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Modern Enchantments

Modern Enchantments

The Cultural Power of Secular Magic

Simon During

ISBN 9780674013711

Publication date: 03/01/2004

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.

    —Marina Warner, Financial Times


  • Simon During is Australian Research Professor at the Centre for the History of European Discourses, University of Queensland.

Book Details

  • 352 pages
  • 5-3/4 x 9 inches
  • Harvard University Press