Andrew Bartlett provides a skeleton of Generative Anthropology.

(Canonical) Generative Anthropology is neither Idealist, nor postmodern:

We are not postmodern solipsists meditating on the text indifferent to the world of objects, deluded by under-thought notions of language as an independent force.

Gans: “The sign does not create the physical thing, but it creates the meaningful things that can be represented by a sign.”

“Deconstruction, and post-structuralist theory in general, puts language at the center of all things.  So does GA, except that for this child of Rene Girard’s deviant, extra-Parisian brand of ‘French theory,’ language is not an independent force but a distinctively human activity.”


Declarative science, generated by the paradox of Desire:

The historical drama which shows human desire (human desire, although in originary terms always prior to cognition, impels and sustains cognition), shows us ourselves moving in curious hunger and hungry curiosity from the abortive gesture of appropriation toward the one minimal food object on the originary scene, moving toward, today, our abortive gestures of appropriation that aim to know and to touch upon all of the planet earth and the vast reaches of space.


Scientific discovery as moral phenomenon:

This formula goes some way toward providing an originary model for the much-celebrated awe that scientists themselves profess to feel when inquiring into the mysteries of nature: that awe is a moral experience generated by the scientist’s experience not of the object as a thing detached from human mimesis, but, on the contrary, the scientist’s sense that he or she is first in the community to experience the difference that scientific signification makes in tension with the originary sacred.


The Originary Event:

Indexical pointing out is instrumental language, motivated by hunger, or by fear of danger, or by sexual appetite or the like.  Animals point objects out to each other; animals know things about their environment; they learn and teach [mimetically, not intentionally] one another such things.

But, just as animal appetite is not human desire, the instrumental indexicality of animal sign systems is not the mimetic paradoxicality of human symbolic reference, not least because it is incapable of generating that level of being we call the human, that level of being defined by our self-awareness as language users.

Let us return to the minimal originary event.  A group of proto-human animals, equipped with sophisticated perceptual systems and memory systems, with the physical apparatus either to make hand gestures or vocal cries or both, with a capacity for mutual imitation, with an intensity in that capacity such that it is conducive to intraspecific conflict in situations of appropriative competition, converges on an object of appetite, let us say a food object.

We can picture these protohumans in a circle around this object, equidistant from it.  The circle is about to become the first human community, the object is about to become the first object of symbolic reference and nascent sacralizing attention.  Now, we hypothesize the event.  In reaching for this object, their gestures at first only indexical, the animals recognize one another’s gestures toward it as a threat to one another, indicative of the danger each represents to the other.  Each has a “natural” appetite for the object, but each also has a “natural” appetite to stay alive, not to get hurt by the others who are as hungry and as excited, as “worked up,” as they are.

Now, as they recognize each other’s gestures of appropriation pointing toward and pointing out the object, they pause, they abort these gestures, and they study these gestures, fleetingly, briefly, minimally, as things in themselves, seemingly apart from the object, as what we now call signs; but of course the gestures are not apart from the object, they are all about the object, and the protohumans return to focus on the object, which now appears different, appears itself transfigured, more desirable, somehow different than before because it has been pointed out in a new way by the abortive gestures of each, my own, the other’s, the other’s, my own.  (I describe this in slow motion; it must have happened very quickly the first time.)

This pointing out, this singling out, reinforced by the proto-humans’ mimetic rivalry and their mutually reinforcing imitation each of the other, makes the object itself seem to exude a repellent force (a force which in reality is the result of the paradoxical increased tension and decreased competition occasioned by the pause that the abortive gesture of appropriation brings into existence); the object now seems to have a life of its own.  It does: it has the “life” of the transfigured object of the first human sign.


After the [orderly, partitioned] consumption, something remains in the minimally emergent human minds: they remember the gestures they made, they remember the object as the pause changed it, and they remember the decrease in tension conferred by this tiny little event.  That remaining something is enough: it is the trace of the little bang of language, the birth of the human.

Desire, Paradox, and the engine of Culture and Science: 

The human being is a paradoxical reality, because it is never able to rest between being the one doing the representing and being the one being represented, between process and substance: human being is neither absolute and objective nor relative and subjective, but paradoxical, restlessly between, dynamically open.

Why Generative Anthropology must precede Science:

Gans writes: “Theories of the human that take representation into account not simply as a ‘behavior’ but as a fundamental constituent of desire cannot be falsified in the normal sense of the term.  To say, when A desires B, that A’s desire is mediated by representation of B, is not testable in any simple manner.  There is no way to remove all representation of B in order to test the hypothesis, since precisely representation is not limited to some formal procedure of designation but can be accompanied by any sign that the desiring subject encounters on his scene of representation.”

The dialectic of freedom and obedience (notice how this parallels the religious paradox of true freedom being obedience to the Divine): 

That originary experience of the sacred object remains with us and keeps us human as we were at the origin: “Since we will never know ‘everything,’ there will always be enough mystery in the world to remind us that the representational freedom with which our species began was dependent on sacred certitude” (Gans, “Intelligent Design?”).

All human freedom is measured against this originary unfreedom, which was at the same time the freedom to become human in the first place by letting the transfigured object become sacred and (eventually) become the first Person.

Scientism, given its contempt for mimetic paradox and its faith restricted to de-contextualized experiment and language removed from any scene which would include the memory of originary sacrality, argues for the possibility and desirability of knowing everything about everything.

The inability to delineate the Divine:

The sacred referent, however much we might thematize it, is not the referent of a scientific investigation.  It is untouchable, unknowable, not even able to be thematized beyond its naming and the ineffable experience that accompanies that naming.  There is something fundamentally irrational and fundamentally human, at once, about the sacred object when contrasted to the significance-drained “object alone.”

The generation of Cognition through the oscillation of Aesthetic experience:

Cognition begins with esthetic experience: “But the central locus is where all cognition takes place, and the esthetic is the sine qua non of originary cognition” (OT 125); “Only through the esthetic experience of the center can the object be known in its specificity.  This knowledge is not a return to the practical appetitive awareness of the object prior to the scene; the communal context [enforced by the sacred] is constantly reestablished” (OT 126).


Esthetic experience permits the human self-consciousness of the desirability of the object to come into extended play.  Esthetic experience sets up an oscillation between “imaginary possession” and “recognized inviolability”: we imagine possessing the object, which takes us toward a material knowledge of it—the desire to consume it now for its communally mediated significance and (on top of) its appetitive value, not merely for the latter alone.

With the generation of the private Individual, receptive to the sacred Image (after Sparagmos), Language formally begins: 

There are many consequences to the principle that “originary cognition” is esthetic cognition, consequences for the ethical question of humanly responsible scientific praxis.  What I would stress now is that the esthetic prolongs the originary experience of the sign.

It is this prolongation of the sign that makes language itself possible; the sacred alone would not have generated human language.  The esthetic experience, because it supplements originary resentment with a desire satisfiable only by imaginary possession, is private, internal, and therefore portable.

That portable privacy (now only imaginary) is the minimal form of the knowledge-seeking activity that “later,” when linked in memory to the private consumption of individual portions of the divided object in the sparagmos, will drive individual members of the community out into the profane world seeking new beautiful objects to substitute for the originary object of prohibitively sacred desire.

Modern society as post-Ritual: 

In market society, the mediating power of the experience of secular artworks, themselves portable and exchangeable in a way that ritual commemorations of the communal sacred obviously can not be, will supplant the mediating power of communal sacred experience.  Not being bound to ritual repetition is part of what it means to live in modern society, where the freedom of individuals to produce artworks and the freedom to pursue scientific projects tend to be either permitted or restricted as one.

The birth of Scientific cognition as the thematization of Substitutability: 

In the “distinction between locus and object,” then, we have a move toward scientific knowledge of the object that is, nevertheless, not yet science.  What is missing is the self-conscious thematization of the substitutability of a different object, the possibility that another object could do just as well, be just as beautiful or desirable: that substitutability is essential to scientific cognition, but not even permitted in the esthetic.

Individuality only concretely begins after the resentful Sparagmotic consumption of the sacred Object, separating Signification from its material Referent and internalizing the former, whose contrast generates self-consciousness and ‘day-to-day living by errands/desires’: 

The originary sparagmos is not a desacralization of the object.  On the contrary, it is the sparagmos alone that makes it possible for the community to grasp the object that was once merely a material thing as now an ideal thing, transcendent.  The sparagmos is the site of the originary production of the concrete-thing-as-ideal-object.  Why is this so?  Because only as an effect of sparagmatic violence does the idea and memory of the object detach itself from the concrete, real-world thing and enter the individual minds of individual participants of the scene as the signified.

The originary event as posited by the originary hypothesis generates transcendence from immanence, reverence from appetitivity, paradoxical mind from instrumental matter, the anthropological from the cosmological, the level of ideal being that inheres in representation from the level of material being that necessarily escapes representation.  The event is not complete until the object has disappeared; the signified is not the referent, but rather is being born only thanks to the sacrificial death of the referent.

The sparagmos permits a form of cognition quite impossible in either the sacred or the esthetic “moments” of the originary event.  We know the sacred center as the one Person at the origin; we imagine possessing such Personhood in the experience of the esthetic.  But, the sparagmos makes that imaginary possession real; the sparagmos permits the category of originary individual personhood: “The personhood of the center as acknowledged by the sign is mimetically reproduced in those who resentfully destroy it.  The sparagmos is in the first place an act among persons, the destruction of the originary person by the collectivity of its imitators” (SP 147).

The self-consciousness of the sacred is the self-consciousness of the community as one, without individualization.  The self-consciousness of the esthetic is that of the imaginary individual of fantasy in tension with the real formal closure made necessary by a human community uniting in the designation of a significant object of desire, an object the real possession of which remains formally (communally) forbidden.

But, the human individual “comes into his (her) own” (resonant phrase) in the sparagmos: private space is created; the individual will henceforth always be a human individual, bound to the community; but the self-consciousness of the sparagmos is that of real individual possession, the private person’s imagination testing what it wanted against the real, the pragmatic self at last satisfying its “natural” appetites.

This self-consciousness, it must never be forgotten, is self-consciousness made possible only by the human sign.  No animal experiences this self-consciousness because no animal can represent it to his or her animal self.  Appetitive satisfaction of the human kind is not “animal” satisfaction; it is satisfaction inseparable from religious, esthetic, and economic mediation; the object for the human, whether represented in the religious mode or the scientific, is the object transfigured absolutely.

Emergence of the Economic, and then the Scientific: 

Reflection on the concreteness of the “economic” helps us get at the latent form of the not-yet-scientific in the sparagmos. The possession and consumption of the value-laden object may count as knowledge of the object, but they do not yet qualify as desacralization and therefore not quite scientific knowledge.

Many things happen in the sparagmos.  For one thing, originary economic exchange of valuable things happens.  The category of economic value emerges.  Under the regime of the purely sacred and esthetic, we had been exchanging signs alone, looking but not touching; in the sparagmos, we exchange real things, real portions of the object itself: “The [accepted] equivalence of portions extends the equivalence of signs into the real, appetitive world and so transforms it.  The establishment of formal equivalence between real objects, as opposed to signs, inaugurates the category of value” (OT 52).


The link between this originary evil violence and the religious myth of the “fall of man,” the separation of Divine from human, is also a step toward originary science.


“Science” must nourish and sustain the movement outward and away from the restrictive effects of sacred prohibition against object knowledge.  “Science” itself can begin only with the community’s return to the scene of ritual, and the concrete replacement of the originary object with another object, and the tensions implicit in that substitution.

What is the performative significance of Originary Thinking?: 

As itself a descendant of originary science, generative anthropology conceived as the organized collective results of originary thinking stretches itself to the limit of its tie to merely religious intuition and allies itself with scientific representation inasmuch as it thinks “beyond” sacred and esthetic significations to “Being” on its own, reconstructing and deconstructing Being to beings and back again.  Scientific representation in this mode is the thinking that attempts to grasp the paradoxical interactivity of the scene without a pre-ordained allegiance to any one image or figure of sacred, esthetic, or economic value.

Originary thinking, like originary science, itself is willing, like the usurper whose new object produces “differential information,” to leave sacralizing figural representation behind—when necessary—to move toward and to include the minimal hypothetical results of valuable new information.  Originary thinking stands strangely outside the scene it hypothesizes, in the role of the first usurper of divine knowledge.

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