possession & subjectivity

Kyla Wazana Tompkins and Roberto Strongman join Nick Ridout for a conversation about possession and subjectivity.

Might possession and other experiences in which people seem to lose control of themselves – like intoxication or narcosis – expand our understanding of what it means to be oneself? What alternatives are there to thinking about people as individual selves?  Do selves always and everywhere have to fit neatly into bodies?

Friday 31st July 2020

Kyla Wazana Tompkins and Roberto Strongman join Nick Ridout for a conversation about possession and what it might tell us about subjectivity.

The history of colonialism has involved a struggle, on the part of successive generations of colonialists, to suppress modes of human subjectivity and human relations (with one another and with the non-human world) that do not fit easily into the forms required by capitalist production. Those who don’t fit have been racialised, criminalised and their experience of the world systematically denied.

Possession – considered as a feature of many Black Atlantic cultural practices – suggests a porosity and a potential for moving, and being moved, through positions and relationships in a way that exceeds and challenges the colonial and capitalist norms that define how we think of whait means to be or have a self. 

The histories of these practices associated with possession, and their entanglement with the colonial technologies and ideologies that have sought to repress or misrepresent them, offer rich resources for those who want to think about what a living anti-colonial politics and culture might be.

Kyla, Roberto and Nick talk about these histories and how they might enable a richer and more expansive understanding of human subjectivity, and suggest ways of thinking about how human subjects interact with other living things.

Kyla Wazana Tomkins is Associate Professor at Pomona College, joint appointed to the Department of English and the Program in Gender and Women’s Studies.

She is the author of Racial Indigestion (NYU Press, 2012). Other scholarly writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Callaloo: A Journal of African Diaspora Arts and Letters, Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, Women and Performance, American Quarterly, J19: The Journal of Nineteenth Century Americanists, Lateral: The Journal of the Cultural Studies Association, The Journal of Food, Culture and Society as well as Social Text, Lateral and ASAP/Journal. Her journalism has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Globe and Mail, Xtra Magazine, 7×7 Magazine and journals like Tikkun and Bridges.

Roberto Strongman is Associate Professor in the Department of Black Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

He is the author ofQueering Black Atlantic Religions: Transcorporeality in Candomblé, Santería and Vodou (Duke 2019), and is currently working on a second book project on Afroamerican religion on the Caribbean coast of Panama. His trans-national and multi-lingual approach to the Caribbean cultural zone is grounded in La Créolité, a movement developed at L’Université des Antilles et de La Guyane in Martinique, where he studied as a dissertation fellow. In addition to his research in Martinique, Dr. Strongman has conducted archival research in Aruba, Colombia and Haiti in connection to his ongoing interest in the literatures of Creole languages. His articles have appeared in Journal of Haitian Studies, Journal of Caribbean Studies, Journal of Caribbean Literatures, Callaloo, Kunapipi, Wadabagei, and the Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies.

Nick Ridout is Professor of Theatre at Queen Mary University of London. His new book, Scenes from Bourgeois Life, was published by University of Michigan Press in June 2020. As part of his ongoing historical materialist work on theatre, he is currently working on histories and theories of possession and automation in work, acting and performance.

Duration: 2 hours

This talk is free and open to anyone. If you have any particular access requirement needs or would like more information, please contact us at info@possessionautomation.co.uk

Seb Franklin and Annie McClanahan join Nick Ridout for a conversation about automation and cultural production.

Instead of imagining a future in which our lives are managed for us by robots or AI, it may be time to think instead about how automation is already deeply embedded in our everyday lives. Automation is not replacing human beings, but it may be changing how we work and act, and how we think and feel about ourselves and other people. 

Friday 17th July, 6-8 pm (BST), Online

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Paul C. Johnson and Rebecca Schneider join Nick Ridout for a conversation about possession and performance. 

What if possession is a totally modern idea? Could it be a way for people who live modern lives in a supposedly secular culture to describe modes of being that don’t fit with their ideas of what it is to be yourself? How does performance help us think about possession? Are performance and possession both ways of becoming an automated or programmed self? 

Friday 24th July, 6-8 pm (BST), Online

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