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Restless SecularismModernism and the Religious Inheritance$
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Matthew Mutter

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780300221732

Published to Yale Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300221732.001.0001

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“The Power to Enchant that Comes from Disillusion”: W. H. Auden’s Anti-Magical Poetics

“The Power to Enchant that Comes from Disillusion”: W. H. Auden’s Anti-Magical Poetics

(p.163) 4 “The Power to Enchant that Comes from Disillusion”: W. H. Auden’s Anti-Magical Poetics
Restless Secularism

Matthew Mutter

Yale University Press

This chapter examines Auden’s vision of the body and the broader material character of existence by elaborating his critique of “magical thinking,” which for Auden marks an attempt to subsume the material otherness of the world into human subjectivity. As a late modernist, Auden is writing against what he takes to be two distorted modernist responses to secular “disenchantment”: magic, which disavows the gap between subject and object, and pagan immanence, which identifies with and seeks to resacralize the very inhumanness of the world’s material energy. Auden, rather, accepts the secular disenchantment of the world, which for him uncovers a new possibility: an ethical relation to material life, including the life of one’s own body, as the nonhuman other. But he simultaneously preserves a Christian, nonreductive vision of the human world as a domain of responsibility, original action, and transcendent aspiration. He thus develops what I call a nonhierarchical “affirmative dualism,” a vision of two distinct orders given equal standing.

Keywords:   Disenchantment, Magic, Magical Thinking, Secularism, Materiality, Ethics, Otherness, Immanence, Paganism, Christianity

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