The re-enchantment of the world

Rasha Alqasem. Photo Sanna Kvist

»What does everyone believe in today, from Jimmie Åkesson (leader of the nationalist Sweden Democrats) to Gudrun Schyman, leader of the Swedish party Feminist Initiative), from ISIS warriors to KKK members? The answer is simple: devices and machines. They don’t doubt that airplanes, properly managed by qualified staff, can take them from city A to B. They trust blindly that the numerous functions their smart phones have will work, until the day they break down, caused by some issue an expert can inform them about.«

Sven-Eric Liedman, author and professor of History of ideas at Gothenburg University, in his essay on »Enlightenment and social media« in new 10TAL nr 26.

Is it possible to speak about a movement of re-enchantment in our time? Which counter movements are to be found today in the western society to what the German sociologist Max Weber (1864–1920) termed a »disenchantment of the world« – aimed at the modern, bureaucratic, secularised Western society that values science, technological progress and rationality over emotions and intuition? A world that has been disenchanted while being described, examined, measured and weighed, and where the capitalist system has transformed everything and everyone into products on a market. This reified world has created a repressive climate turning us cowardly and unfree.

»There’s a lot to be drawn from the worlds we deem enchanted«, says the philosopher Jonna Bornemark in her introducing essay »Rehabilitation for the living«. »The modern society becomes an iron cage of rationality, a cultural rationalization that has brought a loss of the existential basis in people’s lives and a devaluation of mysticism, mythology and magic.«

If quantity is the only thing that is valued in society we lose quality and empathy. How do you measure communion, trust and hope? Benevolence, which is sorted into the irrational sphere? Have we rationalised away the unconventional and deviant and turned ourselves into objects that we want to steer almost as robots? Isn’t it time that we re-establish the value of slowness, mystery and dreams, of poetry and classical music and experiences of the metaphysical and sublime?

»The only thing that can save us from reality is fiction. Not more facts.«

As a child I liked to lock myself in a dark room, lighting candles and reading the Bible. I took matches and burned both ends until they turned completely black; it was a rite, I was filled by a magical sensation. I wasn’t religious, I had asked mom and dad separately if God existed and they both said no, but I liked the stories on the thin pages in the thick book, the beautiful, strange words that I didn’t understand but learned – it was poetry and a moment for contemplation, an encounter with the enchantment in the words and in life.

How can we keep our ability to experience the spiritual and artistic value in literature, theatre, music and art?

»The only thing that can save us from reality is fiction. Not more facts.« That was said by the author Lars Jakobson in a conversation with him, the late philosopher and author Thomas Anderberg and the author Cecilia Davidsson in 90TAL on the novel of tomorrow and the future for novels we had at the end of the 1990s. It stuck. Fiction makes it possible for us to create not only alternative worlds, but also strategies for how to relate to reality. How many authors and artists feel that they have the freedom and the energy to venture into experimentation?

For this issue, we have invited authors, artists, philosophers, historians of ideas, critics and scientists to reflect on the phenomenon of enchantment: Should we go even farther in the process of disenchantment or turn against the re-enchantment of the world?

In his book In the shadow of the future (1997), the author and Professor Emeritus of History of Ideas at the University of Gothenburg, Sven-Eric Liedman, wrote a chapter where he was critical towards the re-enchantment in our time. He revises and builds on his theses, twenty years later, for 10TAL in the fascinating essay »The Enlightenment and Social Media«. He holds on to the distinction between hard and soft enlightenment and argues that there is an enchantment in modernity as well, through natural science and technology, both of which sorts under the sphere of hard enlightenment. We rely on the belief that future knowledge will find solutions for problems we can’t solve today. The trolls in social media is a revolutionary illustration of the re-enchantment in our time, with unforeseeable consequences; the evil trolls from the world of fairy tales who threaten and hate, protected by their anonymity, seducing millions while spreading alternative facts. It’s about time that we analyse the digital revolution in the light of the tradition of enlightenment!

In his essay on the brain’s critical work making predictions, the Belgian poet and neuroscientist Jan Lauwereyns shows how natural science and writing can be regarded, how poetry reconnects that which has been disentangled by the diverse nature of reality«. According to Lauwereyns, the poetic point of view has an unimagined importance for the brain’s operation with what we call reality.

The cover of this issue is adorned with a photo of the Iraqi poet Rasha Alqasim, who is interviewed by the poet Sarra Ananya. Rasha escaped from areas occupied by ISIS in 2014 in order to be able to participate in poetry readings in Sweden. Now in May, two and half years later, she’s debuting on 10TAL Bok with the collection of poems Jag matar kriget med dem jag älskar (›I feed the war with the ones I love‹), translated by Elisabeth Hjorth, Sara Mannheimer and Kholod Saghir.

»The lyrical I’s sabotage of the traditional duties becomes an incantation against getting enchanted by and lost in all of the female identities needed to maintain a home during wartime«

In several of her poems, Rasha explores strategies for survival as a woman. The expectations on the lyrical I as daughter and woman are absurd after having lost siblings and friends. »If the home and its objects constitute a framework, a system of regulations, the lyrical I’s sabotage of the traditional duties becomes an incantation against getting enchanted by and lost in all of the female identities needed to maintain a home during wartime«, writes Sarra Anaya.

This issue is filled with perspectives on the disenchantment, enchantment and re-enchantment of the world. We leave the conclusions to be drawn from them to you, Dear Readers. As Uljana Akca writes in her essay: »The matter of what exactly this disenchantment amounts to, existentially and philosophically, as well as the question of possible alternatives, is far from exhausted.«

Madeleine Grive

Editorial from 10TAL nr 26 Förtrollning (›Enchantment‹), May 2017
Translated by Mårten Barck (the magazine is only available in swedish)