Magic vs sorcery / capitalism vs hyperstition (Hyperstition)


A few tentative thoughts/ questions/ probes…

Luke emails me with a quote from Grant Morrison (confirming once again that I really must check Morrison out).

“… I’ve been obsessed with the corporate world–and the whole magic thing, I’ve been fed up with the occult, as you say, that whole aspect of it, and I just looked and I said, who’s actually using magic? It’s the corporations, they’re doing it all the time–the NLP seminars, all that, if you listen to those management training tapes, they’re fucking weird! And they’re using logos, they’re using these incredibly powerful sigils to colonize imaginary space and media space. These guys are actually using magic in plain sight, and no-one knows what they’re doing! They’re using big-scale, world-changing magic, so I thought, well I’ll get into some of that. And I’ve been doing rituals for two corporate entities now, and trying to do things with that, seeing how you can contact them and deal with them and what kind of bargains you can make with them . . . ”

Actually, this chimes in with something that I’ve recently posted up on k-punk from Brian Eno, on shamanism:

‘I remember seeing a thing on TV years ago. An Indonesian shaman was treating sick people by apparently reaching into their bodies and pulling out bloody rags which he claimed were the cause of their disease. It all took place in dim light, in smoky huts, after intense incantations. A Western team filmed him with infrared cameras and, of course, were able to show that he was performing a conjuring trick. He wasn’t taking anything out of their bodies after all. So he was a fake, no? Well, maybe– but his patients kept getting better. He was healing by context– making a psychological space where people somehow got themselves well. The rag was just a prop.’

This practice – and the psychophysiological mechanisms that allow it to work – are of course familiar to the readers of Walter Cannon. The shaman was using the placebo effect, the benevolent twin of the ‘nocebo’ effects produced by the sorcerers of voodoo death.

I think both the process described by Morrison and that described by Eno are very similar: they are both instances of magical practice in the service of the social system, albeit different social systems (in Morrison’s case, it’s the capitalist ecumenon, in Eno’s, it’s the primitive socius).

I wonder if now we’re in a position to resolve the discussion I was having a while back with Anna about voodoo death. As I recall, Anna was arguing that, whilst related to hyperstition, voodoo death as described by Cannon (and I wish I could find my version of Cannon’s article) was not itself a hyperstitional process. I think we might now be able to say why neither placebo and nocebo effects are not properly hyperstitional.

We’ve now established that hyperstition necessarily involves an opening up of/ to the Outside. Both the nocebo and placebo effects – at least as utilized by Cannon’s sorcerers, Eno’s shamen or Morrison’s NLP gurus – do not involve this relationship. On the contary, in fact, they result in a bolstering of the interior (both the social field and the subject). That’s because, as Anna said, both the nocebo and placebo effect entail belief.

There now seems to be a vocabulary gap: what umbrella term can we use for these types of processes which produce a belief that is materially effective but which don’t open up the Outside?

(This actually dovetails with the book on Spinoza I was discussing at k-p. Antonio Damasio, the author of that book, makes a Cannon-like analysis of the way in which non-conscious response-dispositions produce reality for us. But Damasio emphasises not belief but emotion. Belief, like all conscious cognitive processes, would be at a ‘higher’ level – and like most conscious cognition, it would be an effect of emotional dispositions.)

In any case, I think one consequence of the distinction between pla/nocebos and hyperstition is that it allows us to be quite precise about the differences between capitalism/ hype and hyperstition (though I may be shot down in flames for this!) Insofar as capitalism is orientated to the Outside, it is a resource for the Inside. Its magical practices are all aimed at maintaining and strengthening an interiority (albeit an interiority that is continually expanding, continually re-defining the borders that mark it off from the Outside – this is its chief difference from the primitive socius and the despotic state, whose boundaries are much less fluid).

Question: should we reserve the term ‘sorcery’ for those practices aimed at opening up (to) the Outside? Should we call the type of practices Eno and Morrison describe ‘magic’?

Posted by mark k-p at August 3, 2004 05:14 PM


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