Maya Deren on technological sorcery

15 07 2010

Indeed, the best condition for magical action is not the primitive community with its collective emphasis, but the modern community, with its individualistic emphasis, and it is here that one may experience the pre-eminent spectacle of the magician at work. He conceives his plans in almost solitary secrecy, or with a few cohorts; he is feverishly protective of the exclusive right to exploit the power of his discovery or invention; he is frequently concerned with an almost occult effort to divine that special twist of public taste which makes for a hit or a best-seller; he is devoted to the idea of a magic combination of words in a certain just-so order, which is a catchy slogan; he labors to create a skillfully obsessive image of material or sexual seduction, and is not above accomplishing this with a maximum of artifice and connotative sleight of hand; he is involved in a complex and formal series of cabbla-like manipulations involving “contacts”, publicity incantations, and even what might be accurately termed the cocktail libation. Moreover, this is all pursued in the interests of personal aggrandizement and entirely irrespective, in a profound sense, of the public welfare. The hexes, elixirs and fetishes of primitive magicians are paltry achievements compared to the vast powers of such modern magicians.

-from The Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti

AG and I watched the above film, and it reminded me of this quote. Of course, Deren writes this to get the point across to here Christian and post-Christian readers that the society of Haitian voudou (in which sorcery is actually something looked down upon) has nothing on modern society, where manipulation is not just accepted, but is a way of life. This is not a new observation: Giordano Bruno’s real sympathetic magic has more to do with modern advertising and social propaganda than Neoplatonic theurgy. “The bond of all bonds is love,” according to Bruno, but that love can be used to make people do what you want.

I look into some pretty questionable things: folk Catholic prayers, botanicas, white magic, black magic, and so forth. But I really do think Deren is right. We look to those systems like voudou and santeria and see the hand of the devil. But our society manipulates desire all of the time, convinces people to go into debt to buy things they really don’t need, and transports images that present us with things that we shouldn’t really enjoy, but we don’t see the “sorcery” behind this. Who then are the poorly catechized ones? The real “Christo-pagans”?