fully trust its allies, and this therefore explains the constantly-shifting nature of Yanomamo alliance patterns.

Village population sizes vary from 40 to 250 inhabitants, with about 75 to 80 being the most usual number. That the size of the village populations is maintained within these limits is itself a function of the state of chronic warfare under which the Yanomamo live. A group of around forty people is the minimum viable size for a village due to the necessity of having at least about fifteen able-bodied men for the purposes of raiding and defence. The upper limit is largely determined by a combination of the intensity of warfare in the area and the level of internal feuding within the village, which after a village reaches a population of about 150 becomes so frequent that peace within the village is only maintained with great difficulty, and unless the intensity of warfare in the area prevents it, fissioning becomes increasingly likely as the only means to keep the peace (Chagnon, 1977: 40).

Because small villages are less viable militarily than larger ones, it is very important to develop alliances with other villages, and these alliances are facilitated by an uneasy process of trading and feasting, with the exchange of women being seen as the final step in the process. Often a strong village will use its own strength and the obvious necessity of a weaker village to form an alliance as an excuse to extort women from the weaker village.

Because of a strong preference to have male children, who will grow up to be hunters and warriors, the Yanomamo practice a significantly larger proportion of female infanticide than male infanticide, with the demographic result that there is a shortage of females; and this shortage is intensified by the practice of polygyny because the available women are unequally distributed. This shortage of women leads to high levels of internal violence within the village, as most fighting is the result of adultery, especially in larger villages where men feel there is a greater chance of getting away with it. However most cases of adultery are discovered and this is the ultimate cause of village fissioning (Chagnon, 1977: 75).

Warfare between villages usually takes the form of raiding and whatever the ostensible reason for the raid, the abduction of women is always seen as a desirable, if secondary goal. While Chagnon says that few raids are initiated solely with the intention of capturing women, and that the usual causes of new hostilities are sorcery, murders, club-fights over women in which someone is badly hurt or killed, or occasionally food theft involving related villages, he also says that the Yanomamo themselves regard fights over women as the primary cause of their wars (1977: 123).

Chagnon says that when he tried to explain to certain Yanomamo his ongoing disagreement with Marvin Harris over the relevance of protein abundance in the genesis of warfare, they laughed and said:

“Even though we like meat, we like women a whole lot more!” (1977: 145-146).

It is ironic indeed that the Yanomamo’s masculinist ideology (which bears a remarkable resemblance to that prevalent in Ancient Greece and indeed, the Ancient World in general), with its preference for male children, leads to the shortage of women which in turn leads to much, if not most Yanomamo violence, both internal and external, and that it is this high level of violence which makes such a masculinist ideology so necessary to survival. Children are socialised into violent or aggressive behaviour very early in their lives. They are encouraged to be “fierce” and are rarely punished for displays of aggression. In fact, they are often rewarded by the laughter and assent of their parents when, in response to a flash of anger, they strike someone with a hand or an object.

It is essential for Yanomamo males to develop a reputation for ferocity, both individually and as villages, for it is strength and ferocity which gives them bargaining power in the formation of alliances and which alone prevents them from being taken advantage of, as the weak are quite consciously and deliberately coerced and manipulated by the strong. Acquiring a reputation for ferocity, then, is the only way in which Yanomamo males may ever achieve a measure of peace, however small. There are strong pressures on both individuals and groups to avenge themselves for any wrongs done either to themselves or to close kinsmen, due to the necessity of maintaining a reputation for ferocity. Anyone suspected of cowardice is liable to be treated with contempt even by their own kin, and is likely to lose their support as well as that of their allies, thereby placing them in a very vulnerable position. Thus the necessity for maintaining one’s reputation for ferocity is perpetuated at the same time as is the violence which demands such a reputation.

Many men habitually beat their wives in order to demonstrate their ferocity and their willingness to use violence in a relatively easy and safe manner, though unless this wife-beating becomes extreme, it is often seen by the women as a sign of a husband’s concern. This wife-beating may also have some impact on marriage strategies, although the disposition of women is ultimately in the hands of local male kinship groups. This is because women rely on their brothers for protection if their husbands become too violent towards them. They therefore do not relish the prospect of being married into a distant village where they would have no-one to protect them.

Chronic warfare and the consequent necessity for inter-village alliances also affect marriage patterns. Because the Yanomamo have a ‘prescriptive’ marriage system which enjoins a man to marry a woman from a certain, specified kinship group (i.e. cross-cousin marriage), this means that the exchange of females between two hitherto unrelated villages in order to stabilise an alliance involves a technical breach of the prescriptive marriage rules. This ‘problem’, however, is overcome by the practice of the headmen of the villages entering into an alliance for the first time calling each other by the kinship term shoriwa (brother-in-law). Initial exchanges of women between the two villages usually involve the children of these men. They therefore stand in a marriageable relationship to each other because the children of brothers-in-law can, by the prescriptive definitions, marry (Chagnon, 1977: 81, footnote 18). Thus this potential problem is overcome by the creation of a fictive kinship between headmen, which inevitably structures subsequent, actual kinship relationships between the villages involved.

We have seen that for the Yanomamo, violence affects every aspect of their lives and social relationships, at both inter-personal and inter-group levels, from marital behaviour and child-rearing practices through demographic patterns to political structures and alliances. Even feasting and trading have their basis in the formation and maintenance of alliances, without which no group could long survive in such an atmosphere, or better, a habitus or an ‘aesthetic’ of violence.


Although each of the ethnographies examined in this chapter contains much more data than I have been able to present here, I hope to have shown how violence is aestheticised, ultimately through its articulation with meaningful systems of values which have their charter in cosmologies and mythologies (surely themselves aesthetic objects!) which represent therefore, the ideological articulation of sensual or emotional (a-prior) pre-dispositions which ultimately emerge from a society’s – or an individual’s relationship with the perceptual reality which surrounds them.

From this it should be evident that changes in the external environment of any given society will inevitably effect corresponding changes in the attitudes (or dispositions) of that society towards its perceptual reality. In other words, changes in the external or objective environment will inevitably cause corresponding changes in the habitus which form the principle of the generation of social structures and practices of that society, and consequently cause changes in the nature of that society itself. We shall examine exactly how this happens in the next chapter.


Aesthetics of Violence: Introduction and Chapter 1:

This first post includes the contents page and covers the Introduction and Chapter 1 “A Taste of Theory; A Theory of Taste”… Comments and/or questions are encouraged! (Asty) 😀

Aesthetics of Violence

An aestheticist-phenomenological analysis of the

social reproduction and amplification of violence, by

© David Lloyd Rowlands

Independent Anthropological Publications

Printed by Digital Print Australia,

Adelaide, SA


Published in South Australia by:

Independent Anthropological Publications


Digital Print Australia

135 Gilles Street


Copyright © 2006 David L Rowlands

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical, photographic, electro-magnetic or digital recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of the publisher.

David L Rowlands

“Aesthetics of Violence”


For tertiary students

ISBN 1 921207 05 1.

1 Violence – Cross-Cultural Studies, 1. Title





5: Introduction

7: Chapter 1: A Taste of Theory; A Theory of Taste

21: Chapter 2: Ideologically Articulated Aesthetics of Violence

23: Iroquoian Torture Rituals in the 17th Century

29: Aztec Human Sacrifice and Cosmology

34: Yanomamo Violence and Social Relations

39: Summary

40: Chapter 3: Images and Transformation

46: The Rise of the Zulu Empire

61: The Decline of the Zulu Empire

72: Chapter 4: Images and Ideologies in Totalitarian States

94: Totalitarian Ideologies

109: Conclusions

116: Postscript:

116: Critique

118: Response

122: Bibliography


124: Preface

125: Chapter 5: Towards a Paradigm for Understanding Violence as a Form of Human Self-Expression

129: Violence, Chimpanzees and ‘Theory of Mind’

132: Violence, Kingship and Chimpanzees:

The Demonic Ape and the Hero

145: Alexander and the Ancient Hellenic Cult of Heroes

152: Heroism and the Scapegoat: Iphigenia in Aulis

159: The Law of Revenge

170: The Scapegoat and the Beggar:

173: Whipping Boys: Agamemnon

174: Krypteion and Thargelion

184: Demi-gods, the ‘Son of Heaven’ and the ‘Prince of Peace’

193: Violence and the Prince of Peace

207: Killing the Messenger

218: Epilogue

222: Bibliography


“The Torture of Prometheus”

by Gustave Moreau (1868)

Cover design by Digital Print Australia

Printed and bound by Digital Print Australia

Additional copies may be ordered through:

or telephone: +61 (0) 8 8323 3404


In this dissertation I shall analyze the symbolic meanings of various forms of violence in several different cultural settings with the aim of discovering what light this can shed on the social production and amplification of violence generally.

‘Aesthetic’ is not a word which one usually associates with violent practices. This is because the word ‘aesthetic’, as it is generally used, has become overburdened with commonsense connotations which not only distort its true meaning, but also reduces its semantic content to the equivalent of ‘the Beautiful’, or worse, ‘the Pleasing’. Even in its more intellectual usages this word is not without its ambiguity and much debate is focused on it. Thus Chapter 1 is both an attempt to clarify exactly what it is that I mean when I use the word ‘aesthetic’ and to examine its utility as an analytical tool. Although I accept much of Mikel Dufrenne’s (1973) phenomenological analysis of the nature of aesthetic experience, I am forced to reject his Kantian concern for the construction of a ‘pure’ aesthetic, as such a concern is ultimately both classist and ethnocentric, thus rendering ‘purist’ aesthetics unsuitable for the purposes of sociological analysis.

For this reason, I favor Pierre Bourdieu’s conception of the aesthetic as a habitus, and based on a genuine aisthesis, rather than the askesis which paradoxically forms the basis of Dufrenne’s ‘purist’ construction.

Then, taking Bourdieu’s notion of habitus as my theoretical basis, in Chapter 2, I demonstrate how violence is aestheticized and ideologically articulated in the Iroquois, Aztec and Yanomamo cultures, and how the resulting ‘aesthetics of violence’ function as strategies of social reproduction. However, due to the largely synchronic nature of the ethnographies examined in this chapter the result is a rather static view of the societies involved.

Thus in Chapters 3 and 4, I adopt a more diachronic, or historically-oriented approach to the analysis of the emergence of Zulu culture which facilitates a more dynamic view of changes and transformations in Zulu imagery, and how these in turn effect corresponding changes in social structures and practices.

In Chapter 3, which deals largely with the emergence and decline of the Zulu empire, I focus particularly on the central role played by gradual transformations in the image of the Zulu kingship, which under Shaka was that of a god/king and based on terroristic despotism. As a result of Shaka’s strategic use of violence and terror, the omnipotence of the king, which in other African societies was merely theoretical, was experienced by the Zulus as actual. Yet the practices and structures of terroristic despotism changed significantly during the course of Zulu history, and my demonstration of how these changes were facilitated, if not initiated by changes in the image of the kingship is central to my analysis.

In later Zulu history, the social and economic conditions which had not only permitted, but actually encouraged Shaka’s terroristic despotism had been transformed, largely through the influence of the Boers and the British and as a result had also transformed the image and hence the nature of the Zulu kingship into what was now virtually a limited monarchy. But, though the governors of Natal could not have been unaware of these changes, they ignored them when they reported to the British Government, thus deliberately conveying the impression that the terroristic practices of Shaka still ruled in Zululand.

At the same time they initiated a program of symbolic deconstruction of the Zulu kingship which prepared the ground for its later empirical deconstruction under the Wolesley Plan of multiple-partition. This plan was the model for what was later to become known as ‘modern tribalism’ – an integral feature of the apartheid system.

Chapter 4 is an analysis of some of the central features of the South African system of apartheid, under which the Zulus, among many other South African tribes, were subjugated. In this chapter I also compare similarities and differences between the ideologies and social structures of the apartheid system, Shaka’s terroristic despotism, and Nazi Germany in order to discover what insights these cultures and their ideologies might reveal about the social reproduction and amplification of violence.

Aesthetics of Violence

By David Lloyd Rowlands

Dedicated to my son, David

Chapter 1: A Taste of Theory, a Theory of Taste

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,

Get it out with Optrex” (Spike Milligan)

Before any attempt at analyzing the social production and amplification, via the process of aestheticization, of violence, it is first necessary to define exactly what is meant by the word ‘aesthetic’. In fact this is doubly important; firstly because the word ‘aesthetic’ is not without ambiguity, but is usually beset on all sides by subjective value judgments, as many aesthetes artists and philosophers have discovered; and secondly because without a clear definition of what is meant by ‘aesthetic’ it would be difficult, not to say impossible, to show that violence has anything about it which can, properly speaking, be called ‘aesthetic’ at all. This latter is particularly true if one insists on regarding as aesthetic only that which is beautiful or pleasant.

About beauty, in an exposition of the aestheticist philosophy of CJ Ducasse, PH Hare and EH Madden have this to say:

“For Ducasse…. the activity of art is not aimed at the creation of beauty. There is no essential connection between beauty and art; each can exist without the other” (Hare and Madden, 1975: 122).

Mikel Dufrenne, considering the possibility of beauty as the quid proprium of aesthetic objects, would certainly concur, and even though he chooses ‘unanimously accepted works of art’ as the most reliable guide to the aesthetic object and thus to the aesthetic experience, he nevertheless avoids invoking the concept of the beautiful, which, due to the relativism and subjectivism it involves, becomes meaningless and therefore useless, or possibly even dangerous.

“Even if we define the beautiful as the specific aesthetic quality and give this quality an axiological accent, as is often done, we do not escape the relativism which we hoped to avoid. Subjectivism besets every value judgment, including judgments of taste pronounced on beauty, with the result that the sought-for objective criterion suddenly appears unreliable.” (Dufrenne, 1973: Intro: lviii).

Clearly then, beauty in and of itself cannot be used as a standard criterion for judging whether or not an object (or, as I shall argue, an experience) may be considered ‘aesthetic’. Instead of beauty, Dufrenne chooses ‘authenticity’ or ‘truth’ as the criterion by which an aesthetic object may be judged. Thus even the grotesque, the tragic and the sinister may be regarded as ‘aesthetic’, as long as they are ’true’. Thus:

“…the beautiful designates the truth of the aesthetic object when this is immediately sensuous and recognized, when the object imperiously announces the ontic perfection it enjoys. The beautiful is the true made visible; it sanctions what is felicitous [hereux] before reflection does.” (Dufrenne, 1973: Intro: lxi).

This implies that only that which is true is truly beautiful, and this can be said equally of the grotesque, the tragic, the sinister, or even of the horrific, as works by Shakespeare, Dickens and Edgar Allan Poe testify, as long as they bear witness to the ‘truth’ of an external reality. Perhaps, however, we ought to modify the above statement in order to save confusion and say that only that which is true (i.e. which has an intimate relationship with the real, or actual) can be properly called ‘aesthetic’.

Although both of these authors deal largely, though not exclusively, with aesthetic experience as related to ‘works of art’, they both recognize that aesthetic experience is not confined to this area alone; that natural objects and phenomena can also be objects of aesthetic contemplation (Hare and Madden, 1975: 131). Thus anything, and by extrapolation any experience, in either the physical or the conceptual universe has the potential to be considered as an aesthetic object.

Therefore although the universe of aesthetic objects extends infinitely beyond the world of ‘works of art’, because the relationship between the subject (whether artist or audience), and the aesthetic object is identical in either case, as Dufrenne puts it,

“…everything we shall say about the work of art will hold true for the aesthetic object…” (Dufrenne, 1973: Intro: lxvi).

For Ducasse, rather than an activity aimed at the creation of beauty, art is an activity aimed at objective self-expression, although as I have already mentioned it is important to realise that this does not necessarily imply successful communication of whatever a-priori feelings were intended. To be considered as an ‘aesthetic’ object (or experience) what is particularly important is that the activity must be consciously and critically controlled in order to distinguish it from other expressive activities, such as yawning, for example.

“The artist’s aim is to give adequate embodiment in words, lines, colors, or what-not, to some particular and probably nameless feeling or emotion that possessed him…. To say that expression of feeling is objective is to say that something has been created such that in contemplation that thing yields back the feeling of which it was the attempted expression.” (Hare and Madden, 1975: 123).

This mirroring-back of feeling, though not necessarily an end in itself, is proof of a successful attempt at objective self-expression. It is usually the result of trial and error, and requires critical judgment as to whether or not it truly mirrors back the feeling of which it was the attempted expression. The aesthetic experience is thus the clarification, through objectification in the work of art, of the probably nameless feeling with which the artist started; his inspiration.

The success of a work of art can only be determined when such clarification is achieved without any change in the qualitative identity of the original feeling. Thus it is in terms of the degree to which these ‘probably nameless feelings’ remain unchanged when viewed by an audience other than the artist that the ‘truth’ or ‘authenticity’ of the object is to be judged. The feelings or impulses, the ‘inspirations’ which the artist has, which compel him to create and which, if the creation is successful, manifests itself in the object, is what Dufrenne refers to as the ‘affective a-priori’, and these affective a-priori are what enable the work of art to open up the world of the artist to the spectator. Thus:

“…certain artists seem to have been summoned and impelled by a truth which does not belong to them and of which they are the witnesses and even the martyrs. Again it is undeniable that this truth was their truth. Only if Racine himself was true can there be a truth of the Racinian world. But it was also necessary that Racine be true because of a Racinian truth which needed Racine. Once again, the creative act should not mislead us. Though the creative act induces us to accord a primacy to the subject, we should also grant an inverse primacy to the object. The artist himself authorizes the latter move when he appeals to inspiration. Acted on, as well as acting, the artist exists in the service of a world which seeks to be incarnated in the work through his agency.” (Dufrenne, 1973: 454).

This then, explains the nature of Dufrenne’s ‘affective a-priori’. Essentially they may be described as inherent qualities of existential or ‘objective’ reality which have a strong potential for influencing human emotions, which exist before the coming-into-being of the work of art, or any object of aesthetic contemplation. We may consider those forces – for a truth which demands expression is a force – as in some way ‘calling’ to the artist. In a certain sense, one might even say that art ‘demands’ to be born. The same truth of these affective qualities is also the truth to which the spectator or audience bears witness.

“Feeling is as deeply embedded in the object as it is in the subject, and the spectator experiences feeling because the affective quality belongs to the object.” (Dufrenne, 1973: 455).

In other words, whether the aesthetic object is as concrete as a Rodin statue or as abstract as a musical nuance or a philosophical subtlety, the existence of these affective a-priori and their affective relationship to individuals (both artist and spectators) is strong evidence of a direct link or bond between both the artist and his work, or aesthetic objects of whatever kind and their audience. The immediacy of this bond, which Dufrenne even refers to in terms of a ‘kinship’ (1973: 470), is further demonstrated by his proof that not only are there a-priori feelings, which call to the artist to make themselves manifest in the aesthetic object, but also there must also be a preliminary or a-priori knowledge of that feeling in both the artist and his audience, who recognize it in his work. It is for this reason that Dufrenne says that the relationship of the artist to his work, expressed in terms of this affective bond, is essentially the same as the relationship of the spectator to the aesthetic object, as the bond is one of ‘feeling’ – an affective quality – which is a-priori to all three, but which identifies all three as being united in terms of that ‘feeling’; indeed as having a ‘kinship’ with each other, and also with ‘The Real’.

“Only if there is a kinship between man and the real can there be anything like man’s being in the world, for man can enter into relations with the real – relations which are established by presence, representation, and feeling – only on the condition that the real’s otherness is not radical and that the various a-priori are common to man and world and thereby gain an ontological dignity.” (Dufrenne, 1973: 462).

Perhaps here I might suggest that the aesthetic experience is also analogous to what Fernandez (1986: 188-211) calls the ‘experience of returning to the whole’. Insofar as the affective qualities expressed in the affective a-priori are all fundamental human qualities, or nuances thereof, they therefore not only remind us of the kinship of all humanity with the reality which surrounds it, but actually links them and ‘The Real’ in a genuine kinship of feeling. Or, if the aesthetic experience is of a natural object or event rather than a work of art, those same ‘aesthetic a-priori‘ may even remind us of the oneness of the cosmos and of humanity as being not separated from that cosmos, but an integral and harmonious part of it, and having therefore also a kinship with the rest of the universe, i.e. with the ‘real’.

It is also important to note that these affective qualities are subsumed under ‘affective categories’, of which the various individual affective a-priori qualities represent particular nuances. Thus these affective categories represent that a-priori or preliminary knowledge which alone enables us to understand particular or individual affective qualities. The former is related to the latter as the general is to the particular.

“To be equipped with our own experience is not enough to enable us to be sensitive and responsive to a work of art. We must also be equipped with the kind of knowledge which allows us to recognize what we feel before we can understand what we have felt. How could I express a particular affective quality without resorting to an affective category of which I have some sort of preliminary knowledge?” (Dufrenne, 1973: 470).

It is not that affective qualities are related to affective categories as species to genus, but rather that affective categories act as a kind of light in which to view particular and unique examples of the qualities they subsume. Thus:

“… that singular nuance which, though it is never completely explicit, I experience when I realize that the bitter fervor of El Greco is not the same as the serene fervor of Raphael, or that the shimmering purity of Faure’s quartets differs from the violent and magnificent purity of Franck’s F Minor Quintet. But before I can experience the singularity of such a nuance, I must know fervor and purity as affective categories.” (Dufrenne, 1973: 470).

However, the knowledge thus constituted by affective categories cannot dispense with reflection on feeling, firstly because such knowledge is immanent in, and therefore adds nothing to feeling, and secondly because such knowledge is general and is therefore not entirely adequate to feeling, which receives a singular expression from a singular object. Thus:

“The category of the tragic never quite coincides with the singular nuance of the tragic revealed in Phedre or Rembrant’s ‘Ecce Homo’, or Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music. The affective category clarifies the feeling I experience before the work and renders that feeling intelligible, but there is more to the feeling than is contained in the category.” (Dufrenne, 1973: 471-472).

If the existence of these affective categories suggests that they may be classified and placed within a taxonomy, it is nevertheless important to realize, as Dufrenne points out, (1973: footnote 6: 467-468), that such a taxonomy could never be other than partial and incomplete. He indicates that the most precise and coherent attempt at constructing such a taxonomy is the table of categories constructed by Etienne Souriau, who was himself aware of the impossibility of its completion and was forced to make use of the abbreviation ‘etc.’ when referring to aesthetic categories.

By now it should be clear that these affective a-priori, subsumed under affective categories which are themselves a-priori, are the very essence of aesthetic experience, opening up as they do, new ways of perceiving man’s relationship to the real through feeling, manifested in the work of art. It should also be clear that the feeling or affective quality expressed in the work of art exists at a moment prior to the work and emerges out of the relationship of the artist to the real. Thus:

“The real is always intended by the feeling which delivers its affective essence.” (Dufrenne, 1973: 521).

However, this is not to say that the truth of a work of art consists merely in reproducing the real, but rather in expressing the truth of the real in terms of affective quality (Dufrenne, 1973: 522). Therefore if we consider the genesis of particular works it is immediately apparent that they are the work of people who are themselves involved with the real and the authenticity of the work can be measured by the seriousness of that involvement.

“Although the primary concern of the artist is to create his work, in doing so he nonetheless continues to be himself in his unique situation in the midst of historical reality. It is therefore inevitable that some aspect of this encompassing reality is reflected in his work, which then gives evidence not only of his personality, but also of the nature of the real world in which he has lived, and this remains true even when the work does not specifically propose to represent the reality with which its creation is contemporaneous. It nevertheless bears witness to this reality.” (Dufrenne, 1973: 544).

And again,

“By expressing himself and being true to his existential a-priori, he cannot help but express his surrounding reality – a reality which bears him along and touches him on every side and to which his activity is a constant response.” (Dufrenne, 1973: 544).

It is because of this inevitable (and inalienable) historicity of both the artist and his work that it becomes necessary to consider the aesthetic as a habitus (P Bourdieu, 1972). This approach is in fact doubly warranted because of the affective nature of both individual a-priori and the categories under which they are subsumed and indeed it is even suggested by Dufrenne:

“There is nothing human which is foreign to us. The form of the human lies within us and is intimately known by us. Every sign of the human revives within us an intimate knowledge, which precedes all experience and by which experience is clarified. But this is not a completely finished and elaborated sort of knowledge. It is, rather, a sort of familiarity in the sense of a way of being. Because it belongs to the being of the subject, we can say that this cognitive a-priori, which clarifies for us the existential a-priori manifested by the aesthetic object, is itself existential. But suffice it to say that we are speaking here of a primordial knowing [savoir primitif] which exists within us as a habitus controlling and orienting our articulated knowledge [savoir formule].” (1973, 484-485).

And again:

“…the affective category is like an instrument which we use without being fully aware of how it works and in such a way that it is never completely exhausted by reflection. Consequently, the a-priori is not inside me like an essence which has been deposited in my understanding and can be extracted as from a pigeonhole. Rather, the a-priori is within me like a habitus, that is, like an a-priori sense of taste. Like an affective category, taste possesses the character of a confused and yet evident knowledge [connaissance] which anticipates and prepares the way for experience.” (1973: 489).

However, although Dufrenne indicates that the affective a-priori which comprise the essence of aesthetic experience function as an habitus, he does not himself follow through with this line of reasoning from a sociological perspective but concerns himself solely with his own project, which is an exposition of the phenomenology of aesthetic experience. Perhaps this is because he anticipates the inevitable relativism and subjectivism which the notion of habitus entails and for the purposes of his own project, which is the construction of a paradigm of and for aesthetic experience – and also due to his Kantian concern with the construction of a ‘pure aesthetic’, he needs to maintain a methodological objectivism which would seem to preclude this possibility.

However, although such a methodological objectivism may have been necessary for the purposes of Dufrenne’s project and indeed is a necessary moment in all research, as Bourdieu indicates, it demands its own supersession because of the break with experience and the construction of objective relations which it accomplishes:

“In order to escape the realism of the structure, which hypostatizes systems of objective relations by converting them into totalities already constituted outside individual history and group history, it is necessary to pass from the opus operatum to the modus operandi, from the statistical regularity or algebraic structure to the principle of production of this observed order, and to construct the theory of practice, or, more precisely, the theory of the mode of generation of practices, which is the precondition for establishing an experimental science of the dialectic of the internalization of externality and the externalization of internality, or, more simply, of incorporation and objectification” (Bourdieu, 1972: 72, original emphasis).

Bourdieu’s concept of ‘habitus’ is the result of this ‘science of incorporation and objectification’. It also forms the basis for his theory of the generation of practices. Habitus are the product/producers of the constitutive structures of particular types of environment, for example the material conditions of existence characteristic of a class condition. Bourdieu defines habitus as:

“… systems of durable, transposable dispositions, structured structures predisposed to function as structuring structures, that is, as principles of the generation and structuring of practices and representations which can be objectively ‘regulated’ and ‘regular’ without in any way being the product of obedience to rules, objectively adapted to their goals without presupposing a conscious aiming at ends or an express mastery of the operations necessary to attain them and, being all this, collectively orchestrated without being the product of the orchestrating action of a conductor.” (1972: 72).

Habitus thus have the tendency to reproduce the objective structures of which they are themselves the product and are thus determined by the past conditions which produced the principle of their production, rather than by anticipation of the future. (Bourdieu, 1972; 72).

In a later book, “Distinction” (1984), Bourdieu demonstrates that taste, although variable according to the habitus of class position and social trajectory, among others, is indivisible. He strongly criticizes the Kantian concern with finding a ‘pure’ aesthetic, with its implicit divisibility into ‘high’ and ‘low’, or ‘pure’ and ‘impure’ aesthetics. Such theories, he says, are founded on a refusal of ‘impure’ taste and of aisthesis (sensation), the simple, primitive form of pleasure reduced to a pleasure of the senses and a surrender to immediate sensation, that which Kant called ‘the taste of the tongue, the palate and the throat’. Thus ‘pure’ taste is based on the refusal of the facile, anything which achieves an immediate effect and is easily decoded, culturally undemanding, and therefore this refusal of the shallow or cheap forms the basis for a sense of distinction which aims not only at separating the ‘pure’ aesthetic from the ‘impure’, but also and simultaneously, creating a distanciation between the social classes which variously indulge in them. (Bourdieu, 1984: 486)

Because such ‘impure’ aesthetics are thus equated with the gratification of the senses and emotions they are perceived as being common to the ‘lower classes’) where ‘pure’ aesthetics aim at the cultivation of the mind; the opposition is thus one of the ‘cultured’ or ‘human’ mind as opposed to the ‘natural’ or ‘animalistic’ body. The deferred pleasure of intellectual refinement is opposed to the immediate enjoyment of physical gratification. Thus ‘pleasure’ is separated from ‘enjoyment’ in the ‘pure’ aesthetic experience. Pure taste, based ironically on disgust (at the facile), is the purification, sublimation and denial of aisthesis, and therefore paradoxically consists in a strict asceticism or askesis, a trained, sustained tension which is the very opposite of primary, primitive aisthesis. (Bourdieu, 1984: 490)

The true significance of this opposition, which emerges directly from the construction of the very notion of a ‘pure’ aesthetic, is clearly stated by Bourdieu:

“What is at stake in aesthetic discourse, and in the attempted imposition of a definition of the genuinely human, is nothing less than the monopoly of humanity.” (1984: 491, original emphasis).

Thus the ‘sublimity’ of aesthetic experience, which is inherent in the construction of a ‘pure’ aesthetic is rooted in classism and an implicit denial of the humanity of the lower orders and is thus predisposed to fulfill a function of social legitimation. (Bourdieu, 1984: 491). However, this means that the construction of a ‘pure’ aesthetic is based on a tautology; the supposed ‘disinterestedness of gaze’ which is the surest sign of the supposed moral and ethical superiority of the aesthete, is ultimately disavowed by the interests which are served by art’s role in the legitimation of prevailing social relationships of domination and exploitation, due to the benefits which accrue to the aesthete as a member of an elite social stratum in which aestheticism is seen as a badge of membership (Bourdieu, 1984: 484-488). Thus even the so-called ‘pure’ aesthetic experience cannot ever be truly disinterested. So at this level aesthetic experience becomes indivisible through the universality of interestedness, rather than divisible through the illusory disinterestedness of the mythical ‘pure gaze’. 488).

The ‘moral and ethical superiority’ of the aesthete is itself illusory and the pretense to the contrary not only fundamentally classist, but hypocritical. However, this should not be taken to imply any denial of the existence of these two distinct forms of aesthetic experience, which Bourdieu calls ‘the taste of sense’ and ‘the taste of reflection’(1984: 488).

But it is essential to understand that neither an ethos nor an aesthetic which is comprised of self-reinforcing and self-regulating values can be given any special analytic privilege, since the social functions they serve are fundamentally partisan in nature and serve ultimately to maintain pre-existing class structures.

That these two forms of aesthetic experience reflect, through objective self-expression, two different social positions, one automatically assumed to be ‘high’ and the other one ‘low’, therefore does not necessarily mean that the empirical social hierarchy reflected in these two forms of aesthetic experience should still be operable at either the social, moral, ethical or aesthetic level. These two forms of aesthetic experience simply represent two existentially equivalent, though formally and ontologically distinct possibilities of aesthetic experience, which can now be regarded as a synthesis of both of them, and the degree and the manner in which an individual will indulge in either or both of these modes of objective self-expression will apparently depend on habitus such as social position and trajectory, at least in socially stratified or ‘hierarchical’ societies…

The relationship between these two forms of aesthetic experience is, however, essentially one of mutual refusal. The ‘pure’ aesthetic of the bourgeois intelligentsia refuses the sensuality of aisthesis as barbarous or animalistic, and so not truly human due to its focus on the body, while the lower classes – relegated along with their aesthetic mode of self-expression to the ‘sub-humanity’ of barbarism – refuse that which they are in any case denied both by virtue of their social position and the cryptography of the meanings of ‘high’ art, thus as Bourdieu remarks, making a virtue of necessity.

Such ‘virtue’ is expressed in aphorisms such as ‘knowing one’s place’, or ‘that’s not for the likes of us’ (Bourdieu, 1984: 499). The ontological significance of this relationship of mutual refusal is that it perpetuates the dialectical interaction between the different class habitus and the objective social structures and relationships which comprise the generative structures of this class of group practices, and as a habitus, is itself reproduced by its own product and simultaneously with the structuring of social practices and class structures, thus perpetuating the perceived distinction between the social classes and therefore the social classes themselves.

On The Beach 2017

Some sobering thoughts from one of Australia’s very few, real, honest journalists…

Desultory Heroics

By John Pilger

Source: Axis of Logic

The US submarine captain says, “We’ve all got to die one day, some sooner and some later. The trouble always has been that you’re never ready, because you don’t know when it’s coming. Well, now we do know and there’s nothing to be done about it.”

He says he will be dead by September. It will take about a week to die, though no one can be sure. Animals live the longest.

The war was over in a month. The United States, Russia and China were the protagonists. It is not clear if it was started by accident or mistake. There was no victor. The northern hemisphere is contaminated and lifeless now.

A curtain of radioactivity is moving south towards Australia and New Zealand, southern Africa and South America. By September, the last cities, towns and villages will succumb. As in the north…

View original post 1,480 more words

Are You a Mind-Controlled CIA Stooge?

Don’t believe in ‘conspiracy theories’? Here’s an interesting article which may just change your mind on a few things…

Desultory Heroics


By Paul Craig Roberts


Do you smirk when you hear someone question the official stories of Orlando, San Bernardino, Paris or Nice? Do you feel superior to 2,500 architects and engineers, to firefighters, commercial and military pilots, physicists and chemists, and former high government officials who have raised doubts about 9/11? If so, you reflect the profile of a mind-controlled CIA stooge.

The term “conspiracy theory” was invented and put into public discourse by the CIA in 1964 in order to discredit the many skeptics who challenged the Warren Commission’s conclusion that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated by a lone gunman named Lee Harvey Oswald, who himself was assassinated while in police custody before he could be questioned. The CIA used its friends in the media to launch a campaign to make suspicion of the Warren Commission report a target of ridicule and hostility. This campaign was…

View original post 533 more words

The Corporate Media’s Gulag of the Mind

The NSA is watching YOU! So what? You gonna let it scare you? I say we make the length of their ‘watch’ list scare the shit out of THEM!

Desultory Heroics


By Charles Hugh Smith

Source: Of Two Minds

Your crime, as it were, need not be substantiated with evidence; the mere fact you publicly revealed your anti-Establishment thought convicted you.

One of the most remarkable ironies of The Washington Post’s recent evidence-free fabrication of purported “Russian propaganda” websites (including this site) is how closely it mimics the worst excesses of the USSR’s Stalinist era.

Those unfamiliar with the Stalinist era’s excesses will benefit from reading Solzhenitsyn’s three-volume masterpiece The Gulag Archipelago: 1918-1956, The Gulag Archipelago 2 and Gulag Archipelago 3.

One episode is especially relevant to the totalitarian tactics of The Washington Post’s evidence-free accusation. Solzhenitsyn tells the story of one poor fellow who made the mistake of recounting a dream he’d had the previous night to his co-workers.

In his dream, Stalin had come to some harm. In Solzhenitsyn’s account, the fellow was remorseful about the dream.

View original post 460 more words

What Christianity Can’t Teach Us About How To Live

It’s been a while since I actually published anything I’ve written that’s actually about atheism. I was just perusing my old blog and came across this article I wrote some time ago. It was written in response to an article on the ABC’s ‘Unleashed’ blog (RIP, ‘Unleashed’!) by Joel Hodges, who was making excuses for the fact that, as predicted, Christian ‘chaplains’, who had been installed in secular public schools, had been caught proselytizing to the children they were supposed to ‘counsel’… against the expressed wishes of atheist parents.  Evidently, the wishes of parents appear to be of little or no importance to Mr Hodges who dismisses them by suggesting that such proselytizing was “…probably good for them.”

What I wrote then in response to Mr Hodges post is as relevant today as it was then. I hope it provides food for thought.


Astyages's Weblog

What Christianity Can’t Teach us About How to Live


David L Rowlands

(This article was first offered to the ABC for publication in response to Joel Hodge’s latest article, “Christianity can teach us the meaning
of life”. As ‘Aunty’ has apparently declined to publish it, I have decided to publish it here instead; and also at the Pigs Arms.)

This article is a direct response to Joel Hodge’s latest article on the Drum/Unleashed. It seems to me that he should not be allowed to get away with using the ABC to preach a lot of immediately observable and easily disputable falsehoods.

As someone in the comments section to his article has already pointed out, the upshot of this article appears to be “Okay, chaplains have been caught out preaching and proselytizing in direct contravention of the guidelines; so what, it’s probably good for you…”

It is apparently impossible even…

View original post 1,015 more words

Democracy Is Dead

Yes… time to boycott elections! And a Global version of a National Strike might drive home the point… if only such a thing could be coordinated.

Desultory Heroics


Source: News Junkie Post

From the west to the east, and the south to the north of our global horizon, it is the same tableau: the horrendous killing fields of disaster capitalism where its cohorts of 18-wheelers, heavy road machinery and police patrol cars roam the landscape continuously and are turning us and the better principles of our humanity into countless road kills. Hell on Earth is to be our common fate, and we might have already reached a point of no return. The corporate hyenas and political vultures that generally constitute the global elite are joyfully feeding on the carcasses of justice and morality; rationality and empathy; common sense and the notion of public good; sound governance without corruption and equality before the law; and last but not least, freedom and fair governance through democracy.

Comparing this small group of depraved elite sociopaths, with not…

View original post 871 more words

Financing the Flames in the Middle East – Author Edwin Black

(I’m re-posting this video for educational purposes, in accordance with ‘fair use’ provisions in the copyright act; this blog is not monetized)

Who are the real Jews?

Well said! Religion is so much a part of ‘The Problem’ that it can never be part of any REAL answer!

Judeo Chrislam

825637-mosesThere will forever be those who identify as the true descendants of Abraham. Our only hope of mitigating the inevitable, negative effects proven to stem from these beliefs, is for the rest of society to adamantly maintains that supernatural claims are wholly unsubstantiated fantasies.

View original post


(I’m re-posting this video for educational purposes, in accordance with ‘fair use’ provisions in the copyright act; this blog is not monetized)

Army After Next (A Veteran’s Confessions)

I’m reposting these videos with the consent of their author, ‘Sincere’. I took it originally from his YT page, “Who is Sincere?”

It starts a bit slow, but bear with it… there’s a LOT of very good, very reliable data in these videos.