Prof. Dr. Alessandra Violi
English Literature and Media Studies, Bergamo

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Prof. Dr. Alessandra Violi
Department of Languages, Literature and Communication
University of Bergamo

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Biographical Note

Alessandra Violi is Full Professor of English Literature and Culture at the University of Bergamo, where she coordinates the Doctoral Studies in Intercultural Humanistic Studies and, within the Centre for Visual Arts of Bergamo University, the research group "Punctum, Centro Studi sull’Immagine". Her research focuses on the intersections between literature, aesthetics and the human sciences, with particular attention to the medical imaginary and, specifically, anatomy and neuropathology, on which she has published the volumes Le cicatrici del testo, (Bergamo, 1998) and Il teatro dei nervi (Milan, 2004).

Dreams and occultism in late nineteenth century Anglo-American culture

Recent studies of the contribution of occultism to modernity (Luckhurst 2002; Owen, 2004; Wilson, 2013) have foregrounded the crucial role that occult theories about dreams had in the archeology of the modern dreaming subject. For the constellation of magic-esoteric discourses that developed in late nineteenth century Anglo-American culture – that were so diverse as to include, among others, the occultism of E. Bulwer-Lytton, F. Myers’ psychology of the “supernormal”, W. James’ neo-mysticism and the parapsychological investigations of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) – a dream can occur either as a real “astral” journey of supernatural order, as a "technique of the self" for spirit communication, or as a new psychology of the "subliminal self". These accounts of dreaming mix ancient forms of magic and the emerging “science of the soul” (Hacking 1995), old beliefs about the transmigration of the soul and recent physiological hypotheses – such as T. Laycock (1875) or S. Butler (1880) – concerning dreaming, the body and ancestral memory.
The project aims to map these occult theories of dreaming and to explore their connections with contemporary medical and psychological theories about dream processes, as well as with the artistic and literary culture of the time (from G. Du Maurier to W.B. Yeats, T.S Eliot, or E. Pound). In particular, it will focus on how the techniques of self-knowledge promoted by the occult configured new practices of the visual and verbal representation of dreams, such as projective screens, talismans, diagrammatic cards, tarot cards, accounts of astral travel and lucid dreams. While these practices on the one hand converged in the new theories of the psyche, they reproposed the magic matrix of subjectivity on the other hand, thus questioning the processes of secularization undertaken by modern psychological science.