The Insurrection Interviews podcast is part of Magic and Ecology, a year-long series of talks and online events where we invite researchers thinking about magic in relation to ecology, and practitioners working with magic to transform modes of earth-living in order to enable collaborative thinking across disciplines and practices. In this episode your host Simone Kotva speaks to Dr Erik Davis about techgnosis, high weirdness, the relationship between the occult impulse and ecological thinking, and so much more.
Dr Erik Davis is a fifth-generation Californian who studied literature and philosophy at Yale and spent six years in the freelance trenches of Brooklyn and Manhattan before moving back to San Francisco, his current home. His first and best-known book is undoubtedly TechGnosis: Myth, Magic, and Mysticism in the Age of Information (1998), a cult classic of visionary media studies that has been translated into five languages and recently republished by North Atlantic Press. He has since authored four books, most recently High Weirdness: Drugs, Esoterica and Visionary Experiences in the Seventies (2019), a study of the spiritual provocations to be found in the work of Philip K. Dick, Terence McKenna, and Robert Anton Wilson. High Weirdness explores the complex lattice of the strange that flowed through America’s West Coast at a time of radical technological, political, and social upheaval to present a new theory of the weird as a viable mode for a renewed engagement with reality.
Erik’s work has been praised for its ability to take seriously the esoteric underpinnings of popular culture without resorting to mystical dogma, but also without explaining them away. With an intellectual rigour that matches the rationalism of the savants who encourage us to sneer at such things, Erik’s experimental-critical approach argues that the occult should be seen, at least in part, as an exceptional instance of the human technological impulse. As hazardous as it is to make of this impulse an end in itself, as hazardous is it to throw out the ability to transform human perception and ways of earth-living that human technologies enable. As Erik writes: “I hope that we rapidly and creatively expand our range of what the German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk calls ‘anthropotechnics’ — those processes and practices that turn us into perceiving subjects, that train our capacities, that bootstrap our own transformation. Rational calculation should never tame what Sloterdijk describes as the ‘vertical tension’ that pulls us ever upward and outward, and toward the acrobatics of the spirit.”
Erik’s insights on the critical potential and, frankly, timeliness of the apparently arcane and obsolete is mind-expanding, to say the least. He has been described as a psychonaut whose writing not only describes the weird but invites the reader to experience it for themselves. As such, his work challenges the notion that human minds are locked into a fatal inability to engage with the strange, the other, the non-human and more-than-human, and it was an especial delight to have him with us on the podcast.
To learn more about Erik’s work, check out his main archive and his substack publication The Burning Shore: personal, critical and historical essays from California’s edge – plus news and links.
MAGIC AND ECOLOGY is hosted by CRASSH the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Cambridge, and co-convened by Hjördis Becker-Lindenthal, Sophie Lunn-Rockliffe and Simone Kotva.