Scholars have recently returned magic and occultism to prominence as categories for understanding the aspirations of modernist literature. This essay assesses this celebration of magical thinking through an analysis of modernism’s most sophisticated critic of enchantment, W.H. Auden. It delineates the issues at the heart of Auden’s criticism of magic: the longing for an end to human alienation from the material world, a desire for human speech to participate in the life of that world, and a resistance to the imperialist aspirations of secular knowledge systems. This criticism of magic relies on a distinction between the order of history and the order of nature that Auden regards as essential to modern self-understanding. His poetry, the essay argues, works towards the “disenchantment” of genre and of modernist hopes for aesthetic experience.


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pp. 58-85
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