ESSWE8 Keynote lectures:

Prof. Andreas Kilcher, Professor of Literature and Cultural Studies at the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH), Zurich:

“The Ghost in the Writing: Magic and Mediality in the Story of Faust”

It is not just modern occultism that goes hand in hand with an increased awareness of technical and artistic media. The problem of mediacy and mediation is a central aspect of modern magic. It is about how hidden – physical or metaphysical – forces communicate themselves more or less indirectly. This addresses the most influential literary embodiment of the type of modern magician: the story of the polymath Dr. Faustus. It illuminates magic from the perspective of mediality, be it affirmative or critical. On the way to modernity, so my more general thesis, to power of magic shifts to the media, the spirit to the writing. Magical are the channels themselves, to paraphrase modern media theory.

Andreas Kilcher is a professor of literature and cultural studies at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich (ETH). He has held visiting professorships at Princeton, Stanford, UC Davis, and Tel Aviv University. His main areas of research include literature and the history of knowledge, Jewish literary and cultural history, as well as Kabbalah and modern occultism. His recent books in English include Writing Jewish Culture (Indiana University Press, 2016), and Franz Kafka: The Drawings (Yale University Press, 2022). He is a founding member of ESSWE and has been the Society’s President since 2013. He organized the first ESSWE conference in 2007 and published the proceedings under the title Constructing Tradition in Western Esotericism: Means and Myths of Transmission in Western Esotericism (Brill, 2010).

Dr Claire Nally, Associate Professor, Northumbria University, Department of Humanities:
“Ireland’s Funerary Culture and Ancestral Memory: W. B. Yeats’s Early Poetry and Prose”

This keynote considers the influence of Golden Dawn and Rosecrucian ritual on Yeats’s early poetry and prose, including The Secret Rose (1897) and The Wind Amongst the Reeds (1899). Through his creation of the Castle of Heroes, an invented mystery religion, Yeats experimented with ideas of death and rebirth more commonly associated with his later work in A Vision (1925 and 1937). However, in exploring Yeats’s early work through the lens of ‘continuing bonds’ derived from grief theory, I suggest that early Yeats was engaged in an act of ancestral reclamation and mourning for the nation, through the intersection of occultism and fairy lore.

Dr Claire Nally is an Associate Professor of Modern and Contemporary Literature at Northumbria University, UK, where she researches Irish Studies, Neo-Victorianism, Gender and Subcultures. She has published several books, and has written widely on Yeats and Irish Literature, subcultures, including goth and steampunk. Her first monograph was Envisioning Ireland: Occult Nationalism in the Work of W. B. Yeats (2009), followed by a second, co-written book (with John Strachan), entitled Advertising, Literature and Print Culture in Ireland, 1891-1922 (2012). Her latest monograph was Steampunk: Gender, Subculture and the Neo-Victorian (2019) and she is the co-editor (with Angela Smith) of the Bloomsbury International Library of Gender and Popular Culture. She has written articles on Cross Bones graveyard in Southwark, and her next research project addresses the phenomenon of the death positive movement in literature.

Dr Marco Pasi, Associate Professor, University of Amsterdam, Department of Humanities:

“Occulture in Contemporary Art”

Fifteen years ago, I began to take note of the conspicuous presence of esoteric motifs in contemporary art. Initially, I was intrigued but also surprised, and thought this was only a passing trend. At some point, however, I realized that there was something more significant and worthy of attention than I had thought at the beginning. While the influence of esotericism on modern art (i.e., roughly until the end of the Second World War) had already been the object of serious scholarly research at least since the 1960s, it became clear to me that both scholars of esotericism and art specialists were not yet paying enough attention to the role of esotericism in contemporary art. In this lecture, I would like to present my findings and reflections on this phenomenon, which I consider important for understanding the role that esotericism plays in our societies today. Contemporary art possesses considerable social capital, and looking at its relation to esotericism can give us a measure of the continuing relevance of esotericism as a social and cultural phenomenon in our times. I will discuss among other things the applicability of the concept of “occulture” to the context of contemporary art and then a number of other conceptual gateways that could be useful for its study.

Marco Pasi is the director of the Centre for the History of Hermetic Philosophy and related currents at the University of Amsterdam. He has published extensively on modern esotericism, especially in relation to art, sexuality, and politics, and is the author of Aleister Crowley and the Temptation of Politics (Routledge, 2014). He has been a member of the “Enchanted Modernities” research group, funded by the Leverhulme Trust and focusing on the influence of Theosophy on art. He has co-curated exhibitions at the Palais de Tokyo, the Monash University Museum of Art, the Courtauld Gallery, and the Drawing Room.