Re-enchantment   /   Fall 2015   /    Re-enchantment

Sacred Reading

From Augustine to the Digital Humanists

Chad Wellmon

The Angel’s Visit (detail), 2003–2004, by David Kirk (b. 1960); private collection/Bridgeman Images.

Where did this notion of reading as transformative, even sacramental, come from?

When Max Weber suggested in 1917 that the world had been disenchanted, he meant that modernity was best understood by the expansion of “technical means” that controlled “all things through calculation.”11xMax Weber, Wissenschaft als Beruf [Science as a vocation] (Stuttgart, Germany: Reclam, 1995). Originally published 1919. The real power of these technical means lay not in the techniques and technologies themselves but in the disposition of those who used them, in their unshakable confidence that there were in principle “no mysterious, incalculable forces” they could not calculate and control. Such a technical rationality had replaced the “magical means” premodern people had used to placate gods and spirits. In Weber’s account, which was both elegiac and supercilious, when the “technical” superseded the “magical,” wonder disappeared from the world. The confident, calculating scientist, the intellectual hero of the modern world, was incapable of “wonder” and inured to “revelation.” Nothing surprised him, and nothing could be revealed to him.

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