chapter  4
Unearthing kinesthesia: groping among cross-cultural models of the senses in performance: Deidre Sklar
Pages 9

Sylvain Pinard4 writes that “to achieve moksa [liberation], the individual ‘soul’ or atman, which is called ‘food’ in the Upanishads, must be sacrificed to Brahma, himself conceived as food” (226). In what he calls a “digestive theology,” Pinard imagines the dynamic exchange of “society and cosmos as a huge digestive system” (228). Coarse and refined are separated out “in the digestive system of the Supreme Being” (229). Rasa, literally taste, but inclusive of both savor and essence, is “not released until that (digestive) process is complete” (229). The absorption of the audience in rasa is the aim of the performing arts in India.5 Apparently, where performers are eaten in a Songhay world, the audience is also eaten in India. Divinity is eaten in both cases, as it is in Catholic Christianity. In the HispanoCatholic community of Tortugas, New Mexico, where I did long-term fieldwork, communion was at the heart of people’s experience of God. When I asked one of the elders if she could experience God during the annual pilgrimage as she did in church, she reminded me that “You can’t take communion without going to church.” Then she added, with a self-enclosing hug, “Maybe it’s the place, the enclosed space, maybe it’s the mass.” It was not so much the taste of the host that was important as its ingestion, a kinesthetic-tactile experience. The theme of separating out food for humans and food for the gods recurs throughout the literature on sacrificial offerings. Carl Kerenyi writes: “The invention and first offering of the characteristic sacrifice of a religion may well be regarded as an act of world creation or at least as an act establishing the prevailing world order” (1963: 43). In the pre-Platonic sacrificial offering that established the change from Titan to Olympian world orders, Prometheus, the ritual specialist in charge, tricked the Olympian Zeus, giving the edible meat of the ox to humans and the dry bones and smoke to the gods. But the deception worked against humans, for meat, unlike the dry bones and smoke that went to the gods, established the human imperative of having to feed the body in order to survive. Gods do not eat, and animals eat their meat raw, but humans must cook to eat. And when they cook, they must also acknowledge, through sacrificial offerings, the superior, non-corporeal gods (Vernant 1981a, 1981b).6 Is this story the precursor to Aristotle’s designation of eating as a lower, “animal” sense and smelling as a higher one? The Greek gods do not eat earthly food, but apparently, taking in the sacrificial smoke, they can smell it. Smell occurs through the medium of air but includes the odorous by-products of corporeality. It is, in this sense, a combination of breathing and eating. It is less proximate, therefore less “animal” than taste, but less distanced than sight and hearing. In contemporary US popular culture, smell’s “animal” aspect, as in the smell of bodies, is covered up. Smell’s food-for-the-gods aspect is present (as incense) in the Catholic Church and in New Age spiritual practices borrowed from Asia. Smell is rarely a subject of scholarly attention.7 Is its absence more a reflection of scholars’ values in a secular academy than of the values of those whom scholars write about? Through breathing, one can incorporate spiritual otherness without eating it. For Pueblo people along the New Mexico Rio Grande, breathing rather than eating is the model for spiritual (and social) exchange, and air rather than food is the medium that carries meaning. After a dance, Puebloans lift the evergreens they carry to their mouths, breathing in their life-renewing properties, then breathing them out to the world. Breath carries the life force between self and world. It also carries words, which derive not from the head but from the heart.8 Speaking (words that ride the breath from the heart) is a kind of praying, and therefore one must be careful what one says.