Tracing Saint Germain: Absolute Knowledge and the Specter of Immortality

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So-called New Age practices and popular culture phenomena have virtually inundated the postmodern world, giving rise to numerous critical responses as well as welcome investments in their presumed significance. Sometimes dubbed a "religion", New Age ideas and their various cultural manifestations have provoked sectarian and at times vituperative responses from significant critics of various ideological persuasions. Umberto Eco indicts the New Age movement for its lack of critical thinking, chastising the odd preference for a multiplicity of mystical truths, ranging from Dan Brown's novels to faith in psychics. His position echoes the sentiments of a number of scholars who view New Age adherents as self-centered and gullible. Slavoj Žižek, from his Marxist/Lacanian position, excoriates New Agers as deluded because of their withdrawal from political commitment, and he also views them as merely another symptom reproducing the mystified logic of consumer capitalism. Given the range of critical responses to New Age beliefs, it is particularly important to understand their historical antecedents. Some of these, such as the Saint Germain phenomenon, can be mined for what they disclose about the deeper motivations underlying the present willingness to grasp at arcane and ephemeral beliefs and dubious cultural practices. Some fall within the purview of "spiritualism", including the search for a confirmation of immortality, which Saint Germain has symbolized for many, including certain of the nobility of pre-revolutionary France. Saint Germain provides an ideological and psychoanalytic test case for what drives the alternative quests of New Age occultism. By reading Isabel Cooper-Oakley's work on Saint Germain, in conjunction with other representations, the objective is to launch a dialogue with both Eco and Žižek that builds a critical response to the New Age from a more informed historical and cultural studies approach.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)373-388
Number of pages16
JournalJournal for Cultural Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2011
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology


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