Monday, 23 April 2018 06:00

”VENUS” AS VENERATION

If seduction is chall11e, transgression, and negation, venusian charm implies an opposite attitude of acceptance of the given and affirmation of the present. This does not mean resigned and forced acceptance, obtorto collo, as seems implicit in the verb colere. Nor does it indicate good natured consent, as in placare, but rather full assent, a disposition of the will to ”say yes”, to venerate, to give oneself without reservation. Raymond Radiguet, one of the most important twentieth-century interpreters of venusian charm, has captured the essence of veneratio: ”it means to devalue things and misrecognize them, to want them to be different from what they are, even when one wants them to be more beautiful.”
Veneratio is a silent movement because it suspends and silences the subjective desires, individual passions, and disordered affections that would impose themselves noisily against the divine and human givens that require their realization without seeing or understanding reality, and that rush toward utopia and destruction, oscillating between arrogance and desolation, exaltation and depression. The Roman goddess Angerona, goddess of will and occasion, seems to personify the silent premise of all veneration: her simulacrum held a finger to her lips, ordering silence.
Veneratio means to say yes above all to the gods and hence to abandon totally all Prometheism, all hubris in the face of the divine. Man must please the gods, they must be enchanted, enthralled, fascinated by whoever turns to them. The captatio benevolentiae is the starting point of this eroticism. But the gods must be silent if they are to be venerated.
It seems that the Romans introduced veneration at precisely the same moment that they took speech from the gods, deprived them of myth and tne narration of their feats. Georges Dumézil has shown that the gods of the Roman religion are the same as those of the Indo European pantheon, but demythified, silent. Unlike Etruscan religion, Roman religion has no revelation: the Sibylline Books are a mere collection of rites to expiate the prodigal. The injunction ”favete linguis” that invited participants to facilitate the ceremony`s course with silence was therefore addressed to the gods themselves.
Veneratio means to say yes to the world and hence to abandon resentful attitudes, preconceived criticism, or systematic refusal of the present. It is impossible to be charming if one is not at peace with the world, with the spirit of one`s time, with one`s surroundings. To venerate Venus in the world means to be willing to recognize the variety of her manifestations and to will them according to the occasion. Chastity and orgy, marriage and prostitution, monogamy and polygamy, homosexuality and heterosexuality: these are not incompatible realities among which one must choose once and for all, but situations one may appreciate in the proper moment. Yet the condition of their appreciation remains their silence, their discretion, their demythification. To be charming means not only to be ready for the opposite with the same indifference, but also to maintain a detachment that allows one to respect the cadence and rhythm even in the most decisive action. Venus presented herself to the veneration of the Romans in two apparently incompatible forms: as Venus Verticordia and as Venus Erucina. The cult of the former was aimed at turning the minds of young girls and women to chastity. The cult of the latter, of Sicilian origin but promoted to the rank of Roman divinity and honored with the erection of a temple on the Campidoglio, was instead closely linked to the practice of prostitution. The attribution of such opposing qualities to the same goddess does not arise from a nihilistic attitude that wishes not to compromise itself and hence favors one quality at one moment and another at the next, but rather from a profound intuition that manifests itself in the quality of the cult. Diodorus Siculus recounts that when the Roman magistrates traveled to Sicily, they always honored the sanctuary of Eryx with sacrifices and homages and ”in order to please the goddess, they forgot the gravity of their mission in order to make merry in the company of women”. These magistrates were thus charming in the eyes of the goddess before they appeared to those of her priestesses precisely because they took a detached interest in pleasure, a non-participatory participation. The poet Giambattista Marino astutely captured this venusian indifference in regard to chastity and lust when he shows in his Adone ”Venus applauds obscene works no less than their opposite.”
Finally, veneratio means to say yes to oneself. Not, of course, to one`s own desires, dreams, and ideals: all these things are too imbued with negation and absence, too abstract and inconsistent to be truly retained as elements or aspects of oneself. Seduction may be rightly defined as a magic of absence, but ”venus” is, quite to the contrary, inseparable from presence, from one`s own situation, from that which is given to us. To venerate means to be at peace with oneself, to know how to will backward, to want that which has happened, to transform (as Nietzsche`s Zarathustra says) every ”so it was” into a ”thus willed it to be.” Veneration is ”amor fati”, a will to want that which has been and is, yet not in order to remain locked within the circle of an eternal return of the same, but on the contrary in order to want the present without being conditioned by its contents. It is thus the opposite of quietism that abandons itself completely to fate. It is the human participation in veneration that transforms any event into destiny, because the entire past was already ”destinal”.
And yet the repetition and devotion implicit in veneratio are not a true faithfulness. By silencing the gods, the world, and oneself, veneration is the premise of a mimetism that distorts all the more the more formally identical it is to its model. Radiguet remarks: ”Nothing resembles things themselves less than those things which are close to them.” This is especially evident in the consequences of the ritual of evocatio, used by the Romans to invite the enemy`s gods to leave their cities of origin and come to Rome. The formula used to ”evoke” foreign gods was ”veneror veniamque peto.” It is evident that the veneration of foreign gods required the initiation of a Roman rite dedicated to them, a rite that was more dislocation and distortion, ”déplacement” and ”détournement”, than respectful procedure. At the base of Roman religious syncretism and of its extraordinary ability to assimilate the most diverse cults, one finds an attitude of veneration and acceptance that is not mere affability, but rather a most original erotic strategy, subtle philosophical and political thought. It would be a grave error to consider veneration a weakness or meekness; it is rather the arm of a ”pium bellum”, of a good war conducted without resentment. The association of Venus and Mars that the Romans probably borrowed from the Greek couple Aphrodite-Ares therefore reveals a meaning that is deeper and more exquisitely Roman. The connection between veneration and war figures also in ”devotio”, the rite in which a commander in particularly dire straits recited a formula, a ”carmen” that dedicated him to the Manes and to the earth, in order to obtain victory. His offering himself to the beyond reveals a relation between venusian charm and death that is radically different from that which links Don Juan to the statue of the ”commendatore” in seduction, or that which links Tristan to suffering and catastrophe in love. Whereas Don Juan is forced to accept the statue`s fatal invitation, and Tristan`s love is by definition opposed to mundane reality, the Roman commander spontaneously consecrates himself to death in order to win. For him, being among the Manes is once again a way to say yes to the present.

Translated from italian by Barbara Spackman
Published in Giovanna Borradori (ed.), ”Recoding Metaphysics. The New italian Philosophy”, Evaston (IL): Northwestern University Press, 1988
Read 119 times Last modified on Monday, 23 April 2018 16:06