Colloquium with Joshua Gentzke, PhD student in Religious Studies. For Religious Studies faculty, graduate students, and Stanford-affiliated guests. RSVP from your stanford.edu email address to Sarah Brabeck.
Jacob Böhme (1575-1624), a German cobbler turned visionary author and spiritual dissident, is an important figure who connects the histories of early modern mysticism to Continental philosophy and later countercultural movements; yet he remains understudied and frequently misunderstood. Challenging prevalent views that Böhme’s writings are either exercises in irrationality, “primitive” religious speculation, or failed attempts at metaphysics, I argue that his work provides a performative mesophysics: a theory and a practice aimed at relocating religious authority in the body and fostering an experience of the world that rejected contemporaneous theological and scientific cosmologies in favor of an ontology of human/world co-constitution. In short, Böhme’s works are meant to catalyze existential transformation rather than convey purely conceptual content.
In the upcoming workshop I will discuss the unique aural dimensions of Böhme’s apocalypticism by exploring his application of a mystical hermeneutic—referred to as “the language of nature” (die Natursprache)—to the opening lines of Luther’s translation of Genesis. Mounting a radical critique of both religious orthodoxy and early modern cartography, Böhme envisioned a vibratory and resonantly interdependent cosmos, wherein divinity and humanity continuously produce one another in polyphonic collaboration. The imaginary of sound—a force at once material and invisible—provided him with a vocabulary capable of mapping the world as a chaos of energy and emergence, rather than an object of theological or scientific inquiry; it allowed him to forge a poetics and politics of mystical participation that sounded in counterpoint to the rigidity of social and religious hierarchies. Furthermore, I will argue that this aural ontology was undergirded by a corporeal-linguistic practice that allowed him and his followers to dissolve the semantic content of scripture into a mechanism for generating a sonic body capable of aural apotheosis.