Thursday, September 16, 2010

Blavatsky and Modernism

For years the Oxford Very Short Introduction series have offered concise introductions to a wide range of subjects—from religion to philosophical and political thinkers, from quantum theory to musical theory, from political movements to literary theory. 254 of these pocket-sized books have been published, roughly between 100 and 144 pages each. One of the latest, Modernism: A Very Short Introduction by Christopher Butler, was published September 3, 2010, by Oxford University Press.  On page 48, Butler cites Blavatsky to illustrate his point:

Art since the late 19th century had claimed to go deeper than all such orthodoxies, towards the far deeper and enduring ancient wisdom to be found in the history of religious myth-making. As Mme Blavatsky, who inspired Yeats put it:

"It is perhaps desirable to state unequivocally that the teachings, however fragmentary and incomplete, contained in these volumes, belong neither to the Hindu, the Zoroastrian, the Chaldean, nor the Egyptian religion, neither to Buddhism, Islam, Judaism nor Christianity exclusively. The Secret Doctrine is the essence of all these. Sprung from it in their origins, the various religious schemes are now made to merge back into their original element, out of which every mystery and dogma has grown, developed, and become materialised."

Literature based on such premises had new responsibilities. Given the secularizing effect of modernity, the involvement of the modernists with myth and religion may seem surprising, but many of them…saw the claims of art as in some way contesting or complementing those of orthodox religion….This search for an inspirational authority within the high culture rather than within religious institutions is a prime legacy of the modernist period.

The quote by Blavatsky is from the Preface to The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. viii.

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