Saturday, December 30, 2006

A look at Anne Carson ...

... Magical Thinking. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

A psychiatrist friend once accused me of magical thinking. But the psychiatric understanding of the term is quite different from the anthopological understanding of it. Here's a psychiatric definition: "A conviction that thinking equates with doing. Occurs in dreams in children, in primitive peoples, and in patients under a variety of conditions. Characterized by lack of realistic relationship between cause and effect."
Here's an anthropological definition: "According to anthropologist Dr. Phillips Stevens Jr., magical thinking involves several elements, including a belief in the interconnectedness of all things through forces and powers that transcend both physical and spiritual connections. Magical thinking invests special powers and forces in many things that are seen as symbols. According to Stevens, 'the vast majority of the world's peoples ... believe that there are real connections between the symbol and its referent, and that some real and potentially measurable power flows between them.' "

Note that both psychiatry and anthropology are thought to be sciences. I told my psychiatrist friend that he was right. I was engaging in magical thinking. I do it all the time. I like it. But of course I am (and was) thinking of the term in its anthropological sense.


  1. Anonymous8:08 PM

    Hi Frank-
    The psychiatric definition destroys religion - the Word becomes Deed. The anthropological definition destroys meaning - which is possible because of our participation in the cosmos. By this definition, to say "this is the heart of the matter" would be incoherent - because the physical organ is viewed as the moral center.And yet we could not speak without using metaphor in almost every sentence.
    "Magical thinking" is a handy phrase used by over-intellectualized shallow people to avoid looking into the depths of life.

  2. Hello Caryl,
    Good to hear from you. And you know, you're right. Moreover, you have just put metaphor where it belongs - at the center of life. Happy New Year!