On wielding fundraising strategies as a form of magic.
Excerpts adapted from Dark Arts, Grey Areas and Other Contingencies, first performed at RADMIN 2019, published in the Radmin Reader, and Techniques Journal by the Center for Philosophical Technologies
In a world enthralled by market economics, existential questions of how “work” can be “financed” are inevitable. Day job? Grants? Commissions? Gambling? Gig economy of the precariat? None of the above? All of the above? Whatever form your personal economy takes, it almost certainly requires engagement with bureaucratic institutions, profit-driven corporations, or entities with motives different to yours. In other words, the communing with nonhuman entities to support your livelihood. Over time, these engagements can almost imperceptibly infiltrate all aspects of your work and life like a plague of zombies or hungry ghosts.
Rather than making sacrifices to the nameless entities demanding continuous economic growth or endless administration (“radical bureaucratisation”, as it’s known in wrathful form), can we redraw boundaries? Can we reclaim their tools? And if so, how do we align these tools with more inclusive ethics and a more expansive aesthetics of generosity?
An economic tool well known to researchers, artists, and entrepreneurs worldwide is fundraising. This often takes the form of grants or investments from one entity to another for a specific, agreed-upon purpose.
A grant can be seen a form of belief (or proposition) made manifest by the necessary agreements, constraints, favours, permissions, access, and authorisations that appear around it.
For those whose livelihoods depend upon fundraising, the entities granting access to resources can, at times, appear to acquire supernatural powers over life and death. Engaging with such powerful, faceless entities was traditionally the domain of dark arts: of magicians, witches, and fortune-tellers. They know that the entities they engage with are not innocuous. They know that communing with these entities has the power to transform lives, livelihoods, and, on occasion, reality itself. There is risk, there are dangers, and forms of protection are often essential. There are, of course, similar entities found in the economic sphere. They can offer the illusion of boundless wealth, and they can bring out the worst in us. Binding them shares many of the dangers of black magic, of possession, of the Left-Hand Path.
So, can tools from the dark arts help protect us? Empower us? Could they help us engage more productively with the bureaucratic and economic strategies deployed around us?
Fundraising shares an easily apparent kinship with magic. Applying for a grant is clearly a form of invocation. In any invocation, the force of intent is directed toward convincing things beyond our control to help with a given predicament. This could equally be divinity, a spirit, a wise ancestor, or a disembodied, many-headed bureaucracy. The purpose of both casting spells and fundraising is essentially the extraction of favours from a fickle yet somewhat predictable universe. We ask for favours because we can’t achieve something on our own, be it unrequited love, gold at the end of the rainbow, or the means to develop a new project.
In fortune-telling and divination, great attention is paid to crafting clear and powerful questions. Know what you are asking for. Understand what’s on the cards. Prepare yourself to be in the right frame of mind. Look for signs, resonances, and synchronicities. Scry the texts shimmering across your screen—mission statements, investment criteria, funding guidelines, prior art. Concentrate your energy in a well-delineated Time and Place. Clearly frame your intent, and begin...
When you cross the threshold into the magic circle, commit yourself fully. Focus. Monotask. Like a skilled tarot card reader, use language that is clear and open, suggestive and ambiguous, yet not too vague; language that conveys what you want to say in a way that the listener wants to hear. Summon and commune with the institutional spirit that lies within. Commit yourself to the process. Do your utmost.
Once the act is complete, it is time to ritually close the circle. Pack the paperwork away, banish any residual administrative language. Celebrate. Then let go. Success is never certain. Even the most skilled invocations can lead to unexpected outcomes.
Trust that whatever happens will contribute to your liberation and heed the warning that “[h]e who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee”. Friedrich Nietzsche