The Infra-World, 57–76


A Spectral World

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Superstition is a modality of being-in-the-world. It is not an ad-hoc stringing together of more-or-less justified, more-or-less grounded beliefs, a rosary of faithless explanations. On the contrary, it is a tendency to believe that the world is irrigated by invisible forces, emerging and dissipating to the rhythm of ritual gestures and fortuitous coincidences. What this implies, ultimately, is that the world possesses an obscure side, which casts its invisible glimmer on the real, but whose interventions are knowable and avoidable—in short, it implies that an economy of the invisible is possible.

Malefic forces set their trap beneath a ladder because it forms a magical triangle with the wall and the floor; they incarnate themselves in a cat whose baleful power resides in the blackness of its pelt; they lie in wait in the fragile surface of a mirror which cannot be shattered without unpleasant consequences for the unlucky person who breaks it.

‘We are not at home in this world.’ This sentence of August Strindberg’s perfectly summarises the vexed situation of the superstitious person, warily negotiating a strange world, a world containing secrets no human will ever penetrate, yet whose effects make themselves known and can—indeed, must—be warded off…