Patrick Curry – On (Not) Making Enchantment Safe for Modernity

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Sacred Modernities: Rethinking Modernity in a Post-Secular Age

19 September 2009

speaker_patrickcurryPatrick Curry (University of Kent)
On (Not) Making Enchantment Safe for Modernity

I shall first maintain that enchantment, considered anthropologically as a human experience, can be characterised in terms of some relatively stable attributes: wonder, “concrete magic” (Weber), non-anthropocentric animism, embodiment and embeddedness, a relational ontology, and unbiddability or wildness. Second, I shall argue that these entail a radical inconsistency with some of the dominant principles correctly characterised as modernist or Enlightenment. Notoriously, such principles are implicitly and often explicitly hostile to, or dismissive of, enchantment.

On that basis I shall criticise efforts to reconcile the two – e.g., in terms of “a disenchanted enchantment” which “delights but does not delude” (Saler), or one that is fully reconcilable with highly technoscientific and commodified cultural activities (to which I think Haraway comes dangerously close) – as covertly ideological and hegemonic activity on behalf of modernist values and ideals. This does not require a wholesale endorsement of Weber’s and Horkheimer and Adorno’s pessimism, but it does suggest that we should admit the continuing truth of their thesis as far as it goes. That truth includes not only programmatic disenchantment but the cooption and exploitation of enchantment for commercial and political purposes. Given that enchantment is, by definition, unusable, I shall suggest the term “glamour” for its modernist simulacrum.

Beyond the limits of that thesis, of course – and agonistically coexisting with the forces it foregrounds – enchantment survives. In closing, I shall therefore consider how it does so despite severe discouragement; and contrariwise, although it cannot be directly created, how it might be encouraged.

Dr. Patrick Curry is Lecturer in Religious Studies at the University of Kent. He has published widely on a range of subjects including astrology, astronomy and modern re-enchantment. Recent publications include Defending Middle-Earth: Tolkien, Myth and Modernity (1998; re-issued 2004) and Ecological Ethics: An Introduction (2006), as well as the edited collection (with Angela Voss) Seeing with Different Eyes: Essays on Astrology and Divination (2008).

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