• Enchantment: Wonder in Modern Life

    by  • 31 October 2019 • Philosophy of Human Life • 0 Comments

    Dr Patrick Curry, author of Enchantment: Wonder in Modern Life introduces us to this unique book, which explores how enchantment plays out in a wide range of contexts – in love, art, religion and learning, in food and drink, and perhaps most significantly in our relationship with the natural world.

    I have spent at least fifteen years thinking about and writing Enchantment.  Looking back, I can see that moments of wonder – short but deep, overflowing with meaning, and potentially life-changing – have always been fundamentally valuable to me, something I want to understand, encourage and defend. But it’s also clear that I have long feared and fled disenchantment, their opposite, which I find hard to bear. So, I am happy to have finally found a subject which both satisfies and challenges me. The result is a book that mixes the personal with the scholarly.

    Enchantment is essentially the experience of wonder. It varies in intensity from charm, through delight, to joy. It is always an encounter of some kind, across a gap of differences, and thus a relationship. It involves both self and world, mind and body, spirit and matter, so it is never only ‘psychological’ or ‘physical’. And, unless it goes wrong, it’s not a matter of delusion or fantasy; enchantment shows us a truth about the world, and ourselves.

    This is what I explore in chapters on some of the principal contexts or sites of enchantment in our lives: love, art, religion, food and drink, learning, and nature. I should add that in my understanding of it, nature – the more-than-human natural world – is the ultimate home of enchantment. All these different kinds of enchantment are, at their core, expressions of natural enchantment. It is always possible for us as embodied, ecological beings to experience enchantment. But that adds another dimension of concern to what we are now doing to nature.

    It is helpful, even important, to understand what enchantment isn’t. Two contrasts are these: it isn’t what I call Dionysian – hot, all-consuming, orgasmic – and it isn’t what I call Apollonian: cold, controlling, totally ordered. In enchantment, differences aren’t obliterated, they just stop mattering so much.

    For the same reason, there are a couple of chapters on disenchantment. These are mostly where a couple of theories, tending to the wild side appear: one called ‘the Megamachine’ and the other called ‘the male wound’.

    I also discuss a theory I have about being ‘in the moment.’ I believe that it is impossible to be ‘in the moment’ without engaging the imagination, as well as the senses. The book also considers what you can do (and just as important, cannot do) to make enchantment a way of life – or part of a way of life, at least. However, you cannot make enchantment do anything, including show up. It’s wild! Enchantment cannot be created, managed, directed, rolled out, tested or developed. But you can create the conditions it likes, keep the door open, and pay attention if it does.

    One thing I didn’t discuss much in the book was this: in a time of suffering and crisis – ecological, political, social and often personal – is enchantment essentially frivolous, an unnecessary luxury? I don’t think so. J.R.R. Tolkien (one of my guides) says that ‘[Enchantment is] as necessary for the health and complete functioning of the Human as is sunlight for physical health’.

    Tolkien also defines enchantment as ‘a love and respect for other things, “animate” and “inanimate”, an unpossessive love of them as other’. This matters because in the end, we will only fight for what or who we love. Reason alone isn’t enough. Conversely, Tolkien’s student W.H. Auden defines false enchantment as the desire to possess the other or be possessed by it. It is the job of glamour – the controllable fake enchantment generated by the industries of advertising and spin – to create profitable false enchantment.

    Finally, let me quote Louis MacNeice, a poet who knew a thing or two about enchantment and was also writing in dark times (1939): ‘Minute your gesture but it must be made – your hazard, your act of defiance…hatred of hatred, assertion of human values, which is now your only duty.’ This book is my gesture. I hope you enjoy it.

    About the author

    Dr Patrick Curry was born in Canada and has lived in London for over forty years. He is the author of numerous well-regarded scholarly and popular books on topics ranging from environmental ethics to cosmology and literature, and has been a lecturer at the Universities of Kent and Bath Spa.

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