Title

'Enigmas So Occult That Oedipus Might Be Puzzled To Solve Them': Whistler, Spiritualism & Occulture in Late Victorian England

Publication Date

2013

Document Type

Article

Abstract

Whistler’s involvements with Spiritualism were an important aspect of his persona for the last thirty years of his life and his paintings were repeatedly discussed in terms of Spiritualist practice and phenomena. This article explores the usefulness of Christopher Partridge’s concept of ‘Occulture’ in understanding Whistler’s associations with Spiritualism, the discursive framing of his works, and the uses made of his paintings by a variety of individuals with divergent ideological stakes in esoteric and alternative spiritualities. Partridge’s notion of Occulture as ‘ordinary’, the emphasis he places on acts of spiritual and religious bricolage, and the ways in which his formulation of an “invisible community” behind occulture challenges the tendency to detach ‘spiritual’ and ‘mystical’ visual culture from social and political power struggles are all examined. I emphasize the complex blurring of Christianity and Occultism in Whistler’s art and letters to the press, the important shifts in the critical discourse surrounding his works between 1860 and 1900, and the ways in which his visual productions should be seen as sites not of authentic numinous experience so much as spaces in which boundaries between the sacred and the secular, the religious and the spiritual were negotiated and repeatedly re-drawn.

Original Citation

Shirland, J. (2013). 'Enigmas So Occult That Oedipus Might Be Puzzled To Solve Them': Whistler, Spiritualism & Occulture in Late Victorian England. Aries, 13(1), 71-102. doi: 10.1163/15700593-01301005.

Identifier

doi: 10.1163/15700593-01301005