English R1B

Reading and Composition: Magic and Modernity, or Enchantment after Enlightenment

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Fall 2022 Sulpizio, Catherine
MWF 9-10 DWIN233

Book List

Huysmans: Là-Bas; Marlowe: Doctor Faustus


“The absence of myth is also a myth: the coldest, the purest, the only true myth.” 

In a moment when digital covens cast binding spells on Trump, viral Tik Tok investors combine crypto trading with astrology, and Pew Research claims there are 1.5 million self-identified pagans in America, is it fair to characterize modernity as “secular”? To address this question, this course will investigate the active if subterranean influence of the much maligned phenomenon known as the occult, gently amending Max Weber’s famous thesis of die Entzauberung der Welt —the “de-magic-ing” of the world. Tracing the spectral persistence of esoteric currents within the ascendant Enlightenment paradigm of rationality, we will discover illicit liaisons between science, technology, psychology, statecraft, alchemy, thaumaturgy, and erotic magic. Disturbing the concept of a secular modernity, the course will provide students with tools to develop a thesis for how the occult simultaneously mediates and defines the boundaries of religion and science. In addition to this, the course will consider how historically the occult provided certain procedures and techniques that sought to enable interventions in the surrounding world. Finally, as a class we will theorize ritual--its structure, its uses and abuses--in contemporary contexts.

Anchored by two literary works, Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus and Huysmans’ Là-Bas, our class will also encounter Renaissance grimoires, Rosicrucian manuscripts, alchemical texts, and a broad range of secondary materials, including excerpts from The Secret Life of PuppetsTechgnosis, and Technology as Magic. We will virtually detour through Princeton’s Engineering Anomalies Research Lab and University of Virginia’s Center for Perceptual Studies and gaze into the scrying mirror of digital art. 

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