Tagged: body

1. Reading: Memory, Subjectivities, and Representation

The Year in Readings started with a mission: more ethnographic monographs. The first book I finished, however, does not fit into this category. On the upside, at least it is remotely related to what I do in my research. Memory, Subjectivities, and Representation. Approaches to Oral History in Latin America, Portugal and Spain by Rina Benmayor, María Eugenia Cardenal de la Nuez and Pilar Domínguez Prats (eds.; Palgrave Macmillian 2016) is meant to be an introdcution to oral history work in Latin America, Spain and Portugal. I’ve been doing a more formal review for the Oral History Forum d’histoire orale from the Canadian Oral History Association, which you can find here, if you’d like to have a look.

For the purpose of continuing with my subjective review series, I am just going to mention a few key points. Overall, reading edited volumes is often a challenge, because personally, I am rarely interested in all the contributions. This one had the great advantage, that it were those articles I thought wouldn’t fit my interests, which were the most inspiring. Some of the topics are innovative, like the articles on Lisbon’s tattoo scene, or the performance piece on the Portuguese dictatorship, and I especially liked the articles focusing on female militants from the Southern Cone and on migrant sex workers in Spain. But I would have liked more of that. Most articles are concerned with worker’s history. A real downer was the fact that articles on Latin America were restricted to the Southern Cone and Mexico, giving a somewhat eurocentric idea of the continent, and completely leaving out any indigenous contributions. Given that it is particularly this area where Oral History flourishes in Latin America, I found that quite disappointing. Apart from this (serious!) flaw, the volume is a solid contribution, and might be of interest for people wanting to know more about current trends in the region.

How did I come across the book?

Actually, the journal approached me to ask whether I would review it. I found that flattering and agreed.

When and where did I read it?

In one of Bogota’s amazing public libraries around New Year’s.


19. Reading: The Transmission of Affect

Teresa Brennan’s Transmission of Affect (Cornell University Press, 2004) has been bashed prominently as selectively appropriating neuroscientific research findings, but nevertheless remains a classic on many a reading list on affective transmission. There might be two reasons for this: first, her argument that the idea of boundaries (in relation to human bodies/personal identity) is a culturally specific idea, and second, her absorbing prose. Proposing bodily boundaries as a culturally specific, and therefore non-universal, conception might not sound like a radically new way of seeing things, but considering the time it took until affect and emotions became central research interests in disciplines other than psychoanalysis, it still is a much needed contribution to broadening the scope of what we consider possible and acceptable things of imagining affective transmission. Also, the argument opens up new possibilities in (anthropological) research because it focuses on the relations between peopleand their affects, rather than their interpretations of affects and emotions.

Characterized as “a soul of the nineteenth century” by colleagues, Brennan powerfully and poetically argues for connections between hormones and emotions and what influences both have on each other (because to her, the relation here is more likely of dialectical nature). Up until chapter 4 (The New Paradigm), the book is very rich, focusing on the transmission of affect in a clinical setting as well as in groups, to then elaborate her argument that the social environment is perfectly capable of influencing our biological “hardware” and how social interactions can shape it. From chapter five onwards, Brennan becomes a little more repetetive, but the lasts chapters are also the ones she was not able to revise by herself anymore. She died in an accident, leaving her former assitant and trusted researcher to finish the editing process, which apart from the repetitiveness turned out to be very convincing.

How did I come across the book?

Actually, I don’t remember that anymore.

When and where did I read it?

On a weekend, on the sofa. It is definitely a monograph where this is possible.


5. Reading: Sensuous Scholarship

Sensuous Scholarship by Paul Stoller (1997, University of Pennsylvania Press) partly comes across as one of the many stories I hated when I started studying Anthropology. Curiously, stories about far away people in far away places doing nearly everything very differently from what I had known were difficult to read for me. For a long time, I didn’t quite see any sense in reading about shamanic rituals in Central African villages or time conceptions in the Brazilian Amazon. But as with good wine, good scholarship also has to mature, I assume. So I ended up enjoying stories about far away places and discovering similarities, or better even, different approaches to same problems that offer new perspectives on my own culture.

The intention behind Sensuous Scholarship is not first of all to engage the reader with far away places, but much more to advocate for a different, less text-based kind of scholarship. Now this is not to say that it is less of a scholarly work – the biggest deception for me was precisely this: it is just another averagely scientific text. Even in the central part of the book, where Stoller writes about the connections between body and memory and how the past becomes embodied memory, he stays well behind Michael Taussig’s eye-opening essay History as Sorcery (1984 [!]). What I had hoped for, was a little more sensuousness in language, too, that would support the idea that “the world, for the sensuous scholar, remains a wondrous place that stirs the imagination and sparks creativity” (p.136).

How did I come across the book?

Searching for methodological approaches to researching affect, it sounded like a catch. Plus, it had a section on memory and the body.

When and where did I read it?

Mid-january, two-day home-office session while trying to write a synopsis of my research project.

At some point – I was already giving up a little on the book, because I felt it didn’t move me in the way I had hoped for – this passage struck me as revealing:

Lying unconscious on the dune, Chefferi’s being is momentarily lost between the worlds, between the Red Sea and Tillaberi, between the colonial past and the postcolonial present, between his presence and that of his medium. So it is when Hauka spirits encounter themselves and others in the netherworld between possession and “conscious”.

Chefferi is neither “European” nor African; he is neither man nor woman, Christian nor Muslim. (p.72f)

And I came to think that maybe what I am searching in my readings about far away places – beside some theoretical insights for my own projects – are those moments of human encounter, in which difference disappears for just a brief moment, and through whatever means, (in this case, spirit possession,) and people connect with each other on a different level, on a level where it doesn’t matter who you are, as long as you understand.