Originary Scene

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The Originary Scene (or Originary Event) describes a hypothetical historical event where language emerges in order to defer violence via representation.


On the Originary Scene, intense mimetic desire overrides the existing hominid pecking order, and the members of a not-yet-human group converge symmetrically on a central object of desire (likely a food object), collectively reaching out in a gesture of appropriation. One of the hominids, out of the originary terror of incurring the aggression of the other members of the group, instinctually aborts his gesture of appropriation.

The other hominids see this hesitation and are similarly compelled to imitate and deliberately repeat his gesture of aborted appropriation. The mimetic acceleration towards the central object becomes a mimetic deceleration as the gesture of appropriation (a kind of "grabbing") is converted by the group one by one into a gesture of aborted appropriation (a kind of "pointing"). This gesture of aborted appropriation, once issued and recognized by the group, becomes the first sign.

For the first time, the serial animal pecking order has been transcended by the collective designation of the central object via a sign. A new kind of social order is born: a human community, organized around a shared central sign that each is able to refer to. The first sign is ostensive and it functions as a collective interdiction of the central object, deferring the originary violence which otherwise could have ensued. The purpose of that first sign, like all signs after it, is the deferral of violence through representation.

After the succesful issuance of the sign, the object at the center does ultimately need to be consumed, and this happens in the sparagmos where the sign would be issued again as a reminder of the communities collective limits and would make the peaceful consumption of the object possible. Following the sparagmos, as the members of the community face each other over the remains of their victim/meal/deity, the sign would be issued once again, this time pointing to the remainders and mementos of the sacred being, marking the first ritual.


Eric Gans articulated the first version of the Originary Scene in his 1981 book The Origin of Language where he referred to the scene as the "little bang" of human culture, analogous to the "big bang" of the Universe.

The issuer of the first aborted gesture of appropriation didn't intend for it to become a sign, and yet it did. The hominid group didn't intend to create a community, and yet they created the first human community via the issuance of the sign. The center both compelled them to issue the sign and the center was created when the sign was issued. This is the paradox of signification that first emerges on the Originary Scene and is constitutive of the human.


Gans, E. L., Katz, A. L. (2019). The Origin of Language: A New Edition

Katz, A. (2020). Anthropomorphics.