Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Society for Cultural Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Students
Primary Theme: Materiality
Secondary Theme: The Visual
How do we picture specters? What are the technologies through which images (broadly understood) attain spectral force? What kinds of ethical and political claims are made upon the world through the conjuration of specters? This session is premised upon the idea that specters create a disturbance to the order of things as they blur the fine lines that would delineate things as bounded entities. They trouble categorical differences between the living and the dead, past and present, matter and spirit, and the human and the non-human. Spectacular events like civil wars, environmental disasters, and financial crises, as well as cascading, cumulative violence of the everyday, conjure up specters that unsettle social existence. As much as they seem to invoke past worlds, specters also emerge from the ordinary disjointedness of a present that is underwritten by the anticipation of crises yet-to-come. Attending to the various forms and temporalities in which conjuration and counter-conjuration take place in light, shadow, colors, objects, and language, this session invites participants to speak to and with the images through which specters appear and disappear, and explore the senses and sensations that these images generate as they circulate through mediums ranging from memoirs to photography to art installations to prosthetic artifacts. The session asks what political visions such senses and sensations evoke to render the past animate or the future imaginable. Through the pictorial frame of specters, this session ruminates on the entanglement of aesthetics, politics, and technology in contemporary times. The papers engage specters through image realms ranging from limb prosthetics to wildlife photography, and from indigenous women’s paintings to imperial archives and insurgent portraits. The papers collectively explore the implicit or explicit politics of spectral figures as they speak to the violence of war, murder, disappearance, uprising, and landscape devastation. Finally the session asks: how do we picture specters in our ethnographic writing without losing their fleeting, amorphous, and contingent dimensions? How and why might these amorphous dimensions be integral to their theoretical and political power?