The Animism of Belief: How to Merge with Others

New Formations - ISSN 0950-2378
Volume 2021 Number 104 & 105

The Animism of Belief: How to Merge with Others
Christopher Bracken pages 159-182
DOI: 10.3898/neWf:104-105.07.2021


Graham Harvey says the new animism is about behaving respectfully toward other persons, ‘not all of them human’. The old animism was defined as the ‘belief in spirits’. But what if belief itself is an animism, not an animism of spirts, but an animism of forces? In his animist writings, Freud put ‘special emphasis’ on the ‘magical powers’ of discourse, stressing the ‘uncanny effect’ that occurs ‘when a symbol takes on the full function and significance of what it symbolises’. A century later, the magic of discourse offers a solution to the impasses of affect theory. Sasha Newell observes that affect is typically assumed to exceed ‘social control,’ while signs are associated with closure, fixation, and death. He counters that it is the ‘semiotic transmission of affect’ that allows the social ‘to permeate’ consciousness without ‘conscious awareness’. The old animism of belief recurs as a new animism of discursive forces. The strife between semiotics and affect theory revives an aesthetic tradition that grows out of Aristotle’s fragment on epic, which affirms that belief is itself a power or intensity. David Hume described it as vivacity. The trick for conjuring this animating force is enargeia, the trope of vivid description. Edmund Burke linked enargeia to the astonishment that evokes delightful horror; Lucien Lévy-Bruhl racialised it and renamed it the affective category of the supernatural. For it is always the (racialised) other who believes. Today the question is whether the affectiveness of symbols can be redeemed from this colonial legacy.

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To cite this article
Christopher Bracken (2021) The Animism of Belief: How to Merge with Others, New Formations, 2021(104 & 105 ), 159-182.

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