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    Early science fiction and occultism

    Roukema, Aren (2020) Early science fiction and occultism. PhD thesis, Birkbeck, University of London.

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    This dissertation examines engagements between early science fiction (SF) and the body of modern esoteric theories and practices often described as ‘occultism’. SF is often seen as an imaginative extension of secular, empiricist science — the cultural form furthest from magic and occult logic — but this research shows that science fiction shares many of the motivations and perspectives of occultism. It argues that SF developed some of its central tropes and stylistics from its nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century engagement with magical, mesmerist, Spiritualist, and Theosophical currents, particularly their attempts to legitimate the paranormal and supernatural by appealing to scientific discourse, methodology, and social authority. It also examines a reciprocal phenomenon of influence in which SF’s tropes, themes, and imagined worlds have been enfolded into occult traditions and other alternative religious movements. Finally, this dissertation assesses how SF and occultism have been conjointly deployed to defend and communicate marginal scientific theories and religious systems. This project develops a framework for analysing these intersections. It starts with case studies of three authors — Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Emma Hardinge Britten, and Marie Corelli — each of whom generated SF from earnest communication and exploration of occult scientific hypotheses in fiction. Each case study illustrates areas of intersection in which occultism and SF influenced each other’s development, including a mutual affectation of scientific verisimilitude, naturalisation of the supernatural, a preference for hypothesis over fact, and projection of unknown forces and powers into the future. The final chapter expands scope to consider the network of occult and science fictional engagement from 1860 to 1926, illustrating further areas of intersection including an instinct for re-enchantment and a mediation of binaries constructed along the lines of science versus religion. Finally, it examines the esoteric heritage of several key tropes of science fiction: psionic powers, space exploration, and the extra-terrestrial.


    Item Type: Thesis
    Copyright Holders: The copyright of this thesis rests with the author, who asserts his/her right to be known as such according to the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. No dealing with the thesis contrary to the copyright or moral rights of the author is permitted.
    Depositing User: Acquisitions And Metadata
    Date Deposited: 03 Sep 2021 16:05
    Last Modified: 30 Jun 2024 00:44


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