On page 99:
“Spiritualism troubles the separation between here and there: as modern, western and mostly ‘white,’ but also because Spiritualists inhabit the problematic prejudices of modernity as uncomfortably “religious,” skirting the secular-religious divide, and adopting the very stance of the scientific observer with regard to their own bodily sensorium. The body becomes an object of observation, and simultaneously, the site of an intimate participation in one’s own affective experience. Mediumship involves, I argue, the practiced bodily technique of refusing to put images to rest, at least as properly historicized and situated pasts. The past returns as a living presence available to sensation, a revenant stutter interrupting American history in its sublimation of the dead, and making visible the ongoing entanglement of colonized bodies and spectral figures within settler-colonial imaginaries.”
Mediumship is an always-present encounter with ephemeral images and affects that reveals the intimate way pasts are congealed in the body. An encounter, in other words, with something at the limits of what we neatly designate the social or culture, that gets into the body—a spectral remnant within experience that exceeds experience. How to think about such encounters was Mauss’ problem, it seems to me, in calling for a study of the techniques of the body, and in making the far-reaching claim that even the most metaphysical of our practices—mystical states— are “at bottom […] techniques of the body.” And then we might follow Nietzsche’s claim that philosophy has always concerned the body, or rather a misunderstanding of the body. It is as if thought has abstracted itself from its most fundamental encounter—a missed encounter with the body, from which thought arises. The body is thought’s otherness—its condition, as Deleuze and Guattari say: thought has its condition in the non-thought of the body, “its tiredness and waiting.” More precisely, the claim I am making here is that mediumship presents us with time in the body, the past sensed (in the body) as an animate and figural sliver of the present: living images of the dead. This dissertation explores modern Spiritualist mediumship as giving shape to a specifically modern sensorium, wherein the body appears as the primary, or primordeal, media of spiritual presences.
The section in which I discuss this, which includes p.99, explores the problematic relation of “dead” images to history, drawing upon Chakrabarty’s post-colonial critique of historicism as the conversion of the “plural” life-worlds of non-western others to a “bit of the past.” I propose here that the problem of history, or historicism, turns upon its relation to images—and the power of images which theological iconoclasm so deeply confronts. For Protestant reformer Calvin, the only safe, non-idolatrous images—those that cannot be confused with a living body, or entrance a living body into an ecstatic identification with itself—are images sequestered to pastness: that is, effectively de-animated and rendered dead, through their enclosure within an historical context. If historicism also names a way of writing we are comfortable with, and even, following a Marxian post-structuralist vein, is said to make for responsible, ideologically weary scholarship, mustn’t we also ask ourselves if such writing sequesters ideas and images to a dead zone, eliding (and thus missing) the full sense of their force in the now of the present?
Enfolded in a modern dialectic of proximity and distance, the medium’s quasi-scientistic re-making of the body into an instrument of observation is her means of drawing near the overlooked sensations affecting a body that have elided history—the many animate spectral shapes of the past. North American Spiritualist mediumship, I am saying, puts in relief the iconoclastic distinction between dead and living images by placing the body at the center of a sensory engagement with the past: not as a history of dead images, but as an erotics of plural entanglements with the living-dead. In its performed refusal of history, mediumship dialectically adheres to, yet refuses, the deadening of external images which iconoclastic prohibition demands. In making the body the locus or house of living images, mediumship expresses an immanence between presence and past, the body and the image.
Erin Yerby. 2017. Spectral Bodies of Evidence: The Body as Medium in American Spiritualism. Columbia University, Phd dissertation.
Chakrabarty, Dipesh. 2000. Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Deleuze, Gilles. 2001. Cinema 2: The Time-Image. Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Mauss, Marcel. 1973. “Techniques of the Body.” Economy and Society, 2:1, 70-88.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. 2003. The Genealogy of Morals. New York: Dover.