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Lure of the Arcane

The Literature of Cult and Conspiracy

Theodore Ziolkowski

Publication Year: 2013

Fascination with the arcane is a driving force in this comprehensive survey of conspiracy fiction. Theodore Ziolkowski traces the evolution of cults, orders, lodges, secret societies, and conspiracies through various literary manifestations—drama, romance, epic, novel, opera—down to the thrillers of the twenty-first century. Lure of the Arcane considers Euripides’s Bacchae, Andreae’s Chymical Wedding, Mozart’s The Magic Flute, and Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, among other seminal works. Mimicking the genre’s quest-driven narrative arc, the reader searches for the significance of conspiracy fiction and is rewarded with the author’s cogent reflections in the final chapter. After much investigation, Ziolkowski reinforces Umberto Eco’s notion that the most powerful secret, the magnetic center of conspiracy fiction, is in fact “a secret without content.”

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

This book can be seen in part, I suppose, as an attempt to rationalize and justify my longtime practice at bedtime of reading mysteries or thrillers—books that some of my academic colleagues have uncharitably called “trash” but that I prefer to regard more tolerantly, along with such fans as W. H. Auden, T. S. Eliot, Jorge Luis Borges, ...

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pp. 1-10

In September 2009 the publishing world heralded another major novel by Dan Brown, author of the international best sellers Angels and Demons (2000) and The Da Vinci Code (2003). Over one million copies were sold on the first day of publication and two million more during the first week. ...

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1. The Mystery Cults of Antiquity

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pp. 11-28

Classical antiquity was familiar with political conspiracies. The successful plot in 411 BCE to overthrow democracy in Athens and to establish the oligarchy of the so-called Four Hundred is one of the more notorious incidents of ancient Greek history. ...

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2. The Order of Knights Templar in the Middle Ages

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pp. 29-45

The lure of the arcane appears to be magnetic. Just as mythic or historical figures such as Gilgamesh, Heracles, or Parzival are often surrounded by tales and adventures borrowed from altogether different sources, one mystery often attracts another. Thus, for instance, in the twelfth century the mythic unicorn became associated with the equally mythic carbuncle stone that glows in the dark.1 ...

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3. The Rosicrucians of the Post-Reformation

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pp. 46-64

The second half of the sixteenth century witnessed an intensifying crisis in German history. While much of Europe suffered from wars and revolutions, during the sixty years from the Peace of Augsburg in 1555 to the outbreak of the Thirty Years’ War in 1618 Germany enjoyed an extended peace.1 ...

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4. The Lodges of the Enlightenment

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pp. 65-98

In his influential study of structural transformations of the public sphere during the Enlightenment, Jürgen Habermas argues that secret societies belonged—along with dining clubs, salons, academies, and coffeehouses—to the important new institutions of the emerging bourgeois élite comprising merchants, bankers, businessmen, and intellectuals.1 ...

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5. Secret Societies of Romantic Socialism

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pp. 99-131

The two decades from the July revolution of 1830 in France to the years preceding and following the more general Europe an revolutions of 1848 witnessed enormous intellectual ferment and social turmoil. Although society and culture in France and Germany displayed on the surface the bourgeois tranquility known respectively as the July Monarchy and the Biedermeier Period, ...

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6. Modern Variations

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pp. 132-158

“What a bizarre epoch,” marvels Durtal, the hero of J.-K. Huysmans’s novel Làbas (1891: translated variously as The Damned, Lower Depths, and Journey into the Self). “Just at the moment when positivism is at its height, mysticism awakens and all the madness of occultism commences.”1 ...

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7. Interlude: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion

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pp. 159-177

It is ironic that the most widely ballyhooed conspiracy between the two world wars found virtually no contemporary literary resonance. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, first published in 1903 in a St. Petersburg newspaper, had no impact outside Russia until the tract was brought to Western Europe after the Revolution ...

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8. The Playfulness of Postmodernism

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pp. 178-194

The fear of conspiracy, whether justified or not, has been a factor in politics at least since Pentheus worried that Dionysus and his maenads were undermining his authority in ancient Thebes. In the Middle Ages kings and popes were anxious lest the Knights Templar with their vast resources usurp their power. ...

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pp. 195-200

Our literary quest has led us from Greek antiquity to the postmodern present and, with the heroines and heroes of the various works, through the most culturally varied mysteries. Has the journey brought us to a goal? Initiated us into the secret? “A secret that, if we only knew it, would dispel our frustration, lead us to salvation; ...


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pp. 201-224


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pp. 225-230

E-ISBN-13: 9781421409597
E-ISBN-10: 1421409593
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421409580
Print-ISBN-10: 1421409585

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 12 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2013