Rough Magic

Rough Magic

Steven Connor

These are expanded transcripts of a series of four talks broadcast on BBC Radio 4 from January 9th to January 30th 2000, offering ‘philosophical adventures in the everyday’. The programmes were produced by Tim Dee.

Listen to Bags; Wires, Screens, Sweets.

These programmes are about the role in contemporary lives of certain, very mundane, but at the same time quite magical things. The more abstract, placeless and bodiless our existences, the more we come to live beside ourselves, and encounter the world and each other at a distance and through various kinds of remote control, the odder and lovelier things can become, and the greater the importance in our lives can be of objects that we can lay hands on, manipulate, transform and do things with. Human beings are such incorrigible fidgets, such manipulators of objects, of things we can touch and handle, or think of touching and handling, that it is scarcely possible for us to think, dream and imagine without things exerting their shaping force upon us. We think with shapes and weights and scales and textures. We literally keep ourselves in shape by the ways in which we heft and press and handle things. ‘One does not think’, Gilles Deleuze and FĂ©lix Guattari have written, ‘without becoming something else, something that does not think – an animal, a molecule, a particle – and that comes back to thought and revives it.’ The effort to prolong this way of thinking through things is what constitutes the group of writings assembled here under the title of Rough Magic.

The essence of a magical object is that it is more than an object. We can do whatever we like to objects; but magical objects are things that we allow and expect to do things back to us. All magical objects surpass themselves. There is no more magical object than a ball. The first magical objects are probably the blankets, rattles and teddies that young children use for comfort and security, and to ease the growth of the knowledge that the world is full of things that are not them. Children know that their blankets, rattles and teddy-bears are not them, but are nevertheless theirs. Magical objects are for doing magic with; but we use the magical objects in which I am most interested to do magic, not so much on others as on ourselves. These objects have the powers to arouse, absorb, stabilise, seduce, disturb, soothe, succour and drug. They have a life of their own: a life we give them, and give back to ourselves through them, thereby giving rise anew to ourselves. Some of the magical objects about which I talk are ancient, some belong to the world of contemporary technology. All of them are strangely anachronistic.

We may believe we have abjured it, but the rough magic of things is proliferating and prospering as never before. In this series of programmes I consider the rough magic associated with Bags; Wires, Screens, Sweets.