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A Comparison of the process of signification of performance objects in liturgy and storytelling

Authors:

Abstract

In this paper I examine the ways in which object (specifically puppet) manipulation in storytelling (using my own practice as a case study) can provide insight into the performance aspects of granting signification to the chalice during the Eucharist. In doing this, I draw on the analysis of performance space by McAuley (1999) and the semiotic procedures of Greimas (Greimas and Courtes 1979).
The Signification of Liturgical Objects
A Comparison of the process of signification of performance
objects in liturgy and storytelling
Whilst this study is concerned with the derivation of a semiotic of liturgical space, one
of the defining elements of any community’s worship is the way in which physical
objects are granted (or denied) status through their cultic value, and the value that
these objects in turn lend to the space1. Although there may be textual references to
certain objects during the liturgy (the obvious example being bread and wine) the
initial (and I would suggest from a phenomenological perspective, the most
fundamental) means of conveying value (or lack of the same) is non-verbal. The
journey from receiving a mix of sense data, to identifying it as a decorative silver
processional cross, to the reverencing of this object as culticly symbolic is a complex
one and (as are all human events) is bound by spacial and temporal signifiers.
In this chapter I will try to construct a model for describing the means by which
objects are granted (or denied) status within the liturgy. Although there will be
reference to broad theatre conventions the primary source of comparison will be with
the art of puppetry in which inanimate objects are endowed with characteristics
beyond their nature as physical objects.
In making this comparison I will reflect on my own practise as a storyteller (utilising
of a variety of forms of puppet) and on observational evidence from other performers
key among which are the contributors to the International Puppetbuskersfestival 2002
in Belgium who, without exception, gave permission for me to make video recordings
of their performances.
The principle worked example will be an application of the methodology to the
handling and signification of the chalice at the altar-table. The initial comparison will
be with my own manipulation of a hand (or glove) puppet of a tortoise, but will be
supported by reference to other practitioners. An adapted process of Differential
Semiotics will be applied the interpretation of the role of the object, and this
interpretation will be placed within the context of a taxonomy of object function (as
opposed to spatial function). In this way some of the common features shared by the
process of signification of objects in theatre (specifically puppets) and liturgy will be
identified.
Whilst the analytical principles will remain the same as those applied to space qua
space, in order to interpret the semiotic of an object within space it will be necessary
to adapt the previously defined taxonomic terms through which the object’s function
is identified:
Taxonomy of Spatial Function: Taxonomy of Object Function:
1 This can be observed in the temporary wayside shrines that are erected at sites of road accidents by
bereaved families. Although the objects left are often personal (such as photographs or soft toys) they
claim the space as significant and their continued presence alerts other road users to the nature of the
place and its focal role in the lives of a small (but probably unidentifiable) group of people.
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The Signification of Liturgical Objects
I. The Physical Space
The form of the space
The space as physical denotation of
the specific performance space
I. The Physical Object
The form of the object (material and
morphology)
The object as physical denotation of
the specific performance object
II. The Social Space
the relationship of the space qua
space to the performance event and
the gathering
the relationship of the space qua
space to the wider community
II. The Social Object
the relationship of the object qua
object to the performance event and
the gathering
the relationship of the object qua
object to the wider community
III. The Textual Space
As physical denotation of text
Deictic indicators of
III. The Textual Object
As physical denotation of text
Deictic indicators of
IV. The Transignified Space
As icon
As localised index and metonym
Non-localised index and metonym
Localised metaphor
Non-localised metaphor
IV. The Transignified Object
As icon
As localised index and metonym
Non-localised index and metonym
Localised metaphor
Non-localised metaphor
IVa. The Eschatological Space IVa. The Eschatological Object
V. The Temporal Space
As a means of establishing
sequential narrative
As a locus of altered temporal
perception
V. The Temporal Object
As a means of establishing
sequential narrative
As a locus of altered temporal
perception
VI. The Universal Space VI. The Universal Object
Applied against these categories the analysis, it is hoped, will maintain its breadth
without diminishing its depth.
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The Signification of Liturgical Objects
Of Tortoises and Cups
Figure 1 shows a hand or glove puppet tortoise produced
commercially by the American company Folkmanis. He (in my
performances the Tortoise is a male character) is
approximately 35cm in length and manufactured from artificial
fabric, flocking and plastic (the eyes). The Tortoise is one of
the principle characters in my own telling of The Hare and the
Tortoise and provides an exemplar of the puppet
[Responding to a question regarding the Disney animation film Fantasia:]
Well, what is animation? It's that you can really put life into inanimate
objects. And that's the magic of puppetry. You know it's dead and therefore
you're giving it a soul, a life.
Taymor, Julie interviewed by Schechner, Richard in Bell, John (ed) (2001) Julie
Tamor, From Lecoq to 'The Lion King' in Bell, John (2001) "Puppets, Masks and
Performing Objects" p27
...while actors animate a sign vehicle from the inside out, using their own
feelings, bodies, and voices, puppet performers must learn to inhabit the sign
vehicle from the outside in. Henryk Jurkowski points to this in his
comprehensive definition of puppet theatre as an art in which "the speaking
and performing object makes temporary use of physical sources for its vocal
and driving powers, which are present beyond the object" (1983:31). The
complexities of this relationship and its "constant pulsation" define puppet
performance.
Kaplin, Stephen in Bell, John (ed) (2001) A Puppet Tree, A Model for the Field of
Puppet Theatre in Bell, John (2001) "Puppets, Masks and Performing Objects" p19
Surface Level
At the surface (denotational) level of meaning, textual reference is made to the
character Tortoise within the story The Hare and the Tortoise; the puppet is then
3
Fig.1 (photo: Folkmanis Puppets)
The Signification of Liturgical Objects
removed from a laundry basket in the view of the audience. Initially hidden within the
(fabric) shell, controlled movement allows the head to appear slowly and thus the
puppet becomes animated. At this level the puppet possesses an iconic function in its
physical resemblance to a living tortoise and functions as the physical denotation of
the textual reference ‘tortoise’.
This iconic relationship to the referent is obviously not the case with every puppet. In
TartART’s 2002 production of Blokken the character of the bird was portrayed
through the manipulation of a cardboard box with a pencil projecting through a hole at
the front. The flaps of the box being moved thus become wings which are metanymic
of the bird. It is thus the manipulation that bridges the metaphoric gap between the
object and the living entity.
While reflecting on the process of staging The Lion King, the director Julie Tamor
reflected that:
Constructed Meaning
At the constructed level, the puppet operates thematically and within the narrative
structures of both the story and the event with thematic connotations derived from
surface denotation. My own aim in using the puppet of the tortoise is to create, from
the first, a contrast with the Hare puppet that appears earlier, the latter ‘running’ with
his rear legs flailing behind him, and the former moving slowly. Within the story (as I
tell it), the character of the Hare is established as the transignified puppet within both
4
Photographs AKD 2002
The Signification of Liturgical Objects
the localized and unlocalized fictional world of anthropomorphised African animals
and helps set the context within which the Tortoise appears.
With its initial reveal, the tortoise puppet also concentrates the performance space
onto my hand contrasting with the hare puppet which has moved through the space
and has been related to audience responses to the question:
Who did the Hare annoy next?
This leads naturally to consider the constructed narrative connotations which are split
between the internal narrative of the tale The Hare and the Tortoise and the narrative
of the performance event itself. Within the Hare’s story tension is built between him
as a character and the other animals; the appearance of the Tortoise breaks that tension
as his opening words:
I know how to stop that hare.
establish him as a potential opponent to the Hare’s continual arrogance about his
prowess at the sprint. Taking the animal kingdom (as established through the
preamble to the intervention of the Tortoise) as the Subject of the narrative, the
Tortoise becomes the helper in re-establishing peace by defeating the Hare.
Within the narrative structure of the performance event the puppet of the Tortoise can
be seen to be a helper in clarifying (indeed specifying) to what the text refers both in
terms of character and action (hence there is no need to provide a verbal description of
the qualities of the Tortoise’s movements for the audience when the puppet enacts
them visibly).
Level of Manifestation:
In differentiating the way in which objects function within space a similar procedure
is followed as previously employed in differentiating spatial signification. Initially
this is in the identification of perceptible changes in spatial configuration. In this case
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The Signification of Liturgical Objects
we will concentrate on a very restricted section of the action (the reveal of the tortoise
puppet, before it ‘speaks’).
In the case of the Tortoise the original configuration [Co] is one of utilitarian storage
being placed within a box which is kept in my vehicle. The transition from origin [To]
is therefore one in which the creature moves from its place of storage to the
performance space.
In order to facilitate a ‘reveal’ at the appropriate time, the puppet is kept in a linen
basket positioned stage-left-centre within The Story Tent [Cc]. The Story Tent is a
structure of 21m3 hung with approximately 100m of brightly coloured artificial silk
that forms the contrived performance space within which I normally tell stories (see
Fig. 2).
The tent creates a performance environment designed for
storytelling within a setting that otherwise may have other
(non-theatrical) social functions, such as a school
gymnasium, or to turn an existing performance space into
a space dedicated to a specific performance event (in
Fig.2, the Clinton Centre in Inneskillin has small
exhibition and performance space that is painted white,
creating a blank canvass within which the artist can create
their own event). Hence the physical environment in which the puppet appears is one
manipulated specifically for performance and the figure of the Tortoise is in fact the
third puppet to appear over the course of the storytelling session.
From the configuration at commencement of the observed event [Cc] there are a series
of transitions and configurations as another story is told, however this configuration is
6
Fig 2. The Story Tent
The Signification of Liturgical Objects
isomorphic with the configuration at the commencement of the story of The Hare and
the Tortoise [Cc’] and the moment before the reveal ) [C1]:
[Cc] [Cc’] [C1]
(Approximation terms are appropriate here because of the absence of temporal limits
whose presence would locate these configurations within specific moments and for
defined durations.)
From [C1] there is a transitional move [T1] where the tortoise is revealed to the
audience, lifted (always upright) with the right hand inside the body and the left hand
supporting the ‘animal’ until it reaches [C2] resting at chest height with the head of the
tortoise still inside the shell; my head is turned towards the puppet and my gaze is on
it. During the next transition [T2] my head turns to the audience [C3] and my gaze
wanders across their eye levels; I then provide a textual identification:
…it was a Tortoise, and the Tortoise said:
From here the transitional change [T3] is in fact twofold as there is a nodal point:
where my head returns to the Tortoise and this is immediately followed by the head of
the creature appearing.
At the level of manifestation account also needs to be taken of a series of kinship
groups that locate the object as an object and will contextualise the Deep analysis.
First of all the puppet has physical properties.
The first observation is that the puppet is a unitary object. That is to say, it is the only
tortoise puppet during the performance, it is isolated from other objects during the
performance and has no resemblance to other objects that form part of this
performance.
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The Signification of Liturgical Objects
The puppet is the physical denotation of the word ‘tortoise’. It is never referred to as a
“puppet”, or the audience invited to imagine it as a puppet; it is simply associated
with the noun ‘tortoise’. As such it locates the audience’s imaginative response to the
word ‘tortoise’ in the object, and therefore restricts the audience response to either
accepting this denotation and being part of the story, or rejecting it and standing
outside the communal response.
Although an icon of a tortoise, it is an object
constructed to be worn on the hand that has been
manufactured from textile. As such it has both
morphological and material resonances:
Morphologically the puppet of the Tortoise has a
relationship with other shell-like structures such as the
car, the suit of armour, the police body armour and,
naturally, a living tortoise (of which it is an icon).
However material kinship of the puppet is shared
with other textile products (such as the tea-cosy,
Bayeux Tapestry, rugby shirt and Union Flag). The
kinship groups both allow and necessitate what
Thompson (1990) refers to as interillumination. The
sense-data maps the pattern of the tortoise onto the puppet even though the material
does not support the conclusion that the object in question as an actual tortoise. Add
previous experience of the animation of objects and a further ‘functional’ kinship
group is established:
The kinship with other puppets places the tortoise
within the social function wherein it is related to
the wider community and their experiences. For
most of the adult population of the wider
community of the UK (though not in other parts of
Europe), the object’s function is (among other
things) also related to a narrow perception of
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The Signification of Liturgical Objects
puppetry as simply a form of children’s entertainment, and therefore the puppet also
has a kinship with toys. For young children who do not have the breadth of experience
of the world, the base from which they are able to draw comparisons in order to
interilluminate is more limited, it is therefore not unknown to have children coming to
see me at the end of a performance to ask if the tortoise is ‘real’. In this case a further
kinship group – that of ‘the animate’.
…if the signification of life can be created by people, then the site of that
signification is to be considered a puppet.
Tillis, Steve The Art of Puppetry in the Age of Media Production
in "Puppets, Masks and Performing Objects" in John Bell (ed) (2001)p178
This signification of life has overwhelmed any kinship that contradicts such a view
(material and performance object/puppet) - transignification has been complete and
the child has moved from ‘as if’ to ‘is’.
The examination of the level of manifestation is incomplete in the case of an animate
object without a description of it’s qualities of movement. In this case they are
contrast with the previous appearance of the Hare. As an icon of a tortoise, the puppet
is manipulated in such a way that its movements are also iconic of ‘tortoise-ness’; this
aids the audience’s transignification of the puppet.
Quality Storyteller Hare Tortoise
Fast Fast Slow
Soft Soft Firm
Bound Free Bound
Flexible Flexible Direct
Here the reference to myself as the storyteller is a general observation about the
qualities that dominate during the introduction of the two characters.
Deep Level – Thematic
As a metaphor the tortoise represents the person able to use their intelligence to
overcome those who are stronger or faster than themselves. For the individual in the
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The Signification of Liturgical Objects
audience he may be identified with the frustrations of powerlessness and the fantasy
of gaining control over life.
Within the localized performance space the transignified puppet is a metonym for a
coherent community of African animals (lion, hare etc.) identified linguistically in the
story.
In addition the talking tortoise provides an index to a world in which animals share
human traits and are able to express themselves through spoken language.
The thematic is also concerned with the coherence of the performance event. The
tortoise usually is the third puppet to appear in a set of tales called A World of Stories
and similarly operated glove-puppets occur throughout the event, hence its appearance
remains stylistically within the genre.2
Deep Level – Narrative
Within the performance context the puppet has a distancing function in removing the
enactment of the story from the storyteller and enlarging the performance group from
one to two. Because it occupies a visibly distinct space from me it has connotation of
an independent existence. To achieve this, distancing techniques are employed
textually, vocally and physically within the narrative.
Within the text there are deictic indicators which demonstrate a clear progression from
the indefinite to the definite with accompanying ostensive non-verbal clues. When it
is first mentioned at [C2] the textual identification is indefinite:
…it was a Tortoise,
moving to the definite:
and the Tortoise said:
2 A large percentage of my work involves telling stories from Shakespeare. In The Story of Macbeth I
use a lifesize puppet of Lady Macbeth. Although she is the second puppet used (the three Witches are
represented by a three-headed rod puppet) her appearance is always greeted with laughter by the
audience who are caught by surprise in such a character representation. However, once the initial
incongruence of a tragic figure being represented by a puppet is overcome, the audience simply accepts
that this ‘is’ Lady Macbeth and responds to her narrative is they do my own when I represent Macbeth
himself.
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The Signification of Liturgical Objects
In order to create the impression that this is the tortoise about which we are talking I,
as the teller, need to create a sepration between myself and this ‘creature’. Stephen
Kaplin has written about the distance between the performer and their role, and the
extreme of distancing being with the puppet performance.
...while actors animate a sign vehicle from the inside out, using their own
feelings, bodies, and voices, puppet performers must learn to inhabit the
sign vehicle from the outside in. Henryk Jurkowski points to this in his
comprehensive definition of puppet theatre as an art in which "the
speaking and performing object makes temporary use of physical sources
for its vocal and driving powers, which are present beyond the object"
(1983:31). The complexities of this relationship and its "constant
pulsation" define puppet performance.
Kaplin, Stephen in Bell, John (ed) (2001) A Puppet Tree, A Model for the
Field of Puppet Theatre in Bell, John (2001) "Puppets, Masks and
Performing Objects" p19
The use of gaze here is particularly important as it alienates the puppet from my
body.
QUOTE HERE RE. GAZE
The sequence here is:
Configuration / Transition Text Gaze
[C1] the tortoise is hidden It was… Audience
[T1] the puppet is lifted to
chest height
Audience to Puppet
[C2] the puppet is held at
chest height
... puppet
[T2] head turns to audience Puppet to Audience
[C3] … a tortoise, and the Tortoise
said:
audience
[T3’] head turns to puppet Audience to Puppet
[N3] Puppet
[T3’’] Head of puppet emerges Puppet
[C4] puppet
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The Signification of Liturgical Objects
From here further techniques are used including the change of accent and tone in
vocalising the voice of the puppet, further locating the animation at a distance from
my own persona.
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The Signification of Liturgical Objects
V. The Universal Object
In the African cultures which gave us this story the character of the tortoise is
traditionally identified as a trickster – one who can reveal human folly and the ability
of the weak to overcome the strong. The signs combine to engage the audience with a
representative of the small and physically weak, and to associate it with success over
the strong.
From Puppet to Liturgical Object
From what has gone before it may be tempting cry “but what has this to do with
liturgy”. Unsurprisingly I would claim “much.” In Kenneth Stevenson’s 2002 book
Do This he dedicates a chapter to ‘Soft Points’ in the liturgy (a term he identifies from
the work of Robert Taft). Soft Points are defined as:
…a stage in the liturgy when something is being done which varies
according to the scale of the service and it is therefore impossible to
legislate exactly how to proceed.
Kenneth Stevenson (2002, p34)
In other words, these are the places where performance has a profound impact of the
interpretation of the liturgy, and it is by applying the principles of performance to the
liturgy we have an opportunity of understanding what it is we are doing.
I would also wish to distance myself from the perception of puppets as toys or things
for children’s entertainment. In the morphological kinship slide were two forms of
puppetry in which the puppet is revered and has a quasi-religious function:
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The Signification of Liturgical Objects
Bunraku puppetry of Japan cannot
be separated from the Shinto
culture that it is a part of and the
puppeteer of Javanese Wayang
Purwa shadow puppetry, is
regarded as one who can invoke the
spirits during the performance.
Indeed, shadow puppets in India
receive a Hindu committal in the
waters of a river at the end of their
performance ‘lives’, an act akin to
the disposal of human remains in
the sacred Ganges.
To repeat Richard Schechner’s claim given at the beginning of this paper:
No performance is pure efficacy or pure entertainment. Schechner (1982) p120
To apply the same taxanomic analysis to a
Eucharistic chalice I have to provide an
example in picture form (being unable to
borrow one of the treasures of my own
parish):
My hope is that as we pursue this analysis, parallels with the Tortoise Puppet will
become apparent. However, this is not to suggest equivalence, or even that the chalice
is a form of liturgical puppet. A puppet can be defined in this way:
…if the signification of life can be created by people, then the site of that
signification is to be considered a puppet.
Tillis, Steve The Art of Puppetry in the Age of Media Production
in "Puppets, Masks and Performing Objects" in John Bell (ed) (2001)p178
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The Signification of Liturgical Objects
As the chalice does not show a life independent of the operator (celebrant) it is not a
puppet. What performance theory can reveal is the profound connection between the
methods of signification used by the puppeteer and those of the eucharistic celebrant.
Taxonomic Analysis of the Chalice
I The Social Object
the relationship of the object qua object to the performance
event and the gathering
the relationship of the object qua object to the wider
community
As with the puppet, the first elements of analysis are concerned with the phenomena
of the object as we observe it. Having recognised the object as a chalice we then must
decide to which functional kinship family it belongs; this could be the family of
objects that are used to hold liquid, but given the context in which we find this object
(i.e. within the liturgy) it is reasonable to recognise its kinship with other objects with
cultic functions:
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The Signification of Liturgical Objects
It is therefore essential that we define the context in which we are intending to read
this object as a sign-vehicle. As an article made of precious metal and often of historic
interest, chalices can be found displayed in Cathedral treasuries as well as on the
communion table. Therefore for the wider society (outside the Christian community)
it could be perceived to function as worldly investment as much as an indicator of
ritual tradition. However, it is on the communion table and in the hands of the
celebrant that we will be considering our silver chalice.
For the Christian community gathered for the Eucharist, the chalice’s function cannot
be separated from the wine that will fill it. As object qua object it represents potential
and action in which the potential can be realised by the pouring and sharing of wine. It
is therefore one of the objects that will enable the community to complete its religious
obligations in the form of the Eucharist.
Within the Anglican tradition it also provides a locus of a tactile response to the
community’s shared values. To share in the wine (and the bread), the laity leave their
seats and move to the building’s spatial focus, towards a privileged space around the
communion table that is often considered the preserve of the few (sometimes priestly,
often robed, often male and always an elect). Whilst this is common in most
traditions, the requirement in the Church of England that communicants should
receive the cup (that is touch it) creates a moment of contact between the
communicant and a privileged object. Here we find a distinction with the puppet
where the audience does not have tactile access to the puppet whose illusion of life is
partially dependant on the distance between it and the audience. The movement of a
gathering of people to one place, their stillness, the time taken, the space given to the
actions involving the chalice are all evidence that this object is held in high esteem.
To make such a judgement is of course to move from the purely receptive (of sense-
data) to perceptive, but this perception is at the most basic level of reading human
behaviour, not an interoperation dependant on developed doctrine.
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The Signification of Liturgical Objects
II. The Physical Object
The object as physical denotation
The material and morphology of the object
In this analysis I would like, for ease, to consider a Eucharistic celebration in which
only one chalice is used; therefore, as with the tortoise puppet, we are dealing with a
unitary object. This simple observation is important for we need to understand the
contrasting sense-data (and consequent perception) provided by unitary or multiple
objects.
The Church Of England has obtained legal opinion that it is not lawful for its churches
to use small individual cups (as practised in many Methodist and other reformed
Protestant churches), because of the Scriptural references to a single cup and the
requirement of the canons that it be a Common Cup. Pragmatism has declared that it
is acceptable to use more than one chalice when
the number of communicants warrants it.
‘Holy Communion: Administration of the Sacrament’;
Legal opinions Concerning the Church of England 1994
The human eye does not rest upon objects that we look at, except for a fraction of a
second. The eye constantly scans the view returning to points of particular interest
(such as the eyes of another person), and so the brain is receiving a constant stream of
visual sense-data. And so from a pre-perceptual basis, the existence of
(mathematically) similar objects means that the some of this information is only
differentiated by the effect of the slightly varying viewpoints of the objects, not by the
nature of the objects themselves. This means that eye need not dwell on any object in
particular to gain the necessary data to build a picture of it. The less time spent in
appreciating a particular form means that it has less perceptual investment attached to
it as an individual object and therefore the lower status it has.
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The Signification of Liturgical Objects
In an instance where there is a group of chalices that look similar, the status of each is
reduced by the limited attention given to it and the space each one sacrifices to its
neighbour upon the communion table.
So to return to the situation of a single chalice, we can approach the taxonomic
analysis in similar way to that of the Tortoise Puppet. As a physical object it has
material kinship with other objects made of silver:
In some of these objects he use of a precious metal is pragmatic (as in the circuit
board and the black and white photograph), in other it connotes wealth. The pragmatic
reasons for making chalices of silver are known to the few, and at its simplest level
the function of the chalice is related to its morphological kinship (see below), the
precious metal being related to its decoration, ie aesthetic value or the wealth and
power of its owner.
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The Signification of Liturgical Objects
III. The Transignified Object
As icon
Localised index and metonym relation to the performance
space
Unlocalised index and metonym in relation to the performance
space
Localised metaphor relation to the performance space
Unlocalised metaphor in relation to the performance space
In considering the transignified object we once more apply values in interpreting the
observed.
The chalice functions as an icon. However, its iconicity is non-specific – is it perhaps
an icon of the Elijah’s cup of the Passover meal, or the Cup of Blessing from the
conclusion of a less formal chaburah meal – for the majority of the gathered
community, it is enough that it is an icon of the cup that Jesus shared at the Last
Supper.
However, as an icon it is not necessarily simply referential, to a certain extent it
embodies the cup that was used at the Last Supper. Various distancing techniques are
used to locate the object in a liminal space and time:
material and decoration
unlike domestic cups (whose morphology the chalice shares) this cup is made of
precious metal, and its specific shape (morphologically analogous to the domestic
cup or glass) is resonant of a non-specific past time. And so the chalice is a
combination of a material associated with other forms and functions (for example
jewellery).
placement
on the communion table the cup is given (with other ritual objects: paten, candle,
book) its own space. The white linen means that there is no design surrounding the
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The Signification of Liturgical Objects
chalice to interpret. The other items that it shares the space with have a ritual
purpose – there is visual dissonance and a corresponding dent in liminality created
when the minister places his glasses case (an everyday object) on the table with
these culticly significant objects.
manipulation
the illusion of a living tortoise is achieved through moving its limbs ‘as if’ it were
real. The muscles in the hand are used in opposition to create resistance against
which the legs move, giving the impression of effort. Also the puppet is supported
by the left hand, adding to the illusion that the character of the tortoise (as distinct
from the puppet) has in independent existence form the manipulating hand. Again
the use of opposition gives the creature the weight of a real animal as opposed to a
cloth glove.
The chalice is a metal cup and when it is filled with wine it still remains the
weight of a cup filled with wine that takes little effort to lift. However, oa often
seen, the use of two hands to elevate the chalice means that we perceive this to be
of great value, and its contents something not to be spilled. Although the
movement qualities of the elevation will vary from celebrant to celebrant, there is
often a use of muscular opposition (as utilised in the operation of the Tortoise
Puppet giving the movement a sense of effort beyond that needed to lift the cup
and its contents. This distances the chalice and its contents from our experience of
lifting and drinking from morphologically similar vessels.
timing
The use of muscular opposition means that more force can be used (to indicate
effort) without increasing the speed of the movement. Hence the tortoise can walk
and move slowly even though there is visible effort going into the movement.
Pragmatics will demand that the full chalice is moved slowly, however, even as an
empty vessel it will rarely be moved around at the same speed as domestic cups
being laid out on a household table – once more distancing the ritual object from
the quotidian.
gaze
Another distancing technique used by the puppeteer as much as the celebrant is
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The Signification of Liturgical Objects
directed gaze. As adults we only stare at things of special interest, in particular
inanimate objects and animals. By keeping my gaze on the puppet of the tortoise I
suggest that it is not part of me and is distanced from me and my actions. The
celebrant can often do this with the ritual objects at the Eucharist. In a celebration
where the institution narrative is delivered as the president ranges his gaze across
the congregation, the chalice (held above the table) becomes a natural part of the
celebrant, without the intrinsic generation of fascination. This social storytelling
will also draw the congregation’s attention away from the chalice which actually
diminishes the distancing effect, not increases it. The converse is also true, that by
looking at the chalice, the congregation’s attention is drawn to it, and so regard it
as something independent of the celebrant.
As an index, the chalice serves
to point to the wine which it (or will) contain
to point to the ritual life of the community and as a metonym for the other ritual
objects possessed and utilised by the community.
as an unlocalised index to point to the wider Christian community that celebrates
the Eucharist
and
provides a metonym for the ritual objects that these various communities have
used, and that have framed the perception of this specific chalice.
The chalice will also have metaphoric meanings that relate both to the local and wider
Christian community (for example, it could serve as a metaphor for the gathered
community of faith). In my field research I have been video recording liturgies and
then interviewing members of the congregation about what they have been a part of.
From this data, I hope that I will draw a representative sample of the metaphorical
perceptions of Church of England liturgy. However, the metaphorical reading of the
chalice as a sign is most removed from a phenomenological approach, I will leave it
for another paper.
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The Signification of Liturgical Objects
IV. The Textual Object
As denotation of text
Deictic indicators of
As with the iconicity, the textual denotation of the object is ambivalent. Although it is
a denotation of the word ‘cup’, within the Biblical narratives the word ‘cup’ has a
meaning which sometimes denotes the object alone and sometimes extends to that
which it is designed to hold:
… Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying,
“Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is
poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
Matthew 26.27,28 (NRSV)
… Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all
of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant,
which is poured out for many.
Mark 14.23,24 (NRSV)
… Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and
divide it amongst yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not
drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Then he
took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave
it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in
remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper,
saying “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my
blood. …”
Luke 22.17-20 (NRSV)
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The Signification of Liturgical Objects
For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord
Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when
he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you.
Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also,
after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this,
as often as you drink it in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat
this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he
comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in
an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the
Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the
cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink
judgement on themselves.
I Corinthians 11.23-29 (NRSV)
The implicit reference to the wine that is held in the chalice is reflected in some of the
Eucharistic prayers of the church, with no explicit reference to the wine. In others,
such as Eucharistic Prayers D, E, G and H of Common Worship, the presence of wine
is defined before the word ‘cup’ is then used to denote both the object and its
contents:
Jesus then gave thanks for the wine;
he took the cup, gave it and said:
This is my blood, shed for you all
for the forgiveness of sins.
Do his in remembrance of me.
Common Worship (2000); Order One: Eucharistic Prayer D
When supper was ended he took the cup of wine.
Again he praised you, gave it to them and said:
Drink this, all of you;
this is my blood of the new covenant,
which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.
Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.
Common Worship (2000); Order One: Eucharistic Prayer E
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The Signification of Liturgical Objects
At the end of supper; taking the cup of wine,
he gave you thanks, and said:
Drink this all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant,
which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.
Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.
Common Worship (2000); Order One: Eucharistic Prayer G
At the end of supper; taking the cup of wine,
he gave you thanks, and said:
Drink this all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant,
which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.
Do this in remembrance of me.
Common Worship (2000); Order One: Eucharistic Prayer H
Using the same techniques as the puppeteer to indicate that the physical object is the
denotation of the text, as the celebrant says the words of institution s/he lifts the cup,
or indicates it, identifying the object with word ‘cup’ within the text through
ostension. The use of
he took the cup
drink this all of you
also provides deictic indicators for the cup in the priest’s hands being the referent of
the textual ‘cup’.
V. The Universal Object
When we come to define the function of the universal object we need to encompass
all that has gone before. The taxonomic approach has enabled us to identify and label
several different functions that ritual objects (in this case a chalice) can fulfil:
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The Signification of Liturgical Objects
The significance that the object has to its local and wider community is analysed
by considering the purposes it is put to in comparison to other (related) objects,
and the value that it attributed to it, within those communities.
The physical object is described by identifying its material and morphological
forms in relationship to other objects with which it shares kinship.
The placing of the physical object within its social context allows us to understand
the object as a sign-vehicle and identify its role as a transignified object in the
perception of the ritual gathering.
In traditions such as the Church of England where our liturgies are bound to
(authorized) texts, the object (social, physical and transignified) is understood as
the denotation of both direct and indirect textual references.
However, in regarding the chalice as a universal object we cannot separate it from its
role within the Christian rite in which the Kingdom of God and Christ’s presence is
proclaimed in bread and wine. Perhaps there needs to be another function therefore,
that of the Eschatological object, or it could be that this function should be read
throughout the taxonomy.
But whether we aim to celebrate a Eucharist that is:
memorial
thanksgiving
sacrifice
eschatological banquet
a meal of unity
mystery
liberation and social justice
Horton Davies (1993) Bread of Life and Cup of Joy
an analysis which begins with a consideration of the simple sense-data that the liturgy
is generating, enables us to make an informed judgement about the values and
doctrines that the church’s liturgy actually embodies.
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The Signification of Liturgical Objects
In describing Soft Points in the liturgy Stevenson identifies eight specific elements:
the entry of the ministers
the procession of the Gospel
the collection
the preparation of the altar
the breaking of the bread
the distribution of communion
the Dismissal
Whilst these moments in the liturgy may be more yielding than others, I would like to
suggest that the whole of the liturgy is soft because every moment is interpreted
through its performance, and the finest details of that performance.. Performance
Theory (and specifically a taxonomic approach) reveals those points when the
presentation of the rite resonates with the proclaimed Kingdom, and those where the
notes are dissonant.
Of course, each community proclaims the Kingdom in and after its own fashion. My
hope for the development of an analysis such as this, is that it will enable Christian
communities to so order their liturgies that they able to make the texts, the rites, truly
speak of their lives, their world and their aspirations for the coming Kingdom.
The Polish director Grotowski:
...the important thing is not the words but what we do with these words,
what gives life to inanimate words of the text, what transforms them into
"the Word".
Grotowski, Jerzy (1969) Towards a Poor Theatre ; p58
-----------------------------
A K Daniel
8 August 2003
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The Signification of Liturgical Objects
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