The Laws of Magic

This blog is rapidly getting out of hand.

These have been kicking around my workbooks for the last 100 years, and they need to get out into the real world before I get hit by a beer truck. Dump fuel and ignite first, then explain:

Here are the laws of magic:

1)  Similarity
2)  Contiguity
3)  Contagion
4)  Repetition
5)  Opposition
6)  Displacement
7)  the Secret
8 ) Taxonomy
9)  Ritual
10) Hermeneutic

37)  37

Yes! finally got rid of them! Those of you who have a passing acquaintance with fantastic literature will recognise the first few as sir James G. Frazer’s laws of magic.
20+ years ago I ran across the review of a book on advertising that proposed using J.G.Frazer’s laws of magic, along with the 4th law, to understand PR/ advertising/ mass culture and the utter unavailability of a decent lunch in downtown Dover Beach ON for under $10.

Aside: NO….. I am not suggesting that there the Golden Bough is anything but a folly, and an inadvertent romp in the euroethnic victorian male anxiety closet. But Whooooooeeeeee ! what a romp! Why did he and Jung never cross paths?

What struck me was the approach of this long-forgotten book; it had nothing to do with fantasy or spells, or pudgy middle-aged pasty types looking for an excuse to get naked with each other. Rather it was a kind of home-fry semiotics; an attempt to lay down some quickie rules on making convincing narratives and dropping meta-narrative hooks into a tale. Heuristics for toothpaste ads, shaggy dog stories and do it yourself religions. I took it upon myself to add the remaining 6 to make a deca-whatever-bloobloo and add one more just because the number 37 pops up again and again for no particularly good reason.

Quick recap: simile, metonym, metaphor.

Repetition; aka: Invoke often, use a bigger hammer.

Opposition; aka dialectic, opposites attract/ repel / compare/contrast.

Displacement; or how to bundle the entire field of semiotics into one word. Related concepts involve transcendence, floating signifier, Baudrillard’s angry crystal (DAMN! I love Jimbo! what poetry!), the Lacanian idea of the law and the god nailed high. Break a tool, make a symbol. have a nice day.

The Secret; of course I can’t tell you how this one works. Also the hidden, and the disappeared/ destroyed/ absent/ forgotten.

Taxonomy; the arbitrary violence of sorting.

Ritual; how we kill gods.

Hermeneutic; any narrative scheme works well enough if internally consistent; if we are lucky it might be useful under some conditions (swiped and expanded from Niven)


I realise that dropping this into a blog on a Japanese manga is akin to exclaiming that:
“All of the problems in the world can be explained by the propensity for liquids to flow into inconvenient places” or attempting to explain the American civil war in terms of a political economy of energy sources (a university course I once suffered through).

On the other hand, the more I research into what has been written on Genshiken; on other weird manifestations of desire in manga; on obsessive fan cultures that spread across the globe via the net and on the way identity and misappropriation unfold across cultural spaces, the more I am convinced that the structure of the whole ball-o-wax is fundamentally simple.

The devil lies in the details.