The Place of Magic

Contemplating magic, I found myself with Michael Taussig’s Fieldwork Notebooks (2011).

I have written in books for as long as I have been writing. The first book had rainbowed, perfumed pages and a pathetic little lock. I used those pages to conduct magic through elaborate rituals of pronouncement and restraint, where the scale of desire was translated into withheld touch. The question of god’s existence, for instance, must have meant at least a month of that book hidden away from my graphomaniac impulses. This was a sacrifice. These books, as I have continued to write + write + write, remain involved in the occult in two ways: first, they conjure ideas, every gap in logic sorted out by my hand on the page; second, they purge my mind of obsession, as though the translation from mind to page were actually emptying one for the other. Other things happen amongst these pages, regular things, mostly the documentation of the thought of others as a way of being present, akin to Taussig’s interpretation of the fieldwork notebook. Writing is a way of paying attention, in the moment and removed from it. I’ve never really practiced strict translations of living though, what Taussig identifies as the diary’s impetus. Whenever I write about life, it’s always slightly divorced from correspondence to reality. This is another kind of magic, to write my life as I wish it had been, to write living with the benefit of retrospect.

Taussig knows there’s something spooky about the enterprise too. He describes it this way: “the notebook is like a magical object in a fairy tale. It is a lot more than an object, as it inhabits and fills out hallowed ground between meditation and production. Truly writing is a strange business” (9). But what Taussig assumes to be a function of the form of the notebook, I have assumed to be a function of process of writing. I develop affection for the object as collection, sure, but I’d write on anything. It often feels rather unromantic actually, as though I have to write in order to live. When I was a kid I would steal piles of deposit slips from the town bank, take them home, and loose myself in the rolling pressure of producing carbon-paper triplicates. The pleasure of this is so totally obvious to me that it is hard to describe. (If I were to step away from the computer screen and scratch away on paper I would find the language, I’m sure of it.) Taussig’s diagnosis is misplaced when I try to apply it to my own experience, despite the resonance it generates. The magic’s in the action, not the object it generates.


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