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My Years of Magical Thinking Paperback – January 16, 2017
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"When academic colleagues ask me to recommend a work ofmagical theory, I've always suggested Ramsey Dukes's S.S.O.T.B.M.E. Butnow Lionel Snell steps out from behind his alter ego with My Years ofMagical Thinking, a masterpiece that builds upon and somehow outdoes theearlier work. MYOMT synthesizes a lifetime of thinking, writing, andliving magic. It is an ideal introduction to Snell's work for those who are newto it and an exciting development for those that aren't. Many books boast thatthey will transform how you look at the world; this one actually does. Ifeveryday life in neoliberal modernity is a prison, MYOMT is a chiselsmuggled inside a package the guards didn't think looked dangerous enough tocheck. It's in your hands now: dig to freedom." Phil Ford (Author: Dig: Sound and Music in Hip Culture, Oxford University Press)
"My Years of Magical Thinking by Lionel Snell, aka Ramsey Dukes... who must surely rank as the finest metamagical theoretician currently, or perhaps ever, incarnate. In this masterly summary and exposition of a lifetime of magical thought, Lionel muses deeply on the relationships between art, science, magic, and religion. You may not find much of immediate practical use in this tome but it certainly expands and contextualises the magical way of thinking as a distinct and increasingly relevant way of relating to perceived reality. Lionel told me he had tried to write about magic for the general reader in this latest book. He may achieve that, in places he digresses into magical thinking strategies in the dark arts of politics and marketing, yet I will always regard him as 'The Thinking Magician's Magician', the wizard who looks into the ideas behind the ideas, and as such he may well go down in history as the 20th & 21st century's version of Paracelsus." Peter Carroll (Author: Liber Null, Psychonaut, Epoch etc)
About the Author
Lionel Snell is a contemporary English magician, publisher and author on magic and philosophy. Since 1972 he has written and published several books noted for their impact on late 20th-century magic and humour. Under the pen name Ramsey Dukes he has a popular YouTube channel of short videos on magic-related topics. He was brought up in the Gloucestershire Cotswolds and won a series of scholarships, plus government grants, that took him to Clifton College, Bristol, then Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he graduated as a pure mathematician, then took a Diploma in Education before teaching mathematics at Eton College, a Waldorf school and a further education college. While at Cambridge he studied rare works of Aleister Crowley and other occult writers in the University library and worked with a number of Crowley's ex-disciples. His books on magic and virtual reality have won him an enthusiastic and faithful readership among a wide circle of alternative groups, notably fans of avant-guard rock music and graphic novels. His writing is recognised as being significantly different from most radical occult thinking, which tends to either glamourize or demonize magic. In addition to long experience with radical alternative cultures, the author has for many years worked freelance as ghost writer for ICT companies and organizations, churning out press releases, video scripts, booklets and educational articles.
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Thundersqueak is best treatise on politics which I ever read, so section 26.17 Magical thinking and “Post-Truth Politics” was especially superb for me.
Lionel's writing is light-hearted, but don’t mistake yourself – this is a “hardcore” book about magical thinking and can change your mental framing, maybe even your life, in many ways.
“This book presents a series of thought experiments. In fact the whole book is one big thought experiment: a suite of programs for readers to run in their own minds. Not to judge if they are true, or good, or even beautiful, but whether they offer a feeling of experience that is somehow bigger and more whole.
The ability to choose between different sets of rules and play one’s own game is what characterizes magical thinking as a an advance on religious or scientific thinking, rather than a backward step. It can accelerate human evolution by developing new modes and levels of experience.
The criterion of choice is no longer “goodness” or “truth” but what offers a feeling of growth towards wholeness – and that is why the choice is so much more open. Goodness (sought by religion) is hierarchal: even if the seeker has decided that all the world’s religions are good, it would still be bad to choose any other than the most good. Truth (sought by science) is not so hierarchical, but it is still exclusive: even if the seeker decides that all scientific theories appear to be true, combining two or more mutually contradictory theories could not itself be true. Selection towards wholeness (sought by magic), however, can embrace contradiction as well as diversity.”
Lionell Snell states that this book is aimed at an audience who haven’t yet read his writings, in particular people who have rejected magic, or just haven’t thought that much about it. The main question explored is “what happened to the Enlightenment?”… personally, I remember growing up thinking that human knowledge and society was building up to something, leading in a direction of understanding more clearly, and building to some Truth. However, the more that science explores, the more it uncovers paradoxes that seem to require mind-bending to reconcile; meanwhile, the enlightened truths discovered through scientific research seem to be discarded or denied when they are economically inconvenient… and, we seem to be currently in a world where people are each entitled to their own truth (‘alternative facts’), no matter how contradictory they are or how much expertise they are grounded in. Has the Enlightenment quest for Truth, Objectivity, and Absolute Knowledge failed? Or, is it necessary for science to at some point transform into something else completely, if it acknowledges that the paradoxes it uncovers can’t always be ignored… and instead, that in some way fear of contradictions can be resolved through a pursuit of wholeness, that values temporary usefulness, rather than Absolute Truth?
For people who’ve read the work of Lionel Snell (formerly writing most often in the pen name Ramsey Dukes), this book does summarize ideas explored in his earlier writing, but also extends and deepens the exploration – I personally found new value in the book through it’s more nuanced exploration of the differences between religion and magic (for example… when people who practice rituals written by other people, are they performing magic? Or, is it a form of religion if they’ve accepted and follow ideas/practices that come from some exterior authority?)
The book is written for what Lionel conceives of as a 'mainstream' readership, but I think that as usual his largely esoteric focus will mean that it's mostly magicians who will read this. A pity, because Scientists, Artists and Religionists might get a lot from it too. If you've never read Ramsey Dukes, by all means start here.
The author is a smart guy and seems likable enough, but this book is a stinker.