This seminar is intended as a two-part program consisting of collaborative morning and afternoon classes with a lunch break at noon. Participation in both classes is required for admittance to this seminar.
Morning session (10am–12pm)
Stefania Pandolfo, “Between Captivity and Infinity: Mental Pain, Possession and Aesthetic Form”
“During this three-day seminar we will address the question of possession from the perspective of affliction, and in relation to a practice of art, which we will explore as a modality of mediumship at a time of “post-shamans.” We will reflect on the capacity of spirit entities and aesthetic forms to enable spaces of healing for persons and collectivities, in the confrontation with trauma and historical rupture, and in the experience of mental pain. And we will entertain the thought that in their inception aesthetic forms may be bound to primary affects and the experience of trauma itself, a wound which is at once a cut and an opening. An opening and a passageway.
“The words rendered in European languages as “possession” are recalcitrant to assimilation. In a multiplicity of languages and environments they invoke being touched, or intruded, violated, traversed, borrowed, inhabited, mounted, transformed, multiplied, broken apart, or ecstatically raptured. I think possession and mediumship from the vantage point of my work in North Africa on modes of Islamic spirituality and cures, where the resonance of the Arabic term mulk, which denotes possession as (landed) property, power and sovereignty in a worldly and otherworldly sense, opens onto an indeterminacy between captivity and infinity, the jinn and the soul, madness and mediumship, in a theater of the soul which is at once a psycho-political critique of oppression and a scene of world-ending and revelation.
“Once centrally present to the practice of sacred art, the curative, or agentive dimension of art is today restricted to the function of art-therapy. We may think of the effigy and the image-example, as portals to the Invisible and the unknown, the spirit world and the dream, and of their connection to the existential dimensions of, violence, life and death. The relationship of aesthetic forms and the cure takes the front stage in ritual and spiritual-medical practices, as well as in the modality of disfiguration and distortion in certain trends in European and extra-European modern art and poetics, and in that frequentation of the unknown and the uncanny that are psychoanalysis, as well as, in a certain way, anthropology. While spirit cures are often considered in opposition to psychiatry and psychoanalysis, we will seek to reverse the gaze and address mental pain as a modern form of mediumship, one that sheds light on the entanglement of the psyche and the soul, of the realm of spirits and the scene of the unconscious in a time of violence and war, of historical and cosmological crisis.
“In this perspective, we will explore the capacity of artistic practices to produce a shift in the coordinates of the real, carrying us beyond the boundary of the visible and the invisible, the living and the dead, to produce uncanny and unexpected angles from which to feel, think, and see. Artistic, psychoanalytic, and mediumistic practices explore the gaps and silences of modernity and reason. May these traumatic cuts be also passageways which may grant us access to an otherwise?”
Each seminar will be divided in two parts. During the first hour I will present for about 45 minutes, with 15 minutes of questions and interventions from the group. During the second hour we will have a workshop based on the readings for each session, attempting to relate them to experiences and situations in the world. Prior to each seminar, participants are encouraged to share with me and (if possible) with the group their written reflections on the readings. The workshop will be an experiment in collaborative thinking.
- Day One of the seminar will be structured around a reading of sections of my book Knot of the Soul. I will share a bundle of PDF of related readings, including short excerpts from Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks, Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams and Studies on Hysteria, and from Islamic mystics Al-Ghazali and Ibn `Arabi. Film: Leila Kilani, Indivision (2022).
- Day Two of the seminar will focus on readings on (spirit) possession and historical trauma while positing at the same time the question of the artwork: Excerpts from J. Boddy’s Womb and Alien Spirits, R. Morris’s In the Place of Origins, E. Ng A Time of Lost Gods, M. de Certeau, Possession at Loudun. Video: Kader Attia, “Catharsis” (2018).
- Day Three of the seminar will revolve around mediumistic writing and artistic practice and the “surpassing disaster”. It will focus on the poetry and painting of Etel Adnan, and the writing and videography of Jalal Toufic, and the collaborative post-shamanic poetic reflections of Jerome Rothenberg and Heriberto Yépez. Video: Jalal Toufic, “The Lamentation Series, the Ninth Night” (2015).
Afternoon session (2–4pm)
Michael Taussig, “Sprit Possession”
“‘Spirit Possession’ is a wide term that grates against basic Western assumptions regarding the existence of the dead, magic, theater, and dance. In the art world of Global North as well as in our daily life, what can we learn from this?
“I suggest we spend the first three days in seminar mode and on the fourth day, as a group, present some sort of performative event that sums up those days or concentrates on one of the questions provoked, for example we could adapt Jean Rouch’s film Les maitres fous and becomes possessed by the US Supreme Court so as to steal its power and turn it against itself.”
- Day 1, Taussig; The Magic of the State (spirit possession cult in Venezuela of the spirit queen, Maria Lionza, and Simon Bolivar). The style of this book is as important as its content. It is a “spirit-possessed book.” Also, Taussig, Mimesis and Alterity, chapter on Jean Rouch’s film, Les maitres fous and Gerry Leach’s film, Trobriand Cricket; Penny McDonald, film, Too Many Captain Cooks.
- Day 2, Taussig; pages from the book I am currently working on called “Corpse Magic” concerning the spirit of a person slain coming to inhabit the slayer; and the relevance or irrelevance of this phenomenon to police shooting 3 persons a day in the USA and to Black Lives Matter.
- Day 3, Proust, Chapter 1 of Remembrance of Lost; Taussig; article “Viscerality, Faith, and Skepticism: Another Theory of Magic.”
- Day 4, Performative event based on the foregoing.
Between Captivity and Infinity: Mental Pain, Possession and Aesthetic Form (AM) + Spirit Possession (PM)Mon, Aug 1, 202210:00 am to 4:00 pm
Tue, Aug 2, 202210:00 am to 4:00 pm
Wed, Aug 3, 202210:00 am to 4:00 pm
Stefania Pandolfo is Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of Impasse of the Angels (1997); with Anne M. Lovell, Veena Das, and Sandra Laugier, Face aux désastres (2013); and Knot of the Soul (2018). Her current book project is tentatively titled “Art/Cure”.
Michael Taussig (b. 1940) is an anthropologist known for his provocative ethnographic studies and unconventional style as an academic. He was born in Australia in 1940 and later studied medicine at the University of Sydney. He earned a PhD in anthropology at the London School of Economics. He is currently a professor of anthropology at Columbia University in New York and at The European Graduate School / EGS in Switzerland. In spite of his numerous publications in his field, especially in medical anthropology, he is most acclaimed for his commentaries on Karl Marx and Walter Benjamin, especially in relation to the idea of commodity fetishism. Strongly influenced by both the Frankfurt School of critical theory and French post-structuralism, Taussig was a part of the shift during the 1980s within the field of anthropology. His work contributed to an increasing mistrust of cultural analyses from the perspective of the dominant culture, i.e. Western capitalist culture. It was his early experiences as a doctor in Colombia in the late 1960s that influenced a fundamental change in his conception of the role of stories and narratives—over and against objective scholarship—in cultural formation. Ethnography became a conscious positive force in culture, as no account was intrinsically innocent or objective any longer. This led Michael Taussig to begin intermixing fact and fiction in his ethnographic studies, thus his status as a controversial figure in the field of anthropology.
Morning session: Stefania Pandolfo
S. Pandolfo, Knot of the Soul: Madness, Psychoanalysis, Islam
F. Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks
F. Fanon, Writings on Alienation and Freedom
S. Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams
S. Freud, Studies on Hysteria
A. Warburg, Images form the Region of the Pueblo Indians in North America
Al-Ghazali, Marvels of the Heart
W. Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge
J. Boddy’s Womb and Alien Spirits
R. Morris’s In the Place of Origins
E. Ng A Time of Lost Gods: Mediumship, Madness, and the Ghost after Mao
M. de Certeau, Possession at Loudun
N. Largier, Figures of Possibility: Aesthetic Experience, Mysticism, and the Play of the Senses
H. Prizhorn, Artistry of the Mentally Ill
Kader Attia’s video “Catharsis”
Kader Attia, RepaiR
Etel Adnan, Journey to Mount Tamalpais
Etel Adnan, The Arab Apocalypse
Etel Adnan’s film, Motion
Jalal Toufic, The Withdrawal of Tradition past a Surpassing Disaster
Jalal Toufic’s film Lamentations, the 9th Night
Jerome Rothenberg and Heriberto Yépez, Eye of Witness. A Jerome Rothenberg Reader
Afternoon session: Michael Taussig
Taussig, Mimesis and Alterity; The Magic of the State; Selections from Corpse Magic manuscript; “Viscerality Faith and Skepticism, Another Theory of Magic”
Hoda Ashfar, Speak the Wind
Karen McCarthy Brown, Mama Lola: A Voodoo Priestess in Brooklyn
William Burroughs, To the Western Lands
Maya Deren, Divine Horsemen
Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God
Gerry Leach, film Trobriand Cricket
Michel Leiris, Theatrical Aspects of Possession Amongst
the Ethiopians of Gondar
Penny McDonald, film, Too Many Captain Cooks
Jean Rouch, film, Les Maitres fous