Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Collingwood on Magic

While discussing what connects art and magic, R. G. Collingwood writes
I am suggesting that these emotional effects, partly on the performers themselves, partly on others favourably or unfavourably affected by the performance, are the only effects that magic can produce, and the only ones which, when intelligently performed, it is meant to produce. The primary function of all magical acts, I am suggesting, is to generate in the agent or agents certain emotions that are considered necessary or useful for the work of living; their secondary function is to generate in others, friends or enemies of the agent, emotions useful or detrimental to the lives of these others.

To any one with sufficient psychological knowledge to understand the effect which our emotions have on the success or failure of our enterprises, and in the production or cure of diseases, it will be clear that this theory of magic amply accounts for its ordinary everyday employment in connexion with the ordinary everyday activities of the people who believe in it. Such a person thinks, for example, that a war undertaken without the proper dances would end in defeat; or that if he took an axe to the forest without doing the proper magic first, he would not succeed in cutting down a tree. But this belief does not imply that the enemy is defeated or the tree felled by the power of the magic as distinct from the labour of the 'savage'. It means that, in warfare or woodcraft, nothing can be done without morale; and the function of magic is to develop and conserve morale; or to damage it. For example, if an enemy spied upon our war-dance and saw how magnificently we did it, might he not slink away and beg his friends to submit without a battle? Where the purpose of magic is to screw our courage up to the point of attacking, not a rock or a tree, but a human enemy, the enemy's will to encounter us may be fatally weakened by the magic alone. How far this negative emotional effect might produce diseases of various kinds or even death is a question about which no student of medical psychology will wish to dogmatize. (The Principles of Art, OUP 1938, 66-67)
I see that tonight on BBC Radio 4 there is a programme called Metaphor For Healing about the ways linguistic phrasing may impact on medical therapy. We might say that this points to the magical (in Collingwood's sense) dimension of speech.


david said...

Page 80, footnote 1:

Dr. Margaret Lowenfeld (Play in Childhood, 1935) has devised a method for exploring the unknown world of children's play, and has made strange discoveries about the relation of this play to children's health. My own interpretation of her discoveries may be expressed by saying that they suggest an identity between 'play' in children and art proper.

TopOfTheBottomFloor said...
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TopOfTheBottomFloor said...
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TopOfTheBottomFloor said...


Can a person literally die of loneliness? Is there a connection between the ability to express emotions and Alzheimer's disease? Is there such a thing as a "cancer personality"? Questions such as these have long surrounded an often controversial debate regarding the connection between the mind and the body in illness and health. As ongoing research is revealing, repressed emotions can frequently lead to stress—which, in turn, can lead to disease.

Provocative and beautifully written, When the Body Says No provides the answers to these and other important questions about the effects of stress on health. In clear, easy-to-follow language, Dr. Gabor Maté lucidly summarizes the latest scientific findings about the role that stress and individual emotional makeup play in an array of diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, cancer, and ALS, among others.

Offering profound insights into the link between emotions and disease, When the Body Says No explores the highly debated effects of stress on health—particularly of the hidden stresses we all generate from our early programming. Dr. Gabor Maté explains how, when the mindbody connection is not optimal, various illnesses can crop up—everything from heart disease and eczema to irritable bowel syndrome and ALS. He presents the scientific evidence that a connection exists between the mind and the immune system—along with illuminating case studies from his years as a family practitioner that reveal how one’s psychological state before the onset of disease may influence its course and final outcome.

As Dr. Maté wrote in The Globe and Mail: “When we have been prevented from learning how to say no, our bodies may end up saying it for us.” When emotions are repressed, this inhibition disarms the body’s defenses against illness. And, in some people, these defenses go awry, destroying the body rather than protecting it. Despite a rapidly accumulating body of evidence attesting to the mind-body unity, most physicians continue to treat physical symptoms rather than persons. When The Body Says No argues persuasively that we must begin to understand the mindbody link in order to learn more about ourselves and take as active a role as possible in our overall health.

Dr. Maté explains how the dynamics of self-repression operate in all of us. With the help of dozens of moving and enlightening case studies and vignettes drawn from his two decades as a family practitioner, he provides poignant insights into how disease is often the body's way of saying "no" to what the mind cannot or will not acknowledge.

Above all, When the Body Says No promotes learning and healing and helps improve physical and emotional self-awareness—which, Dr. Maté asserts, is at the root of much of the stress that chronically debilitates health and prepares the ground for disease.

Vancouver doctor Gabor Maté, who falls into a long tradition of doctors/writers, has a new book about illness-producing stress. When The Body Says No is full of startling insights and hard won poetry.

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