The Global Occult: The “Hidden” Counter-Currents of Cultural Connectivity

AHA Session 162
Saturday, January 7, 2012: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Addison Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Nile Green, University of California, Los Angeles

Session Abstract

This panel explores the role of the ‘occult’ as an inherently bi-cultural and trans-cultural channel of cultural creativity and connectivity. Whether in the Romano-Egyptian thaumaturgy of late antiquity or the Anglo-Indian Theosophy of the imperial fin-de-siècle, occultisms have been formed from the encounters of different linguistic, cultural and even epistemic systems. As such, they represent innately bi-cultural and usually bi-spatial forms of cultural production and social interaction. As counter-currents to the better-known flows of official (often imperial) knowledge, the investigation of ‘occult’ (Latin: occultus, ‘hidden’) cultural expressions open the way for hidden histories of intellectual traffic, cultural hybridity and social networking between what are necessarily distinct culture zones (Britain/India; America/Africa; France/Caribbean). As discourses of power and status, different occultisms also point to the creation of alternative and in many cases counter elites, ‘hidden’ hierarchies that contradict or invert the social order of the ordinary visible world.  By the same token, as recent work on the intersection of book history and occultism shows, occultisms also create alternative literary canons lending special status to despised, debunked or devalued texts, often texts of non-local or otherwise ‘exotic’ provenance. 

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