Magic, Simon During suggests, has helped shape modern culture. Devoted to this deceptively simple proposition, During's superlative work, written over the course of a decade, gets at the aesthetic questions at the very heart of the study of culture. How can the most ordinary arts--and by "magic," During means not the supernatural, but the special effects and conjurings of magic shows--affect people?
Modern Enchantments takes us deeply into the history and workings of modern secular magic, from the legerdemain of Isaac Fawkes in 1720, to the return of real magic in nineteenth-century spiritualism, to the role of magic in the emergence of the cinema. Through the course of this history, During shows how magic performances have drawn together heterogeneous audiences, contributed to the molding of cultural hierarchies, and extended cultural technologies and media at key moments, sometimes introducing spectators into rationality and helping to disseminate skepticism and publicize scientific innovation. In a more revealing argument still, Modern Enchantments shows that magic entertainments have increased the sway of fictions in our culture and helped define modern society's image of itself.
Simon During’s book shows deep, wide reading in an awe-inspiring range of disciplines, including urban history, German Romantic philosophy, and modern cultural critiques of consumption… Modern Enchantments is a richly informed, warmly argued addition to the growing number of books in which writers worry at the pervasive blurring of distinctions between act and appearance, organic consciousness and artificial intelligence, imagination and empirical experience, illusion and thought, reality TV and real life, dreams and money.
A well-researched and finely paced history of performance magic… During’s history and analysis is certainly thorough and compelling.
The first major academic work on secular magic—magic that makes no claim to the supernatural. The historical research is outstanding, while presented in an entertaining, indeed quite charming, manner. Yet Modern Enchantments is not only a pleasurable account of perhaps forgotten histories… During uses secular magics and their audiences to profoundly problematise assumptions that general culture does not have a plurality of modes of engaging with quite sophisticated nihilisms, materialisms, depths and depthlessnesses of a non-spiritual kind.
[This] is the first comprehensive academic history of stage magic, the product of vast research, and rewarding to read.
During documents the extent to which magic and magical thinking have pervaded, and continue to pervade, secular life…the author examines 19th- and 20th-century theatrical magic and ‘commercial conjuring’ with great sensitivity to the social and cultural context in the Western world. Equally fascinating is the analysis of magic and early film.
The erudition behind this book is massive, and as a critical act of sorting and synthesizing so vast a range of materials, it is impressively canny.
Modern Enchantments offers a history of ‘secular,’ or non-supernatural, or entertainment magic as an important but neglected constituent of modern culture… During moves confidently across three centuries of magic (and covers aspects of a few more besides). The sheer wealth of historical detail he provides is impressive, but no less impressive is the subtlety of his argumentation, and the suggestiveness of his claims… This extremely significant piece of work will appeal to literary critics, historians, and not least, devotees of magic.
Modern Enchantments is a magisterial, breathtaking book. Magic is everywhere, During notes, from the simple act of naming to the complicated technologies of the cinema. By connecting performance and religion, he brilliantly shows how older forms of ritual magic find a new and different space in modern culture, reappearing as show business, advertising, and fiction making. This dazzling and stimulating book is sure to rekindle wide interest in spiritualism and magic as makers of modern culture. Modern Enchantments is cultural history at its best.
- 352 pages
- 5-3/4 x 9 inches
- Harvard University Press
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