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Magic In The Air: How Intellectuals Invented The Myth Of A Mythless Society
Magic In The Air: How Intellectuals Invented The Myth Of A Mythless Society

Quote:"The story of disenchantment we have told ourselves is a myth. We tend to the think of the “West” as disenchanted. But the majority of people in Europe and America believe in magic or spirits today, and it appears that they did so at the high point of so-called “modernity.” And contrary to what you might think, higher education levels do not directly result in disenchantment. Indeed, one might hazard the guess that education allows one to maintain more cognitive dissonance rather than less".
"Life is a pure flame, and we live by an invisible Sun within us."

  -Thomas Browne
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The Myth of Disenchantment: Magic, Modernity and the Birth of the Human Sciences

Quote:Josephson-Storm’s core argument here is that we — especially those embedded in the social sciences — have been captivated by the idea that ‘modernity’ is characterised by disenchantment: the banishment of wonder, magic, and spiritual reality. Quantities have usurped qualities, mechanisation has eroded the charm of organic craft, capitalism has reduced all values to exchange values, and the fair spirits of our pagan past have permanently deserted us. Some people — secularising champions of rationalist Enlightenment — celebrate all this. Some, from the piously religious to the heretically sorcerous, lament it. Both celebrants and lamenters, Josephson-Storm argues, are deluded. Disenchantment never actually happened. The ‘end of myth’ is, itself, a myth.
Quote:he bulk of the book is a potted modern intellectual history, focusing on the surreptitious — or not so surreptitious — presence of ‘enchantment’, even — or especially — in thinkers who loudly proclaim ‘the end of myth’. The Hermetic and alchemical beliefs of the main architects of modern science and cosmology — Bacon, Kepler, Newton — are collated. Later, the over-rigid dualism between Freud’s apparent dismissal of occultism and Jung’s embrace of it is broken down with closer reading of Freud. Perhaps eyebrows are raised the highest by the chapter on the Vienna Circle, the gestators of Logical Positivism between the World Wars, famed for their über-rational attempt to eliminate metaphysics. And not so famed for their preoccupation with ghosts and the paranormal, and for their conception of their project as a kind of magical revival!
This unveiling of the occult aspects of such ‘obviously’ non-magical schools of thought isn’t new, but here it’s done as I’ve never seen it done before, making for some riveting reading. However, we’re now approaching some of my annoyances.
One of Josephson-Storm’s main arguments against ‘disenchantment’ as a characterisation of modernity is that it’s often been self-refuting. As a broad diagnosis, it’s provoked sometimes strong reactions, reassessments and revivals. Paradoxically, these have worked to keep enchantment alive. Remember that warm glow after a dip in cold water? But is this evidence against ‘disenchantment’? Surely it’s a paradoxical part of its story. Feeling warm after a dash of cold doesn’t mean it wasn’t cold — it means it was cold, but also that reality’s dynamics aren’t simple-minded.

From another angle, it’s edifying to read how Freud downplayed his complex views on occultism. But equally, rather than showing that ‘magic lives on’, we could say that the downplaying precisely reveals the pressure and prevalence of disenchantment.

Of course, these paradoxes are far from missed here. There’s a lot of nuanced discussion looking at the dialectical, or enantiodromic1 nature of disenchantment. The term ‘bimodal concept’ is introduced to refer to ‘terms that function both to disenchant and enchant in different registers’.2

But still, the debunking weight of the title, at the same time as being nuanced by these discussions, is also affirmed — both in the blurb and the body. This frame derails the details as much as the details nuance the frame. The back cover tells us that ‘as broad cultural history goes, this narrative [of disenchantment] is wrong’. Even as a broad history, a low-resolution map, it’s not just over-simplistic, but wrong. This sweeping assertion is echoed in the introduction,3 and in concluding remarks calling for a definitive end to the disenchantment myth.4
"Life is a pure flame, and we live by an invisible Sun within us."

  -Thomas Browne
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