Love: its rites and its seasons

The complex issues discussed above are also at centre of this fifth subtheme, in which we shall discuss and examine the temporal dimension of love – in the fluid sense submitted in the previous session – primarily through the filter of its “ritual” nature, whereby it is seen as a necessary cultural device for the sociological codification and structuring of gender identity. The development of the genital organs occurs in a series of stages that are often accompanied by rites of passage, some more complex than others, whose purpose is essentially to guarantee two things. Firstly, the reproductive mechanism is given time to attain full functionality, thus also encouraging fertility. Secondly, these rites foster the development of a sexual identity that is – as much as is possible – in line with the individual's biological gender. These rites are, in any event, meant to bring about and ensure the reproduction of the “species” or of the “system”, not only genetically speaking, but also culturally and socially, as mentioned above, in the context of kinship systems.
Ritual and/or behavioural practices of this type, which often contain highly significant variations, provide a rhythm for the human life cycle that accompanies it through all of its stages (from infancy through senescence, via various phases that include the period from puberty until marriage, and range from the birth of our descendants to our own transmutation into ancestors following our deaths). They contribute progressively, and in ways which are sometimes more complex than others, to the construction, definition and consolidation of a personal identity that is socially designed, in terms of both individual dimension and collective projection. It is an anthropopoietic process, one whose success – especially when dealing with those rituals that contribute most to the structuring of the sexual and procreative sphere – can hinge, in some cultures, on which individuals are chosen to participate in the ‘performance’ and the roles that they are given, which are often based on specific ‘coordinates’ related to the sex and age of the initiates.
We also find peaks of ritual conservatism, occasionally extreme in nature. These often correspond to attempts – some more successful than others – at negotiation and resistance, especially in those cases where the structure of a given gender identity clashes with the desire to express a kind of sexuality that is divergent with respect to the type imposed. Naturally, such situations may also arise following encounters and/or clashes between cultures with different anthropopoietic models, with outcomes that may translate, in turn, into various forms of prevarication, negotiation, assimilation or recodification of the ritual and symbolic processes whereby identity is constructed. Analyses of such situations are always particularly significant in terms of understanding the nature and the essence of that moment in which a system is called into question and subjected to change, however radical that change might be.