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28 Cardozo L. Rev. 23 (2006-2007)
Innovation as Ritualization: The Fractured Cosmology of Early China

handle is hein.journals/cdozo28 and id is 39 raw text is: INNOVATION AS RITUALIZATION: THE
FRACTURED COSMOLOGY OF EARLY CHINA
Michael Puett*
INTRODUCTION
How does one create anew? Or, put in stronger terms: how does
one break from tradition and create a new order?
Such questions are often, and mistakenly, presented as modernist
concerns: modernity is often defined, among other things, as based upon
a willingness to innovate, to break from the traditional orders of the
past. Theoretical discussions of innovation then proceed from the
question of how one can legitimate such innovation without reference to
the guiding tradition from which one is departing.
By definition, premodern cultures would be seen as unable to
contribute to such a theoretical discussion-since, after all, premodern
traditions are the traditions one is breaking from. According to such a
view, premodern societies were dominated by ritual traditions that were
legitimated through some kind of a belief in cosmic holism: rituals were
believed to be based upon either divine commandments or cosmic
patterns.
In contrast, the argument runs, it is only in modem times that such
traditional forms of authority broke down, thus creating the problem of
how we are to legitimate our actions without reference to traditional
ritual norms. If political communities are understood to be guided by
human laws, institutions, and decisions, then how can we legitimate
such actions when there is no longer a divine being to follow or a set of
cosmic patterns to imitate? Thus, theories have been developed around
notions of individual autonomy, juridical notions of a self-willed
populace, and so forth. Within such a framework, of course, premodern
thought can only be of antiquarian interest; it could not conceivably be
* Michael Puett is Professor of Chinese History and Chair of the Department of East Asian
Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University. He received his Ph.D. in 1994 from the
Department of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. His interests are focused primarily on
the inter-relations between anthropology, history, and philosophy. He is the author of THE
AMBIVALENCE OF CREATION: DEBATES CONCERNING INNOVATION AND ARTIFICE IN EARLY
CHINA and TO BECOME A GOD: COSMOLOGY, SACRIFICE, AND SELF-DIVINIZATION IN EARLY
CHINA.

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