Thursday, May 8, 2008

Esoteric Migrations into the American Comparative Literature Association

Kathryn LaFevers Evans, Independent Scholar, Chickasaw Nation

Esotericism has migrated—by invitation—from its erstwhile subterranean literary haunts into mainstream Comparative Literature, manifesting front-stage-and-center in two seminars at the ACLA 2008 Annual Meeting “Arrivals and Departures,” Long Beach, California.

This well-established international conference took place last year in Puebla, Mexico, where an intriguing professor from UNAM in Mexico City, Harold Gabriel Weisz Carrington, organized a Seminar entitled, “Magia y Literatura.”

The 2007 bilingual Seminar was devoured by attendees with an intellectual thirst for esoteric scholarship. Great interest was expressed amongst our Hispanic colleagues for continued dialogue, but from my own experience at least, channels of communication are inoperative. Undaunted, Carrington reports that, likewise this year, his “Magic Lands” seminar was well-received.

My own presentation on the role of the esoteric intellectual took place within the “Prophetic Migrations” seminar, organized by Walid A. El-Khachab of York University and co-chaired by Frank Runcie of Université de Montréal. The dynamic of this seminar, also bilingual, was propelled by the participants having read each other’s papers beforehand. Constructive comments after each presentation were focused, and helpful in formulating future presentations on esotericism. Again from an experiential perspective, the Seminar organizers and participants embodied a level of erudite presence that facilitated the exchange of scholarship on esoteric topics from Islam’s Prophet the figure, to a practicing Sufi’s architectural exploration entitled “Bridges and Channels: The Travels of Prophets,” to the suggestion, by a Religious Studies émigré into Comp Lit, of a “‘traveling theory’ continuum” as framework for understanding ideas associated with prophetic migrations, migrants, message and messenger. Of particular resonance with my paper, Mathieu E. Courville spoke of “increasing the existential charge” of knowledge through “initiato or transmission” and of “taking ideas that pre-exist us and using them to further free us,” to “take the resources and begin again from the ground level,” rather than settle for Religion’s normative model. Another presenter envisioned the Middle Eastern cosmology as the world of symbols and images—intermediary between East and West.

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