This book presents a selective, introductory reading of key texts in the history of magic from antiquity forward, in order to construct a suggestive conceptual framework for disrupting our conventional notions about rhetoric and literacy.
Offering an overarching, pointed synthesis of the interpenetration of magic, rhetoric, and literacy, William A. Covino draws from theorists ranging from Plato and Cornelius Agrippa to Paulo Freire and Mary Daly, and analyzes the different magics that operate in Renaissance occult philosophy and Romantic literature, as well as in popular indicators of mass literacy such as “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and The National Enquirer.
Magic, Rhetoric, and Literacy distinguishes two kinds of magic-rhetoric that continue to affect our psychological and cultural life today. Generative magic-rhetoric creates novel possibilities for action, within a broad sympathetic universe of signs and symbols. Arresting magic-rhetoric attempts to induce automatistic behavior, by inculcating rules and maxims that function like magic ritual formulas: JUST SAY NO. In this connection, the literate individual is one who can interrogate arresting language, and generate “counter-spells.”