Myers coined telepathy as a hypothesis to create distance from the survival weakly espoused by Spiritualists. Phantasms were of the living, not the dead, and psychical. phenomena of the séance could be explained under the rubrics of abnormal psychology and dissociated states. Myers's concept of subliminal consciousness opened a space between Spiritualism and psychical research in the 1880s. After his death, Myers became the means by which psychism was substantially reabsorbed into Spiritualism, at least in the public mind, for the Myers that returned was committed to defeating the view that his survival was merely an effect of telepathic effluvia picked up by sensitives from their living sitters. Ironically, telepathy was a hypothesis that might now threaten the surviving Myers.
The most dramatic instance of Myers's role in the resurgence of Spiritualism came in the middle of the Great War. Lodge published Raymond in 1916, a memorial to his son killed at the front in 1915 that became a best-selling book. It was divided into a'Normal'section of Raymond's letters home, and a "Supernormal" section in which Raymond communicated with the Lodge family. Ten days after his death, Lodge's wife attended a s6ance with Mrs Leonard in which an unrelated transmission was interrupted with 'TELL FATHER I HAVE MET SOME FRIENDS OF HIS. MYERS. (Oliver Lodge, Raymond: Or, Life and Death, 1916, p.97-8.)
Two days later she was told that Myers was "helping your son communicate" with the purpose of strengthening Lodge's courage "to ride over the quibbles of fools, and to make the Society, the Society, he says, of some use to the world." (Typed transcripts ,17 Mar. 1902).
Lodge was convinced of Myers' intercessory role when a message from Myers in August 1915 appeared to predict Raymond's death (after some decoding). (This became known as the "Faunus"message. For exposition, see ibid. 95)
In his first sitting with the medium Peters, Lodge received messages from Raymond, intermixed with the spirits of Myers and Stead.
Theodor Adorno, one of the principal theorists of the aesthetics of Modernism, termed occultism "the metaphysic of dunces," Occult beliefs were the product of alienation, but only further mystified the magic of commodity fetishism. ("Theses against Occultism," in Minima Meralia, London 1974, p.240)
Adorno's notes, written in 1945, hinted at associations of the occult with fascism:
"The hypnotic power exerted by things occult resembles totalitarian terror," he suggested."There is much evidence to support this association."
Brenda Maddox sees Yeats's late renewal of occult interests within the same spectrum as his fascist dalliances in the 1930S. ( Brenda Maddox, Georgie's Ghosts: A New Life of W. B. Yeats, London: Picador, 1999).
Ezra Pound's Cantos have been seen as a vehicle for a concealed occult history, in similar vein to his fascist identifica. (See Leon Surette, The Birth of Modernism: Ezra Pound, T S. Eliot, W.B. Yeats and the Occult, Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1993)
Earlier in Italy, Marinetti's celebration of the conjuncture of human and tens machine, envisioning bodies "endowed with surprising organs," was linked to "the phenomena of externalized will that continually reveal themselves at spiritualist seances." (F. T. Marinetti, "Multiplied Man and the Reign of the Machine," in Let's Murder the Moonshine: Selected Writings, ed. and trans. F.W. Flint, p.99.)
This fascination culminated, Lawrence Rainey has argued, in the spectralization of Mussolini's fascist authoritariam. (Lawrence Rainey, "Taking Dictation: Collage Poetics, Pathology and Politics," Modernism/Modernity, 5/2, 1998).
I have learnt not to trust apparently stable valences nor simply pathologize the occult. The Edwardian occult revival touched on many of the central English and European Modernists in different ways. It was seen as one avenue of revolt against Western cultural tradition and against scientistic thinking. The subliminal subject that emerged in Modernism through an interest in ecstatic or automatic states of mind was not so easily identifiable as a marginal or occultist concept. (See: The Quest for a New Man )
There were many interconnections between London's literary and occult circles in the early 1900’s. A.R. Orage, a vector for Nietzschean ideas into England, fused the fiberniensch with Theosophical supernaturalization of the Will, claiming in Consciousness that "the main problem of the mystics of all ages has been the problem of how to develop the superconsciousness, of how to become supermen." (A.R. Orage, Consciousness: Animal, Human and Superhuman. London: Theosophical Publishing Society, 1907, p.72.)
In 1907, Orage took over the New Age magazine, and many Modernists wrote for him, including T S. Eliot, Katherine Mansfield, and Ezra Pound. (Philip Mairet, A.R. Orage: A Memoirt, 1936, and Paul Selver, Orage and the New Age Circle,, 1959).
Orage read Piotr Ouspensky's Symbolism of the Tarot and Tertium Organuin in 1913 and paved the way for Ouspensky's visit to London in 1921. Ouspensky had by then submitted himself to the telepathically asserted will of his fellow Russian mystic George Gurdjieff. Gurdjieff followed his disciple to London in January 1922, to present the esoteric practice that filled out Ouspensky's occult theory.
This prompted Orage to abandon the New Age for the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man in Fontainebleau, outside Paris. The Institute was funded by Lady Rothermere in the same year that she underwrote Eliot's new journal Criterion. It was here that Katherine Mansfield died in January 1923, sometimes portrayed as the dying Trilby to the mesmeric foreign charlatan Svengall/Gurdjleff. This "Levantine psychic shark," as Wyndham Lewis called him, nevertheless attracted other Modernists to sample the dubious primitive conditions and ecstatic dancing of the Institute, including Diaghilev, Sinclair Lewis, a disgusted D. H. Lawrence, and a dedicated Margaret Anderson from the influential magazine the Little Review in New York. (James Moore, Gurdjieff and Mansfield, 1980, p. 198.)
Another circle formed around G. R. S. Mead, who had been Madame Blavatsky's secretary and edited Lucifer before leaving Theosophy to establish more eclectic pursuits under the auspices of the Quest Society. This attracted a cross-section of the intelligentsia, including Yeats, Dorothy Shakespear and Pound, Rebecca West and Harriet Weaver (founder of the New Freewoman, which became the Egoist), the Theosophical mythographer Jessie Weston, the Jewish philosopher and mystic Martin Buber, and even the anti-mystic Modernists Wyndham Lewis and T. E. Hulme.
Theosophical thinking was a central influence on the designs and colours of Wassily Kandinsky, who published On the Spiritual in Art in 1912, in which the artist is held to be "attuned to ...subtler vibrations" and art itself can "safeguard the soul from coarsening its frequency." ( 1946, p.11.) Selections from this were translated in Blast in 1914.
Another grouping attended the salon of Catherine Dawson Scott, including the theologian Evelyn Underhill (whose book Mysticism in 1911 gained wide coverage), her close friend the writer May Sinclair, and the poet Charlotte Mew. Dawson Scott went on to found the International Association of Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists and Novelists (PEN) in 1924, whilst carrying on a parallel career as a Spiritualist automatist, publishing messages from the august dead. (C.A. Dawson Scott, From Four Who Are Dead, 192). For details, see Penelope Fitzgerald, Charlotte Mew and her Friends, 1984) and Suzanne Raitt, May Sinclair: A Modern Victorian, Oxford University Press, 2000).
The seances conducted by Radclyffe Hall and Una Troubridge had been taken through the courts by 1922, and H.D. and Bryher were at the beginning of their mystical séance investigations.
Hermetic magic and Russian mystics from Blavatsky to Gurdjieff abhorred Spiritualism. They trained the Will to superhuman feats; trance-states and occupation by spirits were degenerative. Typically, Yeats existed on both sides of this divide. He returned to seance researches in 1911, under the auspices of the American SPR, chaired by the Spiritualist J. H. Hyslop.
Yeats sat with Mrs. Chenowith, who was in contact with a number of spirits, including Myers and Hodgson. In 1912, Yeats attended a seance with Mrs Wriedt at Stead's Bureau, and received his first message from Leo Africanus, the "anti-self" that generated so much poetry and theory. Arnold Goldman suggests that Yeats's sceptical report on Leo and trials in automatism with Elizabeth Radcliffe brought him closer to more interrogative SPR rigour. (Arnold Goldman, "Yeats, Spiritualism, and Psychical Research," in George Harper Mills (ed.), Yeats and the Occult, 1975).
Yeats lectured to the SPR on "Ghosts and Dreams" in 1913, but also confessed a year later that his seance work did not have "evidence the Society of Psychical Research would value." ( Peter Kuch, "Laying the Ghosts?" W B. Yeats' "Lecture on Ghosts and Dreams," Yeats Annual, 5 , 1987, and "Swedenborg, Mediums and Desolate Places," in W B. Yeats, If I were Four-and-Twenty, 1940).
A Vision, his astrological, magical, eschatological synthesis received through his wife's automatic hand between 1917 and 1922 (along with much useful contraceptive advice), would confirm Yeats's own Judgement on the marginal importance of evidential value against the mythopoeic potentialities of the trance-state.
Yeats's indiscriminate occult enthusiasms tend to encourage elision of different strands of thinking at the time. Other Modernists interested in exploring states of subjectivity made more rigorous distinctions. Whilst abhorring spiritualistic or Theosophical credulity, many still relied on the discourses of mysticism and psychical research. Suzanne Raitt has argued that scholars should "take mysticism as at least as involved as psychology in the generation of modern literary method."
William James devoted two lectures in his Varieties of Religious Experience to mystical experiences, defining them as transient, fugitive, and ineffable but also imparting senses of cosmic connectedness. Myersian terminology located mysticism within "that great subliminal or transmarginal region of which science is beginning to admit the existence." (1902, p. 426)
The theologian Evelyn Underhill investigated the mystical as transcending the personal, losing the boundedness of selfhood. The experience was "a process of sublimation which carries the correspondences of the self with the Universe up to higher levels than those on which our normal consciousness works." ( Evelyn Underhill, The Essentials of Mysticism and Other Essays, p. 6.)
These descriptions connect to the Joycean epiphany or Woolfian "moment of being"-what T. S. Eliot termed states of soul, "which are to be found ... only beyond the limit of the visible spectrum of human feeling, and which can be experienced only in moments of illumination, or by the development of another organ of perception other than that of everyday vision." (T S. Eliot."Preface" to Thoughts for Meditation, 1951, cited Paul Murray, T S. Eliot and Mysticism: The Secret History of the Four Quartets1991, p.168.)
Eliot's metaphor of the spectrum and new organs echoes Myers fairly precisely, linking the articulation of mystical states back to terminologies of psychical research. Tom Gibbons has claimed direct borrowing from Myers in one of D. H. Lawrence's most cited passages on his new approach to character. Writing to Edward Garnett in 1914 Lawrence warned that "the old stable ego" coexisted with "another ego."
These were in "allotropic states," as diamond and coal were differcut forms of carbon. The term "allotropic" and the carbon metaphor are repeated from Myers's Human Personality. (See Toni Gibbons, "'Allotropic States' and 'Fiddle-Bow': D. H. Lawrence's Occult Sources," Notes and Queries, 2, 33, 1988, p.339)
Lawrence, contemptuous of Ouspenskian mysticism or Freudianism, relied on Myersian terms for psychical states because these shared his disgust of mechanical or reductionist accounts for more dynamic, inherently metaphorical language. One of the most outspoken critics of the limits of scientific models ofmind was the philosopher Henri Bergson, whose work became important in English intellectual culture after 1911.
Bergson criticized mechanistic thinking, particularly in evolutionary theory, contrasting continuities of the instinctual mind with the limited, discontinuous processes of the intellect. Intellect was a "luminous nucleus," which threw deep shadows, and it was the "vague nebulosity" on which Bergson focused. (Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution, trans. Arthur Mitchell 1990, 1998, 177.)
Bergson conceived the Myers mind in terms very similar to Myers, but then had been in contact with since the foundation of the SPR. The more I think of your observations, Bergson wrote to Myers in 1886, "the less I can explain these phenomena to myself otherwise than by transmission of thought."
In 1913, when Bergson became president of the SPR, the arguments in his presidential address were continuous with Creative Evolution: mental life was "much more vast than the cerebral life" to which scientists limited it; telepathy probably existed on the "fringe of perceptions most often unconscious," and was discarded by most psychologists; the idea "of a consciousness overflowing the organism" might account for how "the soul survives the body." ( Henri Bergson, "Phantasms of the Living" and "Psychical Research": Address to the SPR, 28 May 1913, in Mind-Energy: Lectures and Essays, trans. H. Wildon Carr, 1920, 79, 77 and 78.)
In her philosophical essay A Defence of Idealism, May Sinclair complained that the spiritual, the psychic, the magical, and the supernatural had become entangled in recent times, an effect she blamed on a penumbra created by the aggression of scientific naturalism. Sinclair is one of the best exemplars, however, of the productive potential of these overlapping knowledges in the 19l0’s. Sinclair had begun her career in the 1880’s, but in the new century became an early supporter of Ezra Pound, defended Imagist poetry, T S. Eliot's "Prufock" (she had some influence on his later work, too), and Dorothy Richardson's experiments in "stream of consciousness." In 1911, she began writing a sequence of supernatural stories, initially for the English Review. Collected as Uncanny Tales in 1923, they eschew the language of ghosts and hauntings for the terms "phantasm" and "apparition." (See Rebeccah Kinnamon Neff, "New Mysticism in the Writings of May Sinclair and T S. Eliot," Twentieth Century Literature, 26, 1980.)
These presences are generated by extreme mental states, are mixed up with projective powers of mind, and are attended by dissolutions of boundaries between selves.
In "The Flaw in the Crystal," Agatha Verrall uses her projective healing Gift, "a current of transcendent power," to salve nervous collapses.(1912, p.200)
Ecstasy is touching the "innermost essence" of the other, when "the walls of flesh were down." (Ibid, 201) Terror lies in the corruption or reversibility of this touch: her insane neighbour switches selves with her, leaving her nerves "charged ... to a pitch of insane and horrible sensibility," where the world is seen as populated by "strange shiverings, swarmings, crepitations ... of things that creep and writhe towards dissolution." The "flaw" of the title is Agatha's mixing of a transcendent Gift with earthly desire. This is an overdetermined narrative for Sinclair, the conjuncture of her interests offering at least three frames for the tale. The corruption of Agatha's Gift conforms to Evelyn Underhill's warnings that mystical communion can be undermined by desires emanating from the "lower centres."
Underhill's Mysticism thanked Sinclair in the acknowledgements.In another way, Sinclair mines an unstable borderland between the categories of the magical and the spiritual. Nobody could deny, she commented in A Defence of Idealism, that "the region of telepathy, and of suggestion and auto-suggestion, and of 'psychic phenomena' generally I . . is a region of utmost uncertainty and danger." Yet she defended the admirable work of the SPR, which she Joined in 1914. (May Sinclair, A Defence of Idealism: Some Questions and Conclusions, 1917, 283 and 294.)
May Sinclair helped finance the Medico-psychological Clinic in Bloomsbury in 1913, one of the first English institutions where Freudian psychoanalysis was used in treatments, so Sinclair is known for her examination of the ambiguities of sexual constraint in Mary Olivier and Life and Death onHarriett Frean-regarded as "psychoanalytic" novels.
The Medico-psychological Clinic, though, used an eclectic mix of psychological theories, from Janet and Jung as much as Freud. Two psychologists associated with the Clinic included Hector Munro, who claimed to be a psychic and have "the psychic's uncanny power over certain people," and William McDougall, who soon became president of the SPR. (Details of Sinclair's involvement in Raitt, May Sinclair.)
She also later wrote a short preface for Catherine Dawson Scott's From Four Who Are Dead, undecided between psychical and Spiritualist explanations for the automatic script. (May Sinclair, "The Flaw in the Crystal," English Review, 11 1912, p.200.)
These kinds of conjuncture, where telepathy, mystical communion, supernatural "possession," and sexual transference overlay each other, became nodal points for Modernist investigations of the limits of consciousness. H.D., recovering from a severe breakdown following the death of her brother in France, had a mystical experience of connecting with the "over-mind" in 1919. Her account left Havelock Ellis unimpressed," yet her "crystal-gazing" vision, three years later, was psychically shared with her partner Bryher and they examined it for years afterwards. This "hieroglyph of the unconscious" stayed at the centre of her sessions with Freud in 1933, an encounter in which the ghostly hovers in and out of literal and metaphorical resonance. (H.D., Tribute to Freud, 1970, p. 93.)
In 1933 Andre Breton reconceived the role of automatism in Surrealism, displacing Freud from sole proprietorship of the unconscious. Breton recalled that Schrenck-Notzing had discussed the "aesthetic" of hysteria in 1889, before adding: "And in spite of the regrettable fact that so many are unacquainted with the work of F. W H. Myers, which anteceded that of Freud, I think we owe more than is generally conceded to what William James justly called the gothic psychology of F." W H. Myers: Breton committed Surrealism to 'the Myers problem (strictly psychological): the determination of the precise nature of the subliminal'." David Lomas has downplayed the place of Myers in Surrealism, noting that Human Personality was not translated into French until 1925, the year after the First Manifesto of Surrealism defined it as "pure psychic automatism," and the Surrealists themselves as "modest recording devices" for "thought dictated in the absence of all control exercised by reason" (Andre Breton,"The Automatic Message"1933, in What is Surrealism? Selected Writings, ed. and introd, Franklin Rosemont 1978, p.100.)
Yet the four essays which Myers published on automatic writing in the PSPR in 1885-6 were influential assessments of the psychiatric import of automatism. Sonu Shamdasani has shown how automatic writing and the subliminal consciousness it revealed offered a writing cure alongside Freud's talking cure-that automatic writing and "Its" unconscions was an "other" unconscious explored at the time." Elisabeth Roudinesco also claims that Breton had already read the works of Janet, Myers, Richet ... and Flournoy's "From India to Planet Mars" by 1922. (Elisabeth Roudinesco, Jacques Lacan & Co.: A History of Psychoanalysis in France ig.25-85, trans. Jeffrey Mehlman, 1990, p.22.)
Breton was tactically revising the Surrealist lineage, but the place of Myers was no retroactive falsification. Much later in life Breton still emphasized Myers's "beautiful work" in Surrealist researches. (Andre Breton, Conversations: The Autobiography of Surrealism, trans. Mark Potizzotti, 1990, p.6o.)
Surrealism, Breton claimed, was a movement that had emerged from the hypnogogic borderland between sleep and waking, where reverie dismantled rational control of the stream of thought. This was the moment of maximum permeability in the threshold of sub/liminality explored by Myers. Breton and Phillippe Soupault composed The Magnetic Fields, recording disjointed thought processes in 1919. The "epoch of trances" began in September 1922, when Rene Crevel returned to the group to report on what he described as "the beginnings of a 'spiritualist initiation' in which he developed "mediumistic qualities." He passed into trances from which he wrote and spoke automatic texts. Robert Desnos was the most adept at receiving this "magic dictation." ( A. Breton, "The Mediums Enter" 1924, in The Lost Steps, trans. Mark Polizzotti, University of Nebraska Press, 1996, 92.)
The group would gather for seances, but Breton insisted that loftily refuse to admit that any communication whatsoever can exist between the living and the dead.
In seeking the revolutionary disorder of the subliminal mind, however, Surrealism belonged, as Elisabeth Roudinesco suggests, to a wider occult less through any adherence to the mystical ornaments of occultism than through the way in which it manifested a clandestine, nocturnal and "accursed" vision of the doctrines it defended. (See Tim Armstrong, "Distracted Writing," in Modernism, Technology and the Body: A Cultural Stud, Cambridge University Press, 1998.)
Automatism was at the core of the split within Surrealism in 1929. Laurent Jenny and others have observed that revolutionary automatism was stymied by its Passivity. Other Modernist experimenters who used automatic writing-such passiv as Gertrude Stein and William Carlos Williams-saw it not as an end, but a starting point. Breton expelled most of the automatists and Salvador Dali's paranoiac-critical method prevailed for the next decade. Nevertheless, the generative possibilities of games of chance, such as cadavre exquis, where texts or images created by different players are then juxtaposed, were retained long after this split. The uncanny links found between players, the "strange possibility of thought, that of its pooling [mise en commun]," haunted Breton, and he pursued "the idea of a tacit communication-occurring only in waves-between the participants." (Both cited Lomas, The Haunted Self, p.68.) The game of the cadavre exquis might as well have been an invention of Myers, f Myers-but the posthumous Myers, the one busy directing his collages of cross-correspondences between mediums.
CROSS-CORRESPONDENCE AND COLLAGE
The collage technique was first used by Picasso in 1912, and was communicated to Italy, where Marinetti defined parole en liberta in the "Technical Manifesto of Futurist Literature" in the same year. Collage was the exemplary avant-garde technique: it breached the aesthetic frame by directly incorporating the real, it disrupted distinctions of figure and ground, and posed questions about authorial originality. (For definition of avant-garde practice, see Peter Burger, The Theory of the Avant-Garde, trans. Michael Shaw, Manchester University Press, 1984. For figure/ground and issues of originality, see Rosalind Krauss, The Originality of the Avant- Garde and Other Modernist Myths, Cambridge, 1985).
On this last point, Marinetti contended that parole en liberta might "Destroy the I in literature: that is, all psychology." In this respect, collage has been associated with a "hard" Modernism which disdained interiorized, Romantic psychological investigations in favour of surface juxtapositions. This would place it in opposition to the subliminal experiments of a "soft" Modernism. 70 yet even here, calls like those of T. E. Hulme for a "discontinuous poetry" of images "juxtaposed asyntactically" had been anticipated by the audacious posthumous experiment being conducted by Myers.
These cross-correspondences began in 1901 when Myers started communicating through a number of mediums simultaneously. Mrs. Holland (that is, Alice Kipling) in India read Myers's Human Personality and soon after began to receive automatic texts signed TWHM. One contained an injunction to send her script to Mrs. Verrall in Cambridge, a neighbour o f Myers and a classicist who lectured at Newnham College. She had begun receiving automatic messages from Myers in Latin and Greek. With Richard Hodgson already in contact with Myers via Mrs Piper in Boston, the SPR were aware of three routes to Myers. More were to come: Mrs Willett received elaborations ofunfinished chapters of Human Personality in 1909. (See Gerald Balfour, A Study of the Psychological Aspects of Mrs Willett's Mediumship, and of the Statements of the Communicators Concerning Process, PSPR, 43 ,1935)
It took another prompt from Myers-to "superpos[e] certain things on others, when all would be clear"-for the investigators to understand that the messages dispersed between mediums began to cohere when juxtaposed. Alice Johnson explained in the first of many reports in the PSPR that:
What we get is a fragmentary utterance in one script, which seems to have no particular point or meaning, and another fragmentary utterance in the other of an equally pointless character; but when we put the two together, we see that they supplement one another, and thereis apparently one idea underlying both, but only partially expressed in each. (Alice Johnson, "On the Automatic Writing of Mrs. Holland." PSPR 21 .1908, 374 and 75.)
The complexity of these tests was taken as a sign of an animating intelligence, although a new notation for Myers's multiplied self was required, the particular medium being appended in subscript to his name. Myersh, Myersp, and Myers\were held to present slightly different aspects of Myers due to contamination from the communicator (Myers did once complain at his "reluctant and obtuse secretary" who mangled his dictations). (Cited by H.F. Saltmarsh, Evidence of Personal Survival from Cross-Correspondences, 1938, p.54.)
William Barrett felt that it was "a sort of dream or truncated personality that presents itself" in these scripts, yet it was "highly probable" that they represented fragments of Myers. (William Barrett, "Introdnction" to H.A. Dallas, Mors janna Vitae? A Discussion Of the Certain Communications Purporting to Come from Frederic W. Myers, 1910, p. xviii.)
It was the contents of the messages that clinched it for many investigators. These were allusive, fragmentary literary and classical references that echoed Myers's career as classicist and poet, yet reorganized his sources into a collage that seemed to abandon any logical articulation between the fragments. An early cross-correspondence involved Myers, suggesting that investigators look out for "Hope Star and Browning." Sure enough, a trance-text from Myersv two weeks earlier fitted the bill. It was reproduced in full by G. Piddington p.76.
Piddington's annotations decode "Hope," "Star," and "Browning" from this text, with "Aster" initiating a series of puns around stars, heavenly wonders, and constellations, mixed in with fragmentary citations front Browning's The Ring and the Book (And all a wonder and a wild desire and "On the earth the broken sounds/threads"), associations to Blake and classical sources. The diagram seems to posit a technique of reading that triangulates hidden connections, and thus "completes the arc." This was only the beginning of the analysis of links that weaved to and fro across the Atlantic, threading together classical philosophy and English poetry. The medium Mrs Verrall even wrote a brief note for the Modern Language Review on Tennyson's echoing of Plotinus in In Memoriam, although she did not reveal that this had been communicated through automatic texts from Myers. (See Mrs. Verrall, "A Possible Reminiscence of Plotirms in Tennyson." Modern Language Review, 2/4,1907.)
Early in the twentieth century the posthumous Myers had led psychical research a longway from scientific experiment. His surviving spirit seemed intent on turning the discipline towards a form of literary hermeneutics.
So complex were the chains of association, echo, and elision in the Myers scripts that reports were typically 400 or 500 pages long. These texts evoke Roland Barthes's famous avant-garde assertion that the writerly text is nothing more than a tissue of quotations, with the Author an illusory after-effect. But doesn't the intent of the SPR to install an animating consciousness behind these textual marks contravene thealm ofcollage? To its subsequentart theorists, perhaps, but one of the earliest practitioners of papiers coils, the Futurist Severeni, spoke of it as driven by "the need, at the time, to comprehend the sense of a more profound and secret inner reality, which would have been born from the contrast of the materials." (Severeni, cited Marjorie Perloff, "The Invention of Collage," in The Futurist Moment: Avant-Garde, Avant-Guerre, and the Language of Rupture, University of Chicago Press, 1986, p.45-6.)
This realigns collage techniques with parallel kinds of "occult" hermeneutic-in the broad sense of practices dedicated to unveiling the hidden. And this gnostic trawl through fragments of the cultural tradition also connects to the contemporaneous projects undertaken by Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot.
Modernist anthropology and primitivism linked up with esoteric study, which sought to recover a lost, ancient gnosis from scattered, elusive fragments. Mead's Fragments of a Faith Forgotten is not that far from Pound's speculations on the origins of the poetic Tradition, buried in "a Babylonian and Hittite tradition whereof knowledge is for the most part lost." This search for origins is what prompted Pound's researches into the troubadour poets (on which he lectured to the Quest Society in 1913), whilst a suspicion of the West directed investigations intojapanese and Chinese forms. Pound's first Canto is a ritual invocation of the dead, whose passing shades populate his epic. For Leon Surette, the Cantos is an occultist document, exoteric fragments plucked from a hidden esoteric tradition, a great intertextual fabric reaching from remotest antiquity to the present', but whose meaning is "fully possessed only by a few extraordinary mortals." T.S. Eliot explicitly advocated the method ofesoteric underpinning. Injoyce's Ulysses myth gives "a shape and a significance to the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history." Eliot's shoring of fragments in The Waste Land has been read through Jessie Weston's essay From Ritual to Romance (the connection was made early, the New Statesman commenting that "Miss Weston is clearly a theosophist and Mr Eliot's poem might be a theosophical tract"). (Review, cited Surette, The Birth of Modernism, 235.)
If this ignores Eliot's parody of contemporary flotsam of the occult, however accurate his knowledge of the Tarot pack actually was. (Tom Gibbons has suggested that Eliot was likely to have included imagery from A E. Waite's The Pictorial Key of the Tarot (ign) in The Waste Land. "The Waste Land Tarot Identified Journal of Modern Literature, 2 ,1972.)
The Waste Land still evokes a kind of "occultist" response. The allusive fragments promise an esoteric meaning, a coherence just beyond the threshold of readerly competence. To reach that, Eliot suggests, is to be initiated into Tradition, which ensures (like mystic training) "a continual extinction of the personality" and sets the poet "among the dead." The reader of The Waste Land is left only with confusedly reanimated voices from beneath the ground, overlapping and fragmentary like s6ance voices-or like the allusive textual traces of a Myers pluralized and dispersed in the cross-correspondences. Michael Levenson has called The Waste Land "a kind of ghost story" iIn which "to take seriously the loss of clear boundaries between life and death and to acknowledge the disembodied character of consciousness is to approach the extent of the poem's formal provocation." In fact, the readerly experience of Pound and Eliot might well be recalled in the warning H.F. Saltmarsh issued to perusers of the cross-correspondence material: "many of them are extremely complicated, most involve reference to classical and literary topics and in some instances the evidential value turns upon some subtle point of classical scholarship or literary criticism, so that it may be doubted whether the full strength can be appreciated by the reader who is not versed in these subjects." (Salmarslh, Evidences of Personal Survival from Cross-correspondences, p. 39.)
Anglo-American Modernism in this strain risked, rather like psychical research, becoming an insular arcana of a self-involved elite.