Dr. Jon Leaver, Associate Professor of Art History, published “‘Sorcellerie évocatoire': Magic and Memory in Baudelaire and Eliphas Lévi” this fall in “Symposium,” vol. 66, issue 3.
Abstract from the publisher: “The relationship between Charles Baudelaire and his contemporary, the occult writer Eliphas Lévi, has long interested scholars. This essay argues that instead of fruitlessly looking for evidence of direct literary influence between the two men, we should look on their writings as parallel texts exploring remarkably similar themes but to radically different ends. Both Lévi and Baudelaire wrote about the supposed mystical origins of language and were interested in the links between poetry and black magic—a means, in both cases, to conjure up past experiences or absent people. Baudelaire’s poem “Un Fantôme” also explores the connection between memory and the occult concept of ‘lumière astrale,’ the mystical, unifying force that supposedly penetrated and connected all Creation. Although Baudelaire’s writing looked to such occult ideas as potential antidotes to the fragmentation and transience of existence, he saw that they were ultimately marked by a fatal and quintessentially modern irony: Although ideas akin to Levi’s may have offered the semblance of plenitude and happiness in their transcendence of daily existence, they also, by definition, held such feelings out of reach in an eternally irretrievable past.”