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  • Introduction:The Practice of Enchantment: Strange Allures
  • Ann Burlein (bio) and Jackie Orr (bio)

Escape is not a ghost, merely a protean trickster. It is a means to experiment and to initiate speculative ways to deal with the immediate and concrete facts which dwell in our worlds, . . . [and] their stubborn persistence.

Dimitris Papadopoulos, Niamh Stephenson, and Vassilis Tsianos, Escape Routes (2008, 66)

This issue of WSQ seeks to experiment with the powers and seductions of enchantment in an attempt to intervene in the present moment. When survival is a question for so many, when things seem impossible and the world impassable—how to find and create places of allure? How to imagine a world in which one could flourish? What might be the serious and playful role of enchantments in materializing that world? We experiment with enchantment as both a content of thought and as a way of thinking because the present so desperately requires the fabrication of escape routes that are not escapist.

Our call for papers for this issue was partly inspired by Jane Bennett's book from over a decade ago, The Enchantment of Modern Life: Attachments, Crossings, and Ethics (2001), and her more recent book Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (2010). Seeking to invent new ways of conceptualizing the world, Bennett refuses the traditional dichotomy that reserves agency exclusively for humans, insisting that objects do not just block or hinder our actions. What if things really can hail us? she asks. Bennett takes the risk of a certain anthropomorphism in order to "cultivate moments of enchantment"—moments of wondrous yet disturbing [End Page 13] surprise. Drawing from Foucault's work on practices of the self (1985, 28), Bennett contends that ethics entail more than a code and principles, for sheer commitment (or will) is not enough to ensure we live ethically. Thus Bennett turns to enchantment as a way to "augment the motivational energy needed to move selves from the endorsement of ethical principles to the actual practice of ethical behaviors" (xi). Her assessment of the demands of the present is shared by Joshua Landy and Michael Saler, co-editors of the collection The Re-Enchantment of the World: Secular Magic in a Rational Age (2009). Landy and Saler conclude their introduction with a confession of genuine urgency: ". . .it will not do to revert to prior forms of wonder, order and redemption. No, the world must be enchanted anew—human flourishing requires it" (14).

At the same time, in developing this issue we drew from the incitements of Comaroff and Comaroff in Millennial Capitalism and the Culture of Neoliberalism (2001). Written during the same years as Bennett's early work but from the transnational perspective of historical ethnographers, the introduction to the anthology documents the "rise of new forms of enchantment" (3) as millennial capital incorporates entrancing strategies and speculative seductions. Marked by "occult economies" devoted to the magical, paranormal production of value, and by popular cultures of evangelical contagion and moral panic, the enchantments of contemporary capital augur "a world in which the only way to create real wealth seems to lie in forms of power/knowledge that transgress the conventional, the rational, the moral" (26). In this world, both Weber and Marx's diagnosis of enchantment as an exhausted force in the calculating economies of modernity looks dreadfully wrong in the face of zombie powers. Vampire culture. The long night of the living dead lingers on.

Trans-Forms / / Bending Lines of Flight (Sensual Matters)

We can begin to map the tensions evoked, then, between enchantment as potential line of flight and as canny technique of power in the complex charms of the response to our call. WSQ's inclusion of works by scholars, poets, artists, and creative writers offers a variegated textual, and textured, milieu for the scene of enchantment. As Roderick Ferguson writes in these pages, channeling the erotic-theoretic poetics of Audre Lorde, "the seriousness of intellectual work lies in the critical activation of sensual matters." [End Page 14] The force of enchantment, as several of our authors foreground, activates sensual matters in uncertain ways, via rhythm, play, poetic gesture, vibratory frequencies that confuse or re-fuse familiar temporalities, and...


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