Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Place of Enchantment: British Occultism and the Culture of the Modern by Alex Owen.
Alex Owen’s overarching theory in The Place of Enchantment is that late 19th and early 20th-century occultism was not a reaction against modernity, but was in fact both a symptom of and a contributor to the process of articulating modern subjectivity. The early sections of the book, though rather dry, are sensible and persuasive.
The book is structured, however, to culminate with an account of Aleister Crowley and Victor Neuburg as a case study. Owen’s conclusion about Crowley’s work in the Algerian desert (which he documented in The Vision & the Voice) is that he “failed” in his bid for mystical attainment. She cavalierly dismisses his later achievements, and applies a distinctly reductionist psychoanalytic “reading” to Crowley’s magick. Nor are these judgments original. She could have cribbed their essence from Crowley’s hostile biographer John Symonds.
The book’s conclusion, like its beginning, provides a narrative of cultural history that is basically well-considered. Her decision to use Crowley as a case study is a curious one in light of her larger thesis, but I believe that it has paid dividends (literally) in giving her book a market among Thelemic occultists. [via]