I’m so profoundly impressed with Lehrich’s The Occult Mind that I hardly know where to start reviewing it. Perhaps I should point out that the title (as contrasted with the borrowed subtitle Magic in Theory and Practice) is not much reflected by the contents. This book is not about psychology (“mind”), nor does the word “occult” appear in the text as a technical term, or very frequently at all. It is a book about magic as signifying the occult sciences, taking the early modern cases of Bruno, Dee, and Kircher as paradigmatic. But the operation performed throughout the book is theory (in a sense indistinguishable from the “practice” of intellectuals), and the Renaissance magi are treated as theoreticians on a comparative footing with their twentieth-century reader/successors Frances Yates, Mircea Eliade, and Claude Levi-Strauss.
Lehrich stares down and embraces the difficulties and necessities of comparativism and historicism, using these (and other) highly enigmatic and suspect figures as his points of exploration. In the process, his reflections on theory engage subjects ranging from Noh drama to tarot divination to musical composition. He does not (could hardly) claim to have delivered a new historical or comparative method, but only to have explicated his gropings towards one.
Among the book’s many other positive features, it deserves applause for harvesting theoretical perspective (and a piece of indispensable jargon) from the fiction of John Crowley. It is no casual read: prior familiarity with structuralist anthropology and Derridean deconstruction are useful, and it is hard to imagine it holding the attention of a reader unversed in any of the modern scholars with whom Lehrich enters into conversation. For those who are mentally equipped to consume it, however, it offers the nearest possible thing to proof that rather than being a history of “nonsense,” the legacy of the occult sciences is in fact a history of the sense of sense, a record of skilled attempts (however unproductive) to grapple with the very nature of meaning and its creation.
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