Séances. Spirit photography. Exorcisms. Divine intervention. Prayer. What do these genres have in common? Each is (differently) predicated on assumptions about human connections with spirits, deities, and/or demons. This class has two major goals. First, we will examine the culturally specific ways in which human beings theorize and operationalize the longing to speak with sentient beings from other realms: How do societies organize the project of communication with seemingly disembodied (and sometimes quite decidedly non-human) subjects? Second, we will address connections between spiritual communication and technology: How have advances in media technologies (such as photography, telegraphy, film, and the internet) served as mechanisms for re-imagining potential links between human speakers and otherworldly interlocutors? The class examines some of what the history of mass media technology might tell us about the field of Communication Studies and its points of convergence with (and divergence from) the discipline of Anthropology.
Potential readings: John Durham Peters, Speaking into the Air: A History of the Idea of Communication; Russ Castronovo, Necro Citizenship: Death, Eroticism, and the Public Sphere in the Nineteenth-Century United States; Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida; Christine Wicker, Lily Dale: The True Story of the Town that Talks to the Dead.