mp on Wed, 8 Dec 2021 23:15:43 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> The Dawn of Everything (very short review)

On 08/12/2021 18:02, Joseph Rabie wrote:

> I am really wary of terms like magic, beyond seeing them as a poetic
> metaphors (helpful & useful, as such) for things that escape us, or
> transcend us, or that are incomprehensible to us, even though they
> are clearly there (consciousness, for one).
> Appealing to magic, given our predicament, really seems to me like
> grasping at straws. And, given that in current culture magic has come
> to be represented by Harry Potter© more than anything else (one Latin
> phrase and Voldomor bites the dust), a lot more needs to be known
> about magic's eventual agency, before we make it part of a toolkit
> for repairing the damage we have done.

Harry Potter magic is of course just silly. And "incomprehensible"
things, such as consciousness, are not what magic is...

...Things we don't understand are rather potential objects of
investigation and can be framed for the purposes of
meaning/understanding within any of three - magic, science, religion.
You can apply a scientific understanding to magic, for instance, which
is what Gosden does (he is after all an Oxford professor and a renowned

Then, whatever is or isn't in the current public imagination of "first
world consumers" surely isn't the yardstick for what's worth talking
about, or not talking about?!

Anyway, for those who might want to get an insight, what to my mind is
useful about Gosden's work - apart from, finally, inviting hundreds of
millions of indigenous people and peasants to the table of meaning
making in the world, as also Graeber/Wengrow in some sense do - is his
framing of magic as "participation".

Here are some introductory excerpts to peruse before flushing the baby,
bathwater and tub and all:

Gosden's "...definition of magic emphasizes human connections with the
universe, so that people are open to the workings of the universe and
the universe is responsive to us. Magic is related to, but different
from, the other two great strands of history, religion and science: the
former focuses on a god or gods, the latter a distanced understanding of
physical reality. Magic is one of the oldest world-views and yet is
capable of constant renewal, so that a modern magic can help us to
explore our physical and ethical connections to the world in a time of
profound ecological crisis" (2020: 1).

"...Human beings participate in the universe directly, and the universe
influences and shapes us..." (2020: 6) - (Philosophers of technology
might recognise this particular feedback loop).

... and it is here that magic unfolds as a practice, in the
participatory moment. In the flow of things. In the zone.

"...Magic works through human participation in the universe. In religion
the primary human relationship is with one god or many gods. Science
distances people from the world, taking them out of it, which leads to
their observing and understanding physical operations in abstract terms,
before applying that knowledge for practical ends" (2020: 7).

"...Although apparently very different, magic and science have much in
common. Both strive to understand how the world works and the manner in
which people can benefit from its workings. Science divides the world
into matter and energy and seeks the forces that shape them or the
chemical and biochemical dynamics that animate all things. Magic sees
spirits in the land, considers how people and animals are related, and
tries to understand transformations around birth and death. The forces
defined by science find echoes in magic’s insistence that spirits
animate the world. Beneath our more superficial thoughts and discussions
lie deeper intuitions and desires concerning our relationship with the
world. Here magic and science diverge. The practices and philosophy of
magic come from a sense of kinship with other living things, the
landscape and the heavens. Through magic we can explore mutuality: how
we are joined to the rest of the universe and the manner in which we can
affect things around us through ways of participating, which have as a
central element a set of moral concerns. Scientific understanding
derives from abstraction, through the quantification of matter, energy
and force by means of mathematics, but also through logical reasoning
from elementary starting points, such as Newton’s Laws, towards the true
profusion of the world. Science separates people from the world, whereas
magic immerses us in it, raising also questions of our moral
relationship with the universe in a way that science does not..." (2020: 8).

"...The relationship between magic, religion and science concerns the
balance of power, raising the question of where power exists in the
world. Magic sees a direct human relationship with the world. People’s
words and acts can influence events and processes. Religion takes some
of the power out of this magical relationship, placing it with the gods
but leaving some room for direct human participation, even if often
grudgingly. The mechanical universe of science radically repositions
people – the universe works on its own with no need for a god or a
person in the main. The universe and its forces are indifferent to
people, who live in a state of alienation or anomie if they accept the
consequences of a mechanical universe. Many have wrestled with the
psychological and emotional consequences of an uncaring universe over
the last two centuries. Magic holds the promise of a rich mutual set of
connections to the world around us, but many would see such a promise as
illusory, dangerous or hopelessly romantic..." (2020: 9).

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