I first discovered Erik Davis back in the mid-’90s, when he moderated a listserv on the work of poststructuralist philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (D&G).
At that time, the World Wide Web was first emerging, with academics and street intellectuals alike beginning to apply idea-tools from D&G’s A Thousand Plateaus to analyze the interconnected fashion in which the web functioned.
A plethora of critical studies on cyberculture emerged throughout the rest of the ’90s, with most of them overacademicizing the interrelations among new communication technologies, digital art, cultural theory, new media and the information age. But Davis’ contribution, TechGnosis: Myth, Magic + Mysticism in the Age of Information, was completely different.
Somehow, Davis managed to fuse technological impulses with mystical and spiritual impulses, conjuring up an entire history of their interconnections. And he did it in a half-academic, half-colloquial fashion, with which I totally identified.
Taking lessons from D&G, TechGnosis was nonlinear, nonhierarchical, a network of intensities, with the power of the work emerging out of the dynamism developed from those connections, although most people didn’t “in-jest” it that way at first. But that’s how the occult always works, doesn’t it?
I say this looking back at TechGnosis, along with Davis’ essays during that era. I saw his name all over the place, in many different outlets, some commercial, some obscure, both in print and online. I began to see a body of work emerge, but I couldn’t explain in linear conversation what that body actually was. But more and more people were beginning to pay attention.
Well, those who’ve followed any one of Davis’ interconnected trajectories will gasp with delight at his new collection, Nomad Codes: Adventures in Modern Esoterica. Some of the essays are new, some old, but with the publication of this anthology, he finally decides to characterize the quantum (m)other field that presides underneath and throughout the breadth of his life’s work.
Each one of the trajectories he straddles in the book is like a quantum wave function of that original Supreme field. “Call it occulture,” he writes. “Or … modern esoterica. It’s a hazy no-man’s-land located somewhere between anthropology and mystical pulp, between the zendo and the metal club, between cultural criticism and extraordinary experience, whether psychedelic, or yogic or technological. It is dodgy terrain to explore; I like to think that it calls for the intrepid adventurer to shed any territorial claims and go nomad.”
Five plateaus materialize in the book: Orientalismo, Invocations, Inner Space, Mad Science and Kalifornika. From beginning to end, Davis shakes out like a blanket his entire spectrum of interests—H.P. Lovecraft, Philip K. Dick, wandering Sufi mystics, Burning Man, Buddhism, DMT, LSD, the Sun City Girls, Jimmy Page, the Golden Dawn, Goa trance, the Kabbalah, Star Trek conventions, UFOlogies, Hermes Trismegistus and a 1995 Crash Worship gig in San Francisco I actually attended myself.
In the end, Davis’ writing is best described in D&G terminology. It is a connection-machine. The reader is left to decode the connections.
Nomad Codes: Adventures in Modern Esoterica
By Erik Davis
Verse Chorus Press
352 pages; $17.95 paperback
See Erik Davis in San Francisco reading