Thursday, March 10, 2011

Cambridge Library Collection—Spiritualism and Esoteric Knowledge: Update

In a December 5, 2010, post Blavatsky News alerted readers to the forthcoming series from Cambridge University Press: Cambridge Library Collection—Spiritualism and Esoteric Knowledge. Some twenty books in the series—reprints of 19th century books on spiritualism, theosophy, anthropology and psychology—were anticipated. The list has now grown to 115 titles, which can be seen here. Scheduled for May release: Eliphas Levi’s Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie, two volume set, £42.00; Daniil Avraamovich Chwolson’s  Die Ssabier und der Ssabismus, two volumes, £70.00; Olcott’s People From the Other World, £23.99, and numerous volumes of his Old Diary Leaves; Edward Maitland’s two volumes on Anna Kingsford: Her Life, Letters, Diary and Work; Alfred Percy Sinnett’s Incidents in the Life of Madame Blavatsky, £18.99; V. S. Solovyov’s A Modern Priestess of Isis trans. by Walter Leaf, £20.99;  Charles Maurice Davies’ Mystic London, or, Phases of Occult Life in the Metropolis, £20.99; the two volumes of Blavatsky’s Secret Doctrine, and posthumous volume three, £35.00 each; among others. The publisher’s overview for the series explains:

Magic, superstition, the occult sciences and esoteric knowledge appear regularly in the history of ideas alongside more established academic disciplines such as philosophy, natural history and theology. Particularly fascinating are periods of rapid scientific advances such as the Renaissance or the nineteenth century which also see a burgeoning of interest in the paranormal among the educated elite. This series provides primary texts and secondary sources for social historians and cultural anthropologists working in these areas, and all who wish for a wider understanding of the diverse intellectual and spiritual movements that formed a backdrop to the academic and political achievements of their day. It ranges from works on Babylonian and Jewish magic in the ancient world, through studies of sixteenth-century topics such as Cornelius Agrippa and the rapid spread of Rosicrucianism, to nineteenth-century publications by Sir Walter Scott and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Subjects include astrology, mesmerism, spiritualism, theosophy, clairvoyance, and ghost-seeing, as described both by their adherents and by sceptics.

As the needs of the marketplace and technology relentlessly push us to digital versions of texts (most of the titles listed above are already available online), it is encouraging to see an institution like Cambridge, with one of the oldest publishing houses in English, invest their time and resources to allow these texts from another time to find an audience again.

With the printed book on its way to becoming an endangered species, it is interesting to note that artists have taken up it functions to allow us to see it in a different way. An example is the work of Brian Dettmer.   “Using knives, tweezers and surgical tools, Brian Dettmer carves one page at a time. Nothing inside the out-of-date encyclopedias, medical journals, illustration books, or dictionaries is relocated or implanted, only removed. Dettmer manipulates the pages and spines to form the shape of his sculptures. He also folds, bends, rolls, and stacks multiple books to create completely original sculptural forms.

The site, My Modern Met, gives other examples of his work, which can be seen here. Dettmer explains:

I’d like to open a conversation to think about the book’s current role in media culture, its history and its future. Everything is turning digital and information is more accessible than ever yet its more formless and fragile at the same time. We are at a pivotal point in our history and the way we are recording it. It’s frightening and exciting at the same time.

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