Modern Enchantments

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Magic, Simon During suggests, has helped shape modern culture. Devoted to this deceptively simple proposition, During's superlative work, written over the course of a decade, gets at the aesthetic questions at the very heart of the study of culture. How can the most ordinary arts--and by "magic," During means not the supernatural, but the special effects and conjurings of magic shows--affect people?

Modern Enchantments takes us deeply into the history and workings of modern secular magic, from the legerdemain of Isaac Fawkes in 1720, to the return of real magic in nineteenth-century spiritualism, to the role of magic in the emergence of the cinema. Through the course of this history, During shows how magic performances have drawn together heterogeneous audiences, contributed to the molding of cultural hierarchies, and extended cultural technologies and media at key moments, sometimes introducing spectators into rationality and helping to disseminate skepticism and publicize scientific innovation. In a more revealing argument still, Modern Enchantments shows that magic entertainments have increased the sway of fictions in our culture and helped define modern society's image of itself.

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Editorial Reviews

Gauri Viswanathan
Modern Enchantments is a magisterial, breathtaking book. Magic is everywhere, During notes, from the simple act of naming to the complicated technologies of the cinema. By connecting performance and religion, he brilliantly shows how older forms of ritual magic find a new and different space in modern culture, reappearing as show business, advertising, and fiction making. This dazzling and stimulating book is sure to rekindle wide interest in spiritualism and magic as makers of modern culture. Modern Enchantments is cultural history at its best.
James Chandler
The erudition behind this book is massive, and as a critical act of sorting and synthesizing so vast a range of materials, it is impressively canny.
Nicholas Daly
Modern Enchantments offers a history of "secular," or non-supernatural, or entertainment magic as an important but neglected constituent of modern culture...During moves confidently across three centuries of magic (and covers aspects of a few more besides). The sheer wealth of historical detail he provides is impressive, but no less impressive is the subtlety of his argumentation, and the suggestiveness of his claims...This extremely significant piece of work will appeal to literary critics, historians, and not least, devotees of magic.
Financial Times - Marina Warner
Simon During is a most curious and learned and thoughtful guide to a fundamental way we live now.
Choice - R. Sugarman
During documents the extent to which magic and magical thinking have pervaded, and continue to pervade, secular life...the author examines 19th- and 20th-century theatrical magic and "commercial conjuring" with great sensitivity to the social and cultural context in the Western world. Equally fascinating is the analysis of magic and early film.
James Flint
A well-researched and finely paced history of performance magic...During's history and analysis is certainly thorough and compelling.
Andrew Murphie
The first major academic work on secular magic - magic that makes no claim to the supernatural. The historical research is outstanding, while presented in an entertaining, indeed quite charming, manner. Yet Modern Enchantments is not only a pleasurable account of perhaps forgotten histories...During uses secular magics and their audiences to profoundly problematise assumptions that general culture does not have a plurality of modes of engaging with quite sophisticated nihilisms, materialisms, depths and depthlessnesses of a non-spiritual kind. . .
Technology and Culture - Fred Nadis
[This] is the first comprehensive academic history of stage magic, the product of vast research, and rewarding to read.
Publishers Weekly
Staged magic, with no claim to true divine power, has a wide-ranging influence on modern culture, claims During (Foucault and Literature), professor of English and cultural studies at the University of Melbourne, Australia. "From the moment that they were widely tolerated and commercialized," he writes, "magic shows have helped provide the terms and content of modern culture's understanding and judgment of itself." To back up this sweeping assertion, During begins with a terse account of how magic from ancient times to modern was "transformed into jokes, or more precisely, amusements... old marvels or wonders normally survive as such only with a tinge of irony." During describes a substantial number of performers who worked "at the intersection of entertainment, science, and magic." Rather less convincingly, a chapter on "Magic and Literature" juxtaposes writers like Edgar Allan Poe and the French eccentric Raymond Roussel, but not in a way that suggests a real continuity between them. During's interest in magic, the book's subject, is more metaphorical than that of the literal practitioners of magic described herein, like the Frenchman Robert-Houdin. Well-researched, and clearly written in academic prose, this study nevertheless comes to grief by the sheer range of material it attempts to digest. 12 halftones. (Apr.) Forecast: Despite the popular subject, the method and manner here make a crossover highly unlikely, but with so little work in the gray area between performance and literature of magic, the mere attempt at synthesis, along with the intriguing bibliographical references, should generate some attention on campus. Even readers in academia may find this study overreaching and inconclusive, however. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674013711
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 3/1/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 350
  • Product dimensions: 6.14 (w) x 9.21 (h) x 0.73 (d)

Meet the Author

Simon During is Australian Research Professor at the Centre for the History of European Discourses at The University of Queensland.
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Table of Contents

1 Magic History: An Introduction 1
2 Enchantment and Loss: Theorizing Secular Magic 43
3 Egg-Bag Tricks and Electricity: The Founding of Modern Commercial Conjuring 74
4 Magic's Moment: The Illusion Business 107
5 From Magic to Film 135
6 Magic and Literature 178
7 Magic Places: The Lyceum and the Great Room, Spring Gardens 215
8 Spiritualism and the Birth of Optical Technologies 259
Notes 289
Index 327
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