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Technics and the Sacred. The Path to Freedom and Authenticity in American Gods

Carlo Chiurco
p. 27-38

Abstract

The TV series American Gods (2017-2021) features a war between the Old Gods, a syncretic pantheon of deities of the natural powers drawn from all mythological and religious traditions, and the New Gods, the deities of history and the artificial realm of man-made technics. Gods of both fences are shown as beings whose morals beyond good and evil is entirely focused on fulfilling their will to power in terms of immortality. Humans are trapped within this conflict; their only option is seemingly limited to choose which side they stand. While the series sumptuously renders Heidegger’s claim that metaphysics and technics are the same, it also employs a different and positive meaning of the latter: by showing the old gods, the new ones, and humans as different options about existence – namely the logic of sacrifice, the logic of hedonism, and the economic logic of human reason – and eventually rejecting all of them as viable solutions, it favours an idea of existence as full open-ness and experimentality. In the end, technics is one with man’s self-creativity, embodied in his very biology, providing him an escape route from the vicious circles constantly ambushing him on his path towards authenticity – namely, all deities, religious as well as secular.

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Termini di indicizzazione

Parole chiave:

metafisica, sacrificio, tecnica
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Testo integrale

1. Introduction: gods at war with humans

  • 1 What I am attempting here – a philosophical reading of what I believe is the main, or, in any case, (...)
  • 2 Slabbert 2006: 159: “A tantalizingly postmodern refusal of closure”.
  • 3 Gaiman 2001.

1In this paper, I will focus on the relation between technics and the sacred, as it emerges from the TV series American Gods. My intention is to conduct free reasoning from a philosophical perspective about the implications and the possible extensions of the plot and the way it is visually enacted in the series. I have not the pretension to state that my conclusions were originally and necessarily, though unknowingly, implicated in the intentions of the authors, but I limit myself to draw them from the screenplay – or, if this formulation may sound more acceptable, I take the series as a suggestion, showing possible conceptual developments I would like to explore.1 This attitude seems consistent with the rather open structure2 of both the series and the 2001 novel by Neil Gaiman that inspired it.3 The element of open-ness is key to understand the philosophical conceptualisation I draw from the series: we will return to it in the conclusion.

  • 4 Here follows the list of deities and semi-deities featured in the series, sorted by cultural tradit (...)

2The series shows the fading Old Gods – a syncretistic religious-mythological pastiche of mixed deities and demigods drawn from disparaged pantheons4 – with the Norse god Odin at their helm, triggering war against the New Gods in order to fend off the menace they pose. The Old Gods are the powers of Nature – thunderbolt, spring, desire, eros, fertility – which they invoke and use at will, but live a destitute life in America’s forgotten corners disguised as conmen, freakshows stars, workers at slaughterhouses or prostitutes, because humans, barely remembering them, no longer worship them – an ambivalent condition, offering protection but threatening extinction at the same time, should humans’ oblivion become complete.

3The New Gods, on the contrary, are the powers of the realm of the Artificial surfing the crest of our Zeitgeist, the deities of progress and the driving forces behind the functioning of our world, such as the mutual interconnection and interdependence loosely but effectively bounding together a globalised planet (Mr. World, their leader), technical progress itself (Techno Boy), or the manipulative power of media. Following their inherent artificiality, they resort to actual, physical tools as their weapons, such as the internet, taping, CCTVs, or plain thugs eager to kill.

4Oblivion aside, all deities may die, either killed by ancient magic weapons, or by suicide: in this case, their metamorphic power, which usually enables them to stage a comeback from death, is permanently lost (Ep6Se2; witness also the vanquishing of Demeter in Ep6Se3 as a thinly disguised allegory of medically assisted suicide.) Thus death is the only element divines and humans have in common, and, apparently, their sole preoccupation: while gods are busy avoiding metaphysical death, the main character, Shadow Moon, an ex-convict, slowly learns to avoid the spiritual death of an inauthentic life by getting to know himself on a long road trip together with Odin (who will turn out to be his father), and Laura, Shadow’s cheating ex-wife returned twice from the dead (first as a revenant then as a fully resurrected person), busy to avoid the consequences of physical death in terms of organic decay.

5Each side – the Old Gods, the New Gods, and humans – represents a different perspective on existence, respectively the logic of sacrifice, the logic of hedonism, and the economic logic of reason. I will argue that, by siding with none of them, the series rejects them all, in favour of a vision of human existence as open-ness and experimentality.

2. Humans and the desperation of the economic logic of reason

  • 5 Cf. Colli (1975), 11th ed. 1991: 16-18, 49-57, 73-81.
  • 6 Cf. Slabbert 2006; Wearring 2009.

6In the series, the human/divine divide is shown in purely Nietzschean terms: gods of both kinds relentlessly pursue their own will to power, and, just like their historical counterparts, intervene in human affairs at will, ruthlessly pursuing their plans even when they seem to act kindly.5 Their ambivalence is mirrored by their metamorphic ability,6 both bearing living witness of their superior ontological status, which escapes human logical frames and moral dynamics. Even Laura Moon, the most unscrupulous human character, pales in comparison, falling prey to a “human, all too human” desire for justice in the form of revenge against the ever-plotting Odin. Such desire makes her look pathetic in her desperate quest for a sort of compensation, as it reveals to what extent humans, in their finiteness, hold on to the economy of zero-sum justice, even in its more elementary and barbaric form as revenge, hoping it will act as a reset of all the unspeakable and intolerable events that happened before (Odin planned the birth of Shadow for some mysterious purpose of his own, and light-heartedly had Laura killed because of her distracting influence over his son).

  • 7 Cf. the definition of “universal equivalent” in Marx (1867-1883), transl. 1976: 162: “The universal (...)
  • 8 Cf. Galimberti 1983, 9th ed. 1999. Galimberti’s stance could also be described as the reversion of (...)

7Human reasoning and acting work by finding a metaphysical “universal equivalent”,7 which each of the endless differences that constitute reality must be eventually referred and reduced to. Face to the “universal equivalent”, all differences are the same, yet this allows each of them to find its meaning and identity, namely its being this-and-not-that,8 just as, in monetary terms, money pays for all sorts of items by unifying all of them as “goods”, still ideally fixing the “right” price for each. Thus, even before committing the homicide of Odin as a repairing act (his life for hers), Laura strikes a deal with Mr. World persuaded he will honour his pledge, putting herself au pair with a god by applying to him the rational hubris of the universal equivalent value of equality. Like any other human-created economy, the economy of justice works only within the mental coordinates by which humans try to impose order onto the magmatic state of reality. Compensation implies a correct pricing of the items involved in the deal, and such correctness is justice. Reason is therefore essentially a metretikè epistéme (Plato, Prot. 357b), the ability to fix the correct “price”, i.e. to measure the value of something on the basis of the universal notion of value as the “equivalent general”, which is the universal logos itself. Laura embodies the economic logic of reason, having worked as a casino croupier at a blackjack table in her former life: her disillusionment about life is complete, just as contemporary reason issued from science-fuelled atheism rejects all teleology or scope in a Godless cosmos.

3. The new gods and the logic of hedonism

  • 9 Cf. Martin Scorsese’s Casino (1995) and Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown (1997), both curiously fea (...)

8For all her experience in the economic logic of reason, Laura seems unaware of the fatally flawed law of desire behind the very functioning of casinos – another strong metaphor of American society9 – namely the desire of death and loss, not of victory:

There is a secret that the casinos possess, a secret they hold and guard and prize, the holiest of their mysteries. For most people do not gamble to win money, after all, although that is what is advertised, sold, claimed, and dreamed. But that is merely the easy lie that gets them through the enormous, ever-open, welcoming doors.

  • 10 Gaiman 2001: 221.

The secret is this: people gamble to lose money. They come to the casinos for the moment in which they feel alive, to ride the spinning wheel and turn with the cards and lose themselves, with the coins, in the slots. They may brag about the nights they won, the money they took from the casino, but they treasure, secretly treasure, the times they lost. It’s a sacrifice, of sorts (Ep4Se1).10

  • 11 Cf. Freud 1921, transl. 1961: 32: “It must be an old state of things, an initial state from which t (...)
  • 12 Gaiman 2001: 172.

9The economic logic of reason proves thus a weak guide to existence, which humans happily trade in exchange for loss and death: whereas Freud was profoundly disturbed to discover the essential drive to death lurking beneath the surface of every living being11, contemporary Western liberal society quietly accepts the thrill of death as the only thing that may bring a surge within our completely homologated, aseptic, systematised lives. Such thirst of sensations nurtures the power of desire as the only escape from a life based on the compensation principle, where the value of everything is potentially being measured. Capitalist society revolves entirely around desire and the quest for its satisfaction, namely the logic of hedonism at the heart of the subtle power of the New Gods. As Mad Sweeney, an ancient semi-god of Irish mythology, says, “opiates have become the religion of the masses”12 (Ep7Se1): but the power of the new religion of the New Gods would never prosper without the desperation and disillusionment brought about by the triumph of human reason.

  • 13 Nietzsche 1881, transl. 1974: 181-182.
  • 14 Cf. Nietzsche 1881, transl. 1974: 181: “As many of those who did not believe in God were standing a (...)
  • 15 Gaiman 2001: 397: “Religions are, by definition, metaphors after all”.
  • 16 Nietzsche 1999: 105.15-17: „Ihr nennt es die Selbstzersetzung Gottes: es ist aber nur seine Häutung (...)

10Laura senses that human inclination to death belongs to another, more obscure, not human (indeed unhuman) logic, different from the “human, all too human” logic of economy: as the overtly rational, no-nonsense atheist and practical nihilist she is, she calls it “a sacrifice, of sorts”, but it escapes her that her nihilism is the driving force behind a newly established divine power. She belongs to those people listening to the precipitous announcement of God’s death in Nietzsche’s Gay Science,13 who fail to grasp that the words of the “madman” speak not of the killing of God – something they knew already – but about its perpetrators and its cataclysmic consequences.14 Indeed, echoing the narrator in the novel, in Laura’s eyes (which are our own) a “deity” is but a metaphor:15 yet, as Nietzsche makes clear against this no-nonsense attitude, God is bound to return, this time “shedding his moral skin”, as a God “beyond good and evil”.16 Laura’s short-sighted scepticism makes her barely flinch at the spectacle of magic old and new unrolling in front of her eyes, and never comes to believe in the divine nature neither of Odin, nor of Mr. World: yet, as a casino clerk, she unknowingly works precisely at the heart of the logic of hedonism which provides the New Gods of their seemingly unstoppable power. This, and the consequences of her revenge (by killing Odin she allows Mr. World to reach his goal), amount to a strong criticism of human reason, which confines us to be the passive spectators of the return of the divine, without even being able to recognise it.

4. The old gods and the logic of sacrifice

  • 17 About measurement and comparison, cf. Chiurco 2020.

11Laura’s limits are the same as those of human reason: even if she suspects the existence of a logic based on waste, such as the hedonistic quest for a thrill in life, she dismisses it as nonsense. But there is another, equally dangerous logic of waste at work in the series (and in the world at large): the logic of sacrifice. Contrarily to humans, who are formally alive but in constant need of the thrill of death in order to feel so, the Old Gods actively seek death – the death of other people or gods, to be sure – in order to stay alive and secure their immortality. In the fragile and perspectival world of humans, life is managed by the principle of compensation, based on the belief of the existence of equivalence: we discern the difference between A and B, because they both stand against a common background, the sharing of which (in terms of equivalence) makes in turn the comparison between them possible;17 gods, instead, reject equivalence altogether for ambivalence. Odin’s disguise as Mr. Wednesday (a conman whose looks suspiciously remind the viewer of Lieutenant Columbo) is less a security measure, than a sign of his ontological dismeasure: he is not this or that, but this and that, worn-out conman and fearful master of the thunderbolt. Gods thrive and revel in the essential ambivalence of reality, which allows them to successfully perform their constant metamorphism.

  • 18 He is not the only one: Bilqīs literally devours her lovers into her vagina, while Černobog (who wo (...)

12However, such metamorphism comes at a price, bringing with it an economy – of sorts. Instead of the proper compensation of justice, the economy of sacrifice relies on the absolute arbitrariness of the “compensation” required in order not to fix or maintain reality within a homeostatic balance, but to access an even higher and richer level of intensity in the ambivalence of being. In Ep2Se2 it is revealed that Odin draws his divine powers by a seamless sequence of sacrifices,18 while, in the closing episode of season 3 (Ep10Se3), a hint leaks about the entire war between gods being a giant sacrifice so that Odin and his fellows may recover their former glory. As a self-alimenting mechanism, sacrifice endlessly enacts repetition, the pure and simple perpetuation of life: through its constant renovation, Odin seeks to prolong his immortal life indefinitely. As opposed to the nothingness of death, life as pure renovation as enacted by sacrifice looks equally dull, void, deprived of meaning, a complete surrender to nature’s mechanist cycle.

  • 19 Nietzsche 1888, Eng. transl. 1989: 335.
  • 20 Cf. Girard 1982, Eng. transl. 1986: 103: “Persecutors always believe in the excellence of their cau (...)

13With which, we have come to the critical point of our analysis. We, as humans, are facing two forms of cyclicity that, in their void, constitute but different kinds of nothingness: on the one hand, stands the vicious cycle of hedonism, on the other life’s pure self-renovation for the sake of it. Both are deprived of meaning and scope, and human reason, for its weakness, is not capable of sorting us out of the dilemma. Nor it is possible, following Girard’s suggestion, to try to break the cycle by choosing a different religion, such as Christianism, presupposing life as not fully coinciding with reality (indeed, figuring out a reality beyond life), over which sacrifice has no power, an alternative perfectly rendered by Nietzsche in the closing question of Ecce Homo, his farewell from conscious and rational life: “Dionysus versus the Crucified”.19 Girard’s solution – Christianism as the only way to unmask the conceptual machinery of sacrifice – is not viable in this context, since it presupposes the belief in at least one “absolute” victim (Jesus himself),20 something that already smacks of transcendence. Apparently, American Gods shows more sympathy for the side of Dionysus and sacrifice, witness the corrosive irony with which it constantly treats Christianism (its sole concession to it being its recognition that America has committed its own original sin in fostering slavery). But this could simply mean it refuses the logic of salvation and the need of a Saviour. Indeed, a possible solution exists, but it presupposes the rejection of all three alternatives on the table.

5. Technics and the sacred, or the essential open-ness of the human

  • 21 Severino (1971), 2nd ed. 1982: 149, 197. Heidegger, on his part, speaks of an “essential involvemen (...)

14American Gods has succeeded in superbly rendering on the screen what constitutes a major topic of the reflection of Heidegger and Severino: the continuity between metaphysics and technics. As Severino memorably puts it, “God is the first technician, and technics is the last deity”:21 the New Gods have the upper hand not simply because they embody the Zeitgeist, but because they look more epistemically centred than their prehistoric counterparts. Metaphysics is about power – the power of poíēsis, of transforming the world, as Plato makes clear in the Banquet (Conv. 205b-c): “Every cause [aitía pâsa], making anything pass from non-being to being, is production [poíēsis]; therefore, also the actions [ergasíai] occurring in all arts [téchnais] are production; equally, all makers [dēmiourgoí] are producers [poiētaí]”. Technics, then, is a better, i.e. a more functional and effective way to conduct such transformation: today’s miracles are of a purely technical sort, such as delivering a vaccine against a previously unknown virus in record time. If this is true, however, technics constitutes a far more deadly menace to the Old Gods than the New ones, in that it makes sacrifice completely superfluous. In sacrifice, the spilled blood of the victim guarantees that no interruption within the fabric of the real – life itself – has occurred: indeed, it is by his life – his blood –, not by his death, that the victim helps the community or the cosmos to live on indefinitely. With sacrifice, we remain perpetually secure within the boundaries of an ever-renovating life, provided that ever-new blood is constantly spilled.

15The power of sacrifice, however, is without a scope, just as its increase in power is self-serving. Far from renovating life, sacrifice confers real immortality only to itself. By indefinitely increasing its power, by contrast, technics succeeds in delivering an immanent paradise that makes all deities and their promises, including salvation, as superfluous as their menaces. Technics is power with a scope, while metaphysics – myth, religion, or transcendent philosophy makes no difference – is deprived of any, bar its own surviving.

  • 22 Indeed, the great French geneticist (and Nobel prize winner) François Jacob spoke of evolution as a (...)
  • 23 Cf. Gualandi 2010.
  • 24 Cf. Gould 1977. Neotenic condition constitutes the main tenet of Arnold Gehlen’s philosophical anth (...)
  • 25 An intriguing possible development, which the series unfortunately leaves aside, is that the shard (...)

16An objection to this view could retort that technics’ immanent paradise is itself subjected to another vicious cycle: far from allowing humans to achieve freedom, it stuns them with the perennial opiate of hedonism. This is true, but up to a point: technics, if properly understood, marks the victory of the human over all the forms of the divine. Not in vain, then, in the last episode of the series Mr. World reveals to Techno Boy that he is the most important among all gods, because he is “the god of innovation”, capable to constantly re-invent himself through the ages. Such statement possesses a great philosophical potential. Firstly, technics is here seen less as instrumental to man’s power, than as a symbol of his metamorphism, which is of a different – indeed, more powerful – sort than that of the gods. Humans are bound to change and inventiveness, symbolised by technics, which in turn is inscribed within their own biology, as exaptation clearly shows. Exaptation is that ingenious “biological DIY”22 that, by reassigning parts of a body to perform different tasks from those that had been previously envisaged by evolution, allows a species to execute an “evolutionary loop”. As a whole, the human species is such “evolutionary loop”, rather than simply performing it, just as the human body has been completely reassigned to perform the communicative tasks that have allowed it to develop the extremely complex intra-specific relations that characterise our species,23 instead of adapting itself to the environment. Techno Boy, as “the god of innovation”, has nothing to do with the vicious circles of the divine, in its form old and new (as, respectively, the logic of sacrifice and that of hedonism), but is the un-divine, essentially open, plastic (neotenic, in biologic terms24) structure of the human being, providing him an escape route from the vicious circles constantly ambushing him on his path towards authenticity. (Tellingly, Mr. World, after his revelation, imprisons Techno Boy, sensing such knowledge would make humans aware of their superiority, thus setting themselves free from all deities, religious as well as secular.) In this sense, the TV screenplay wrongly introduces the quest by Techno Boy of Manufact One, the first flint shard ever crafted by a man, as the source of his power:25 as a matter of fact, the actual Manufact One is the human body itself as exaptation has moulded it through the millennia. There has never been a time when humans were not technical, and even sacrifice and the sacred, together with all the myths, gods, religions, and the many metaphysical traditions, were not just tools (capable to make sense of a reality essentially deprived of it, for instance, or to maintain social peace and order), but the by-products of man’s perennial experimentality with himself.

6. Conclusion

  • 26 Blomqvist 2012: 7.

17By rejecting all the options carried by the three sides at play – the economic logic of human reason, the old world of sacrifice, the new world of opiate hedonism – the series takes a strong, Nietzscheanesque stance towards man’s freedom from all deities, be they religious or secular. It does so by relying on the one hand on a dark, uncompromising irony, and, on the other, on the open-ness of both the TV medium and pop culture. The open-ness of the form, by which it conveys its message, mirrors the open-ness of the message itself, equipping the latter with a credibility that the heavy disillusionment permeating the series from the first frame to the last would otherwise make nearly impossible. Precisely because life is meaningless, human existence is essentially (and not just incidentally, as it may occur in other animals) open, creative, and purely experimental upon itself in the first stance, as human biology shows. That man is so essentially technical, to the extent he turned his own biology into his first manufact, might then explain why, of all living beings on earth, the gods, old and new, have bet on – and feared – only him. Conversely, “technics” means not just every instrumentally oriented manipulation of reality, but firstly and essentially the self-manipulation creatively experimented by human open-ness upon mankind since it appeared on earth: contrarily to other animals, it is necessary for us to survive and exist. Humans need neither a saviour, nor to conform to the ever-vicious circularity of reality, be it in the form of the naturality of life cycles or as the artificiality of civilisation: in this respect, the constant mockery of both the Old Gods (the powers of nature) and “the self-referentiality of American culture”26 as a psychedelic theme park providing ever new forms of enjoyment (for those who can afford them) carried on by the series may indicate, in its own oblique and negative form, that the real alternative lies elsewhere, within our structure (affirmed even at biological level) of open beings, designed to pursue our innermost experimentality as the path towards freedom and authenticity.

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Bibliografia

Blomqvist, R. 2012, The road of our senses. Search for personal meaning and the imitations of myth in Neil Gaiman’s ‘American Gods’, “Mythlore” 30, 3-4: 5-26.

Chiurco, C. 2020, Mediare l’incommensurabile. Note sul rapporto tra filosofia e traduzione, “Teoria” 40, 2: 83-99.

Colli, G. 1975, La nascita della filosofia, Milano, Adelphi, 11th ed. 1991.

Freud, S. 1921, Jenseits des Lustprinzip; Eng. trans. by J. Strachey, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, New York - London, Norton, 1961.

Gaiman, N. 2001, American Gods, New York, Harper Collins.

Galimberti, U. 1983, Il corpo, Milano, Feltrinelli, 9th ed. 1999.

Girard, R. 1982, Le bouc émissaire; Eng. trans. by Y. Freccero, The Scapegoat, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986.

Gould, S.J. 1977, Ontogeny and Phylogeny, Cambridge (MA) - London, Belknap Press/Harvard University Press.

Gould, S.J., Vrba, E.S. 1982, Exaptation. A missing term in the science of form, “Paleobiology” 8, 1: 4-15.

Gualandi, A. 2010, Neotenia, exaptation, comunicazione. Un modello antropobiologico, “Scienza e filosofia”, 3: 138-148.

Heidegger, M. 1935-1946, Holzwege; Eng. trans. by J. Young, K. Haynes, Off the Beaten Track, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Marx, K. 1867-1883, Das Kapital. Kritik der politischen Ökonomie; Eng. trans. by B. Fowkes, Capital. A Critique of Political Economy, Harmondsworth-London, Penguin - New Left Review, 1976.

Nietzsche, F. 1881, Die fröliche Wissenschaft; Eng. trans. by W. Kaufmann, The Gay Science, New York, Vintage Books-Random House, 1974.

Nietzsche, F. 1888, Ecce Homo; Eng. trans. by W. Kaufmann, On Genealogy of Morals – Ecce Homo, New York, Vintage Books-Random House, 1989.

Nietzsche, F. 1999, Nachlaß 1882-1884; in G. Colli, M. Montinari (eds), Kritische Studienausgabe, vol. 10, Berlin - New York, de Gruyter, 1999.

Rubenstein, A. 1998, Bearers of Dreams. A Study of Archetypal Symbolism in Fantasy and Science Fiction, PhD dissertation, University of Pretoria, https://repository.up.ac.za/bitstream/handle/2263/29722/00front.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y.

Severino, E. 1971, Essenza del nichilismo, Milano, Adelphi, 2nd ed. 1982.

Slabbert, M. 2006, Inventions and Transformations. An Exploration of Mythification and Remythification in Four Contemporary Novels, PhD dissertation, University of South Africa. http://uir.unisa.ac.za/bitstream/handle/10500/2267/thesis.pdf.

Viljoen, L. 2006, Sustaining the imaginative life: Mythology and fantasy in Neil Gaiman’s ‘American Gods’, “Literator: Journal of Literary Criticism, Comparative Linguistics and Literary Studies” 27, 3: 135-155.

Wagner, H., Golden, Ch., Bisette, S.R. 2009, Prince of Stories. The Many Worlds of Neil Gaiman, New York, St. Martin’s Griffin.

Wearring, A. 2009, Changing, out-of-work, dead, and reborn gods in the fiction of Neil Gaiman, “Literature and Aesthetics: The Journal of the Sydney Society of Literature and Aesthetics” 19, 2: 236-246.

White, Cl.E. s.d., Interview with Neil Gaiman, “Writers Write”, https://www.writerswrite.com/journal/neil-gaiman-7011.

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Note

1 What I am attempting here – a philosophical reading of what I believe is the main, or, in any case, the most philosophically relevant, topic of the series – is missing from the literature on both it and the novel, which I enlist here: Blomqvist 2012; Rubenstein 1998; Slabbert 2006; Viljoen 2006; Wagner et al. 2009; Wearring 2009. See also White 2012. I also wish to thank Edoardo Peretti for introducing me to the series and its philosophical potential.

2 Slabbert 2006: 159: “A tantalizingly postmodern refusal of closure”.

3 Gaiman 2001.

4 Here follows the list of deities and semi-deities featured in the series, sorted by cultural tradition. Norse mythology: Odin, Thor, Loki, Týr, the dwarf-king; Hindu mythology: Kālī; Greek-Roman mythology: Vulcanus, Argo, Demeter; Native Americans’ mythology: Wisakedjak; Slavic mythology: Černobog, Zorya; Egyptian mythology: Anubis, Thot, Bast; Irish mythology: the leprechaun Mad Sweeney; German mythology: Eostre (easter: goddess of spring); African mythology: Anansi, Oshun, Chango, Yemoja, Aye, Iku; Japanese mythology: Ama-no-Uzume; Zoroastrian mythology: Ahura Mazda; Voodoo mythology: Baron Samedi, Maman Brigitte; Christianism: various epiphanies of Jesus, always wearing the thorn-crown; Sufism: Bilqīs (the Queen of Saba: cfr. Qu’ran 27:22-44), the ‘ifrīt or jinn of fire (cfr. Qu’ran 27:39).

5 Cf. Colli (1975), 11th ed. 1991: 16-18, 49-57, 73-81.

6 Cf. Slabbert 2006; Wearring 2009.

7 Cf. the definition of “universal equivalent” in Marx (1867-1883), transl. 1976: 162: “The universal equivalent form is a form of value in general. It can therefore be assumed by any commodity. On the other hand, a commodity is only to be found in the universal equivalent form if, and in so far as, it is excluded from the ranks of all other commodities, as being their equivalent. Only when this exclusion becomes finally restricted to a specific kind of commodity does the uniform relative form of value of the world of commodities attain fixed objective fixedness and general social validity”.

8 Cf. Galimberti 1983, 9th ed. 1999. Galimberti’s stance could also be described as the reversion of “the symbolical exchange into the value of exchange”: Galimberti 1983, 9th ed. 1999: 58.

9 Cf. Martin Scorsese’s Casino (1995) and Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown (1997), both curiously featuring Robert De Niro as main character.

10 Gaiman 2001: 221.

11 Cf. Freud 1921, transl. 1961: 32: “It must be an old state of things, an initial state from which the living entity has at one time or other departed and to which it is striving to return by the circuitous paths along which its development leads. If we are to take it as a truth that knows no exception that everything living dies for internal reasons becomes inorganic once again then we shall be compelled to say that ‘the aim of all life is death’ and, looking backwards, that ‘inanimate things existed before living ones’”.

12 Gaiman 2001: 172.

13 Nietzsche 1881, transl. 1974: 181-182.

14 Cf. Nietzsche 1881, transl. 1974: 181: “As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. Has he got lost? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? emigrated? – Thus they yelled and laughed”. The consequences of the “tremendous event” (Nietzsche (1881), transl. 1974: 182) of the death of God, which the “madman” carefully enlists in his long and passionate speech, are so obscure to his contemporaries, to arise no interest at all in them (“This deed is still more distant to them than the most distant stars”: ib.): however, the conclusion (“and yet, they have done it themselves”, ibidem) signals they will have to come to terms with it, willingly or not.

15 Gaiman 2001: 397: “Religions are, by definition, metaphors after all”.

16 Nietzsche 1999: 105.15-17: „Ihr nennt es die Selbstzersetzung Gottes: es ist aber nur seine Häutung: -- er zieht seine moralische Haut aus! Und ihr sollt ihn bald wiedersehen, jenseits von Gut und Böse“.

17 About measurement and comparison, cf. Chiurco 2020.

18 He is not the only one: Bilqīs literally devours her lovers into her vagina, while Černobog (who works in a slaughterhouse to earn a living), by playing Shadow at Draughts, wins the right to sacrifice him at the end of the novel.

19 Nietzsche 1888, Eng. transl. 1989: 335.

20 Cf. Girard 1982, Eng. transl. 1986: 103: “Persecutors always believe in the excellence of their cause, but in reality they hate without a cause. The absence of cause in the accusation (ad causam) is never seen by the persecutors. It is this illusion that must first be addressed if we are to release all the unfortunate from their invisible prison, from the dark underground in which they are stagnating but which they regard as the most magnificent of palaces”. Cf. also Girard 1982, Eng. transl. 1986: 109: “The essential factor, though it is never perceived by theology or human sciences, is that the persecutors’ perception of their persecution is finally defeated. In order to achieve the greatest effect that defeat must take place under the most difficult circumstances, in a situation that is the least conducive to truth and the most likely to produce a new mythology. This is why the Gospel text constantly insists on the irrationality (“without a cause”) of the sentence passed against the just and at the same time on the absolute unity of the persecutors, of all those who believe or appear to believe in the existence and validity of the cause, the ad causam, the accusation, and who try to impose that belief on everyone”.

21 Severino (1971), 2nd ed. 1982: 149, 197. Heidegger, on his part, speaks of an “essential involvement of metaphysics with the sciences, themselves the offspring of metaphysics”: Heidegger (1935-1946), Eng. transl. 2002: 158-159.

22 Indeed, the great French geneticist (and Nobel prize winner) François Jacob spoke of evolution as a “bricoleur” in an interview. On exaptation cf. Gould, Vrba 1982.

23 Cf. Gualandi 2010.

24 Cf. Gould 1977. Neotenic condition constitutes the main tenet of Arnold Gehlen’s philosophical anthropology: cf. Gualandi 2010.

25 An intriguing possible development, which the series unfortunately leaves aside, is that the shard is a weapon: cf. the thigh bone used by the hominid in 2001: A Space Odyssey (another profound reflection on the bond between man and technics) to commit the first homicide.

26 Blomqvist 2012: 7.

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Carlo Chiurco, «Technics and the Sacred. The Path to Freedom and Authenticity in American Gods»Rivista di estetica, 83 | 2023, 27-38.

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Carlo Chiurco, «Technics and the Sacred. The Path to Freedom and Authenticity in American Gods»Rivista di estetica [Online], 83 | 2023, online dal 01 février 2024, consultato il 23 mai 2024. URL: http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/estetica/9178; DOI: https://0-doi-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/10.4000/estetica.9178

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