Juliana Pilon reviews The Work of Enchantment by Matthew Del Nevo
Posted: Tuesday, September 4, 2012
Below, Dr. Juliana Geran Pilon, Director of IWP's Center for Culture and Security and Professor of Politics and Culture, reviews The Work of Enchantment by Matthew Del Nevo.
This slim volume by Australian philosophy professor Matthew Del Nevo offers a sensitive and loving celebration of enchantment, which he defines as "being captivated by the beautiful." A feeling familiar from childhood, enchantment becomes harder to experience as we age, especially against the mundane rapidity of modernity. Paradoxically, the same metastasis of gadgets and entertainment that people the world over begrudge us saps the West's ability to nurture the spirituality that forms the very essence of enchantment.
The book focuses on the life-enriching feeling made possible by a special "receptive ability" that must be nurtured through culture and education. In this sense, a child's sense of wonder provides only a premonition of what a civilized adult who knows great art, music, philosophy, religion, and literature, may experience. The author appeals to artists like Adorno, Proust, Rilke, and Goethe, who are "great because of their uncontested power of initiation" to enchantment, in order to illustrate this profound state of being, which he describes as the ultimate "desire of the soul."
Del Nevo's blending of emotion and reason as equally necessary to achieve a genuine spiritual peace is reminiscent of the beloved C. S. Lewis. Like Lewis, he believes that the human predicament is to be "perplexed"( in the sense famously described by the medieval theologian Moses Maimonides), a condition alleviated by religion and creativity. Man has to learn, somehow, to inhabit two realms of reality: this world and its absence - to both be and not to be. Before Hamlet's dilemma, logic is helpless; paradox calls for faith and beauty.
Or, rather, beauty and faith - in that order. For Del Nevo suggests that each of us can deliberately "work" toward enchantment. That "work" includes primarily "reading, listening, and gazing": the disciplined pursuit of beauty. It is Aesthetics that he commends for coronation as "queen of sciences," rather than restoring the scepter to its original holder - Theology; though, admittedly, he appears ready to accept a shared throne, were "bicephalic monarchy" not oxymoronic.
How refreshing to find a celebration of Beauty at a time when relativism famously mocks it, alongside Truth and Goodness. How comforting, as well, to revisit literary masterpieces that speak to our deepest sensibilities; to reaffirm the never-ending need that each of us has - or certainly should have - for soul-nourishment. Call it enchantment, or grace, or love; this book takes it seriously and enchant in turn.