Thursday, June 16, 2022

The Death and Life of Magical Thinking

In 2003 our Western world was favored with the publication of Edith Grossman’s outstanding English translation of Don Quixote. Terry Castle, in her review of the book (The Atlantic Monthly, Jan./Feb. ’04, pp. 185f.), pointed out that the novel was ground-breaking when it was first published in 1605. It showed Don Quixote and his sidekick Sancho Panza living in a resolutely ordinary world.

Resolutely ordinary. There was nothing magical about it at all. There were no giants, dragons, wizards, sorcerers, enchanters, or spells anywhere. No creatures of mixed species. No hocus-pocus.

In this way the publication of Don Quixote in 1605 anticipated the birth of the modern world in 1648. In that year the wars sparked by the Protestant reformation of 1517 finally ground to a halt. With their end came the end of the Middle Ages. No longer could we in the West accept automatically the conventional Christian worldview that had dominated our thought for 1200 years. No longer would we interpret, through that worldview, cause and effect in a magical way. As anticipated, and regretted, by Don Quixote, we would interpret our world through an increasingly scientific worldview which would grow in significance and become dominant through the end of the 20th century.

Now, oddly enough, we might notice the end to that modern scientific worldview. El Don and Sancho lived in a resolutely ordinary world. Do Superman, Spiderman, Pirates of the Caribbean, lords of rings, Harry Potter? Ironically, the technology developed on the basis of our modern rationalistic worldview is making possible the virtual creation of whole worlds in which magical thinking again dominates. In response to our anxiety about the resolutely ordinary yet increasingly scary world in which we live, we are choosing to spend more and more time living in magical worlds.

It's the end of an era whose beginning, 400 years ago, was heralded by an eccentric knight and his steadfast companion.

Copyright © 2022 by Steven Farsaci.
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