I needed to come at the issue with fresher eyes, so I picked up a collection of Wilhelm Dilthey’s essays, Poetry and Experience, that has been sitting on my shelves for years. It has made it through numerous purges and finally I have put it to some use!
It is so very late nineteenth century and so very German. The centrality of genius, the adoration for Goethe and Shakespeare, references to early psychologists like Humboldt and Fechner, questions about national character…the list goes on. Dilthey’s attention to the relationship of genius and madness, as well as the way in which he models cognition, parallels what Freud will chase down in The Interpretation of Dreams…
I haven’t quite gotten at what I wanted to, but it’s helping. There are ways to shake loose useful ideas from the somewhat stodgy German hermeneutics. So, in no particular order, some things that are on my mind:
(1) Comparing the discourse of the genius to the observations of ethnographers of the intellectual range of prominent spirit workers, of how they tend to be the polymaths of their people. Worth comparing that to the ‘cunning folk’ of England, similarly renowned. And to prominent magicians like Dee whose interests ranged quite widely.
(2) The comparison with interpretation of dreams opens toward Jung and to the notion that we can talk about poetic sensibilities and spiritual experience without having to invoke the ‘genius.’
(3) The role of the novel as a contemporary site of poetic genius, which sets me to thinking about the way in which the novelistic approach to daily life helped shape the popular categories of people that animate spiritualism, that provide vessels for many spiritual manifestations.
(4) The way in which poetic reflection mediates between modes of time, blocks of eternity.
(5) How part of what makes poetic experience possible is that the world is poetic, that the structures realized in poetic experience are related to structures existing in the world.
And I keep coming back to the idea that what you are seeing in so many of the spiritualist cosmologies are a kind of fusion of the subtle, spiritual world and the visible world through the medium (see what I did there?) of the popular imagination, the genius of the folk if you will. I keep coming back, too, to this substrate of magical and spiritualist thinking that emphasizes performance and possession, whether it is the Picatrix or Zar or Umbanda or…or…