A project Labex Arts H2H
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Deceptive Arts
Machines, Magic, Media

Magic and Philosophy
Conference Program

From 24 to 25 november, 2016

ENS Louis Lumière

By registration

At the beginning of his conference entitled « Science, Magic and Philosophy », one can read, by Eric Weil’s pen, in order to legitimize his attempt: « Si la science et la philosophie ne se comprennent que sous l’aspect de leur devenir passé – ce qu’on appelle l’histoire, il n’en va pas de même de la magie ; car la magie ne nous vient pas seulement du passé, elle appartient au passé, elle n’est plus, et à notre époque elle se retrouve tout au plus dans ces débris du passé que charrie le flot du présent sous le nom de superstitions. La thèse que je propose de soutenir est presque diamétralement opposée à cette vue. Selon elle, non seulement, la magie n’a pas disparu de notre monde ; au contraire, elle y joue un rôle d’une force déterminante » (Philosophy and reality).

This is also true of all the times when magic and philosophy coexisted on the stages of thought. In appearance, the case seems settled: philosophy, since the Greek logos, never stopped to denounce, by the government of reason, magical practices as archaic and nebulous (Zoroastrianism, Hermetic, theosophy, Kabbalah, gymnosophy, Druidism, and so forth). If, as Henri Bergson notes at the other extremity of the history of philosophy (The Two Sources of Morality and Religion), magic is inseparable from the human condition – as a way to extend actions beyond what is permitted by the physical laws was born of the experience of our limitations but also of the refusal to subordinate ourselves to them – it is yet no knowledge, but only the rebellion of man against the drying up of his desire ritualizing violent emotions by tolerated practices. Duly noted.

We wish here to follow the opposite path: the one not only of a « rationality of magical practices » (to quote the title of Pascal Sanchez’s book) but also a combination – how? under what conditions?... –, an inter-paradigmatic node between philosophy and magic, the first borrowing some of its heuristic and methodological procedures from the episteme of the second, with the idea that the reverse phenomenon, a sort of feedback effect, from philosophy towards magic, is thus quite likely. We must, of course, as Giordano Bruno’s reminder repeats it, distinguish several kinds of magic, sometimes incompatible; all are not equivalent in our perspective: natural magic, magic of wonders, necromancy or conjuring have probably not registered, in the history of thought, such close links with metaphysics or theology that did occult philosophy, also called « extra-natural magic » or « mathematical magic », which partisans, for a long time (the Renaissance), called themselves alchemists as well as philosophers. Some important names chant this rhythmic conjugality: Ficino, Pico della Mirandola, Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, Jakob Böhme, etc. Hélène Védrine (Philosophy and magic in the Renaissance) has given about the period a classic work. But a positive interaction between philosophy and magic (also with background interrogations about the relations between magic and science or art) does not concern only that distant past: it is as well found, by example, in German idealism and romanticism (Schelling, Novalis, Fr. Schlegel) in the early nineteenth century, or – another example – very contemporarily (how could, perhaps more boldly, meet magic and philosophies of desire and the event?), in a current presence that this symposium also intends to circumscribe.


Moderation : Jean-Michel Durafour

Jean-Michel Durafour (Associate Professor, université Paris-Est Marne-la-vallée/LISAA) : 

« Conference opening remarks »

Davide Grossi (Ph.D in Metaphysics, Research Associate, Istituto Italiano per gli Studi Storici, Naples) : 

« “Psychagogein”: Magic and Rhetoric between Ancient and Modern Age. From Gorgias to Vico »


The word « psychagogein » was first used by ancient Greeks for the magic ritual summoning the dead; it is also used for a magician bringing up the dead in Euripide’s Alcestis. The term recurs in Isocrates, Plutarch, Lucian and Plato who used such word to define the art of sophistic. In Phaedrus Plato defines rhetoric as « psychagogia » acting through the words. This significant intuition that links magic and rhetoric refers to Gorgia’s Helen which represents a proof of the magical feature of rhetoric. The idea of rhetoric as magic will be developed in Italian modern thought by authors like Bruno and Vico. Those philosophers have tried to regain the art of persuasion to philosophy considering it as the leading way to transform the nature of men, or, in other terms, to do the knowledge itself.

Massimo Donà (Professor in Theoretical Philosophy, universita Vita-Salute San Raffaele, Milan) : 

« The Magical Foundation of the World »


In this contribution I attempt to show how the magical foundation necessarily precedes the (supposed) rationality. The argument deals with a confrontation with the most important text of the Italian renaissance, in order to shed light on the complex relationship between logic and analogy, science and magic, beyond a scientist method, which we should always investigate with a serious metaphysical approach.

Bill Rebiger (Research Associate, Maimonides Centre for Advanced Studies, université de Hambourg) : 

« Magical Knowledge and Pragmatic Approach in Medieval Jewish Magic »


In general, magical logic follows the conditional clause « If one knows and does the right magic then the desired goal is attained ». But, this guarantee of success is doubted, even inside the camp of the followers of a magical worldview, when the goal of the magical act is failed. Thus, the failure is an essential problem of magic. The question would be whether the magical knowledge is wrong or the performative acting. The paper discusses various examples of Jewish magical instruction texts from the middle Ages focusing on the tension between the alleged coerciveness of magical knowledge promising a specific result on the one side and a pragmatic approach of trial and error on the other side.

Emma Abate (Ph.D Candidate in Jewish Studies and Religious Sciences, Research Associate, EPHE-SAPRAT, Paris) : 

« The production of the Golem in Medieval Ashkenazi Texts, Mystical and Lexicographical Sources » 


My contribution aims to explore some of the channels through which the Jewish magical tradition of the fabrication of the Golem was handed down in the Jewish medieval texts from Germany and France. On the one hand, I will consider the different phases of the execution of the performance, by delving into the ritual as reported in manuscripts belonging to the pietistic Ashkenazi context surrounding the Talmudist and mystic Eleazar of Worms (1176-1238). On the other hand, I will compare substantial variants of this practice and their implications as referred to in medieval French and German texts unrelated to Hasidei Ashkenaz sources. Finally, by examining contemporaneous material regarding the Golem’s traditions to be found in the exegetical and lexicographical literature, I will take into account some different interpretation of the golem’s texts beyond the mystical perspective.

Naïs Virenque (Contractual Ph.D Student, Centre d’études supérieures de la Renaissance de l’université François-Rabelais Tours, Lecturer, université Jean-Moulin Lyon 3) : 

« The Tree View as a Mind Map: Methodology of Art of Memory in the Magic and Philosophy of the Middle Ages and the Early Renaissance »


In the first century BC, the author of the Rhetorica ad Herennium distinguished two kinds of memory according to the classical rhetoric: natural memory and artificial memory. The second kind of memory « includes backgrounds and images ». By « backgrounds », the author means « such scenes as are naturally or artificially set off on a small scale, complete and conspicuous, so that we can grasp and embrace them easily by the natural memory ». In the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the image of the tree and the tree diagram are used as mnemonic tools; they allow to organize and classify the field, to order gradually knowledge as well. Yet at the heart of disputes between philosophers and magus, the art of memory not only has a rhetoric and propaedeutic wealth, but also heuristic qualities. Promoted as universal method of accessing Divine and understanding the world, on the one hand, and denigrated as esoteric and occult practice, on the other, it can be read as an expression of a secret revealed. The presentation suggests a study of the tree view as a mind map in the art of memory in the Middle Ages and the Early Renaissance. 

Laetitia Marcucci (Ph.D in Philosophy, ATER, université Aix-Marseille) : 

« Magical Knowledge and Philosophy in compendia of Astrological Medicine in the Renaissance: Epistemic Lighting on Jean d'Indagine’s Treaty (1522) »


Compendia of medical astrology in the Renaissance combine various magical knowledge. How can we talk about pollinisation of magical and philosophical approaches in this largely unexplored corpus? How do modes of rationality occur or entangle? Based on a method that is both historical and conceptual, we examine the case both singular and paradigmatic of the unique treaty by Jean d’Indagine (1522), one of several treaties about chiromancy, astrology and physiognomy most read in the Renaissance, which mixes magical knowledge and understanding of human nature with Neoplatonic background. 

Sébastien Galland (Professor in philosophy, Ph.D. in History of Philosophy, Lecurer, université Montpellier 3, Centre d'Études en Rhétorique, Philosophie et Histoire des Idées/ENS de Lyon) : 

« Magic, Link and Philosophy by Giordano Bruno »


The Brunian magic is a relational power, which participates in the differential self-production of nature; it highlights the abundance of divine substance by the multiplicity of its links. Man, being a part of this relational complexity, may use it artificially by activating a particular link. By its bipolar voltage, the link is vicissitude in itself, it creates a philosophy of transformation, mutation and hybridization.

Abel Franco (Associate Professor in Philosophy, California State University) : 

« Charles Le Brun (1619-90) or The Friendly Encounter in Painting of Cartesianism, Mechanicism, and Natural Magic »


Charles Le Brun (1619-90)’s Conférence sur la physiognomie (1671) placed his famous Conférence sur l’expression générale et particulière (1668) within a larger argument and context. Whereas in 1668 he proposed a method – following Descartes’ Traité des passions de l’âme (1649) – on how to paint correctly the expression of the emotions, in 1671 he attempted to provide a method to paint correctly the moral character, that is, to paint the virtue (and vice) in men. By doing this Le Brun brought the supposed scientificity of his method to two realms that had until then remained elusive to artistic theory and practice – our emotions and our moral nature – but he was also bringing together the new (modern) science (founded on the mechanical philosophy) and the very old science of the character of the soul--the one Della Porta called the « art » of « natural magic ».

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Moderation : Sylwia Frach

Thibaut Gress (qualified philosophy teacher and Ph.D in Philosophy, Editor at Ellipses Editions) : 

« ‘Philosophal’ Become Philosophy: Approaching the Alchemical Sediments in the Hegelian System »

Christian Breuer (Ph.D in Cultural Studies, Translator and Musician) : 

« The Evil Eye as Gaze of Desire »


What turns the look into the paradigmatic transmitter of envy, diseases and all kinds of evil? Why is it that the gaze is so susceptible for everything uncanny and repressed? These are some of the questions this talk aims to raise, giving a short cultural and theoretical history of the evil or desirous eye, parting from ancient Greece and Rome. The companions on this journey are the ethnological research from the 19th and 20th century (Elworthy, Seligmann, Pitrè, de Martino, Hauschild), the psychoanalysis of Freud and Lacan, philosophers as Sartre, Merleau-Ponty and Žižek and above all literary works by Hoffmann, Poe, Gautier, Bataille, Beckett, Pirandello, Svevo und Pavese, which deal explicitly with the Evil Eye or with uncanny phenomena of the gaze in general. The Evil Eye is not a mere superstition. Beyond a magical thinking the diverse phenomena of the gaze can rather be located within a rational discourse. The starting and reference point is the concept of the Evil Eye, which is investigated in the context of the Italian mezzogiorno (Southern Italy) from a phenomenological, hermeneutical and psychoanalytical perspective (mallochio, jettatura).

Cristina Basili (Ph.D in Human Sciences, université Carlos III de Madrid) : 

« The Living Treasure. Kabbalah and Philosophy in Correspondence between Leo Strauss and Gershom Scholem »


According to Massimo Donà, it is not possible to consider magic as something separate from philosophy and contrary to a rational and scientific understanding of the world. The magic as well as mysticism, is a form of research and experience of reality similar to that philosophical reality reminding us of the irrational origin of rational knowledge. If we apply this idea to the correspondence between Leo Strauss et Gershom Scholem, we can find something to renew the dialogue between rationality and irrationality, between philosophy and mysticism. Strauss et Scholem are part of this circle of German-Jewish thinkers who received their intellectual formation during the difficult years of the interwar period and they are both faced with the crisis of humanism. After thinking about philosophical anthropology, they turned into philosophy and the mystical Jewish Kabbalah. We would like to show how from a disagreement over the status of rationality, we can point the limits of philosophy without irrationality and mysticism without rationality.

Libera Pisano (Ph.D in Theoretical Philosophy, Junior Fellow, Maimonides Centre for Advanced Studies, université de Hambourg) : 

« Magic Rituals and Linguistic Games. Wittgenstein´s Remarks on Frazer´s Golden Bough »


In this paper, I will attempt to show how Wittgenstein´s interest in Frazer can only be understood as the connection he saw between Frazer´s notion of magic and the central philosophical questions concerning language and reality. In The Golden Bough Frazer presents a comparative, evolutionary model of the development of magic and religion in « primitive » cultures in attempt to find archetypes of thought. Wittgenstein’s Remarks on Frazer’s Golden Bough were first published in 1967 and since then have come to a place of considerable importance; in fact, several commentators characterized his position as an expressivist theory of religion, according to which magic-religious and ritual practices are simply to express emotions or stances on the human condition. If Frazer stated that magical and religious activities are based on erroneousness and ritual practice is the prototype of science, Wittgenstein rejected this comparison because the science language and the magical one are two different linguistic games. In order to understand the proper domain of magic and his connection to language, the role of habits, the possibility of mistake and the peculiar grammar of symbolic attributes will be deeply analyzed. 

Olga Kataeva (Ph.D Candidate in Film Studies and Lecturer, université Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 3/IRCAV) :

« The Magic of Art. The Process of Creation as a Media Phenomenon in the Work of S. M. Eisenstein »


An important part of the theoretical and methodological reflexion of the Soviet filmmaker, Sergei M. Eisenstein, concerns the syncretism of magical practices of primitive people. Thus, a very important place is devoted in his personal library to the disciplines « unscientific »: the occult, magic, alchemy, palmistry. He conducted research on the process of artistic creation by approaching it from the perspective of mediumistic practices. In his view, the artist must reach the ecstatic state to be able to externalize the pace of the overall image born in his mind. In 1920, Eisenstein became interested in « primary sources of the 'magic of art' » (How I Became a Director), when he started the Rosicrucian initiation in Minsk. He had the opportunity to participate regularly in seances, study occult literature and observe the effects of drugs on consciousness needed to access the « astral » dimension. These research topics intersect in his work in the film, Ivan The Terrible. Basing on the analysis of theoretical texts and preparatory drawings of Eisenstein as well as on the photograms and editing, I will propose a study of the passages between the symbolism of Orthodox worship and symbolism of occult practices in this film.

Olivier Schefer (Associate Professor HDR in Art Sciences, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne) : 

« Magic, Alchemy and Cinema. The case of  Jürgen Reble »


This speech aims to reread the contemporary German director Jürgen Reble's work at once materialistic and oniric in the light of the Novalis' Ideal-realism. Acting mechanically and chemically in the analog medium, from sequences originated from found-footages, Reble revisits, in particular, alchemical fantasy of romantic Naturphilosophie. The paper includes the questions about the fictional and chemical principle of the dissolution of the body in this type of cinema.

Christian Kassung (Professor in History of Knowledge and Cultural Technics, Institute for Cultural Studies, université Humboldt de Berlin) : 

« Magic, Technology, and the Question of the Self »


(At the time of printing of the program, the details of the Christian Kassung communication are unknown to organizers.)

Simone Guidi (Ph.D in Philosophy, Lecturer in Aestetics, NABA-New Fine Arts Academy, Milan) : 

« Possibility or Virtuality. Magic, Technology and Ontology of Transformation »


Magic is structurally connected with transformation and its predictability, so the domain of its historical meaning results from the ontology within which it is thought. Using a distinction proposed by Henry Bergson and later developed by Gilles Deleuze and Pierre Lévy, we can address magic from two opposed ontological paradigms of the becoming: possibility and virtuality. According to Bergson, the concept of possibility is linked to a deterministic ontology that has thought transformation as a transition from a determined act to a fully determined potency and, from it, to a new determined act. On the opposite, virtuality expresses the ontological condition of what is always-new, always-also-undetermined. An ontological account of indetermination allows thinking transformation as a constitutional part of a never-fully-determined being, rather than a status of a substantial reality. The perspective of a complete philosophy of virtuality seems to allow magic to be part of ontology, even if only under the condition of breaking its identification with technology. But has been this aspect of magic even thought by Western Philosophy? Can the concept itself of magic resist to this sudden philosophical overturning? Our answer will rather deal with the concept of “paranormal”.

Giacomo Petrarca (Ph.D in Philosophy, Postdoctoral Researcher, Haifa Center for German and European Studies) :

« The Bees as Paradigm of the Latency. from Aristotle to Rudolf Steiner. Between Magic and Ontology »  


Usually we consider the complex and magic world of bees as a dualistic world, governed by the rigid opposition between inside and outside, internal and external. The deep interest that the philosophy has always had to the bees and their activity helps us to understand the falsity of this dualistic paradigm. From Aristotle’s, interest in the philosophical world for bees has been continuous and focused to discover the form of a mystery that bees hidden: the mystery of the origin of their being terrestrial and – at the same time – divine. 

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