Travelling the Subterranean river of blood: Philosophy and magic in cultural studies

Stephen Muecke

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16 Citations (Scopus)


This article argues for a philosophical and 'magical' turn in cultural studies in order to account for multidimensional aspects of rituals which work to reproduce cultures. It is suggested that those Western disciplines which have dominated understandings of Aboriginality in Australia are anthropology, history and literature and that they have done so with two important reifications: the social and the word. A philosophical rereading of a major interpreter of Aboriginal religion, W. E. H. Stanner, discovers a text dominated by the referent, enlightenment secularity, and a lack of self-reflexivity typical of his time. The more recent work of José Gil and Michael Taussig allows for immediate and performative body-country relations (examples are given from indigenous and state rituals which use the trope of blood). Powerful events in the indigenous and non-indigenous historical landscape are thus described in vernacular terms without recourse to the displacing categories of social system or text. The article concludes that national myths are established and maintained through rituals which attribute power to the dead in particular places, and that 'primitive' magico-religious forces are at the heart of nation-forming ceremonies in contemporary state society.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalCultural Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1999
Externally publishedYes


  • Aborigines
  • Magic
  • Nation
  • Philosophy
  • Sacred


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