Erik Davis at Esalen

Erik Davis

TechGnosis: Mysticism and Information Culture

Date 12/2/98

Affiliation New Media Critic, San Francisco


Historians inform us that the West's mystical heritage of occult dreamings, spiritual transformations, and apocalyptic visions crashed on the shores of the modern age. In this view, technology has helped disenchant the world. But the old phantasms and metaphysical longings did not exactly disappear -- in many cases, they disguised themselves and went underground, worming their way into the cultural, psychological, and mythological underpinnings that form the foundations of the modern world. As Erik Davis shows in his new book TechGnosis: Myth, Magic, and Mysticism in the Age of Information (Harmony Books, 1998), "mystical impulses sometimes body-snatched the very technologies that supposedly helped yank them from the stage in the first place."

Taking his cue from Arthur C. Clarke's famous remark that any sufficiently advanced technology would be indistinguishable from magic, Davis will peer into the history of phantasms to open up the digital imagination. He will discuss the ancient Art of Memory, and trace this mnemonic techne through Dante and Renaissance magic into the hypertext hieroglyphics of the World Wide Web. Davis will also explore the metaphoric role of magic in computer games, from Adventure to MUDs to the latest RPGs, arguing that this curiously persistent topos reveals a great deal about the semiotics of computer interfaces and the nature of virtual worlds.

Updated Bio

Erik Davis is the author of The Visionary State: A Journey through California’s Spiritual Landscape, the cult classic TechGnosis, and a critical volume on Led Zeppelin’s fourth album. A frequent speaker at universities and festivals alike, Davis has contributed articles and essays to scores of books and publications. A steel-string fingerpicker in his free time, Davis is currently serving as a visiting lecturer in the Technoculture Studies department at UC Davis.

-- As of 1/7/07