Issue Ten: Enchantment, Disenchantment, Reenchantment
Issue 10 of the Comparative Media Arts Journal responds to a sociological tradition that is reactive to the advance of industrialism at the beginning of the twentieth century (if not to point even further back in time), thus it could be construed as out-of-date. Weber’s theory of the disenchantment of the world sets a regretful tone that runs from the modernist Frankfurt School through the Postmodern tradition of the 1980s, where disenchantment lays the ground for critique: the modern world is trapped. The rational order blocks the ability to feel spiritually complete. Weber describes the “cold skeletal hands” of rationalism that form an “iron cage,” an obstruction to the pneuma – breath or spirit – that once bonded communities with the cosmos.1 In a more contemporary context, Jane Bennett (2001) pointed out that this position poses a narrow situation where humans either live within an enchanted cosmology – animals, natural and spiritual forces, plants, rocks, and objects share agency with humans – or function at the center of a world designed by disenchanted materialism. The idea of the bonded cosmos becomes the “alter ego of the disenchanted world,” if predominantly a figure of the rational imagination (Bennett 2001, 64).
Following from contemporary critical theorists, art historians and artists such as Bifo Berardi (2017), Jill Bennett (2021), and Hito Steyerl (2017), to name just a few, our current century has been periodized, so to speak, as an age marked by crisis. A barrage of environmental emergencies from wildfire to flooding has hammered various parts of the world this summer; racial killings by police and the protests that have been waged in the wake of the 2020 murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor among too many other killings of Black, Indigenous and Asian bodies, ongoing daily microaggressions notwithstanding. Meanwhile, in Vancouver BC, where I live, four people die on average per day from a seriously infected drug supply, all to the backdrop of the Covid-19 global pandemic. Finally (as if this wasn’t enough), local and international governments and corporations continue to ignore the sure peril of our climate. This culture of emergency suggests that the conditions that Weber and his twentieth century cohort critiqued have only intensified in the contemporary period. The very present destruction of our planet, just for instance, emphasizes the split between nature and humanity and indicates that the long-term effects of disenchantment are irreversible.
Even as the refrain of the world remains ever disenchanted, the submissions in this issue aim to strategize outside this given fact, turning to the fine arts to experiment with processes that build connection and meaning in this state. The writers and artists published here bear the understanding that certain artworks carry a philosophic capacity towards the universe, asking open questions through form that help uncover what is often concealed in our tidy and mastered world. This issue asks, if the world is disenchanted, how may we propel the human out of isolated primacy, to redistribute the mastery that has been afforded to humanity across all bodies participating in the cosmos? Our contributors investigate strategies of reciprocity, pleasure, and community building across human and non-human bodies.
The notion of planetary enchantment, a term put forth by contributor Cristina Albu, offers a broad frame for thinking through many of the works in this Issue. Albu, along with Ella Tetrault, Martabel Wasserman, and Bryan Wang, Sally Feinstein and Samantha Kavky, seek structures of entanglement that bond humans with other humans, with non-humans, and with nature. Meanwhile Dave Biddle re-enchants the position of the cybernetic-subject, complicating the scientific formation of networks by thinking through algorithmic methods that connect and embed. Finally, Shalon Webber-Heffernan puts the relationship between herself and her young daughter at the centre of her critical and curatorial auto-theory, exploring the possibility of a widened cosmos that begins in a practice of relational care and ethics.
This issue was produced in the summer of 2021, as we emerged from varying states of pandemic lockdown, accompanied by all the related anxieties of reopening, and memories of a pre-pandemic ‘normal’. In this time, art and writing has been my source of joy and connection with others, and I am grateful to continue the conversations that begins in this issue and extends into my continued work in this field of study. I am grateful to my editorial team, peer-reviewers, and copy editors whose efforts have made Comparative Media Arts Journal a vibrant source of learning and creative expression. Mallory Gemmel, Mohammed Zaki Rezwan, Lea Ashe Hogan, Israt Taslim, Wei Hsin Lee, Logan Williams, Faune Ybarra, Allison Mander-Wionzak, and Olivia Valenza have worked determinedly across multiple issues, and I owe them endless gratitude as we turn over to a new team of capable editors, emerging scholars and academics. I owe special thanks to Mallory and Zaki who have shown a deep commitment to this journal, and I wish them all their deserved success. Finally, I thank Laura U. Marks, our ever-steadfast Faculty Advisor, and Brady Cranfield, our tireless Web Editor, without whom we could not function.
Bennett, Jane. The Enchantment of Modern Life: Attachments, Crossings, Ethics. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001.
Bennett, Jill. Practical Aesthetics: Events, Affects, and Art after 9/11. London: I.B. Taurus & Co. Ltd., 2012.
Berardi, Franco “Bifo.” After the Future. Trans. Arianna Bove et al. Baltimore: AK Press, 2011.
Steyerl, Hito. Duty Free Art: Art in the Age of Planetary Civil War. New York: Verso, 2017.
Weber, Max. “Science as Vocation.” (1919) From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. New York: Oxford University Press, 1946.
---. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Trans. Talcott Parsons. New York: Dover, 1958.
About the Author
Yani Kong is a SSHRC Doctoral Fellow of Contemporary Art at the School for the Contemporary Arts at SFU. She is the managing editor of the Comaprative Media Arts Journal, a writer, editor and critic for multiple Canadian publications, and an instructor of art history at Langara College.
1 See Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (Minneola, NY, Dover, 1905/2003, 181) for original reference of the “iron cage,” wherein the modern economic order, so bound to the conditions of machine production, irretrievably determines all lives. See Max Weber, “Science as a Vocation,” From Max Weber (New York, Oxford University Press, 1919/1944, 155), for original discussion of pneuma, “which in former times swept through the great communities like a firebrand, welding them together.”