Monday, September 08, 2008

Possession (pt. 5)

In his very inspiring post on Mark Stewart, Ian Curtis and Mark E. Smith as possessees by 'other voices, outside forces', Mark K-Punk writes on Joy Division:

"The most disquieting section of the Joy Division documentary is the cassette recording of Curtis being hypnotised. It's disturbing, in part because you suspect that it is many ways the key to Curtis's art of performance: his capacity to evacuate his self, to "travel far and wide through many different times". You don't have to believe that he has been regressed into a past life in order to recognize that he is not there, that he has gone somewhere else: you can hear the absence in Curtis's comatoned voice, stripped of familiar emotional textures. He has gone to some ur-zone where Law is written, the Land Of The Dead. Hence another take on the old 'death of the author' riff: the real author is the one who can break the connection with his lifeworld self, become a shell and a conduit which other voices, outside forces, can temporarily occupy."

In "Music And Trance", French ethnomusicologist Gilbert Rouget distinguishes possession and shamanism as two diametrically opposed spiritual systems:

"Whether we examine menadism in ancient Greece or demoniac possession during the Renaissance, the zār cult in Ethiopia or the rab cult in Senegal, the orisha and vodun cults in the Gulf of Guinea and Brazil, basangu in Zambia or hàù bóng in Vietnam, or any of the various forms of trance to be found in Bali, nowhere do we find any evidence of trance being viewed as a journey made by man into the spirit world. In every case it is interpreted as involving the arrival of a spirit or god in the world of men. This difference is a radical one: in the first case we have shamanism, in the second, possession. Since in both cases the event is experienced from the viewpoint of the human involved, in the first case a journey is taken and in the second case a visit is received - considerable distinction indeed.


I [have] tried to isolate the difference between shamanism and possession and come to the conclusion that it could be expressed by a series of three oppositions: journey to the spirits/visit by the spirits; control over the spirits/submission to the spirits; voluntary trance/involuntary trance. This triple opposition could be further condensed into only one: acting/undergoing. Shamanism appeared to be, if one may say so, essentially acted, possession as undergone.

To use Pouillon's terms ... "the orientation of the relation" between subject and trance appeared to be diametrically opposed in the two cases. ... Moreover, in possession the subject goes into trance because he changes identity; in shamanism he goes into trance because he changes worlds."

In the lyrics to Wilderness, the Joy Division song to which Mark K-Punk refers, Ian Curtis does not change identities, he changes worlds:

I traveled far and wide through many different times,
What did you see there?
I saw the saints with their toys,
What did you see there?
I saw all knowledge destroyed.
I travelled far and wide through many different times.

The same is true for the lyrics to Shadowplay:

To the center of the city where all roads meet, waiting for you,
To the depths of the ocean where all hopes sank, searching for you,
I was moving through the silence without motion, waiting for you,
In a room with a window in the corner I found truth.

Ian Curtis' (involuntary, uncontrolled) epileptic fits have defined his image, as if the lyrics to 'She's Lost Control' did not refer to some unnamed female but to Curtis himself. However, in the lyrics to Wilderness and Shadowplay, Curtis presents himself as a mobile agent who actively seeks out his chosen destination. Where the possessee is visited by beings from the invisible world, Curtis goes out to the invisible, liminal world to visit these beings. Curtis is one to “step outside” or “take a ride out”, not one to invite the Other in. Rather than a "shell and a conduit which other voices, outside forces, can temporarily occupy", rather than a possessee, Curtis is like an Inuit shaman, who undertakes his journey "in the depths of the ocean ... to seek out his patient's soul and bring it back to his or her body" (sourced here).

Post Scriptum I: Epilepsy and possession

In Rouget's 'Music and trance. A theory of the relation between music and possession', the author rejects theories that pose that possession can be regarded as 'musicogenic epilepsy', that is epileptic seizures caused by acoustic stimuli:

"In Senegal (...), the first duty of those responsible for ndöp séances is to ascertain, in the case of nonritualized [possession] crisis, whether this is the result of epilepsy or, on the contrary, attributable to possession."

Post Scriptum II: Wilderness

Post Scriptum III: Shadowplay

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