Place and Story


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I attended an excellent presentation yesterday, courtesy of the Appalachian Authors Guild, by one Joe Tennis, a journalist and nonfiction writer of the southern Virginia and eastern Tennessee area. He's done the sort of research into local lore that makes me a bit jealous – the sort journalists do.  

As a journalist, he has a perfect license to talk to the folks in those areas about all sorts of things – in his case, local history – and that happens to include folklore – including ghost stories.


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He did a great job of speaking to both fiction and nonfiction writers about the value of place in story. I've gone on about that myself from time to time. It's a trait of Southern consciousness, I think, to think of self, others, and things – inanimate and material – in terms of place. Not just to set stories, but to cast place as something of a character, the ways in which place captures story.  


The Coexistence of Reason and Mystery


Part 1 – The Re-Enchantment of the World – Secular Magic in a Rational Age, Edited by Joshua Landy & Michael Saler



At first blush one wouldn’t use the words “magic” and “secular” in a complementary fashion. But this collection of essays does succeed – at least to some degree – in melding magic and rationality. Its various essays begin with Max Weber’s plaint (or proclamation – your choice) that “The fate of our times is characterized by rationalization and intellectualization and, above all, by the ‘disenchantment of the world.’”


This has generally been taken to mean that the project of the Enlightenment – its reason and overarching scientific method – has taken (or will take) away the mysteries of life, i.e., those aspects that we conventionally see as beyond human involvement and understanding. This has, of course, been anathema to the theses of religion and has been at the root of the centuries-old friction between religion and reason. But this book takes on itself a project that I applaud: a healing of this rift, in all its manifestations.


Each essay is an attempt to do just this, each in separate fields of secular endeavor. We see in looking to the re-enchantment latent in gardens and place, in architecture, religion, art, literature, philosophy, and even in politics, elements of human experience that allow us to become re-enchanted with secular life.


The point here is that re-enchantment isn’t a return to a primitive human way of viewing things; after centuries of science and reason, we should know better. Instead, it’s a way of allowing ourselves to be re-enchanted with life – within the world given to us via centuries of rational progress.


But there’s a tacit suspicion here that reason has its limits, as the difficulties of the last hundred years or so seem to indicate. While this may be in part because of a remaining lack of reason's development within world culture, it's hard to avoid the idea that the working of the left brain will always need the right brain’s enchanting spectacle. And, conversely, that enchantment will forever need reason as its anchor, lest it lead humanity astray.


Admittedly, the book's editors and its separate essayists have bitten off a lot with this project. Still, it’s a vital endeavor, a project that can nudge reason into a more proper intellectual role.  I’d encourage anyone who has read this far into this post to take the book on. Toward that  end, I’d point readers primarily toward the section on ideology and on Nietzsche contributions to the subject. It’s that important a subject.


I do want to follow this post with another on how re-enchantment is seen to play out in the world of literature. Please stay tuned.



My Rating: 4 of 5 stars.