Ross, Stephen David. Enchanting: Beyond Disenchantment.
"Enchantments shimmer everywhere" (128), says Stephen David Ross, author of Enchanting: Beyond Disenchantment. Ross conceives of and presents enchantment as questions, multiplicities, heresies, and caesuras, and he conceives of disenchantment as answers, norms, orthodoxies, grasping for closure. However, for Ross, enchantment and disenchantment are the conditions of possibility for one another. Intertwined, they are inevitable processes that interrupt and betray one another, interrupt and betray themselves. This is why there can be no definitive and final assertions about what enchantment and disenchantment are, at least not without inviting corresponding betrayals. Yet, enchantment, anarchistic, in Ross's view, repeatedly has the first and last laugh against disenchantment. Parody, play, puns, purple prose, and poetry proliferate within and against academic scholarly norms, or, as Ross suggests, enchantment is equivalent to "mischievous fairies and pixies who laugh at the world behind its back, who do not understand the words normal and normality and the idea of normalization" (334).
Ross's argument ultimately reveals his conservative, anti-Marxist core-narrative, revealed in a parenthetical aside when Ross suggests that thinking of literature as communication is awful, close to disenchantment, but communism is worse (356). Ross's anarchism suggests why the book will delight some of us who study science fiction and fantasy, but Ross's anarchism (its hopes and fears) in the form of his book will disappoint others. Some of us experience the border guards that divide art from philosophy, magic from science, as hegemonic, wrong-headed, and alienating, while some of us experience such border guarding as useful, insightful, and welcoming. Against any border guards, Ross says enchantment is uncontainable, while "disenchantments take place hegemonically and insidiously in the midst of what they cannot contain" (74). His desire for enchantment is the desire for disunity and disobedience, as well as the desire for mischievous laughter. Indeed, with his book, Ross performs the disobedient role of a fairy or hobgoblin laughing at the world of philosophical and academic discourse with its rage for clarity, communication, order, logic, rational thought, and citing of scholarly authorities. Truth does not depend on citations, and "answers are always disenchanting" (335). However, Ross respects a few academic conventions--for example, there are titled and numbered chapters, presumably so that we can recognize the book as anti-philosophy philosophy, so that the book can find its academic-market niche.
Together the preface, introduction, and seven chapters loosely form cohering sections, but with each chapter reflecting and echoing the other chapters. We can exchange one chapter title for another or read chapters out of sequence without a loss of sound and sense, largely because of the proliferation of repetitions. The chapter titles reflect this repetition of anti-structure structure, representative of something like a fractal or a mise-en-abyme or a postmodern polychoral antiphonal liturgical chant: "Preface: Disenchantment"; "Introduction: Death of Nature"; "1: Nature's Enchantments"; "2: Truth's Enchantments"; "3: The Good Enchanting"; "4: Art Enchanting"; "5: Enchanting Bodies"; "6: Betraying Enchantment"; "7: Beyond Enchanting." For the postmodern essence of the book, we can read only the endnotes, which are often lengthy and fascinating--or irritating--depending on our responses to performances substituted for critiques. Ross sees the latter as a mode of disenchantment. However, he acknowledges, "I do not say that disenchanted truths are worthless, only disenchanted voices say such things, they say that enchanted truths are untruthful, unscientific, unworthy" (243). Conversely, enchanted voices "sing and squawk and chant and moan ... They ask and tell beyond every asking and telling" (243). Thus, these sounds of ecstatic enchantment represent and comprise Ross's praxis of philosophy as poetry, poetry as philosophy.
Against Max Weber's assertion that modernity "is characterized by rationalization and intellectualization and, above all, by the 'disenchantment of the world'" ("Science as a Vocation," 1918), Ross suggests that the world has always been disenchanted and enchanted. He thus substitutes the entanglement of disenchantment with enchantment for Michel Foucault's vision of power: diffused, embodied in discourse, neither an agency nor a structure, but a pervasive regime of truth. Ross simultaneously substitutes enchantment (subtracting disenchantment) for Gilles Deleuze's and Felix Guattari's lionization of schizophrenia, a primordial flux that theoretically underlies all existence. Ross says, "There is no choice in the madness of enchantment. This madness is not delirium but the wonder and abundance of the vision beyond division," and to "visions beyond accounting"(97), which is why Ross's anti-academic academic performance can be situated (happily or not) among mystic insurrectionaries, alchemists of the everyday, surrealist practitioners of psychic automatism and hypnogogia.
Entranced by (largely) poststructuralist dream-poetics, Ross often conjures a clamor of beings, echoing them, and yet, Ross is enthralled by the pre-modern image of parousia (a Second Coming, to be present and beside), which he describes as "the coming of what cannot be known, cannot be anticipated, except the anticipation of the unexpected and unknown" (204). This is the coming of revolutionary-apocalyptic-anarchistic-Messianic novae (that yet never finally arrive). As Ross argues, enchantment unsettles "all forms of mastery and authority, divine authority and priestly mastery as well as academic authority and scientific mastery"(14). Ross, Distinguished Research Professor of Philosophy, Interpretation, and Culture and Comparative Literature (SUNY-Binghamton), recognizing his scholarly-academic heresies, says he is "an academic philosopher who would be enchanting," and "an academic philosopher who believes that academic philosophy is disenchanting" (301), even toxic. He says, "One and many and more than one and less than many and gathered as one, all violent, guarded, oblique, betrayals beyond gathering. Wonder and abundance interrupt disenchantment's divisions in the multiplicities and anomalies of enchantment" (97).
Ross will frustrate scholars exhilarated by logical arguments with useful classifications and careful if also protean delineations, etymologies, and definitions. His continual use of watchwords such as "if there be such," "perhaps," "if you will," will irritate, generous and open as Ross intends these qualifiers to be. On the other hand, the occurrences of Ross's "I insist that" will also disappoint, since such insistences are followed by yet more italicized echo-performance-rhetoric, rather than by non-diegetic evidence or historical or close analysis of texts. Enchantment seems to be always self-referential, a begging of the question, a leap of faith. Ross writes as if "fairies dance among the inexhaustible senses of being" (153) and "science belongs to the wizards and witches as much as it belongs to science graduate students" (172-73). The phrase "as if' appears almost as often as "if there be such" and "I would be." Quite possibly "as if' stands in for a definition of enchantment, and, for Ross, "as if' is the closest we come to capital "T" Truth--if there be such. For example, he suggests "as if' magic is true, that we should keep in mind that enchantment is not "identical" with magic, but only because neither enchantment nor magic "can be identical with anything including themselves. They overspill" (333). But when Ross speaks of fairies, witches, and spirits, he suggests that these figures are real-world possible entities, which will delight fellow-travelers of the arcane, of the weird and the ghostly. Invoking Shakespeare's Hamlet, Ross says, "It is time to evoke a different relation to the spirits whose presence marks the enchantment of the earth" (15). He argues that "at least as human beings encounter it.... These ghosts or spirits, if they enchant us, are to be neither mastered nor implored, but spoken with and to. And never finally" (15). Ross adds, "There are always ghosts, and more, the earth is enchanted, spirits come back, interrupt our comfort ... To learn to live ecologically enchantedly relationally with spirits with ghosts with ..." (15; ellipses in original).
When Ross insists, eliding "as if," his argument is that of an anarchist. In fact, chapter three, "Truth's Enchantments," contains a catalogue of "guidelines to enchanted truth as given from the good anarchistic guidelines to the gift of truth," a catalogue that Ross repeats from one of his previous books. Such repetitions suggest that Enchanting is a gathering of what he has already said, plus more. It is a gathering of and an ungathering of large blocks of quotations from many philosophers and cultural theorists, often blended with Ross's words from multiple books, in italics, as if they and he and all enchanted voices thronged by disenchanted voices were one in their disunity: this is the schizophrenic primordial flux that Ross presents as if virtually free of the ideological maneuvers of any regime. Enchantments, he says, "engender asking, encourage telling, hover at the edges, compound confusions, trick us with their misdirections, incite us with their fragmentations, proliferate in betrayal" (365), or, one might say that, for Ross, ruses of history = ruses of mischievous fairies.
To those who prefer rational philosophy and historical materialism, rather than fairy or hobgoblin idealism or demi-god fantasy, Ross's anti-academic magical insistences will seem like pre-modern superstition, to which rationalists will be allergic. To many of us, poets and critical theorists included, Ross's proliferating repetitions will resemble parodies of the poetry of the Beat Generation or of Jim Morrison, or will resemble sentimental, kitsch-lyrics from 1970s soft rock music (Albert Morris, Barry Manilow), which Ross may intend also as parody. "Prehensions prehending prehensions, feelings feeling feelings, perspectives perspecting perspectives, touch touching touch, asking asking asking"(140), he says. But if Ross, with his strange enchantments, is right, or at least lovable, when he says that "enchanted truth belongs to hobgoblins and fairies witches and demons lesser and greater gods," and that enchantment "belongs to them because it belongs to all things, in their nooks and crannies, in their caesuras, the breaks and ruptures that compose their bodies, that interrupt their minds and spirits" (188), then Ross will nourish a sense of fantasy that believes in itself as fantasy. He will fulfill yearned-for flashes of uncritical genius at the edge of the void, and a sense that "the greatest miracle and wonder by far is that [we] are ordinary, enchanted in [our] ordinariness"(188).
But I am afraid that he will alienate a large portion of a sympathetic audience, thus contributing more to the spirit of disenchantment than to the spirit of enchantment he favors. He may not much care. He may mischievously laugh at any review that attempts to pin him to (anti-Marxist) ideological truth-statements or that attempts to unpin him from critical genius, both missions of course destined to fail, designed to betray. After all, alienating a sympathetic audience is designed to continue the disunity that he admires, to affirm the primordial flux that he desires.
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|Publication:||Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2014|
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