Spell

That words are sometimes best understood from their context can be seen in the instance of the word spell, ranging from the clarity of spell it out, to the obfuscation of he was under her spell. If talk or speech is measured by the speaker's intent and not the words themselves, then it is not a far-fetched idea to consider some words as nets that are cast by those who seek to control.
In the chapter of Elemire Zolla's Eclipse of the Intellectual entitled, "The Breviary of Black Magic," he writes that only the lackadaisical or ignorant would fail to see that such magic exists - in words seeking "to enchant, to petrify, to make others subject to our worse nightmare." Spells range from the philosophical - where critical thought of "slaughter houses and textile mills" is met with circuitous rhetoric like: "Then you prefer vegetarianism and a scarcity of cloth?" - to spells of criticism itself.
Spells of criticism are criticisms devoid of care. "It is not permissible to say, 'You are a miser,' but only, 'You could have afforded that expense without harm, and our not doing so has deprived you of an advantage,' because love points out the harm, while indifference to the person dictates silence concerning the classification."
There are also literary spells, where writers are harassed with questions about technique and devotion, like lovers harangued by questions of how they will make it work, and whether their beloved is really the one. "Magic aims at destroying vocation, the part of God. If we reply by invoking the ineffable, we are condemned to classify what can be defined as belonging to the category of the indefinable, thus condemning ourselves either to the exaltation of the irrational and unutterable, or the clumsiness of assertions that are untrue because they are partial. We lose contact with present reality, turning to the past for justification and precedents, to the future for guarantees. The pernicious operation has been carried out; the stricken man has been bound hand and foot.
"It is the characteristic of black magic that once you make the first defensive move you are hopelessly imprisoned ... the evil person ... goes on weaving sophisms: 'Do you think you are different from the rest of the world? What if you were dreaming? You must look for evidence in your favour' ... The victim will either turn into a rebel and rush out in search of allies, thus misrepresenting himself, or become an exasperated coerced creature, overemphasizing traits that he once manifested naturally".

 
The one casting the spell "sows suspicion, insinuates, alludes, or pretends that clarity, definition and evidence are vulgar concerns. Naturally, he exploits every weakness of his spellbound prey." And just when one thinks that Zolla sees no way out of such magic, he conveys the classical principle that one is not to think either good or evil of oneself (for that would mean being bewitched) and advises we remember the Hasidic tale of the rabbi who would ask people what they would do if they found money on the ground. Those who said they would take it were rebuked; those who said they'd return it were reprimanded. One day, a man replied that he didn't know what he would do in such a situation, to which the rabbi rejoiced, because of that man's wisdom.
To spell out how we're to handle spells that are cast, it seems we are to inhabit the present fully without making any claims on ourselves. Reading Zolla's chapter, I was reminded of Gadamer's emphasis on the importance of spontaneity in conversation - that it ought to be an unexpected development for all involved, a spontaneous to-and-fro. I find it ironic that the very forces that have made it (arguably) possible to speak of "black magic" today are the very same ones that are urging us into the spontaneity that not only breaks such spells, but urges us to be more fully alive and present. It is no longer possible to hide behind the lavish gown of etiquette. Convention no longer speaks for us: we have to do all of the speaking ourselves.



No comments:

Post a Comment

Creative Commons License