English 254 - Fall, 2020

20th Century British Literature

Class Information

Instructor: Dobbins, Gregory
CRN: 53284
Time: R 3:10-6:00
Breadth: Later British
Focus: Interdiscipline, Other National, Method, Theory


    Mysticism, Magic, and Modernism

    This graduate seminar seeks to examine the connection between High Modernist formal experimentation and movements devoted to both mystical contemplation and/or to magical practice, with an emphasis on the political and social implications embedded within that relationship (which included emerging forms of anti-imperialism, socialism, environmentalism, vegetarianism, feminism, and movements committed to global human rights). The first half of the course will focus on two opposed currents of esoteric thought which became prominent in the late 19th century and would have a profound impact on 20th century cultural production: on the one hand, various left-hand path movements identified with magic such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (and by extension the relationship such groups had to Symbolist poetry and political extremism, whether of a reactionary or revolutionary nature), and, on the other hand, Theosophy (and the relationship that spiritual movement had to emerging theories of intersectionality, socialism, anti-imperialism and the subversive rewriting of European Orientalist scholarship). The second half of the class would focus on the impact these different strands of esoteric thought made on the works of W.B. Yeats, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, H.D., James Joyce and on Modernist painting (most notably on the work of Wassily Kandinsky and on abstract expressionism) among others.

    Many final determinations about course content (including the availability of texts) depend upon final confirmation regarding whether Fall 2020 will take place in virtual or physical format; this description will be updated in the weeks or months ahead once the situation becomes clearer, so please check back periodically once such decisions have been made by the university.

    At this point, there are a large number of texts up for consideration; the final list will be much shorter (so again, please check back in the coming weeks and over the summer). The final syllabus will be drawn from the following list of potential texts:

    Magic and the Occult:
    Eliphas Levi, The Dogma and Ritual of High Magic (excerpts)
    A.E. Waite, The Pictorial Key to the Tarot (we will be learning how to read Tarot Cards, so you will also need to obtain your own Rider/Waite/Smith Tarot deck)
    Israel Regardie, ed. Rituals of the Golden Dawn (excerpts)
    J.K. Huysmans, The Damned
    Selected poems by Baudelaire, Lautremont, Rimbaud, Peladan, etc.

    Theosophy and temporality:
    Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine (excerpts), The Key to Theosophy
    A.P. Sinnett, Esoteric Buddhism (excerpts)
    Mabel Collins,Light on the Path
    George William Russell (A.E.), The Candle of Vision
    Annie Besant and C.W. Leadbetter, Thought Forms
    Wassily Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art
    J.W. Dunne, An Experiment with Time

    Arthur Machen, The Three Imposters (selected stories), A Fragment of Life
    W.B. Yeats, selected poems and prose, A Vision (excerpts)
    James Stephens, The Crock of Gold
    Aleister Crowley, Moonchild
    Blast One (including Wyndham Lewis, Rebecca West, Ezra Pound, H.D., etc.)
    James Joyce, Ulysses (excerpts), Finnegans Wake (excerpts)
    T.S. Eliot, selected poems, The Waste Land (and related texts)
    H.D., selected poems, Trilogy
    Flann O Brien, The Third Policeman


    Frequent and prolonged participation (both in class and via online platforms), one long research paper due at the end of the course; shorter written assignments