4 ene 2012

Three Kinds of Magic

Literature is a form of magic. What I mean by this is that it enacts transformations approaching a magical effect. So I distinguish three kind of magic.

Narrative magic. Narrative magic makes the room in which the reader is reading disappear. The reader disappears into this other world, parallel to reality but not identical with it.

Theatrical magic The magic of the theater is to represent through spectacle a reality that goes beyond the dimensions of the stage. It is to "cram within this wooden O the very casques that did affright the air at Agincourt."

Poetic magic. Poetic magic is to cast a magic spell through the sound of the words themselves.

These three forms of magic do not exclude one another and in fact can be found together. Words on the stage can narrate, or cast a verbal spell, etc... The verbal spell might be a kind of story involving narrative magic.

Literary criticism assumes that this magic has a technology, in other words a series of ways of making this magic occur. There is no conflict between the idea of magic and that of technology. At the wizard school, after all, there are classes on potions and spells. Or if we see magic as mere sleight-of-hand there are props and tools as well as technical skills to be mastered. Either way. A dull approach to literature would be one that failed to remember the magical dimension that makes literature exist in the first place.

A fourth kind of magic, I suppose, is the effect of transforming the reader herself into a different person. This is the cumulative effect of reading, the long-term effect of all those magic spells, all those trips out of the room.

I think it follows that literature belongs to readers and not to authors. I am pretty sure I have spent more time with certain poems by Frank O'Hara than he took to write them, and multiply that by the number of his readers. To think that our aim should be to go back and see what was in his mind on that particular day is pretty ridiculous. The author doesn't have access to all those trips out of the room by all potential readers over decades or centuries after the author is deceased.

5 comentarios:

scott g.f.bailey dijo...

Yes, let's take authorial intention off the table. It's a silly idea that does nothing but allows all sorts of silly claims.

I like this idea of narrative/theatrical/poetic magic.

John dijo...

Oh, authorial intention is one story among many. But it's a valid one. Because the author is a reader of him or herself too, and has the same rights that any other reader has.

Nice post! Magic: yes. And, very true about you & that O'Hara poem. (For example.)

Clarissa dijo...

What a brilliant post. It needs to be printed out and distributed to all students who say they hate reading and don't understand the point of literary studies.

Shedding Khawatir dijo...

This is exactly why I love literature and exactly why I could never pursue literary studies--I like to revel in the magic, and am disappointed when I see the technology behind it, just as I am with real magic tricks.

Denise Low dijo...

The novel CEREMONY by Leslie Marmon Silko has 4 ceremonies within it, until one realizes the main character himself has become, by the 4th one, a "medicine man" himself. The reader following his narrative/poetry/performance becomes also transformed. Nice.