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January 10, 2022

Esse No. 105: New New Age

Esse Call for Papers No. 105: New New Age

Like mischievous ghosts or intractable supernatural forces, occult beliefs—witchcraft, fortune-telling, astrology, magic, alchemy—have constantly resurfaced from time to time to haunt the history of humanity. Figuring, in turn, as the enemy of Christianity, a stumbling block for Kantian logic, or a clear threat to the patriarchy (witches being powerful “evil” figures largely appropriated by feminists), this sporadic infatuation with the mystical and its countless varieties seems to be a tangible symptom of gnawing fatigue with the established order and hegemonic thought systems. Again today, a renewed interest in mysticism and the parallel forms of agency and power that it suggests reflect a general political inertia. From “homemade” hormonal concoctions to anti-speciesist animist practices, the many strategies offered by this “new New Age,” as we might be tempted to label it in homage to the Western countercultural movement of the 1970s, responds to the pressing need to move beyond the neoliberalism that is killing, inch by inch, our planet and the relationalities that play out in it. But more than a simple esoteric response, the existence of occult—or theoretically inexplicable—forces now seems to be endorsed by science itself, as borne out by the recent discovery of quantum mechanics and almost “magical” states of matter, throwing the door wide open to quantum mysticism! If the occult is both attractive and frightening, it is because it cannot be subjugated, because it constantly evades common sense.

Women, Indigenous peoples, racialized communities, persons with disabilities, and sexual minorities have always been persecuted for their supposed “spontaneous” mystical devotion, in a world that nevertheless constantly appropriates their spiritual practices and material culture. Thanks to their knowledge, or to their otherwise sensitive interpretations of the world, they can apprehend—and not master—alternative forms of living together that evade capture by welfare and “personal growth” capitalism. Mobilizing fertile and innovative exchanges between ancestral knowledge and technologies, between nature and culture, between living and non-living, these “heretics” enable us today to respond appropriately—or at least to respond in other ways—to social, climatic, or economic crises by trading rigidity and the general status quo for a reparative and benevolent holistic approach capable of re-enchanting the world.

Artists are far from impervious to this bewitching appeal, and they also propose alternative ways (discursive, formal, political, technical) to come into contact with reality (or realities), conjuring invisible and evanescent forces with which to grab onto and understand experiences that are otherwise quite tangible. The disciplinary hybridity of this new New Age, which encompasses philosophy, psychology, science, ecology, religion, and the arts, brings to the surface an ardent desire for connection with—love for and from—the world and the many entities (bacteria, spores, hormones, water, stars, materials) that inhabit and exemplify it.

A fundamental figure in these interdisciplinary meldings and a consummate iconoclastic icon for many of today’s artists, the witch is also an essential source of inspiration. Healer, shaman, alchemist, herbalist, magician, and sibyl, the witch calls for decolonialization of knowledge and spirituality, the shattering of patriarchy and capitalism, a close affinity with nature and the cosmos, and the blending of arts and crafts, of politics and magic. Far from being the only avatar for the new New Age, the witch is accompanied by a multitude of real and imaginary entities, queer methodologies, anti-speciesist positions, and hybrid forms of creation that are always expanding the frontiers of art. In light of the perspectives opened by the new New Age, this thematic section explores how multifarious approaches to the occult and spirituality 2.0 intersect with contemporary art practices.

ABRACADABRA!

Deadline January 10, 2022