Towards a Philosophy of Magic by J.F. Martel

When the sociologist Max Weber described our age as one of “disenchantment,” he lent weight to a story that moderns had been telling themselves since the dawn of the Enlightenment. It goes something like this: Whereas once we experienced a magical cosmos teeming with incorporeal entities and moral forces, the maturation of the European intellect has dispelled all such illusions. The acid of reason has stripped the world of its former patina of meaning, leaving it to sparkle meaninglessly in what Samuel Beckett called the “dark vast.” Humans are now the locus of all thought and meaning, and whatever enchantment still exists must be forged in the crucible of isolated minds confronting the blank stare of the unmeaning real.

Must we continue to tell ourselves this story? Is there even any coherence in it? In this talk, J.F. Martel proposes another way of looking at reality, one rooted in strange insights that lie just beneath the surface of the modern worldview. These days, many thinkers are sensing the latent nihilism of modern disenchantment and trying to find ways out. For Martel, the way in is the way out. The problem may not be that we are too modern. It may be that we are not modern enough.


J. F. Martel is a writer on culture, philosophy, and religion. He is the author of Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice and co-hosts the Weird Studies Podcast.

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