Dis/re-enchantment

Some thoughtful responses to my earlier post on disenchantment call for a few more comments. In that post I argued that the narrative of former enchantment and later disenchantment (due to instrumental reason, capitalism, Protestantism etc) misses a crucial first step, namely that of a prior disenchantment. Enchantment becomes the anomaly in all this, so that efforts at re-enchantment are misdirected.

However, I would go a step further and argue not (as Michael Carden argues and Anne Elvey in a different fashion) that capitalism etc brings about disenchantment, but that the narrative of disenchantment itself is a product of capitalism (bouncing off Remy Low). The key here is Lukacs’s argument concerning that very modern development – the novel: one of its defining features was the sense of a world abandoned by God. In other words, the narrative of enchantment-disenchantment is a signal feature of a modern capitalist world, a narrative created by it in the first place. Ergo, the possibility of re-enchantment is generated out of this same narrative. Overcoming capitalism is not a case of re-enchanting the world (or at least one feature of it) but requires dumping the narrative too, for otherwise we stay within the logic of capitalism.

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5 thoughts on “Dis/re-enchantment

  1. I’m currently working on a cultural history of corporate capitalism in the United States — The Enchantments of Mammon: Corporate Capitalism and the American Moral Imagination — in which I’m arguing that, yes, the whole disenchantment/re-enchantment narrative has to be ditched. Although, as Roland Boer and several other poster have rightly argued, the tale of “disenchantment” is generated out of capitalist practice, the world has never really been “disenchanted.” Capitalism represents a repression and displacement of enchantment — or, to put it in Michael and Anne’s terms, it represents a perversion of our desire for a sacramental way of being in the world. Obviously, I can’t provide the evidence here, but I think you can see this in post-Civil War economic theory, management literature, industrial design, the varieties of corporate-produced culture, etc. (If anyone’s interested, I published an article in the June 2005 Modern Theology which addresses these issues. If I were to re-write it now, I’d put more distance between myself and radical orthodoxy, but I’d still affirm most of what I wrote then.)

    Thus, I don’t think one can ditch the old narrative, however, without the help of theology, specifically the Catholic theology of sacramentality to which Michael and Anne refer. If “disenchantment” is a product of the cultural logic of capitalism, then does it not follow that secularity is itself a product of capitalism? If that’s the case, then theology may turn out to be the most formidable form, not only of anti-capitalist critique, but of socialist theory. And I’m not talking about the phony “socialism” of John Milbank (or Alasdair whatever he calls himself these days), but something akin to that of Fr. Herbert McCabe, the marvelous Dominican and socialist who was a friend and mentor of Terry Eagleton.

  2. I’ve been thinking about this idea for a bit. I fundamentally agree with you here, though I’ve been wondering — if the narrative of re/disenchantment is fundamentally of a capitalist world, what can that lead us to say about pre-capitalist (i.e. ancient) fantasy literature? I’m thinking about Apulieus, Lucian, even Tobit (maybe you could even go with apocalyptic here, but I’m thinking more of the narrative, ‘novelistic’ mode). Why would ancient people have flights of fancy if their world wasn’t disenchanted? That’s not a rhetorical question — it really is something that’s been puzzling me!

    This post was ages ago in internet time, but in the chance you see this, I’d be curious to hear your thoughts.

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