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Modernism and Magic

Experiments with Spiritualism, Theosophy and the Occult

Leigh Wilson

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Explores the interplay between modernist experiment and occult discourses in the early twentieth century

While modernism’s engagement with the occult has been approached by critics as the result of a loss of faith in representation, an attempt to draw on science as the primary discourse of modernity, or as an attempt to draw on a hidden history of ideas, Modernism and Magic argues that occult discourses have at their heart a magical practice which attempts to remake the relationship between world and representation. As Leigh Wilson demonstrates, the discourses of the occult are based on a magical mimesis which transforms the nature of the copy, from inert to vital, from dead to alive, from static to animated, from powerless to powerful. It is this magical mimesis that proved so attractive and productive for those early twentieth-century artists committed to remaking writing, the visual arts and film.

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About the Author

Leigh Wilson is Reader in Modern Literature in the Department of English, Linguistics and Cultural Studies at the University of Westminster. Her research focuses on modernism, on the place of supernatural and occult beliefs and practices in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and on the contemporary British novel. She is the author of Modernism and Magic: Experiments with Spiritualism, Theosophy and the Occult (EUP, 2013).


[A] valuable contribution towards a deeper understanding of the interrelatedness of occult discourses and those of modernist art. The connection she establishes between modernism’s problem of mimesis and its recourse to the magical as a solution is convincingly argued.
- Tessel M. Bauduin, University of Amsterdam, Cultural History, Volume 4, no 2

"In this provocative and engaging book, Leigh Wilson finds magic at the heart of modernism. Looking afresh at its fascination with the occult, she suggests that modernist writers and filmmakers drew on magical thinking in their experimental art to create works that radically transformed the world they knew."

Professor Helen Carr, Goldsmiths, University of London


"This is a major contribution not only to our understanding of modernism's fascination with the supernatural, but of modernism’s fundamental investment in modern magic. It breaks new ground by considering magic’s importance for filmmakers and artists, novelists and poets. It is the most important book on the topic in over a decade."

Dr Stephen Ross, University of Victoria

- Dr Stephen Ross, University of Victoria and Professor Helen Carr, Goldsmiths, University of London

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