Readers
Magic
9 essays
Compiled by Sonia D‘Alto

From an anthropological and philosophical perspective magic is presented as a transcendental escape from the contingency of the world. Nowadays it is a metaphysical alternative to the technique, presenting itself not only as mitopoiesis but also as counterculture. We can meet the magic in the archaic, the weird, the animistic, or on the contrary, it could be caused by a reaction to the technological. After all, the most advanced technology borders on magic and on the extraordinary. Magic declare the effective existence of another world, using invisibility into the regime of visibility. Magic is a world-making activity.

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Isabelle Stengers
Reclaiming Animism
Originally published in July 2012

Some people love to divide and classify, while others are bridge-makers—weaving relations that turn a divide into a living contrast, one whose power is to affect, to produce thinking and feeling.

Oxana Timofeeva
What Lenin Teaches Us About Witchcraft
Originally published in May 2019

In this impersonal multiplicity, there is no one. What does this “no one” mean? It means a structural impossibility for “one” to be. A comrade is never alone—not in the trivial sense that there is always someone else around, but in the more radical sense that you are always many. You are Legion. This is how you succeed in “the fine art of not getting arrested,” persecuted, or burned alive by the inquisitors of your age. When you are many, you turn your back to the police officer and disappear. Comradeship creates a shield against the witch hunters who will try to catch us one by one, but who will never destroy the whole set of alliances that make up the Great Sorcery International. You know what I mean.

Franco “Bifo” Berardi and Massimiliano Geraci
Killing Swarm, Part 1
Originally published in September 2019

But a bird in flight has no idea of the shape of its flock. The idea of a flock emerges from creatures that are completely unaware of their collective form, of its size and formation. A bird that joins a flock is blind to the grace and cohesiveness of the geometries of flight. After their flash action, those kids return to their daily activities. They do their homework and curl up in front of the TV to watch a reality show. The brain of a bee can remember things for six days, but the beehive as a whole has a memory of three months, which is twice the average life span of a bee. Ah, I forgot—producing a single spoonful of honey takes the entire life span of twelve bees. Think of that the next time you spread honey on a piece of toast. Think of it, my friend.

Susanne Lang and Darius James
Magic Hat – Property of the People
Originally published in March 2010

Nikolay Smirnov
Shaman, Schismatic, Necromancer: Religious Libertarians in Russia
Originally published in March 2020

According to the traditionalist mindset, modern repressions have filled the world with troubled spirits. This is why the world has come to resemble a horror movie. Case in point: the vivid emergence of the Yakut horror film in the post-perestroika era, coinciding with a broad return to shamanic beliefs—both expressions of an ethnic renaissance. As the film Setteeh Sir suggests: this land has been stripped of its tradition, as the NKVD has confiscated the shaman’s tambourine. The couple at the center of the film return to their ancestral Yakut village, largely emptied in the years of Sovietization. They face a succession of difficulties, because the place is filled with ancestral spirits enraged at their progeny. Redemption will not come easy: malignant spirits, wrought by human evil and human error, will not simply go away. In a larger sense, horror is people and ideas driven out of society. The ghoulish corpses and dolls are those whom society has destroyed in its civilizing efforts.

Elvia Wilk
The Word Made Fresh: Mystical Encounter and the New Weird Divine
Originally published in June 2018

A biologist enters mysterious territory on a mission to comprehend the incomprehensible. Together with three colleagues—an anthropologist, a psychologist, and a surveyor—she crosses an imperceptible border into a region known as Area X. They are the twelfth expedition to cross the border. They are all women.

Gilbert Simondon
The Genesis of Technicity
Originally published in May 2017

The work of art re-establishes a reticular universe at least for perception. But the work of art doesn’t really reconstruct the primitive magical universe: this aesthetic universe is partial, integrated, and contained in the real and actual universe that has emerged from the split. In fact, the work of art above all sustains and preserves the ability to experience aesthetic feeling, just as language sustains the ability to think, without nevertheless itself being identical to thought.

Is it a Bird? A Plane? No, It’s a Magic Chair
Originally published in September 2011

Aren’t our favorite Superman stories the ones in which Superman—drained of all his powers by Lex Luthor, who has hidden kryptonite in a pill or behind a painting, take your pick—must recover his strength to outwit Luthor? Reduced to a pile of muscles, the Man of Steel is momentarily vulnerable and forced to rely on the only superpower he has left—one that we ordinary mortals share with him: his creativity and imagination. The pleasures of these stories arise precisely from the challenge of things not being ideal. Given the perpetual threat under which Superman lives, it would not be inaccurate to say that he flies between the stratospheres of the ideal and the impossible. This hovering between perpetual impossibility and an absolute potential also measures the distance between the bespectacled, clumsy Clark Kent and his alter ego. But what if the true alter-ego of Superman is not Clark Kent, but Walter Mitty, the everyman from James Thurber’s 1939 short story The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, who dreams his way into his absolute potential much like all of us? What if Superman is the necessary fiction that allows Kent/Mitty to fly, despite the heaviness of the real world around them? After all, Walter Mitty is the one who really understands that the most subversive power we possess is our imagination—it penetrates walls, stops bullets, flies across the world, and in it we are all light as air.

María Iñigo Clavo
Traces, Signs, and Symptoms of the Untranslatable
Originally published in April 2020

I agree with the above critics that these artworks create spectacles out of non-Western cultural practices, and that there are dangers in bringing rituals into the art space. Yet I am also concerned with how the criticism reflects limitations of translation, as these limitations will always mislead us into interpreting these artworks as exercises of spectacularization or performance, corrupting the essence of the ceremonies. In using translation as a tool to understand the unknown, what potentialities are we missing?

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