Enchantment: On Charisma and the Sublime in the Arts of the West

C. Stephen Jaeger
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 440
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    Book Description:

    What is the force in art, C. Stephen Jaeger asks, that can enter our consciousness, inspire admiration or imitation, carry a reader or viewer from the world as it is to a world more sublime? We have long recognized the power of individuals to lead or enchant by the force of personal charisma-and indeed, in his award-winning Envy of Angels, Jaeger himself brilliantly parsed the ability of charismatic teachers to shape the world of medieval learning. In Enchantment, he turns his attention to a sweeping and multifaceted exploration of the charisma not of individuals but of art. For Jaeger, the charisma of the visual arts, literature, and film functions by creating an exalted semblance of life, a realm of beauty, sublime emotions, heroic motives and deeds, godlike bodies and actions, and superhuman abilities, so as to dazzle the humbled spectator and lift him or her up into the place so represented. Charismatic art makes us want to live in the higher world that it depicts, to behave like its heroes and heroines, and to think and act according to their values. It temporarily weakens individual will and rational critical thought. It brings us into a state of enchantment. Ranging widely across periods and genres, Enchantment investigates the charismatic effect of an ancient statue of Apollo on the poet Rilke, of the painter Dürer's self-portrayal as a figure of Christ-like magnificence, of a numinous Odysseus washed ashore on Phaeacia, and of the black-and-white projection of Fred Astaire dancing across the Depression-era movie screen. From the tattoos on the face of a Maori tribesman to the haunting visage of Charlotte Rampling in a film by Woody Allen, Jaeger's extraordinary book explores the dichotomies of reality and illusion, life and art that are fundamental to both cultic and aesthetic experience.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0652-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[viii])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [ix]-[x])
    (pp. 1-10)

    The book on my desk, in the Loeb Classical Library series, puts together three works: Aristotle’s Poetics, Longinus’s On the Sublime, and Demetrius’s On Style. The first two have a claim to a greater influence on theory of representation in the West than any others before or since. We might say, what Aristotle and Plato are for philosophy, Aristotle and Longinus are for aesthetic thought, two opposed poles, from which theory of representation evolves.

    The empiricist Aristotle described genres, aspects of style, and structure, and he gave the term “mimesis” as lengthy an explanation as it would receive in antiquity...

  4. 1 Charisma and Art
    (pp. 11-47)

    Max Weber’s much-cited definition holds up well in reference to personal charisma. Weber refers to charisma as

    a certain quality of an individual personality by virtue of which he is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities. These are such as are not accessible to the ordinary person, but are regarded as of divine origin or as exemplary, and on the basis of them the individual concerned is treated as a leader.¹

    Broaden the context from religious authority (“divine origin”) in rulers, and this applies well to...

  5. 2 Living Art and Its Surrogates: The Genesis of Charismatic Art
    (pp. 48-75)

    Imagine the living body as a medium of art, the way stone or brass are media of sculpture. Anthropologists know well the benefits of reading the body as an artwork. Bronislaw Malinowski, one of the founders of social anthropology, envisioned a “new humanism,” not based on the study of classic works, but rather of living man, living language, and living facts: “and mildew, patina, and dust would not be like a halo on the head of a saint, making a broken, putrid, dead thing the idol of a whole thinking community, a community that monopolizes thought. A man of genius...

  6. 3 Odysseus Rising: The Homeric World
    (pp. 76-97)

    In book 5 of the Odyssey, Odysseus washes up on a beach, naked, brine-soaked and scum-crusted, after twenty days of struggle with the ocean. Poseidon, having learned from Zeus that he cannot prevent his enemy’s return home, redoubles his efforts to make the blinder of his son, the Cyclops Polyphemus, suffer as much as possible along the way. Odysseus is at the mercy of the sea god’s earth- and sea-shaking powers. His raft is smashed and the sea about to swallow him up, when a sea nymph comes to his aid with a veil that magically holds him above water....

  7. 4 Icon and Relic
    (pp. 98-133)

    Max Weber spoke of “pure forms” of charismatic personalities: shamans, berserks, prophets. The idea that some social roles might manifest charisma more distinctly than others is useful, if we put aside the romantic historicizing of Weber’s theory (ancient charisma was pure, modern has weakened to artifice) and the suggestion of archetype and copy implied by “pure form.” Applied to art and literature, it is possible to argue that some media and genres manifest the charismatic mode better than others. In the previous chapter I opposed Homeric epic to Sophoclean tragedy and argued that the epic aims at transformation in contrast...

  8. 5 Charismatic Culture and Its Media: Gothic Sculpture and Medieval Humanism
    (pp. 134-161)

    Hildebert of Lavardin, bishop and poet, visited Rome in the last years of the eleventh century. Probably on his return to the north in 1100 he wrote an elegiac praise of the city’s ancient ruins, “Peerless Rome” (“Par tibi Roma nihil”). At the poem’s core is a burning admiration for the art of the ancient Romans, ignited by the sight of the pagan gods carved in marble, crumbling, loosely held in their niches and cornices, or already toppled and on the ground. In one of the most impressive passages of medieval poetry, he imagines the old gods themselves descending from...

  9. 6 Romance and Adventure
    (pp. 162-184)

    One of many bizarre incidents in the romance Lancelot, or The Knight of the Cart by Chrétien de Troyes occurs in a churchyard cemetery. Lancelot is in quest of his mistress, Queen Guinevere, who has been kidnapped by a villainous knight named Meleagant and is held captive in “the land from which no stranger returns.”¹ Lancelot comes mysteriously upon this church. Its walled cemetery abounds with “beautiful tombs” (line 1857). Each is inscribed, marking it out as the future grave of a great knight: “Here will lie Gawain,” “Here will lie Lionel,” “Here will lie Yvain.” The finest and the...

  10. 7 Albrecht Dürer’s Self-Portrait (1500): The Face and Its Contents
    (pp. 185-203)

    The suggestion of a living force present in the person or the world depicted is a strong element of charismatic art. What I see in Sargent’s Lady Agnew and what Rilke sees in the headless statue of Apollo is more than what the naked realism of the work “by itself,” stripped of charisma and aura, conveys. When that force is both human and superhuman, natural and supernatural at the same time, the magnifying and awe-inspiring effect is so much the greater. It plays into and draws force from a perception of art as alive or living. If the viewer does...

  11. 8 Book Burning at Don Quixote’s
    (pp. 204-224)

    Obsessive reading of chivalric literature turns the mind of a respectable elderly gentleman. He is seized by a fascination with chivalry so consuming that he regards himself as a knight-errant out of season, called upon to revive the glorious institution of knight-errantry but bedeviled by malicious and envious enchanters who succeed in transforming the chivalric world into something ugly and deformed—which the rest of us take to be everyday life. His reading in romance is so extensive, his knowledge so abundant, his memory so capacious, and his genius so sharp that he combats every argument against his idée fixe...

  12. 9 Goethe’s Faust and the Limits of the Imagination
    (pp. 225-266)

    On his way through the phantasmagorical landscape of the “Classical Walpurgisnacht” to fetch Helen of Troy out of the underworld in Goethe’s Faust Part 2, act 2 (“At the Lower Peneios”), Faust hitches a ride on the back of the centaur Chiron. They have an informative conversation, Faust asking questions like a tourist in time, Chiron answering with sententious superiority and cynical flippancy. Half man, half horse, the mentor of great men rehearses the list of heroes he tutored and praises the beauty of Hercules, whereupon Faust asks him about the beauty of women, segueing into his request to take...

  13. 10 The Statue Changes Rilke’s Life
    (pp. 267-287)

    Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem “Archaic Torso of Apollo” is a defining “myth” of charismatic art exercising a transforming effect. Here is the poem in the original:

    Wir kannten nicht sein unerhörtes Haupt,

    darin die Augenäpfel reiften. Aber

    sein Torso glüht noch wie ein Kandelaber,

    in dem sein Schauen, nur zurückgeschraubt,

    sich hält und glänzt. Sonst könnte nicht der Bug

    der Brust dich blenden, und im leisen Drehen

    der Lenden könnte nicht ein Lächeln gehen

    zu jener Mitte, die die Zeugung trug.

    Sonst stünde dieser Stein entstellt und kurz

    unter der Schultern durchsichtigem Sturz

    und flimmerte nicht so wie Raubtierfelle;


  14. 11 Grand Illusions: Classic American Cinema
    (pp. 288-320)

    “Cheek to Cheek” is one of the most famous, most quoted sequences in the films of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. It is set in the context of a moral problem for Dale Tremont (Ginger Rogers) in the movie Top Hat (1935). She met persistent suitor Jerry Travers (Fred Astaire) in England. He flirted, he ignored her repeated snubs and attempts to get him off her back—the standard opening relationship in Astaire-Rogers movies. Gradually he wears her down, charms her. They dance in an outdoor pavilion in a rainstorm to “Isn’t This a Lovely Day,” and she is won...

  15. 12 Lost Illusions: American Neorealism and Hitchcock’s Vertigo
    (pp. 321-346)

    The movies did not exactly get smaller in the period 1939–1960, but they got less glamorous, and the glamour that remained was either trivialized, stripped of mystery, or inflated to pomposity. The cinema in one of its major postwar trends veered away from big, charismatic representation. It worked on an agenda of deflating it, bursting the illusions about glamour and a happy, wealthy world of witty aristocrats that the thirties wanted and needed. The films turned against the phenomena of glamour and personal charisma and sought to expose them as dangerous, deceitful, an escape from reality. The death of...

  16. 13 Woody Allen: Allan Felix’s Glasses and Cecilia’s Smile
    (pp. 347-369)

    New York City must breed charisma, awareness of it, fear of it, desire for it. It cultivates and admires the big ego and the brassy personality in a way that sets it apart from Los Angeles, the other city of the big ego, but whose self-conception is more frail than the New Yorker’s, undercut by the secret conviction that big personality is flash not brass, glitz, phoniness, and hollow show.

    Three New York writers in the later twentieth century show a special awareness of charisma and charismatic effects, reflect on them, embed them in the operating systems of their works:...

    (pp. 370-378)

    This book has pointed to some aspects of art viewed through the lens of charisma, aura, hypermimesis, the sublime. “Showing” and “pointing” are techniques more deeply complicit with my approach than what the ordinary usage of those words indicates. As mediating acts they are very different from interpreting. A reader cannot interpret and at the same time participate in the life of a work of literature. Interpretation is to the work of art what surgery is to the body—of course a valuable and important procedure, often salutary, sometimes enhancing, sometimes endangering the life of the patient, always invasive. Interpretation...

  18. NOTES
    (pp. 379-416)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 417-424)
    (pp. 425-425)