Sam Dolbear completed his PhD at Birkbeck College, University of London in 2018 with a thesis entitled ‘Names Written in Invisible Ink: Walter Benjamin, Friendship and Historical Generation’. Subsequently he became a Martin Miller and Hannah Norbert-Miller Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Modern Language Research at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, exploring two figures of exile in London: the radio-producer, composer, and writer Ernst Schoen (1884–1960) and the physician, sexologist, and chiromancer Charlotte Wolff (1897–1986).


He edited Walter Benjamin: The Storyteller (2016) with Sebastian Truskolaski and Esther Leslie and Arcade Materials (2019) with Hannah Proctor. He has written for Flash Art, ArtForum, and Radical Philosophy and has taught at Birkbeck College, Universidade de Lisboa, and UC Berkeley. He is a founding member of the audio-radio collective MayDay Radio.

Cosmic Reductions: Palms, Fate, Body, Character
ICI Project 2020-22

This project begins with the work of the physician, sexologist, and palmist Charlotte Wolff (1897–1986). Wolff improvised a method for reading hands over a number of years, given she lost the ability to practice as a medical doctor once in Paris, after fleeing Berlin in 1933. Her method oscillates between two distinct modes: a ‘scientific’ mode, where the hand becomes a ledger of pathology, character, and constitution and an ‘esoteric’ mode, where the entire cosmos is reduced to the lines that can be traced upon the palm.

In this project, Dolbear will read Wolff’s work panoramically: to uncover a history of hand-reading cultures of the time, its relation to marginality, modernism, and medicalism; to interrogate the history of hand printing in relation to surveillance, forensics, and the law as well as questions of ‘singularity’ and ‘authorship’; to develop a critical ‘historiography’ through various fortune-telling methods of the time – from tasseography to numerology – thinking too of esoteric modes of historical encounter; to consider how Wolff’s later work on gesture, gender, and sexuality can be understood historically; and to think how the body becomes the ledger for cosmic movements, past and future, reduced to the language of fate and character, prediction and constitution.