Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Thesis on Witches' Cats

Two distinct ways of relating to diabolic power map onto two distinct economic logics which prevailed in early modern Europe, gift exchange and market. Witches are in relationships of mutual aid with their familiars, potentially exaggerated even to the point of bodily symbiosis. The dealings of cunning-folk are more distant and mediated, and cunning-folk may even be unaware of the profane dimension of their practices. Crucially, however, the distinction between witches and cunning-folk is invoked in the process of proving it to be theologically and legally invalid. In laws such as the 1604 Witchcraft Act, and in pamphlets such as the 1645 Laws Against Witches and Coniuration, both sides of the distinction are subsumed within the form of legal contract. Witches and cunning-folk alike are hell-bound. What we discover, therefore, is not simply a shadow cast, by the interplay of an emerging and a residual economic logic, into some chance place within the culture. Rather, the emergence of witchcraft as a prohibited behaviour, inclusive of the deeds of cunning-folk, connected with the deeds of learned conjurers, but separable from the deeds of natural philosophers, contains a concentrated trace of the contradictions of nascent commercial society. A question is posed, in a hopeful tone, by the rise of commercial society: do the market forms which loosen our epistemological couplings to our neighbours also absolve us of responsibility for their lives? In the constitution of witchcraft lies the answer. The couplings are not merely loosened, but dissolved, yet the responsibility intensifies, and with it the sphere of the damnable expands. Not every commercial relationship is a social relationship, although the law may hold every commercial relationship to the same fine-grained standards as a social relationship, in the service of commercial imperatives. In the same way, the intimacies which witches enjoy with Satan’s familiars do not comprise an essentially separate kind of relationship with Satan, but rather provocative clarifications of any contractual relationship with Satan.

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