Session 1.4.2: PANEL: Sensing the Beyond: Channelling, Spirit Presences, and Technologies of Occult Visualization

Track:
PANEL: Sensing the Beyond: Channelling, Spirit Presences, and Technologies of Occult Visualization
When:
15:30, Thursday 6 May 2021 (1 hour 30 minutes)
Where:
  Virtual session
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Organizer: Jeremy Stolow. Centre for Sensory Studies, Concordia University, Canada

This panel explores various dimensions of 'occult' or 'spiritual' communications and sensations and their implications for thinking about received ideas of embodiment and knowledge in the context of (our putatively disenchanted) Western modernity. What sorts of sensorial capacities and powers are implicated in the encounter with 'spiritual' (viz., immaterial, supernatural, occult, phantasmatic) entities and forces? How are sensorial encounters with such phenomena amplified (and/or complicated) through technologies of vision (such as photography) and techniques of communication (such as channelling)? What can such 'uncommon' encounters teach us about hegemonic accounts of bodies, psyches, affects, and knowledge about the cosmos?

Jeremy Stolow, On Phantom Leaves and Phantom Limbs, Communication, Concordia University, Canada

In 1966, two Soviet psychic researchers, Viktor Adamenko and Viktor Inyushin, conducted a series of experiments using electrically-mediated contact photography. In what later came to be known as the ‘phantom leaf effect’, they took leaves from a range of plants and variously cut or tore a portion of the specimen and then photographed them. In a small percentage of those cases, the portion of the leaf that had been torn or cut away appeared in the photograph as a ghostly apparition, which the Soviet scientists took as indication of the existence of an ethereal, ‘bio-plasma’ that they postulated surrounds all living things, but had yet to be properly documented or accounted for within the parameters of ‘normal’ scientific study. In the subsequent decade, news of the phantom leaf experiment spread and efforts were made to replicate their research in the USA, Brazil, and elsewhere. This paper situates the phantom leaf experiment within a longer history of efforts to sense, visualize and graphically depict ‘astral bodies’, from the work of find-de-siècle Theosophists to their scientific counterparts dedicated to the study and photo-document mysterious vital fluids. Particular attention will be given here to the conceptual and figural overlap between ‘astral bodies’ and ‘phantom limbs’, the latter being a topic that traversed the domains of neurology, psycho-therapy, and Spiritualism in the 19th and early 20th C.

Katherine Kline, Between inner and other worlds, Communication, Concordia University, Canada


Practices of channeling, or psychic mediumship, operate at several contested junctures: between self and other, material and immaterial bodies, soma and psyche, exterior object worlds and subjective, interior worlds. In this paper I draw from participatory research with contemporary spiritual mediums, as well as my own formation as a psychoanalytic psychotherapist, in order to consider divergent cartographies of the psychic field in relation to broader non-human (and no-longer-human) ontologies. The practice of psychoanalysis has been entangled with discarnate energies and entities since its inception. Despite its attention to the porosity of psyche, however, and its love of phantasmic and ghostly metaphors, psychoanalysis has corralled the specter within the field of human mental life. Mediumship, meanwhile, entails practices of exchange with communicative agents of all kinds. Though these practices and the worlds they engage are by no means uniform, they are united in their claim to connect with entities and energies beyond our customary sense channels, many of whom have unique perspectives to share. These multiplicitous intelligences and unbound beings present a challenge to how psychoanalysis contains and cognizes ineffable presences, and open toward unique relational configurations irreducible to the human.

Felicity Tsering Chödron Hamer, Rendering Absence: Spirit photography, digital composites and other techniques of joint portraiture, Communication, Concordia University, Canada

Victorian-era spirit photographs showed the wispy reappearance of the deceased just as the bereaved frequently express sensing the continued presence of those who have passed. As they were understood to have been created of one single exposure these unique mementoes were accepted by many as evidence of the soul’s persistence. Capturing the lingering presence of the deceased – they went beyond recreating likeness – demonstrating continued bonds and the potential for moments shared beyond death of the beloved. Appearing at a lesser opacity, the spiritual extras that appeared in spirit photographs and those that are figured in modern commemorative composites, are defined as absent or otherworldly. And yet, freed from the framing of a ‘picture in picture,’ separation between the bereaved and the deceased is somehow blurred, visibly traversable. The departed are shown not just as remembered by the bereaved but also as though felt or partially present in the moment that is captured/constructed. As social media fosters the reinstallation of death within the social realm of society, in what new ways will the absent be present(ed)?

Panelist
concordia university
Panelist
Concordia / communications studies
Moderator
concordia university

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