I….didn’t like it:
Witches of America unfolds not as a search for magic or witches, but the story of bourgeois obsession with the exotic. Rejecting her own spirituality even as she reports clear visions of rituals on Crete and childhood stories of matriarchs seeing the dead, Mar repeats the precise traumatic cycle of the Western colonist.
Severed from ancestral ties through the unholy bargain of Capital, the capitalist subject then seeks to regain a sense of authenticity by pillaging others. Those others, be they the subaltern colonial subject or the poor witch raising two children offer access to their wisdom and traditions out of sympathy, unaware that the seeker has no intention of ever giving up her position of wealth and privilege.
Just as the worst spiritual tourists later go on to sell the wisdom freely given them by the colonized in expensive New Age retreats, Alex Mar has done the very same thing, ruthlessly–gleefully–selling on the Capitalist market the stories of the witches who offered her their knowledge, friendship, and trust.
There are a few things about the review that I suspect may seem curious to some. Firstly, my references to the Green Scare may seem a bit disconcerting, maybe overblown to some. Is witchcraft really that ‘dangerous’ to the powerful?
The best person to answer that question, however, would the person asking it. Is your witchcraft dangerous to the Capitalist, the exploiter, the dominator, the corporate polluter, the greed-soaked entrepreneur, the abuser, to Authority? If the answer is ‘no,’ you may actually have more to be concerned about than my rhetoric.
Secondly, the question of ‘spectators’ is quite important here. If you haven’t read Peter Grey’s Beneath the Rose, I recommend doing so, really. It may, like my analysis of Mar’s book, seem extreme. But really–why are we making it so easy for people to collect information about what we’re up to? Why are we ‘checking-in’ on Facebook and telling some corporation who we’re with at the time?
And besides the question of loss of privacy, there’s the problem of the gaze. I call Mar’s book ‘pornographic’ because it is, and not because there are ‘pendulous tits.’ Rather, its descriptions of what people do are the highest form of spectacle, the sort that arouses, the sort we use to to replace our own involvement–that is, pornography.
An interesting side-note–did you know that the essays I write which are the most personal, the most self-revealing, also happen to be the ones that become the most popular? Knight of Cups, Knight of Wands, which tells the story of my painful experience trying to come out as gay in a Christian College, has been read at least 10,000 times here and a few other places. It was shared hundreds of times amongst gay post-christians on several threads, read by people at that gods-awful college (I got many emails from people there, also alumni), and yet…well, it’s a story of my pain.
Of course, it’s not just a story of my pain, but a story of how you survive it, which I think is what people are really looking for. And in that context, I’m quite damn willing to share those stories. But, still–there’s a bit of delight in other people’s misery that comes into play. I’m always aware of it, actually–in fact, I use it as a tool. Sharing vulnerability with a stranger is a great way to get them to see into your world with you, long enough that you can show them something about their world.
But I won’t say it isn’t exhausting sometimes. That, I think, is why I found Alex Mar’s book so incredibly odious. She doesn’t share her own vulnerability, unless you believe her that falling in love with creative men or not getting to ride horses every weekend like the other girls in her high-end Manhattan neighbourhood and private school are tragedies.
Rather, she makes spectacle out of other’s vulnerability.
That’s the real fucking tragedy.