February 22, 2013

Hauntings + Enchantments

Of Haunting.

In  Jane Bennett’s introduction to her book The Enchantment of Modern Day Life, she writes:

This book tells a story of contemporary life that accentuates its moments of enchantment and explores the possibility that the affective force of those moments might be deployed to propel ethical generosity. It claims both that the contemporary world retains the power to enchant humans and that humans can cultivate themselves so as to experience more of that effect. Enchantment is something that we encounter, that hits us, but it is also a comportment that can be fostered through deliberate strategies. One of those strategies might be to give greater expression to the sense of play, another to hone sensory receptivity to the marvelous specificity of things. Yet another way to enhance the enchantment effect is to resist the story of the disenchantment of modernity.

For that story has itself contributed to the condition it describes. Its rhetorical power has real effects. The depiction of nature and culture as orders no longer capable of inspiring deep attachment inflects the self as a creature of loss… While I agree that there are plenty of aspects of contemporary life that fit the disenchantment story, I also think there is enough evidence of everyday enchantment to warrant the telling of an alter-tale. Such sites of enchantment today include, for example, the discovery of sophisticated modes of communication among nonhumans, the strange agency of physical systems at far-from-equilibrium states, and the animation of objects by video technologies–an animation whose effects are not fully captured by the idea of “commodity fetishism.”

To be enchanted is to be struck and shaken by the extraordinary that lives amid the familiar and the everyday. Starting from the assumption that the world has become neither inert nor devoid of surprise but continues to inspire deep and powerful attachments, I tell a tale designed to render that attachment more palpable and audible. If popular psychological wisdom has it that you have to love yourself before you can love another, my story suggests that you have to love life before you can care about anything. The wager is that, to some small but irreducible extent, one must be enamored with existence and occasionally even enchanted in the face of it in order to be capable of donating some of one’s scarce mortal resources to the service of others.