superstition and its trace

“D.C. who, in his village in Romania, wrote his reminiscences of his childhood, having told his neighbor, a peasant named Coman, that he would not be forgotten in his book, the latter came to see him early the next day and said: “I know that I am not worth much, but even so I don’t think I have sunk so low as to be talked about in a book!”

The oral world, how superior it was to our own! Beings (I mean, the people) only lived in the true as long as they had a horror of writing. As soon as they caught the prejudice, they entered into the false, they lost their ancient superstitions in order to acquire a new one, worse than all the other ones combined.” - Cioran

LI has been madly pursuing a small point in Vico, from which we would like to grow a larger point about the belief system of the culture of the limited good. But we don’t ourselves quite understand our point, since it concerns a separation between the significance of ‘creation’ and that of ‘nature’ that may seem too thread subtle to make a real difference, or too idealistic to describe the real change in the routines of work and passion that lead us ever onward towards the Eldorado of all the young dudes, Synthetica.

Changes in the weave, changes in the sewing. We pick up our pins and needles from their allotted paths in the forest, we set to work.

In a 1971 article about the tense of popular belief by Nicole Belmont, The Function of Belief, Belmont remarks about a persistent connection in stories about popular belief between belief, practice, and the authority of the past. Often, when asked about the truth of this or that belief, the anthropologist is given a story about the past – either embodied in old people (the old people know about such and such a belief and its expression in practice) or in a story about some founding hero or god. It is in relation to this theme that Belmont cites a passage in Emile Beneveniste concerning superstition that I want to translate here, and comment upon in another post:

Beliefs are often given the pejorative name of superstitions which, curiously, leads etymologically to this question of projection (rejet) into the past. It has been studied by E. Benveniste, who sees in superstitio the abstract correspondent to superstes, “survivor”, and which thus signifies survival: “Superstitio indicated thus a ‘remnant’ of an old belief which, in the age in which is it envisioned, appears superfluous.” Benveniste sees there a historical countersense: we loan to the ancients an attitude taken from the modern mindset and the capacity to discern in religion the survivals of a distant epoch. But this is not a very credible objection: the ancient Romans could very well distinguish, in their religion, diverse strata of belief and ritual. The proof is in the existence of the terms religio and superstitio.

“Super” – Beneviste notes – “signifies not only above, but also beyond: superstare is to keep oneself beyond, subsist above… he who has gone through a danger, a test, a difficult period, who has survived it, is superstes. Another sense thus branches out: he who has subsisted beyond an event and become the witness of it.”

One thus sees clearly the double character attributed to popular beliefs: they are present, but in the guise of witnesses of a past. Why this ambivalence?”