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Magic, Miracles and Image-building

Poetry-making and Policy-making (Part #1)


Part M of Poetry-making and Policy-making: Arranging a Marriage between Beauty and the Beast (1993)


Such are the dimensions of the crises faced by humanity and the planet, that it is not uncommon to hear that "a miracle is required". Indeed, faced with the demonstrated incompetence and impotence of political leaders and their academic advisors, miracles seem just as likely to offer a way forward as conventional policy-making. At the same time, occasionally people experience gatherings which seem to offer hope because of the "magical" way they work -- without it being possible to identify how this happened. As a result some would say that "we need more magic".

Magic of course has a very bad press. Worse than that of poetry. Both are aspects of culture which the sciences have done their best to marginalize and ridicule -- and religion before them. Ironically, given the subtitle of this paper, even the Walt Disney movie Beauty and the Beast has been labelled dangerously evil by Christian fundamentalists -- together with fantasy games such as Dungeons and Dragons (Christian Broadcasting Network, 1993).

But the sciences and religions are now on the defensive. They have proven incapable of responding to the problems that they have helped to engender. In a sense they have provided a wealth of new tools to build a better house, but are incapable of using those tools to construct a house that it is a delight to live in. The qualitative keystone is lacking. Soulless "utility" dwellings and architectural monstrosities best describe the capacity of the sciences in metaphorical terms. And how are religions contributing to our current problems and our capacity to survive them?

1. Magic as an interface between poetry and policy- making

Poetry of course has a long association with "magic". The best poetry is "magical" in its effects. Kenneth Slessor states: "Poetry is the result not of reason, not of intellect. It is the flow of magic." But what of the discipline of magic whose deep influence on the poet Yeats has been so frequently studied? Science and medicine have finally had to admit that there was some merit in traditional techniques and remedies (acupuncture, herbs, etc). Is it possible that there are truths buried in the clutter and superstition surrounding magic? Is it possible that these truths might provide clues to the interface between the "effects" of poetry and the "effects" of policy- making? From a cognitive perspective, of greatest significance is the declared purpose of magic to manipulate images and understanding. This is clearly a concern of poetry. But in doing so magic also aims to "effect" some kind of transformation.

in doing so magic also aims to "effect" some kind of transformation.