Carrie Clanton takes the page 99 test

My PhD thesis, Uncanny Others: Hauntology, Ethnography, Media, started out as an ethnographic study of people who pursue ghosts as a hobby in the U.K. As a visual anthropologist, I was interested that the methodologies of ghosthunters mirror the work of some anthropologists who have taken up media; both aspire to use audio-visual recording media in an almost scientific fashion to “capture” their respective, and at times elusive, Other.

Page 99 of my thesis falls in the middle of a fieldwork narrative in which I am establishing ghosthunters as a metaphor to critique how anthropologists have tended to incorporate media into their work. In the excerpt below I am detailing a commercial ghosthunting weekend (GhostCon), organized by a group called Ghost Research Foundation International (GRFI), that I attended in Nottingham; I had encountered events such as water-divining and séances, each accompanied by rigourous pseudo-scientific methodology and audio-visual recording equipment, as well as by more esoteric tools such spirit mediums:

I am surprised at this most unscientific way to gain knowledge—is this what GRFI means by its research “evolving”? To what degree have ghost hunters really taken up science, and where does this merging of science with so-called New Age practices fit in? I had recently been told by a ghosthunter, who also happened to be a physicist, that sometimes a good medium is needed to get results. He was referring to his use of quality recording equipment to capture supposed voices of the dead; but at GhostCon, and at quite a few other ghost hunts I attend, a living, psychic medium seems to be an accepted and indeed sought-after piece of “equipment” to have around, and somehow not at all contrary to the scientifically based methods also being employed.

A break from my PhD to have two babies (and subsequently too many middle-of-the night readings of Derrida) saw me return to academia in the field of cultural studies and focus in on the concept of hauntology. I ultimately argued that media is hauntological in nature—it is able to freeze and manipulate time–to evoke and conjure other people, times, and places–offering a potentially critical approach to representation that differs from traditional ethnography.

Few anthropologists today would aspire to the sort of wholesale salvage and archival tasks originally touted as the great promise of media recording devices in the field. But few have embraced media and its uncanny temporality as a way of producing cultural representations that are more on par with James Clifford’s notion of surreal anthropology than the outputs suggested by the early manuals on visual anthropology–and their very similar counterparts, the how-to guides for ghosthunting that I encountered in my fieldwork.

Carrie Clanton completed her PhD at the Centre for Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths College, University of London in 2017. She lives in Melbourne, Australia, and is currently writing a monograph about soundtracks. 

Carrie Clanton. 2017. Uncanny Others: Hauntology, Ethnography, Media. Goldsmiths College, University of London. Phd dissertation.

 

Erin Yerby take the page 99 test for her dissertation

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.

 

 

Bibliography:

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.