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Dr. Erin Yerby, Rice University
“The Body as Spectral Shape: Spiritualist Mediumship and Anglo-American Iconoclasm.”
Start: 2021-05-11, 18:00 CEST
Reformation iconoclasm makes a distinction between “living” and “dead” images, where the body itself is upheld as a living image of God vis a vis the dead images of relics, icons, statues and other ritual externals. The idol’s ability to entrance, according to Calvin, lies in its mimetic resemblance to a living body: “For the shape of the idol’s bodily members makes, and in a sense compels, the mind dwelling in a body to suppose that the idols’ body too has feeling, because it looks very like its own body.” In this vein, Protestant iconoclasm does not concern a lack of belief in the power of images to enchant and captivate, but a fear that some images will displace the central iconicity of the body as imago dei. Iconoclastic fears around the confusion between what is animate and inanimate, I suggest, belie a rather complex understanding of the body as a medium/media capable of extending itself spiritually (that is virtually and affectively) into other bodies, images and things. At stake in idolatry, we might say, is the mediatic sensorial extension of the body—or rather the extension of a second, ‘ethereal’ body without organs as the Spiritualists might say, channeling Deleuze.
This paper emphasizes Spiritualism as the shadow-side, or perhaps heretical edge, of a broadly Protestant iconoclastic semiotic tradition in North America—a shadow that, paradoxically, illuminates the spectral logics of North American settler experience. My approach, not so much historical, is a way of constellating shared affinities between Spiritualist mediumship’s emphasis on the body and bodily experience, as the authoritative center of mediation, and the mythical foundations of Anglo-North American settlement. (Specifically, the centrality of conversion experience, alongside conceptions of the body as spectral Shape or figura among settler Puritans).
Puritan conceptions of the body betray a sense of the body’s doubleness—at once material loci and spectral Shape/figura—evident in iconoclastic fears surrounding the interchangeability of bodies and images. Drawing on the use of the classical concept of figura within Puritan thought, Anne Kibbey has argued that bodies and things were all respectively understood as “dynamic material Shape[s].” This potential threat of what I consider the plasticity of the body—it’s shape-shifting, from “living icon” to aberrant “dead image” or idol—makes the body a source of anxiety and doubt, reflected in the history of settlement as a reduction of certain bodies (Native Americans and Women/Witches) to aberrant Shapes (Shapes of the Devil). A history echoed throughout American literature in the figure of the revenant spectral “Indian” and in the presence of Native ‘spirits’ at the séance table.
Drawing on my fieldwork on Spiritualist mediumship in upstate New York and surrounds, I consider these iconoclastic inheritances within Spiritualism—in and through an emphasis on the body and bodily experience—to put in relief, a spectral geography of American settlement.
Please register by mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Registration is mandatory for participants.
Event website: lit.ethz.ch/occultism
The lecture series is organized by Chloë Sugden, Jonas Stähelin and Prof. Dr. Andreas Kilcher as part of the SNSF project, "Scientification and Aestheticization of 'Esotericism' in the long 19th century".
FURTHER INFO ON THE LECTURE SERIES:
Aesthetic and Scientific Epistemologies of the Occult in the XIX Century
ETH Online Lecture Series, Spring 2021
We invite you to the Spring 2021 edition of our ongoing lecture series, as we continue our enquiry into aesthetic and scientific epistemologies of the occult during the long nineteenth century. On Tuesday evenings in May, through our second online series, we present approaches to the subject that combine methodologies drawn from art history, religious studies, media theory, anthropology and science studies. In our first lecture, anthropologist, Ehler Voss will take a look at the opposing views of two Californian magicians by relating them to nineteenth-century debates surrounding the credibility of magical practices. In the second lecture, with an approach similarly grounded in religious anthropology, Erin Yerby will investigate the role of the body as medium in the American Spiritualist tradition, which she contextualizes within broader Protestant-inflected iconoclastic tradition. In our third lecture, art historian, Victoria Ferentinou will explore the influence of esoteric discourses on artistic theory and practice of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Her focus will be on the painting and theory of the Greek symbolist, Frixos Aristeus (1879-1951). Finally, in the fourth lecture, historian of religion, Marco Pasi will consider the presence of occult-related themes in the oeuvre of the late contemporary artist, Chiara Fumai (1978-2017).
Tuesday, May 4, 2021
Prof. Dr. Ehler Voss, University of Bremen
“Magic Tipping Points. On Deceptions and Detections.”
Tuesday, May 11, 2021
Tuesday, May 18, 2021
Prof. Dr. Victoria Ferentinou, University of Ioannina
“‘Colours are Things’: The Visionary Art of Frixos Aristeus.”
Tuesday, May 25, 2021
Prof. Dr. Marco Pasi, University of Amsterdam
“‘Witchcraft with Capital W’: The Magical Art of Chiara Fumai.”
The lecture series is organized by Chloë Sugden, Jonas Stähelin and Andreas Kilcher as part of the SNSF project "Scientification and Aestheticization of 'Esotericism' in the long 19th century".
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