Spellbound #5
Trance, Possession and the Anthropological Gaze
Maya Deren and Zora Neale Hurston

Wednesday, 25 September 2019, 7.30 pm, diffrakt | centre for theoretical periphery

Workshop with
Nadine Hartmann | Clio Nicastro | Hannah Proctor | Andrew Witt


After Divine Horsemen, a documentary completed by Teiji Ito and Cherel Winett Ito in 1981 from footage shot by the experimental filmmaker Maya Deren in Haiti between 1947 and 1954, we are hosting a reading and discussion of two texts: a chapter from Deren’s 1953 book Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti and the chapter “Archahaie and What It Means” from Zora Neale Hurston’s book Tell My Horse.

Both texts discuss the phenomenon of possession in Haitian Vodou, probe the boundaries between the sacred and the profane, and raise fraught questions about the anthropological gaze. Did the distance and nearness Deren described in the relationship between humanity and the gods have a counterpart in the anthropological situation?  Like Deren, Zora Neale Hurston, a major figure in the Harlem Renaissance, visited Haiti with funding from a Guggenheim Fellowship. Though Hurston’s trip preceded Deren’s by more than a decade, both women had been influenced by the anthropologist Franz Boas, and both sought to differentiate their work from the emerging conventions and precepts of the discipline by imagining themselves as participants rather than observers. Hurston argued that Haitian beliefs and practices were not rooted in a distant past but were grounded in the social realities of the present, perceiving that “Gods always behave like the people who make them.”

Please send an email to mail@diffrakt.space to register and receive the reading material. It’s not necessary to have attended the previous sessions and have watched the films in order to participate, but if you are interested it is available online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Tla44ZDyZs

Spellbound: Mass Hysteria, Collective Symptoms, Contagious States

Series organised by
Nadine Hartmann | Clio Nicastro | Hannah Proctor

This event series explores experiences of collective mental contagion. Probing the boundaries between the psychic and the physiological, the natural and the supernatural, the social and the spiritual, the events will focus on often mysterious mass psychic phenomena such as hypnosis, fainting fits, possession, the ‘mimetic’ dimension of hysteria and eating disorders, the regimentation of gesture and trances. How do certain kinds of collective behaviours or experiences take hold and spread among groups? Do conditions with no clear biological origin have their roots in society? What do mass symptoms express?

Spellbound will take the form of events in thematic pairs: a screening night followed by a reading and discussion night. Although the two nights in each pair will be conceptually linked they also function as stand alone events.