In the last article we looked at the question of “why a generative anthropology?”. We examined the assumptions Gans is bringing to our investigation, primarily seeing the social sciences as concerning the study of representation. In response, many people have made misplaced accusations that by constructing such an account of metarepresentation, Gans is throwing out traditional philosophy and creating a substitute for the disciplines we are familiar with today. This is not the case. Indeed, Gans argues it would be foolish to think that laying out a separate methodology is a means to reform these long practiced institutions and to establish a new intellectual context for the social sciences. The currently established disciplines will exist long into the future and have proven themselves capable of abstracting their own intricate and nuanced methods. Instead, Gans seeks to construct a new social science of representation, one that is capable of looking in on itself.
Where does Gans begin with this theory? This question is important since representation takes many forms, but no theory of representation can start elsewhere than language. It is the most explicit model of representation and its object. One way to demonstrate this is to compare the strength of linguistic norms with others. Gans argues that most social norms are enforced solely on the basis of some aesthetic criteria of ‘good’ and ‘bad’, ‘appropriate’ or ‘inappropriate’, but with no explicit reference to correctness. It is this additional criteria of ‘correct’ and ‘incorrect’ by which the sentences and minimal utterances constituting linguistic norms demonstrate their strength as a mode of representation. From this, the link between language and ritual becomes intuitive. Gans explains that the criteria of correct or incorrect reside in the gesture of ritual, while with language it resides within the structures that links these gestures.
In examining ritual, the importance of the distinction presented in the last article of formal theory and institutional theory reemerges. The institutional account of ritual is obvious: ritual is just another generation of the originary event. So the ritualisation of the sacred, communal solidarity, the esthetic, etc is explained institutionally almost as a matter of tautology. But the difficulty in accounting for a formal theory of ritual is that language itself cannot be defined as something more fundamental; it is difficult to distil language to something else. Hence, Gans posits that the institutional account of ritual is one where language is both its explanans and explanandum, and thus demands a formal theory. In essence, what he set out to do was provide a means by which representation can justify its own existence, turn in on itself, and study its own contents.
Ritual cannot be the source of language if we also require language to explain it. Instead, language must begin at the origin of representation. Gans argues especially that if ritual is the origin of language, with representation stemming from rituals as opposed to vice versa, then by what process could we extract any knowledge from ritual? It would seem we need language before ritual. Therefore, Gans posits language as the origin of representation, where the first representational act is also a linguistic one, taking place at the event where the institutional and the formal are indistinguishable, giving rise to a reproducible, or “generative”, formal structure. This being the only defining point for language at this stage of what we have put forward, the first step for Gans’ investigation is locating where this reproducing formal structure (the sign) attaches itself to and designates an object. This is what we will be exploring in the next entry.