Magic, Rhetoric, and Literacy

An Eccentric History of the Composing Imagination

By William A. Covino

Subjects: Composition And Rhetoric Studies
Series: SUNY series, Literacy, Culture, and Learning: Theory and Practice
Paperback : 9780791420843, 189 pages, July 1994
Hardcover : 9780791420836, 189 pages, August 1994

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Table of contents


Introduction: Articulate and Inarticulate Power

1. Magic, Rhetoric, and Literacy


2. The Interanimation of Phantasms

The History of Phantasy
Renaissance Magic Rhetoric in the Light of Faith
Agrippa's Occult Philosophy

3. Parcels and Palimpsests

From Magic to Science
Natural Language Nationalized
Magic and Romanticism
De Quincey's Palimpsest

4. Magic Consciousness

Burke's Magic
Adorno Against Occultism
Marcuse's Universe of Discourse
Freire's Magic Consciousness

5. Grimoires and Witches

Arresting the New Age
The National Enquirer
Magic Nuggets and Tabloid Epistemology
Oprah and the Witches





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. "

William A. Covino is Professor of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he teaches in the Language, Literacy, and Rhetoric graduate program. He has been named a Cline University Scholar, and a Fellow in the Institute for the Humanities.


"William Covino has written a powerful and deeply engaging book. I am quite taken by his ability to make a subject like magic—a topic susceptible to either an unscholarly 'light' treatment or to an unfortunate academic dismissal—accessible to a broad audience and viable to scholars. I also especially admire the range of his concerns and the thoroughness with which he grounds his discussion in theory and history. " — George Kalamaras, Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne