Topic: Simon Critchely ‘Pandemic Mysticism’Time: Apr 8, 2021 07:00 PM London
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Simone Weil

Seminar outline.

In the wake of COVID-19, many of us have grown used to being hermits, socially distanced and masked against a contaminated and untrustworthy reality defined by pestilence, suffering and death. In a world of contagion – possibly being contagious ourselves – we have followed a practice that the ancients called anachoreisis, a withdrawal into solitude, a retreat from the world. Whether we liked it or not, we all became anchorites or anchoresses. There is a strange asceticism to the world of lockdown and disease which opened us up to extreme experiences of doubt, dereliction, dreams, hypochondria, hallucination, and a desperate desire for love or a connection with something or someone outside or larger than the self. These experiences and emotion have profound historical and religious echoes with the logic, poetics and practices of mysticism. It is as if something elemental and primeval has been revived in the pandemic. Perhaps it is worth looking into. It seems to me, then, that this might be an opportune moment to study some mystical texts together and think about the nature of mystical experience. Such is the simple purpose of this seminar. In its attempts to articulate religious experience in thought, mysticism both borrows heavily from philosophy and undermines its standard procedures. What often results is a strange philosophy of contradictions, confessions, and enigmas. While not being blind to the many mystical traditions, we will focus on Christian mysticism, especially medieval texts, and especially those written by women. Authors that may be included are: Dionysius the Areopagite, Hadewych of Antwerp, Meister Eckhart, Marguerite Porete, Julian of Norwich, Margery Kempe, Angela of Foligno, and others. The seminar will also include selections from more recent authors inspired this tradition, for example William James, Bataille, Lacan, Michel de Certeau, Simone Weil, R.D. Laing, Caroline Bynum and Amy Hollywood. We will pay attention to the political dimension of these traditions that are focused around the odd phenomenon of mystical anarchism. And we will also pay attention to the relation of mystical experience to popular music in various forms.

This seminar has been organised by Mathilde Prietzel Nielsen, 1st year Philosophy student. Please email for the zoom conference login details.