Some time ago I mentioned that Societas Magica were going to launch a blog. Well, that happened soon after, and I did not pay attention. So, quite overdue, here is the link to this new and valuable addition to the esoteric-et-cetera blog community.
So far there is only one post, but it is also a very good one that sets a high standard: “Ritual Magic and Conjured Bodies: A Philosophy and Methodology” by Damon Lycourinos. I was impressed with Damon’s paper at ESSWE4, on the use of Merleau-Ponty and embodiment theory in the analysis of contemporary ritual magical practice. In his first blog post at Societas Magica, Damon continues this exploration and offers, I think, some very valuable and stimulating reflections on how to theorise magical practice.
In particular, I couldn’t agree more with his complaint that talk about the body and embodiment in “postmodern” theorising has in fact not taken the body seriously at all – and that this could be remedied by returning to the phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty:
“…the study of body, and especially within the human sciences, is closely related to the postmodern rhetoric of the fragmentation of meaning,which can be interpreted as reflecting a yearning desire to establish a centre of meaning and play. Many postmodern thinkers have unjustly neglected the French phenomenologist’s interest in the ‘lived body’ by developing Mary Douglas’ concern with the body as socio-cognitive representation of reality. The tendency to favour a socio-political construction is clearly echoed in the works of Michel Foucault where the body is inscribed both hegemonically by the self and by external relationships in accordance with the power relations of a given society within a specific historical period. However, such postmodern concerns offer no positive proposal and only fall victim to their own endless repetitive patterns of deconstruction fuelled by a suspicion of all cultural formations.”
The “body” is merely a passive screen for cultural inscriptions; by contrast, with Merleau-Ponty “the body can be interpreted as the precondition for experience, and also in a pre-cognitive manner” (my emphases).
With fear of derailing or hijacking the discussion, I think these points are valuable in light of a more general (meta)theoretical debate on the relation between “constructionist” approaches (in a veeery broad sense, sorry) on the one hand, and “naturalistic” and embodiment approaches on the other. This has been raging for quite some time in the humanities, of course, but in the past half decade or so it has especially resurfaced in the study of religion. Part as a controversy around the place of the “cognitive science of religion” vs. discursive and constructionist approaches, part as an attempt to revive better ways of doing phenomenology and discussing “experience”.(*)
I’m getting increasingly convinced that phenomenology belongs within a broader naturalistic approach, which includes the cognitive sciences of religion and offers the theoretical constraints and boundaries for other approaches (e.g. forms of social constructionism and discourse theory). These are thoughts I still have to probe deeper and yet have to formulate in a coherent way. Damon’s blog-article on embodiment and theories of “magic” remind me that I have a couple of unfinished articles in this area to get back to. It also opens what promises to be a very engaging academic blog.
(*) Some crucial monographs in this connection are Edward Slingerland, What Science Offer the Humanities (2008); Ann Taves, Religious Experience Reconsidered (2009); Manuel Vásquez, More Than Belief (2011).
This blog post by Egil Asprem was first published on Heterodoxology. It is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.