"There are in every man, always, two simultaneous allegiances, one to God, the other to Satan. Invocation of God, or Spirituality, is a desire to climb higher; that of Satan, or animality, is delight in descent."
Charles Baudelaire, Flowers of Evil
, My Heart Laid Bare
For the Spring 2012 issue of FORUM, we have gathered articles which explore representations of the sacred and sacrilegious. Deriving from the Latin verb sacrare, to consecrate, the word sacred initially and inevitably summons thoughts of gods and religions, worship and veneration. One of its antonyms, sacrilegious, etymologically originated from sacrare and the verb legere, to gather, to steal, oftentimes spawns images of violence and violation, heresy and blasphemy. However, the sacred and sacrilegious does not merely apply to theological matters but can be delved into from a literary, cultural and artistic perspective.
Since the 19th century in particular, the sacred was central to a revival in so-called 'primitive' concerns; but modern materialist and psychoanalytic theories of taboo, sacrifice, and magic revealed in the sacred the traces of social construction and psychological force otherwise obscured by centuries of tradition. A wealth of modernist literature and art conceived society and the self, rather than the supernatural or divine, as the sites of the distinction between the sacred and sacrilegious. Moreover, contemporary philosophy and theory revived the ambivalence in much of the language of the sacred in literature, philosophy, and politics - such as Julia Kristeva's conception of the sacred as either potentially pure or abject.
Nowadays sacred has even come to mean merely something that we honour, 'our precious', and sacrilegious is often tantamount to unorthodox or heterodox. In the 20th and 21st centuries, what notions of the sacred still capture us with a sense of awe; what forms of sacrilege, if any, do we still find repellent? Does the transition from the sacred to the sacrilegious (or vice versa) hold real meaning or is it a mere formality of self-appointed practitioners? Do literature, art and film only stand as adamant witnesses of the alteration in the meaning and significance of these two words throughout history, or do they have an active role in changing our understanding of the sacred and sacrilegious?
Editors: Barbara Vrachnas & James Leveque