Thursday, 3 April 2014

Visions of Enchantment

A couple of weeks ago I attended a two-day conference in Cambridge entitled Visions of Enchantment - Occultism, Spirituality and Visual Culture, and a very intellectually stimulating event it was.  It appears that at long last occultism and esotericism have been recognised as important areas of research within the academy - obviously some, such as Ronald Hutton, have been blazing a trail for some time.  A number of big academic names in the field were present including Profs Antoine Favre, Massimo Introvigne and Wouter Hanegraaf, as well as such important younger scholars as Dr Marco Pasi (I was very flattered to hear him praise my most recent book when I asked him to sign a copy of Aleister Crowley and the Temptation of Politics - a much recommended study into hitherto under-researched areas of the Great Beast's life and friendships, such as those with Fernando Pessoa and Tom Driberg).

By the end of Day Two I was relieved that I wouldn't have to hear the words 'embodied', 'multivalent' and the grating 'problematize' for some time, but on the whole the lecturers steered clear of too much academic obfuscation.  High points for me were Dr Ulli Segers on Sigmar Polke and the Hermetic Tradition; Judith Noble The Wedding of Light and Matter: Alchemy in the Films of Derek Jarman; Dr Marco Pasi Western Esotericism and Artistic Creativity: Searching for a New Interpretive Model; Dr Nicholas Campion Surrealism and Astrology: The Esoteric Art of Xul Solar and Dr James Riley Pandemonium 69: Magick, Performance and The End of the Sixties.  Another highlight was the opportunity to dine at Peterhouse in the magnificent hall with its William Morris stained glass - probably the one and only time I'll enjoy such a privilege.

As an art historian you're encouraged to look for influences and borrowings, often where they simply don't exist and there were quite a few instances of this, although they were usually criticized by members of the audience.  I was glad not to be in the shoes of one particular researcher who had delivered what I thought was the weakest lecture of the lot and had committed the aforesaid spurious connections sin, only to receive a scholarly put-down from (I think) Antoine Faivre, who ended with that withering academic kiss-off, 'But, of course you are much more knowledgeable in this area than I am.'  There was plenty of material for research - if only I had the time - but maybe some will seep through into future work.

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