Enchantment and concrete magic

8 May

What is enchantment? Is Dr Patrick Curry (Swindon Spring Festival online) talking about fairies at the bottom of the garden? Probably not with a Dr in front of his name. Though the Godfather of modern detective procedurals who had Sir as a title, Arthur Conan Doyle, believed in tiny winged pixes and mediums.

Dr Curry means ‘concrete magic’, as coined by philosopher Max Weber.

Ok so is he talking about Brutalist architecture or the M6 spaghetti junction?

“There are many mysteries here,” Patrick says. “You are not in charge; it is a gift. If you are lucky to be graced with its presence, you can learn from it.” Interviewer Matt comments, “It is unbidden….A balance between the unbidden and making it happen.”

Like what?

Falling deeply in love for one. Hallucinogenic drug taking, illustrated by the mescaline imbument of the author Aldous Huxley for another (though I think Dr Pat undermines his enchantment point by saying Huxley took it for purely academic reasons).

Ah here we go. Fairies or: elves. Lothlaurien is the ‘heart of enchantment’ in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. The elf Galadriel is ‘present and yet remote’. “Fairy is where you find yourself when you are enchanted.” but “We can’t stay there because we are not fairies.”

And do women have a more direct link with enchantment? Patrick thinks so. ‘It is not easy to encapsulate this theory,” he admits. “The female gives birth to life. Between a mother and daughter there is continuity; between a mother and a man there needs to be a cutting off from the source of life…Men are in an odd position…The terms are different…He needs to find his way back to a non-possessive relationship.’ OK.

Enchantment is vulnerable but is our birthright. It can destroyed by operationalising but will appear somewhere. You can create the conditions for it to happen, but cannot make it to order.

Can we disenchant the world? Captial plus techno-science plus the state can do it. Enchantment has ‘non-market value’ and presents a serious impediment to the programme of mastery. Glamour creates fake enchantment by creating the desire to possess or be possessed, which the mega machine can then sell you. Addiction is built into the business model and is disenchanting. But we are ecological and social animals and we can’t ultimately be disenchanted.

It involves the outer world as much as the inner world. It is both priceless and useless. (Curry)

A perpetual perishing. (Huxley)

Beware: disenchantment can be found in education: ‘are those leaves really dancing or do they just appear to be dancing?’

Matt describes the school children going to Lower Shaw Farm, his and the festival’s home, on an official visit: they will immediately jump in the puddles – until they have official puddle time, that is.

And how do we live in a way which leaves the door open to enchantment and an ‘honoured place in one’s life’?

I don’t feel I’ve done justice to Dr Patrick’s talk, properly explained what he means by enchantment.

The problem was, at the start, I was distracted by not being in a darkened theatre with other audience members listening to him talk on stage, with children rushing in and out of my bedroom which is a makeshift office while the usual one is being decorated.

And also outside the window, in front of the splendid beech tree, the dandelion clock seeds floated and whizzed around like freedom, their white tufts catching the sunlight.

Thoughts by Louisa Davison on Dr Patrick Curry’s talk on his book, Enchantment: Wonder in Modern Life, as part of Swindon Spring Lockdown Festival 8 May 2020.

See it here: Dr Curry’s talk

One Response to “Enchantment and concrete magic”


  1. There has to be an alternative | Festival Chronicle - 8th May 2020

    […] we don’t mean the commodified creativity, blue sky thinking that sells stuff. Like Dr Curry said on earlier on today, this is the kind of unbidden stuff that requires the right conditions. A society that creates […]

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