Notes on "Worlding the Earth"

November 15, 2013 — Leave a comment

This post will make more sense if you read it first.  I cannot overstate (and I never overstate–right?) how thrilled I am about getting to write there.

I’m also excited about the series I’m writing.  A question which has haunted me my entire adult life: where’d the magic go?  Once could almost say that I’ve spent a significant part of my life attempting to create gates for it to re-enter, and those gates have been equally within as without.

I will occasionally post stuff that didn’t quite make it into my posts there (1000 word limit is…going to be good for me, I think), including this one.

More on Chakrabarty

The quote I reference from Dipesh Chakrabarty deserves more attention.  I’ll quote it in full:

“One historicizes only insofar as one belongs to a mode of being in the world that is aligned with the principle of “disenchantment of the universe,” which underlies knowledge in the social sciences (and I distinguish knowledge from practice). But disenchantment is not the only principle by which we world the earth. The supernatural can inhabit the world in these other modes of worlding, and not always as a problem or result of conscious belief or ideas. The point is made in an anecdote about the poet W.B. Yeats, whose interest in fairies and other nonhuman beings of Irish folk tales is well known. I tell the story as it has been told to me by my friend David Lloyd:

One day, in the period of his extensive researches on Irish folklore in rural Connemara, William Butler Yeats discovered a treasure. The treasure was a certain Mrs. Connoloy who had the most magnificent repertoire of fairy stories that W.B. had ever come across. He sat with her in her little cottage from morning to dusk, listening to and recordering her stories, her proverbs and her lore. As twilight drew on, he had to leave and he stood up, still dazed by all that he had heard. Mrs. Connolly stood at the door as he left, and just as he reached the gate he turned back to her and said quietly, “One more question Mrs. Connolly, if I may. Do you believe in the fairies?” Mrs. Connolly threw her head back and laughed. “Oh, not at all Mr. Yeats, not at all.” W.B. paused, turned away and slouched off down the lane. Then he heard Mrs. Connolly’s voice coming after him down the lane: “But they’re there, Mr. Yeats, they’re there.”

As old Mrs Connolly knew, and as we social scientists often forget, gods and spirits are not dependent on human beliefs for their own existence; what brings them to presence are out practices.”

(Provincializing Europe, p. 111-112)

Dipesh Charkrabarty is particularly important because of his (I think) successful attempts to describe why historians who attempt to write histories of people without including their religious practices and the deities they worship are really just attempting to write their own sort of history over the actual experiences of the subject.  That is: historians (and other social scientists) who ignore the actual existence of the spirits and gods that a culture worships engage in the project of disenchantment.

A hypothetical example will help: if a people performs a pilgrimage because they believe their god has told them to do, writing about it as if their god doesn’t exist imposes a western, secular spin on their practice which speaks nothing to their experience.  If they experience their god as real, you cannot tell their history without acknowledging this.

This has many ramifications for debates within paganism that I won’t go into right now, except to point out that overlaying a secularist narrative on the experiences of people who believe that gods and spirits talk to them is part of the process of disenchantment.

On The Other

The Other is the term I use to describe all what we term spiritual and sublime.  It need not refer to gods and spirits (though, when I use it, it does), nor to any specific theology.

The Other is also a term from philosophy and psychology to describe that which is not Self.  There are shades of this in my usage of the word, but I mean something more.  Take the phrase Experiencing the Other in an Other and the difference may become clear.

If you’ve ever been to an anti-globalisation protest, you’ll have heard another usage of this term, and it’s more clear in non-American discourse than in America (the U.S. is pretty much one big machinery of discenchantment…).  The chant: “Another world is possible” can and should be also construed as An Other world is possible.  One of the translations of the french word for anti-globalization is Altermondialism, or Other/Alternate-worlding.  The fact that so many anti-globalisation protestors were also neo-pagans, new-agers, and other spiritual “deviants” should suggest that there is a link between embracing The Other and fighting economic injustice. 

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