One of the most mysterious and notable German writers of the late 19th and early 20th century is – without a doubt – author and occultist Gustav Meyrink. Known for his outlandish physical appearance and his highly encrypted texts, Meyrink’s life and works were recently explored during a “literary afternoon” in Amsterdam where scholars, poets, musicians and actors gathered to give presentations on Meyrink for “Der Magische Schiftsteller Gustav Meyrink” (“Gustav Meyrink, Magical Man of Letters”). One of the noteworthy scholars at the event was HWS Assistant Professor of German Eric Klaus.
The “literary afternoon” held in Westerkerk Church in Amsterdam celebrated the recent addition of Meyrink’s works to the Ritman Library (the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica) as well as the publication of Theodor Harmsen’s book, also titled “Der Magische Schiftsteller Gustav Meyrink” (“Gustav Meyrink, Magical Man of Letters”). The book – considered one of the most complete examinations of the author to date – includes a close analysis of the Gustav Meyrink collection in the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica. Many aspects of Meyrink’s life and works are examined in depth, from his interest in magic and alchemy to the themes of his life’s work.
Klaus, a German literature scholar, is an expert on the latter. “My talk, titled ‘Unmasking the Doppelganger: Gustav Meyrink as a Gnostic,’ explored the motif of masks and masking in Meyrink’s work,” Klaus explained. “I read Meyrink as a modern Gnostic largely because of his epistemology and worldview. More to the point, I see him as an occultist esoteric. He’s an occultist because he employs the esoteric techniques common to the 20th century to access a hidden realm of truth. That search for a hidden truth also makes Meyrink a Gnostic in my view.”
“For Meyrink, the universe and our true selves are masked and, therefore, need to be unmasked in order for us to decode their secrets and enter the realm of truth,” Klaus explained. “In order to do this, each person needs to find their doppelganger and unmask them.”
During the lecture Klaus explored this process in depth. He also gave a reading of one of Meyrink’s early short stories, ‘Meister Leonard’ to give an early example of how even in his early production Meyrink delved into the Gnostic search that would become so prevalent in his later works.
Since discovering Meyrink, Klaus has been trying to decipher him. “My first encounter with Meyrink and his work was in graduate school when I read his well-known novel Der Gollum,” Klaus explained. “After I finished the novel, I had no idea what I had just read or what had just went on. But I wanted to find out.”
After years of close analysis and research, Klaus concluded that, “Meyrink constructs his novels like puzzles filled with little clues to unlock them.”
Klaus, who joined the faculty in 2001, holds a bachelor’s degree in German from Dickinson College; a master’s in Germanic Studies from the University of Maryland at College Park and a doctorate in German Studies from Brown University.
In the photo above, Klaus is speaking in the Westerkerk Church in Amsterdam.