Double Bound Possession Master Symposium – Introduction

Avery Gordon in conversation with Anselm Franke

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In English, the word “possession” has two divergent meanings, perhaps not quite accidentally. It’s earliest sense is taking possession or occupation, which becomes legal property. The second meaning is of a thing or a person possessed, as in demonic possession (first recorded in the 1580’s in Europe) and the manifold forms of shamanic and other possession rituals across the non-European world. Might the two meanings, at first sight radically diverging, in fact form a double bind that sheds light on the history of the modern subject?

Many historians and theorists have shown how the “self-possessed”, rational and autonomous subject of enlightenment and colonial Europe was instituted legally in relation to private property. Dis-owning one’s self in states of trance and spirit possession constituted the quintessential antithesis to that subject’s rationality. The ideological “great divide” between modern self-possessed and property-owning subjects and non-modern forms of collectivity enacted a double-bound colonial division that has had enormous influence on our understanding of forms of communion.

In this lecture and introductive talk to the Double Bound Possession symposium, Anselm Franke explores the systemic interconnections between various forms – both symbolic and material – of possession and dispossession. Franke also considers our reading of the history of the modern subject through the lens of this double bind and the impact it has on our understanding of spirituality.

Next, Avery Gordon tracks down the forms of dispossession that have marked the rise of capitalism at the end of the feudal period, focusing on what Marx has described as primitive accumulation through colonisation, and the Inclosure Acts in Great Britain. Gordon shows how practices such as magic and vagrancy, amongst other so-called marginal lifestyles, acted as forms of resistance against these phenomena of expropriation.