Dis-enchantment once again

While I was out on my bicycle tour, Sean Burt posted this comment on my entry from 25 January called Dis/Re-enchantment:

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.

In a few earlier posts (here, here and here) I had argued that the idea of re-enchanting the world is one that is generated out of a capitalist context, where the narrative of enchantment-disenchantment-re-enchantment itself arises. Only in a world that seems to be abandoned by God (Lukacs) does it become possible to dream of re-enchantment. So a politics of re-enchantment (as the Radox – Adam Kotsko’s wonderful term – people propose, or as some like Michael Carden would like to see) is itself tied in with the logic of capitalism itself.

However, Sean raises another issue: did people view the world in this way at other times and places? Initially, I would have to say yes. Think of the ancients who began to allegorise the gods of Homer, as but one example. What do I do with these earlier moments? One path is to pick up the argument of Adorno and Horkheimer and suggest that a dialectic of enchantment and disenchantment has been with us for some time now. Invoke disenchantment (science, reason, common sense) and you get all manner of enchantments cropping up; push for re-enchantment and you will find an internal push to disenchantment (as, for example, with the Christian logic of the secular state). Another path, which actually carries on from the preceding one, is to argue that the possibility of thinking in such terms only arose in a certain capitalist context, which can then be retrofitted into earlier historical moments. It’s a little like the feeling one gets in applying a new method to the Bible: it all seems to work so well, so much so that the biblical authors seem to have read Lacan, Derrida, Zizek or Marx …

Advertisements

5 thoughts on “Dis-enchantment once again

  1. The dialectic of enchantment and disenchantment preceded capitalism by a few millennia. You can’t blame capitalism for humanity’s natural ability to find new ways in which to be irrational. It is the fault of the Realm of Nature. Capitalism just put this ability to a particular use.

  2. Speaking just of Deane’s and Roland’s comments to the post (still considering the points in the post proper), I’m inclined to think that this line of thinking repeats the narrative, as if to say: there was a time when humans just did their natural human things, and then with the modern/capitalist world, things changed. I instead want to start from the point of view that the fantastic in the ancient world itself derived from historical contingencies, likely even from economic contingencies (the rise of a more monetary economy in the Hellenistic era?), though I don’t yet know what I think any connection might be.

    1. That’s a good point, Sean, although I would rather put it in terms of very different narratives that would respond to situations. Ours is a dis/re-enchantment one, but what are the other narratives?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s