Feb 23 2010

Spirit Rapping and Unknown Tongues

by at 12:28 pm

I am currently enrolled in Dana Luciano’s Sex and Time in 19th Century America and it’s fabulous–definitely getting my academic juices flowing.  Right now, I’m really beginning to think about my final project–a digital archival research project in which I will be creating a historical scholarly introduction to Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance. Very innovative pedogagy and am excited to be a part of this. We’re also keeping a research blog for this project, but because my research has sparked some ideas about Wieland I decided to blog about it here as well.

At the very opening of Blithedale, the reader (and narrator) encounters this very strange figure: the Veiled Lady who is acquanted in the mesmeric arts. She is essentially a spirit-rapper–one of those 19th century “seers,” those “table movers.” Naturally, I’m incredibley intrigued by this figure and want to find more information about the spiritualist movement, and in my search I came across this really interesting article:

Spirit Rapping and Unknown Tongues

In this example, the spirit rapper, an American, is able to speak in Swedish without knowing the language. After reading this, I wonder if Carwin could be read as a kind of spirit-rapper, or rather, a charlatan who manipulates his voice to dupe to his audience. This would tie in well with the idea that this novel is an early American scientific novel that explores 19th century science. The question of spiritualism and whether or not it could be a real science is expressed out-right in the following article:

Spirit Rapping and Science

Could Brown be including Carwin as just another example of what the possibilites of science could be? And is the revelation of Carwin’s “talents” a way of putting down this kind of psuedoscience or does Wieland allow for a more expansive view of science and the unsolved world. Should we even buy Carwin’s explanation?

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May 14 2009

Some More Thoughts On Sheppard Lee

by at 12:59 am

Adam Smith sees the biological limitations of a pure sympathetic response. To Smith, lived experiences are very much tied to the individual body, so one can never fully understand another’s experience because one individual never occupy the body of another. Mesmer’s ideas on animal magnetism, I argue, solve this problem by creating networks of bodies (hmm…”networks,” like what Laura Otis is talking about?) that can be linked via electrical impulses. Sheppard Lee similarly solves the body barrier divide that is put forth by Smith by having Sheppard Lee’s soul occupy the body of dead corpses. In this way, Sheppard Lee enacts a purely sympathetic response….and, yet, these instances of body travel still seem to problematize successful sympathetic encounters. For one, the fact that Sheppard Lee’s body is restored at the end is extremely significant. The entire narrative is written by this restored Sheppard Lee, and thus it seems as if even as Sheppard Lee inhabits the bodies of others there is still a marked seperation between Sheppard Lee and the body he inhabits. This may, again, be a result of the narrative–Sheppard Lee is writing this in hindsight, but it still prevents any true sympathetic exchange.

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