Technology Towards Transcendence: Hidden Occult Imagery in 'German Expressionism'
University of Missouri, USA
Scholars have vigorously discussed the cinema of “German Expressionism” for decades only to concede that, alas, the genre never existed in reality. Rather, what had become called German Expressionist cinema during the latter half of the twentieth century had been actually a thread of movies aestheticized by a common core of directors, screenwriters, set designers, and actors during the Weimar Republic between 1918 and 1933. At the center of their aesthetic flare was Romanticism, a dark, mysterious portrayal of subjective human experience typically involving estrangement, psychosis, and occult powers.
As this paper argues, the fictional settings such as those in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927), F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922), and Paul Wegener’s Der Golem (1920) produced mise-en-scènes, scenarios, and character types whose aesthetic similarities may be traced back to teachings on astrology, the Tarot, and cabalism prevalent in early twentieth-century Europe and its esoteric schools. While numerous scholars have acknowledged that filmmakers behind expressionistic movies took their inspiration from the occult, none have questioned the extent to which they turned to its arcane hermeneutics. This paper examines how the twelve houses of zodiacal astrology, the seventy-eight cards of the major and minor arcana, and the ten sephiroth of the cabbala find repeated ideographical and diagrammatical representation which can be systematically charted in the movies of German Expressionism and which further suggests their creators' deep involvement in occultism. By juxtaposing occult ideography with filmic culture, it asserts that occultism played a vital, even secretive role in a cinematic movement that has hitherto gone unrecognized in scholarship on German film and culture. By pulling from the rich tradition of fin-de-siècle occultism, expressionistic filmmakers maintained deep ties with the Romantic.
Hoffmann, Meyrink, and the Fantastic Counter-Enlightenment
University of Glasgow, United Kingdom
The Enlightenment Project, along with the great scientific discoveries of the 17th and 18th centuries, helped convey the notion that through the exercise of reason, mankind was bound to fully understand the universe's composition and his purpose within it. However, as certain sectors have pushed towards the image of an ultimately finite world of concrete truths, thinkers and artists of the Romantic period and beyond have recognized both the limitations and the extreme consequences of this problematic line of thought: the belief in definite, inexpugnable answers; intolerance towards difference, a cold denial of originality, and the eventual abuse of science towards the indiscriminate exploitation of nature and man. This paper will discuss how E.T.A. Hoffmann’s literary production – “Der Sandmann”, “Die Automate” and "Die Elixiere des Teufels" – and Gustav Meyrink’s "Der Golem" exhibit the enduring potential of the fantastic Counter-Enlightenment, from romanticism to the 20th century, to criticize and even satirize the negative outcomes of the Enlightenment Project, while dispelling the Counter-Enlightenment’s reputation as reactionary and retrograde. By consciously contrasting science, technology, and bourgeois every-day life with legends, occult practices, paranormal occurrences, and the universe’s enigmatic forces, the fantastic in Hoffmann's and Meyrink's fiction rises to dismantle the idea of a perfectly exhaustible world. On the contrary, this literary mode seeks to reimagine man’s identity and position within a world of infinite possibilities by proposing an all-encompassing, ever-expanding Weltanschauung where reason need not disassociate from other forms of knowledge. The theoretical framework of this paper is constituted by Isaiah Berlin’s and Graeme Garrard’s scholarship on the Counter-Enlightenment, and the concept of the fantastic as a Counter-Enlightenment mode developed by Corry Cropper and Graham Harman.
Scientific Discourse and Emergence of Romantic Spirits
Jagiellonian University, Poland
In my presentation I would like to trace back an idea of spirits in modern science that had considerable effects upon Polish Romantic movement in the nineteenth century. My first aim is to present an archeology of the emergence of spiritualism in the nineteenth century. To do this, I will draw trajectory of substantial scientific model of angelic ether by Isaac Newton. As Simon Schaffer claimed, Newton envisaged universal forces as divine, invisible actors. I will recount subsequent contamination of this ethereal model with discourse of electricity, newly invented in eighteenth century. Leaving aside British vitalism controversies, with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein at the head, I would like to focus on Polish-French context of circulating of electricity. My second aim is to prove that the scientific discourse laid the cornerstone for mystical atmosphere embodied in polish ideas of “national philosophy” after 1831, that is after losing the November Uprising. Building upon French mysticism, for example workings of Louis Claude de Saint-Martin, such figures as Adam Mickiewicz acknowledged model of electric fluid primal role in describing interconnection between ghosts and humans. I claim that idea of spiritual reality that constitutes invisible, axiological performance of spirits was simply generated by image of electricity. Thus, I would like to stress that ghosts were direct expansion of metaphysical presuppositions in scientific claims and its technological deployments.