This series of essays aims to open up, with respect to the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, the ridiculously large question, “What does law have to do with it?”
Read side by side, these two stunning commentaries on Magic’s Reason—for which I am immensely grateful—both seem to revolve around an implicit antinomy between what I might call symbolic care and symbolic violence. To think is to compare, Mei Zhan tells us; to compare is to produce similarity and difference, commonality and alterity. To interact—as a close-up magician might with a spectator, in Chris Goto-Jones’s telling—is to enact comparisons between self and other. Comparison carries both logical implications and moral weight. When do our comparisons ennoble and empower, spark creativity and create possibility? When do they mangle and maim, stifle thought and limit freedom? Like anything that imposes order, comparisons may effect care and violence simultaneously. Can we disentangle these valences? How should we social scientists approach comparison—and particularly comparison in the form of analogy—as both thinking subjects and moral agents?
Jones takes his readers on an ethnohistorical journey that traverses instrumental magic (which is mostly occult and “primitive”), stage magic (which aspires to be modern by calling out the trickery and confusion of instrumental magic), and anthropological methodology (which works by analogical comparisons, including the comparisons of various forms of magic as well as between magical and scientistic thinkings) from the mid-nineteenth century onward. In doing so he explicates a set of partial and complex associations within which both stage magic and anthropology unfold through each other in a manner perhaps analogous to how Hobbes and Boyle collaborated in carving up the domains of society and science in the production of modernity. Through this process both stage science and anthropology emerged as mostly secular and mostly modernist Euro-American cultural projects. Jones unveils to us a world saturated with analogical imaginaries, aspirations, and interventions. He parses them out into a succession of analogy, disanalogy, misanalogy, counteranalogy, native analogy, analogical ladder, and meta-analogy—each of which destabilizes or refigures the analytical practice preceding it. Jones argues that analogical imaginaries, when used by the moderns, have not only secularized and disenchanted Other people’s cosmologies, but also created an enterprise of knowledge production and world making suspended in the dialectical dance of enchantment and disenchantment.
As the superstar-magician walks through an urban shanty in the middle of his television special Magic Man (1998), David Blaine’s voiceover explains that he has spent years walking around America doing magic, but that he was “curious how they would respond in Haiti, a culture which is deeply rooted in magic.” He performs some simple sleight-of-hand (multiplying sponge balls) for a child in the street, who responds with suitable delight. Then the scene shifts—lightning flashes and thunder claps—local Haitians are dancing in a dark chamber festooned with ritual iconography, wielding blades, spitting alcohol; Blaine’s voiceover informs us that “in Haiti, magic and voodoo are considered the same thing.” A brief montage transports us out of the city to a rural road in the sunshine, with Blaine walking after a local man, asking him to wait so that he can show him some magic. The man is uncomfortable, reluctant, attempting to flee. “It’s not—no, no, look. It’s not black magic . . . it’s not bad . . . it’s okay . . . It’s good. It is good,” reassures Blaine, pursuing the man. For the audience, the implication is that the man considers magic and voodoo to be the same, and that voodoo is something to fear; he does not want to participate. Finally the man relents, stops, and turns to Blaine, who repeats his reassurance: “It is good.” But the man counters, “No [it is good] for you, not for me.”
The line between critique and credulity, or between cynicism and naiveté, is at the heart of all of the books in this forum on “modernity’s resonances.” My tack on this question follows one man on his journey from east to west, beginning on Abenaki land, which was claimed in the seventeenth century by the French Crown and then in the eighteenth century by the British Crown. As a young man, Frederick Du Vernet found his networks among Anglican clergy and the Anglo-Canadian elite in Toronto, on land bound by treaties between the Anishinaabeg, the Haudenosaunee, and the British Crown. In mid-life, he ventured to the unceded territories of the Haida, Nisga’a, and Ts’msyen on the Pacific Northwest coast, where his networks expanded in two different ways. First, as a white missionary bishop living among a predominantly Indigenous population, he learned about the diversity of their languages and forms of property, their stories of creation, and their resistance to land dispossession and to state pressure to send their children to church-run residential schools.