Open Buddha

Open Source Buddhism, Technology, and Geekery
Bay Area, California

Third Day of ASE Conference

For the third day of the ASE Conference, we only had morning sessions. It started overly early at 8:30 AM. I attended the “Esotericisms Modern and Postmodern” and “Methodological Problems in Esoteric Studies” panels before we closed with the business meeting for the organization.

The first session had an interesting presentation on the “techno-occultism” of Aum Shinrikyo by Purdom Lindblad out of the work she is developing (I believe for her MA or PhD but I’m not sure). The best presentation was Alfred Vitale’s presentation, “A Modern Occult Aesthetic: Media as Ritual Technology in the works of Kenneth Anger and Grant Morrison.”

I’m not a big Ken Anger fan but Alfred had a good discussion of how the ritual activities in his films are not films of enactments of ritual events but are themselves ritual events in which the observers (us) are participants, which was part of Anger’s genius. The Grant Morrison discussion focused on Morrison’s work on The Invisibles (which happens to be my favorite comic series ever) and the esoteric or magical intent behind it that Morrison had. Alfred got to have a good discussion of sigilization and viral memes as part of this. Given the questions afterwords, it was clear that much of the younger audience were fans of Grant Morrison’s work and the discussion was quite fun.

The second session were presentations by Richard Smoley, former editor of Gnosis magazine, and Christopher Lehrich on methodological issues in studying esotericism or of even constructing categories to call “esotericism” or “magic.” Claire Fanger followed up with a counterpoint addressing both presenters and then there was some discussion. Smoley drew the analogy to a discipline of people dedicated to the discussion of wine, wine tasting, wine creation, etc. in which no one was allowed to drink wine or even, usually, to admit that wine might actually exist (except for the few that had secretly had wine but didn’t tell anyone for fear of what might happen). He used this humorous analogy for how academics study esotericism and magic in general but are not supposed to either experience or practice it themselves or admit that there might be anything at all to it. His fear is that by the study gaining legitimacy with the current development of the discipline, that the essence of what is interesting or vital in esotericism might be actually destroyed. An analogy to what has happened to philosophy or theology over time was used as well. (This is a simplistic explanation of his talk but it is hard to summarize otherwise.)

Following the close of events and the “good bye” said to all, Amy, Autumn, Fox, and I went over to Redrum Burger and had a bit of lunch and final discussion. I expect that I will see more of the Autumn and Fox since they live in the Bay Area and I am sure that Amy will be back again since she has many friends out here.