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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

Visual Evidence (Ghosts - the Evidence of Spirits) Public Lecture series : Wilhelminian Apparitions: ghosts and desire between science, religion and art in the German nineteenth-century novel from Raabe to Fritz

19th January 2016, 18:15, Room ER140, Elvet Riverside Building, Professor Nicholas Saul

With the advent of Darwinism and the triumph of exact science in the latter half of the nineteenth century, German society faced religious and cultural crisis. In the re-established Empire the received religious truths embodied in the master narrative of the Bible had been usurped by the new master narrative of The Origin of Species, the dethroning of humankind from its supremacy over creation, and the materialistic struggle for existence. Thus the new American movement of spiritualism answered German needs. It seemed to offer objective evidence of spirit interventions and manifestations, so that the demands of science were satisfied, and the cherished doctrines of afterlife could re-emerge in a form apparently legitimated by the new epistemological authority. But what actually emerged was desire – the desire to deny loss and replace the lost in a newly-threatening world.

In a series of late nineteenth-century Wilhelmine novels the cult of the spirit was gradually unmasked as the need to believe in illusion itself, and that need was eventually identified with an Orphic and Pygmalionic vision of the artist as secular priest. The scene was set for modernist aestheticism. And spiritualism becomes a cipher for an Empire based on denial of the death of the past.

The project consists of three separate, but complementary strands: a lecture series, an exhibition on ‘Ghost Stories’ held in October 2015 at the Durham World Heritage Site Visitor Centre; and a one-day workshop to take place at the IAS on 23 February 2016. Lectures will be held fortnightly on commencing 13 October at 6:15pm in Elvet Riverside 140. Lectures and the exhibition are open to all, though attendees at the opening event of the exhibition will need to register in advance.

For more information on this series of events, please click on this link.


This lecture is free and open to all.

Map - Elvet Riverside is denoted as building No. 25

Contact for more information about this event.